The FIA World Endurance Championship 2021 season got off to a start, with today’s qualification at the Spa Francorchamps track in Belgium.
First on the track were the GTE Pro and GTE Am categories, to the new qualifying format with only 10 minutes of qualifying, with a single driver, instead of the previous qualifying format, where two drivers had to set a time each, and the total time was then their qualifying time. Much much easier to keep up with.
The qualifying was stopped after 3 minutes when Christian Ried in Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche # 77 went off full throttle on top of Raidillon. Luckily, Christian was able to get out of the car himself, but both the front and rear of the car are completely smashed. Now the mechanics are waiting for a very long night before the car is hopefully ready for the race tomorrow. But if there is one team that can do it, it is the Proton Competition, which in extreme emergencies has two more cars standing in the workshop in Germany.
It took a quarter of an hour before the qualifying could continue. And just 40 seconds later we were under the red flag again, as Egidio Perfetti in Team Project 1 Porsche # 56 made a faithful copy of Ried’s exit – with the exact same result. A well and truly damaged Porsche, for the team that already had to write off a car earlier in the week when it was smashed during the Prologue.
When the qualification was finally resumed again, the teams were in a hurry to get back on the field.
Some of the drivers were snatched for Track Limits, which put them under further pressure.
Porsche # 91 was the first GTE Pro car to set a fast time, which was soon surpassed by the sister car.
Aston Martin Racing # 98 set a great time in GTE Am before everyone reached their second flying lap.
However, TF Sport # 33 set a fantastic lap time, which was almost a second faster than their brand colleague.
But, no one could beat Kevin Estre and Porsche # 92 in GTE Pro. The Frenchman took Pole Position by 1.1 seconds down to Miguel Molina in AF Corse Ferrari # 52, who sneaked in front of Richard Lietz in Porsche # 91. AF Corse Ferrari # 51 with Alessandro Pier Guidi took P4, while Antonio Garcia had to settle for P5 for Corvette Racing.
Ben Keating and TF Sport Aston Martin #33 took Pole Position in GTE Am with nearly a second down to Paul Dalla Lana in Aston Martin Racing #98, and Andrew Haryanto in Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsche #88.
D’Station Racing Aston Martin #777 got taken for Track Limits on alla Satoshi Hoshino’s laps, and had to start from last.
The defending GTE Am champion AF Corse Ferrari #83 with Francois Perrodo on the qualifying job, while Nicklas Nielsen and Alessio Rovera had to follow from the pits, qualified in P5.
Then it was time for the 10 minute LMP qualification with 3 Hypercar cars and 14 LMP2.
Toyota Gazoo Racing # 7 was the first car to set the fastest time in Hypercar category, with a time that was over 2 seconds faster than we had seen in practice.
United Autosports USA # 22, obviously, set the fastest time among the LMP2 cars, but there was still plenty of time left to try.
Alpine Elf Matmut # 36 chose to pit before they had set a time, but only to put fresh tires on the car. Toyota Gazoo Racing chose to stay in the pits, after their only flying lap for each of the cars.
G-Drive Racing # 26 came within 0.047 seconds of United Autosports USA # 22, but both cars had one more try.
However, Filipe Albuquerque of United Autosports USA # 22 improved his time even more, setting the third fastest time overall – faster than Alpine Elf Matmut # 36! G-Drive Racing # 26 with Nyck de Vries set the second fastest time, while Racing Team Nederland # 29 with Giedo van der Garde was third.
High Class Racing # 20 with Anders Fjordbach with the responsibility for the quali, while Jan Magnussen and Dennis Andersen waited in the garage, had to settle for 13th position among the LMP2 cars, and 6th fastest time in the LMP2 Pro-Am. The team was knocked out for Track Limits, hence losing one of their times.
Toyota Gazoo Racing # 7 with Kamui Kobayashi took the first Hypercar pole in history, ahead of Kazuki Nakajima in Toyota Gazoo Racing # 8, while Alpine Elf Matmut # 36 with Nicolas Lapierre had to settle for P3, and P4 in general.
It was the ending to a very dramatic qualifying. The 6 hours race at Spa Francorchamps starts at 13.30, in Denmark it can be watched on Eurosport 2 or TV2 Play on live stream. Alternatively, you can buy an access to the race or the WEC entire season on FIAWEC.com, or listen to Radiolemans.com with just a commentary without pictures.