6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps: Qualifying
Qualifying drama at Spa for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing
TOYOTA GAZOO Racing will start the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps from pole position after a dramatic and incident-packed qualifying session for the third round of the 2023 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) in Belgium.
The World Champions are aiming for a hat-trick of Hypercar wins to start the season, following victories at Sebring and Portimão, in Saturday’s final race before the centenary edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Kamui Kobayashi’s lap of 2mins 0.812secs earned pole, and a World Championship point, for the #7 GR010 HYBRID he shares with Mike Conway and José María López on a day of highs and lows for the team. He ended a closely-fought session just 0.024secs ahead of the second-placed #50 Ferrari.
There were contrasting emotions for the #8 GR010 HYBRID of Sébastien Buemi, Brendon Hartley and Ryo Hirakawa, however. They will start from the back of the grid after an accident in the opening minutes.
Qualifying started late following an incident in an earlier session but it was worth the wait as a record 13 Hypercars battled for pole position around the undulating, high-speed Spa circuit.
But Brendon’s qualifying ended almost as soon as it began when he hit the barriers at Raidillon on his out lap. Pre-heating is not permitted this season so tyres are cold, with little grip, on the first lap out of the pits. Brendon was driving slowly just a few hundred metres from the pit lane exit when he lost grip and spun out.
Earlier in the afternoon, Kamui set the pace in a wet-dry final practice and he took that momentum into the most dramatic Hypercar qualifying battle yet.
After yellow flags, due to a spinning Ferrari, forced him to abort his first flying lap, Kamui put the #7 on provisional pole with his next effort. That looked to be enough and Kamui headed back to the pits, only for the #51 Ferrari to seemingly steal top spot by just 0.035secs in the final few seconds of the session.
More drama was to come moments after the session ended though, when the #51 Ferrari’s fastest lap was deleted due to a track limits violation, elevating Kamui back to pole position.
A very close qualifying saw the top four Hypercars, from three different manufacturers, separated by only 0.231secs, raising expectations of a close fight for victory in front of a big crowd when the race begins at 12.45pm CEST on Saturday.
Kamui Kobayashi (Team Principal and driver, car #7): “I was a bit surprised in the end to be on pole after the Ferrari had gone quicker, but I am very happy. The team did a great job and the car felt brilliant. I didn’t have the best preparation because I didn’t get a lap on new tyres in practice, so qualifying was the first time for me. I had to abort my first flying lap because the Ferrari spun which meant the tyres were not in the best condition. Luckily I had no traffic, my lap felt pretty good and it was enough for pole. It has been a very tight fight with Ferrari, but we made it and we are in the best position to start the race. We will fight very hard and hopefully we will stay on top tomorrow.”
Brendon Hartley (Driver, car #8): “It is really disappointing. Leaving the pits on cold tyres, I hit the wall at turn three, at the top of Eau Rouge. It was a light impact, but it took us out of qualifying before we set a time and means we will start the race from the back which will heavily compromise our chances. We will do our best to fight back but it will be very challenging. Congratulations to car #7 on a great pole position.”
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