Friday 22 July 2016

FIA WEC - 6 Hours of the Nürburgring: Friday practice

Opposite to the weather forecast, first practice day on the Nürburgring stayed (almost) dry throughout both sessions. Sunshine in the morning and an overcast sky in the afternoon made it perfect conditions for the first day of the 6 hours of the Nürburgring. A short and very local shower about 30 minutes before the end of the second session spoiled the fun a bit though. 

First off all, 2 more driver line-ups that have seen a last-minute change : David Markozov will not race in the #27 BR01/Nissan this weekend. Markozov will not be replaced, so Nicolas Minassian and Maurizio Mediani will share driving duties between them two.

There has been another last-minute change in Manor's driver line-up. Matt Howson will join Tor Graves and Antonio Pizzonia in the #44 Oreca/05 Nissan this weekend. Howson replaces James Jakes. Both Howson and Pizzonia are making their return to the team of John Booth and Graeme Lowdon, both having raced with the team in the early stages of their carreer. Pizzonia raced with Manor in several championships as British Formula Vauxhall and Formula 3, Howson in Formula Renault.

Free Practice 1 was run this morning on a sunny and rather warm Nürburgring. After 15 minutes a full course yellow was waived when the #36 Signatech Alpine of Nicolas Minassian stopped on track at turn 1. When the car was recovered a communication problem occurred between race control and the teams, resulting in a red flag. About 20 minutes later the problem was solved and track action resumed, the lost time being added to the clock at the end of the session. 

Audi seemed to be fastest throughout the session, but in the last 20 minutes both Porsches upped their pace and took a 1-2 to start their weekend. Marc Lieb being the fastest man on track with a 1.41.703, 0.047 seconds faster than the second Porsche 919 Hybrid. Audi took third and fourth, the #7 ahead of the #8 with a margin of 0.2 seconds behind the fastest Porsche. Both Toyota's rounded out the top 6 with the #5 0.890 seconds behind Lieb. In the privateer LMP1 class, both Rebellions outpaced the ByKolles CLM/P1 again. 

LMP2 was G-Drives playground, newcomer Alex Brundle fastest out on track with a 1.50.748. Another driver returning to the WEC was second fastest; Andrea Pizzonia putting the #44 Manor Oreca in second place, 0.688 seconds behind Brundle. Third fastest was Danny Kane in Strakka's Gibson 015S/Nissan, only 0.033 seconds slower than Pizzonia. Strakka showed again the strenght of a five year old car that still is able to get into contention with all the new LMP2 machinery.  

In GT everyone seemed to expect Ford would dominate the class again after Le Mans, but Aston Martin and AF Corse took control in this morning's session. At the end of the session James Calado was fastest in his #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE in a 1.58.402, just under 0.2 seconds faster than Darren Turner in the #97 and Nicki Thiim in the #95 Aston Martins. Ford "only" managed fifth and sixth in the first session, at least 1.1 seconds behind Calado. Pedro Lamy was fastest in the Am category in his #98 Aston Martin, ahead of the returning Paolo Ruberti in the #50 Larbre Corvette and Rui Aguas in the #83 AF Corse Ferrari. 

Audi was long on top in the second practice session, untill Mark Webber unleashed his right foot and put a 1.40.997 on the timetables. Less luck for the #2 sister car when Romain Dumas' left front brake disc exploded, heading the car into the guardrail and bringing out a full course yellow. Dumas got out unharmed, his Porsche getting a few battle scars out of it. After 90 minutes it was Porsche (#1) ahead of Audi (#7 - #8), Toyota (#6) and Porsche again (#2). The difference between the top 5 now just under a second. 

The Rebellion #13 was fastest again in the privateer class in 1.46.790, now 0.540 seconds faster than the #4 ByKolles Racing which split up both Swiss cars. 

In LMP2 G-Drive, Strakka and Manor again battled it out on top of the timesheets. Rene Rast this time outright fastest when he drove a 1.48.965, almost 2 seconds faster than Alex Brundle in the morning session. In his debut race for Strakka, Lewis Williamson was second fastest, but still over a second off Rast's flying lap. Third in the session was Manor again, but this time with their #45 Oreca. Roberto Merhi the fastest driver in that car. 

Richie Stanaway was fastest in his #97 Aston in GTE-Pro, putting a 1.56.908 on the table, just 0.074 seconds ahead of Giamaria Bruni in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari. The #71 Ferrari of Sam Bird and Davide Ring was now third fastest ahead of the second Asto Martin. Rui Aguas in his #83 AF Corse Ferrari 458 took the honours in the Am class, beating the #50 Larbre Corvette - which was second fastest again - and the #88 Abu Dhabi - Proton Racing Porsche of Patrick Long & co. 

Third and final practice will be run tomorrow morning at 9.15h local time, qualifying is set for Saturday afternoon starting from 14.15h.

Kristof Vermeulen.