Kevin Estre said his GTE-Pro class pole run was “high pressure” after having overcome a track limits violation on his first flying lap in qualifying for the FIA World Endurance Championship season-ending 8 Hours of Bahrain.
The Frenchman claimed his fifth pole out of six races after reeling off a 1:56.041 lap time in the No. 92 Porsche 911 RSR-19.
Crucially, the one point for pole has put Estre and season-long co-driver Neel Jani in on equal points with the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo pairing of James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the GTE drivers’ world championship ahead of Saturday’s title-decider.
“It was very close last week but this week was closer with our opponent,” Estre said.
“My first lap was not fantastic. I got a track limit infringement, which my engineer told me at the beginning of the second lap.
“I knew starting the second lap, which is already a little compromised on the tire, I had to make it count because Lap 3 is definitely not good.
“This was quite high pressure. I did it all good and drove better than the first lap and the tire held on so I could improve my lap time and was good enough for pole.
“It’s a very important point for us. Now we are equal with the 51 Ferrari. At least we start the race on the same place tomorrow. I guess it will be the one who finishes in front of the other [that wins the championship].
“Definitely this pole was important and shows again that our guys are doing the best job at preparing our car for quali. I’m quite happy about this.”
Estre qualified just 0.160 seconds ahead of Calado in the strongest challenge from the Italian manufacturer so far in Bahrain.
“To be honest I think it will be close,” Estre said. “Somehow this two-three days break seems to have helped Ferrari a lot because they gained a lot of time compared to last qualifying [last week].
“God knows what they’re going to do tomorrow on pace. It’s difficult to know.
“We’ll give it our all, like always and we’ll see where we are. I think we have a great race car. We were [consistent] and very good in the practices.
“They’re definitely hard opponents. We have to count on them and I hope for a fair fight.”
With the sister No. 91 Porsche and AF Corse’s No. 52 Ferrari likely to come into play tomorrow, in assistance of their championship-contending cars, Estre said he expects a hard-fought race, particularly with high tire degradation in the opening hours.
“This track is very hard on tires so the undercut is very powerful,” he said. “For sure the second car on each team can try something and try to mix up the game a bit and make us react.
“This is going to be an interesting one. The manufacturers’ [championship] is still open and we need to get in front of the rest to win both championships. That’s the goal.
“We’ll see. The first part of the race will be hard with the hot temperature. Then when it gets cooler, the tire will last longer and be more of a sprint race towards the end with not managing the tire wear as much.”