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Portimao Saturday Notebook

Sportscar365’s paddock notebook from qualifying day ahead of the 8H Portimao…

Photo: MPS Agency

***Mattieu Vaxiviere delivered the first WEC pole for Alpine and its program partner Signatech since the 2018 Total 6 Hours of Spa, where the team led LMP2 qualifying through Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Pierre Thiriet’s three-driver average.

***It also marked the first top-category pole for Alpine. Vaxiviere’s last pole for a major sports car race came in 2018 when the Frenchman drove an R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.

***Factoring in rounds from last season, Porsche’s Kevin Estre has now taken four out of the last five GTE-Pro poles. They came at Spa, Bahrain (last year), Spa again last month and now Portimao. The missing race was the 24 Hours of Le Mans last September.

***Brendon Hartley said Toyota’s No. 8 crew “tried something different” in its second qualifying session with the GR010 Hybrid LMH car. “On the first run we used scrubbed tires because we saw in practice that the new tires were struggling,” he said. “We had a backup plan in case that didn’t work, which was good because it didn’t work. That put some pressure on for my last lap and I feel happy with the job we did.”

***Both Alpine and Toyota have adjusted their opening stint strategies since Spa. Nicolas Lapierre will take the start in the pole-sitting Alpine after Andre Negrao had the role in Belgium. Over at Toyota, Jose Maria Lopez will start the No. 7, taking over duties from Mike Conway. Sebastien Buemi will again tee off the No. 8 Toyota, while Richard Westbrook suits up first for Glickenhaus.

***View the full list of starting drivers here and the provisional start grid here.

***Several drivers in both qualifying sessions had lap times deleted for overstepping track limits. Most of the infringements occurred at the Turn 1 right-hander. Earlier in the day, the No. 57 Kessel Racing Ferrari and the No. 29 Racing Team Nederland Oreca were handed five-second stop-go penalties in Free Practice 2 for “constant” track limits abuse.

***Toyota was fined €500 for changing tires before refueling its No. 8 car in qualifying.

***Inter Europol Competition is testing its Oreca 07 Gibson at Aragon next week, in what will be an evening-to-late night endurance session. The team’s full-time WEC drivers Alex Brundle, Jakub Smiechowski and Renger van der Zande – who is not at Portimao this weekend – are expected to turn laps.

***Brundle told Sportscar365 that Inter Europol is in a “good place” heading into the eight-hour contest. “We’ve always had one-lap pace this weekend, but we were struggling with the tire longevity in the first [practice],” he said. “We were in the background, working on that. That then came in the final session. The track rubbering in helped us a lot.”

***Toyota technical director Pascal Vasselon said the track grip was “significantly better” on Saturday after “very unusually low levels” were experienced on Friday during Free Practice 1. “The tires are very sensitive to the track temperature,” he told Sportscar365. “The worst moment was FP1: a combination of the highest temperature and a dirty track. It was then easier [on Satuday] to do some productive setup.”

***Ferrari has made a subtle change to the livery of its No. 52 GTE-Pro that distinguishes it from the sister No. 51 machine. The Ferrari 488 GTE Evo driven by Daniel Serra and Miguel Molina now has a yellow strip on the front splitter, deviating from the red design seen on James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi’s mount.

***Racing Team Nederland remains interested in an IMSA LMP2 program but has not committed to anything for next year, according to team manager Mark Koense. “Nothing is decided yet,” he told Sportscar365. “We think rumors stemmed from the fact that we never made a secret about it. We are here doing WEC. We are open-minded about the future but certainly don’t think a decision will be made before Le Mans.”

***Goodyear has appointed Antonio Felix da Costa as a Brand Ambassador. The role will involve the JOTA LMP2 driver having an increased engagement in Goodyear’s brand activities.

***Porsche’s Alexander Stehlig said the manufacturer had a “deep look” after several accidents for its 911 RSR-19 customer entries during the Prologue and race week at Spa, which marked the vehicle’s GTE-Am debut. “I think it was a combination of challenging factors: Spa is a challenging track and we had challenging cold conditions which takes a lot to switch the tire on. If you look to the Prologue, we had two Astons and Ferraris crashing, and us. I don’t think it’s a Porsche problem.”

***ARC Bratislava is yet to finalize its 24 Hours of Le Mans lineup, according to team boss Miro Konopka. Oliver Webb is confirmed as part of the Slovakian outfit’s Ligier LMP2 squad alongside Konopka, while the third team member is to be decided. Konopka indicated that he would like to run the same lineup at Monza and Le Mans. ARC’s third driver for Monza is also TBA.

***Vaxiviere’s pole time was 1.737 seconds slower than the pole time from last year’s European Le Mans Series 4 Hours of Portimao, set by Job van Uitert in a United Autosports Oreca operating without any of the category’s 2021 performance restrictions. WEC qualifying took place with a lower air temperature and a higher track temperature.

***Brundle described some of the specific challenges of driving a 2021 WEC-specification LMP2 at Portimao: “The downforce is really noticeable,” he said. “We’re a gear down from where we would be in Turn 1. The power is also really noticeable in the uphill sections. The speed of the Hypercar seems very variable out on track. It’s down to torque and depends on which settings they’re running the cars in.”

***The 8 Hours of Portimao gets underway at 11 a.m. local time on Sunday (6 a.m. EST).

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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