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Shanghai Saturday Notebook

Daniel Lloyd’s Saturday notebook from Shanghai ahead of tomorrow’s FIA WEC race…

Photo: MPS Agency

***Kamui Kobayashi set the fastest Shanghai qualifying lap for the second year in a row. The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver turned in a time of 1:42.708 as part of he and Mike Conway’s combined pole effort, although Kobayashi didn’t quite manage to beat his own lap record of 1:42.526 set last year.

***Almost all drivers broke the qualifying record in GTE-Pro, however. Nicky Catsburg had the quickest time of the group, with his 1:58.441 in the No. 81 BMW Team MTEK M8 GTE that starts from second.

***Andy Priaulx said the No. 67 Ford GT’s running time was compromised by a fuel leak at the start of qualifying. “There was a small fire which cost us five of six minutes,” he told Sportscar365. “We had to sit on the tire so it wasn’t up to the right pressure or temperature for the lap I did.”

***The No. 98 Aston Martin Racing trio scored its fifth consecutive Shanghai pole following a last-gasp effort from Pedro Lamy. The Portuguese driver, who qualified with Paul Dalla Lana, has an extraordinary record here, having finished either first or second in all editions since the inaugural WEC visit in 2012.

“We didn’t expect to be on pole because we didn’t have the right pace to do it, but the track improved during the session,” Lamy said. “We saw a big difference between the beginning of the session and the end, and I improved a lot on my second try because the track had more grip.”

***Several teams took the unusual strategy of running three sets of slick tires in qualifying because persistent rain is forecast for tomorrow’s race.

***Jenson Button said he and his No. 11 SMP Racing co-drivers have struggled with heavy bouncing throughout the weekend. Button and Vitaly Petrov qualified on the back row of the LMP1 grid, almost 1 second slower than the sister BR Engineering BR1 AER. 

“We had massive dancing in the corners,” explained Button. “Our car seems to have it worse than the No. 17. We don’t know what it is and we haven’t resolved the problem. You’re not driving it. You’re just waiting for the car to stop bouncing.”

***Button has predicted a close fight between Toyota, Rebellion and SMP in the early stages, but expects Toyota to run away once its pit stop advantage takes hold. “If it’s wet, I think the first couple of stints with Toyota will be interesting,” he said. “Pit stops, they’ve always been much faster because they put in less fuel, but actually the lap times are not bad.”

***Clearwater Racing will announce a driver replacement for Weng Sun Mok early next month. Team principal Arj Kulasegaram told Sportscar365 that the new Bronze-rated addition is a driver who has not previously raced with the Singaporean squad.

***Shanghai is set to be Mok’s final WEC race outing after the 51-year-old announced his retirement from the series at Fuji last month.

***Kulasegaram also said Clearwater is interested in returning to GT3 competition following the release of several new models. The team plans to see out the current WEC season before committing to any further programs, but Kulasegaram said the McLaren 720S GT3 and the new-generation Aston Martin Vantage GT3 are both attractive packages.

***Clearwater previously ran a McLaren 650S GT3 and a Ferrari 488 GT3 in Asia but no longer owns them.

***Corvette Racing team manager Ben Johnson told Sportscar365 that he doesn’t “foresee any changes or any reason to go a different route” for its IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship driver lineup next year. “It’s yet to be announced,” he added. “It’s something that Chevy likes to announce, so we’re waiting on that same information as everybody else.”

***Sportscar365, however, understands the team had recently tested at least one driver outside of its current lineup for a prospective drive in 2019.

***Aston Martin Racing managing director John Gaw indicated that the manufacturer could introduce the new Vantage GT3 in the later in the 2019 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, once it has gained FIA homologation. He also ruled out a debut for the new-generation Vantage, in GTLM form, at Daytona in January.

***The British manufacturer, however, is believed to be finalizing GT3 entries for the newly named Blancpain GT World Challenge America series, formerly Pirelli World Challenge, for next year.

***Proton Competition plans to return to the European Le Mans Series next year with a two-car Porsche 911 RSR entry according to team owner Christian Ried. The German squad, which also runs two Porsches in WEC, clinched this year’s ELMS championship with Giorgio and Gianluca Roda.

***Proton’s WEC team was dealt a severe penalty following an investigation into its incorrect data logger readings from Fuji. Both of its Porsche 911 RSRs, including the points-leading car driven by Ried, Julien Andlauer and Matt Campbell, have been disqualified from Fuji and stripped of all their points accumulated so far this season.

***The Six Hours of Shanghai distance record is 195 laps (660.66 miles) set by Porsche LMP1 drivers Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard and Mark Webber in 2016, and equaled last year by Toyota’s Sebastien Buemi, Kazuki Nakajima and Anthony Davidson.

***Eurosport 1 is broadcasting two-and-a-half hours of Sunday’s race live, presented by Mark Cole. The first segment is from 6:30-8:30 a.m GMT, while the final half-hour will be shown at 9:30 a.m.

***North American viewers can tune into Velocity for the full race live from 10 p.m on Saturday to 4 a.m ET Sunday. Click here for the full Shanghai coverage options. A chart of when the race starts in different parts of the world can be found here.

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

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