Pagenaud clinches Silverstone pole at first attempt
Simon Pagenaud took pole position for the Autosport Six Hours of Silverstone on his first visit to the circuit after a rain-affected qualifying session.
The Peugeot driver, drafted into the team at the last moment as replacement for Briton Anthony Davidson, made full of the drying track to set the fastest lap of 1:43.924 after trading times with team-mate Stephane Sarrazin.
Pagenaud, clearly enjoying his debut at the Northamptonshire venue, was delighted with pole.
"It's been a great weekend and my first time at Silverstone, I've really enjoyed it," he said. "Qualifying was difficult because of the rain, it was sprinkling on some areas but not in others.
"The race will be close and I don't think we can read too much into the times today."
Rain had started falling at Silverstone soon after the GTE classes had finished their qualifying session although it was not falling all around the track, making tyre choices more problematic for the teams. Wet conditions were declared early into the Prototype session which leaves teams free to choose which tyres they begin tomorrow's race with.
Pagenaud started the 20 minutes session on slicks and was first out of the pitlane ahead of Sarrazin and the pair quickly set about putting markers down for their Audi rivals to chase, constantly improving times as the track dried out.
It was Allan McNish who responded best to the Peugeots, planting his Audi R18 TDI between Pagenaud and Sarrazin with a 1:44.8 with team-mate Timo Bernhardt fourth before the rain arrived again with eight minutes of the 20-minute session left.
Most teams responded, including Peugeot who called both their 908s in. Sarrazin was soon seen on the pitwall, clearly indicating that the team thought they'd done enough for qualifying with the rain seemingly setting in.
McNish, though, stayed out and as the skies began to brighten again, it looked as though he might have the perfect opportunity to nick top spot. However, the Scot pitted with only minutes remaining and while staying in the car looked to be in earnest conversations with the Audio Sport team. With the clock counting down, McNish had to settle for second.
When the rain fell, all of the LMP cars pitted except for McNish and the two Rebellion Racing cars of Nicolas Prost and Jean Christophe Boullion, who were given a clear track to claim top petrol honours. It was Prost who benefitted most, taking fifth in the dying seconds of the session to lead the unofficial petrol class.
McNish was pleased with his performance but admitted that top spot had been the target.
"It was a little frustrating with the weather... I managed one 'clean' lap and the second one was a lot faster but into Stowe Corner, and then the last corner, there was heavier rain which cost me about a second.
"That was frustrating becasue pole was really achievable but that's the way it is and I'm happy with the feeling going into the race."
In LMP2, Danny Watts of Strakka Racing took pole to claim the extra point that could be influential in the overall class honours in the Le Mans Series while BMW Motorsport snatched the front row of GTE Pro after holding their two M3s of Andy Priaulx and Augusto Farfus in the pits until the final five minutes. Before then, the Ferrari F 458 of Toni Vilander had set the GTE Pro class pace but had to settle for third as Farfus grabbed pole with Priaulx following close behind.
Follow Autoblog's live coverage of the Autosport Six Hours of Silverstone on Sunday, starting at 1130.