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Blancpain Sprint Series: Algarve, Qualifying Report, Enge Bounces Back With Pole

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Tomas Enge shrugged off his monster Slovakiaring shunt to bounce back with a dominant pole position for Saturday’s Blancpain Sprint Series qualifying race at the Autodromo do Algarve.

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It was clear from early on that the top grid position would boil down to a private contest between the Czech racer’s G-Drive Lamborghini and the similar car of Grasser Racing’s Jeroen Bleekemolen. Only the Audi runners could hope to get a close on a track that clearly favours the championship’s mid-engined cars.

The first part of qualifying saw the field get down to free-practice pace almost instantly, with Marc Basseng posting a 1:44.4 in the #5 Phoenix Audi, Max Gotz a 1:44.5 in the #84 HTP Mercedes and Sergei Afanasiev a 1:44.6 in the sister #85 car. Gotz and Afanasiev both improved to go sub-1:44, while Basseng eventually got the benchmark down to a 1:43.912.

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Conditions remained overcast throughout, and spots of rain were felt out on track towards the end of Q1, but the rain never amounted to more than a light shower and didn’t affect proceedings. Elsewhere, the #5 Phoenix Audi of Markus Winkelhock and Niki Mayr-Melnhof suffered gearbox trouble and didn’t take part in the session.

In Q2, Enge immediately threw down the gauntlet with a 1:43.6 – the fastest time of the weekend up to that point – while Rene Rast in the #2 WRT Audi showed he was pushing hard with a 1:43.9. By the end of the session, Enge and Rast’s bests had dropped to 43.1 and 43.3 respectively, before Bleekemolen finally broke into the 42s with a 1:42.749.

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Towards the end of Q2, Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi was running close to team-mate Rast’s pace, but was baulked by Chris van der Drift’s Bhai Tech McLaren on his hot lap.

Bleekemolen’s first flying lap in Q3 was 1:42.883, but his Lamborghini’s right-rear tyre appeared to be rubbing on the bodywork as he went through some of the Portimao circuit’s faster corners. After a cool-down lap, he went for it again, but could only improve slightly to a 1:42.748.

“I didn’t really notice the right rear, but I had a strange feeling from the left front as I left the pits,” the Dutchman reported afterwards. “It’s a bit strange – normally you expect the car to be at it’s best in Q3 but it didn’t really come today.”

Enge’s first flying lap in Q3 – a 1:42.589 – was sufficient to win him pole by the end of the session. “I have to really thank the mechanics for their work in getting the car ready in such a short space of time after the crash in Slovakia,” he said. “It’s been a big challenge to make it here, but as we see the track really suits mid-engined cars, so it should be good.”

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Stephane Ortelli was initially classified third-fastest in the #9 WRT Audi, but his lap time was deleted by the race director, who has been extremely zealous enforcing track limits rules yesterday and today. This promoted Rast in the sister #2 car to third on the grid for Saturday afternoon’s race. “The Lamborghinis will be very hard to beat,” he said. “Perhaps if they make a mistake we’ll be able to pass, but really we’re just looking to reduce the points gap to the HTP Mercedes guys this weekend.”

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Ortelli’s deleted time dropped him to fifth on the grid, behind Max Buhk in the #84 Mercedes shared with championship leader Gotz. Vanthoor wound up sixth, ahead of the fastest BMW – the #0 Team Brasil car of Sergio Jimenez. Van der Drift was the best of the two McLarens in 10th.

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Ninth-quickest Basseng was the fastest of the Pro-Am runners in ninth, while Silver Cup pole went to Luca Stolz in the #86 HTP Mercedes, who qualified 11th overall.

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