The #333 and #66 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458s will start this afternoon’s three-hour Blancpain Endurance Series season-opener from first and second on the grid, courtesy of a 1:46.571 and a 1:46.831 from drivers Norbert Siedler and Pierre Kaffer respectively. This morning’s qualifying session took place in perfectly dry and sunny conditions at Monza.
“It’s amazing for the team after a tough weekend last time out at Nogaro, where the track didn’t really suit the car,” said Siedler. “It wasn’t a perfect lap, but it was pretty good – getting every single braking point right around here is tricky. We’re really competitive here and it should be a good race – but our focus is on the Pro-Am classification rather than an overall result.”
The Blancpain Endurance Series grid is set using the fastest time set by any of a car’s two or three drivers in any of the three parts of qualifying (though cars with just two drivers only take part in Q2 and Q3). The Rinaldi Ferraris set their markers during the final Q3 session, but third-place qualifier Fabio Babini in the #19 Grasser Lamborghini Huracan did his best time of 1:47.275 in Q2.
“I’m very happy – it’s been a very good job by Grasser Racing to get the two new cars up to speed,” said the Italian veteran. I had a tough time in traffic initially but was able to come through it. Our job tomorrow is to finish our first race and stay in the top 10.”
Fourth on the grid went to Micheal Lyons (who’d come from Silverstone overnight after driving in Saturday’s ELMS race) in the #111 Kessel Ferrari, with a time of 1:47.484, also set in Q2. Babini’s third-fastest time made him the highest Pro Cup qualifier, as Siedler and Kaffer are in Pro-Am Cup cars. Second-quickest in Pro Cup (but only ninth-quickest overall) was Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi with a 1:47.653.
Leonard Motorsport Aston Martin qualified a very impressive fifth overall and fourth in Pro-Am, with Michael Meadows banging in a 1:47.485 in Q3. The highest-placed Am Cup runner was Liam Talbot in the #111 Kessel Ferrari. His time of 1:48.766 sees him line up 35th overall. “I feel like someone’s going to pinch me and it won’t hurt – it’s like a dream,” beamed the Australian. I didn’t manage to string a totally clean lap together so I was quite surprised to get pole. It’s my first time in Monza, so I’ll keep learning as I go.”
Q3 was halted with seven minutes to go by a red flag when Fabio Onidi shunted the #74 ISR Audi fairly heavily at the Variante Ascari – a very similar accident to the one that befell Steven Kane in the #7 Bentley in qualifying here last year. The session resumed once the Audi had been recovered.
Earlier, Q1 had to be stopped briefly when Max Koebolt lost it on the exit of the Variante Roggia and hit the barrier, damaging the front-left corner of the #4 WRT Audi and bringing out the red flags. The session restarted for the final three minutes of running, although no-one could overhaul Stippler’s fastest time for that session, a 1:48.028 set before the stoppage.
All the ‘overnighters’ from ELMS at Silverstone have arrived in one piece and will start the race: Alessandro Bonacini and Lyons in the #11 Kessel Ferrari, Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari, Marco Cioci in the #53 AF Corse Ferrari and the full driver line-up of Eric Dermont, Henry Hassid and Franck Perera in the #12 TDS BMW.
“If you had to pick one track to go straight into qualifying, Monza wouldn’t be it!” Griffin told us in the paddock beforehand. “But it should be okay, we’re on good form from finishing third in ELMS yesterday and we know the car should be quick here.”
He and Cameron line up eighth overall and seventh in the Pro-Am class for the race, which starts at 2:30pm local time (1:30pm in the UK) this afternoon.
Images: Dan Bathie