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Monza, Qualifying, Buhk Puts HTP Merc On Pole

Max Buhk, 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series champion, put HTP Mercedes’ brand-new #84 Mercedes-AMG GT on pole position for Saturday afternoon’s Blancpain GT Endurance Cup race at Monza.

A damp but drying track after an overnight thunderstorm meant that nearly all the fast times were set in the third of the three segments of qualifying. Going into Q3, ROWE BMW’s Dirk Werner was at the top of the times with a 1:47.724, but that would eventually only be enough for 11th overall on the grid.

Three minutes into Q3, Daniel Keilwitz put the Black Pearl Ferrari fastest with a time of 1:47.711, with Scuderia Praha Ferrari’s Matteo Malucelli, AF Corse’s Alessandro Pier Guidi and ISR Audi’s Franck Perera also among the early pace-setters.

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Alex Buncombe in the #23 Nissan was next to climb to the top, his 1:47.525 just edging out an effort from local hero Giancarlo Fisichella in the #53 Pro-Am Ferrari. The last few minutes saw more improvements from, among others, Clemns Schmid in the second HTP Mercedes and Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi. But it was Buhk who made it count with less than two minutes to go, shading Buncombe by a mere 16 thousandths of a second to put the Mercedes in front.

“I wasn’t expecting that, Ferrari has been quickest in every session so far,” said the German. “Pole is always good, of course, and it should allow us to stay out of trouble in the first corner, then we’ll see where we are in the race.”

Buncombe seemed very satisfied with P2, obivating the need for one of his trademark demon opening laps in the Nissan. “I’m seriously chuffed with that,” he said. “The goal this morning was to get on page one of the screens, so top 20, so that’s a big surprise. We saved our new tyres and ran on old rubber from Misano on full tanks in practice, so that was my first run on low fuel.”

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The second row is an all Pro-Am Ferrari affair, with Fisichella (above) third and Malucelli fourth. The former said: “It’s a very nice championship here, well organised and very competitive. I’m pleased with my day so far. We’ve qualified well, but the main target is a good result in Pro-Am, as my gentleman driver [Ishikawa Motoaki] is still quite inexperienced.”

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After Fisichella came Schmid in the #85 Mercedes, Soulet in the #8 M-Sport Bentley (above) and Vanthoor in the #1 Audi. Matt Griffin qualified the #53 Ferrari third in Pro-Am and eighth overall, ahead of another AF Corse 488, this time the Pro Cup #50 car of Alessandro Pier Guidi. Keilwitz’s time from early in session was good enough to have the Black Pearl car round out the top 10 ahead of Werner.

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Further down the pack, the McLaren GT Academy young guns in the #59 (above) outqualified their more experienced team-mates in the #58, with the two 650S lining up 15th and 16th courtesy of the efforts of Andrew Watson and Rob Bell respectively.

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Finally, Rino Mastronardi qualified on pole in the Am Cup, driving the #51 AF Corse 488 (above) to 22nd overall on the 57-car grid.

QUALIFYING TIMES >>

The three-hour Blancpain GT Endurance Cup season opener gets underway at 3pm local time (2pm in the UK) Sunday.