The #17 WRT Audi R8 will start today’s Blancpain Sprint Cup Qualifying Race at Zolder from Pole Position, after Robin Frijns beat out the #59 Strakka McLaren of Andrew Watson with a time of 1:29.025.
The Blancpain GT Series arrived at Zolder with Christian Engelhart and Mirko Bortolotti leading the championship and expectations were high with the Lamborghini Huracan #63 of the Grasser Racing Team.
There had been overnight rain which left some residue at the side of the circuit, but strangely off the side of the track it was dusty. The sun was out, track temperature was good and apart from the edges, the circuit was dry and in prime racing condition.
Q1 started busily, as expected, and it was the #27 Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini with Gustavo Yacaman at the wheel who posted the first flying lap time of 1:33.801, at least three seconds slower than the fastest practice time of yesterday.
It did not take long for race control to start cancelling lap times for track limits, the #87 Mercedes of Jean-Luc Beaubelique the first victim and as the times began to tumble the cars brought themselves to within one second of the previous fastest times.
Phil Quaife put his Spirit Of Race Ferrari top of the times with a 1:30.835 but moments later Michael Meadows went three hundredths quicker.
Coming out of turn one Michael Broniszewski went wide and the wheels hit the dusty edges, the back-end of the car kicking out which spun him across the circuit into the wall. The red flag was brought out with just over eight minutes remaining. This was frustrating for Meadows who had posted a quicker time than Quaife, but as it was achieved under the red flag he saw it cancelled. Quaife sat top of the timings followed by Andy Soucek in the #8 Bentley and the #67 Attempto Racing Lamborghini of Nicolas Pohler.
Once the session restarted it was a case of cars jumping each other for positions, trying hard to get in the best times possible within the short time remaining. Strangely the #63 championship leading car of Engelhart sat 22nd overall. A few cars had decided not to come out with the time remaining including four of the top six, #26 Audi, #84 Mercedes, #67 Lamborghini and the #8 Bentley.
It would be Jake Dennis who would post a time of 1:30.405 to go top, but not for long as the #59 Strakka Racing McLaren of Rob Bell went a tenth quicker and then went quicker again to be the first car to go under the 1:30 mark and the fastest time of the weekend so far.
Elsewhere the #42 Strakka Motorsport McLaren led the silver class and was 6th overall and in the Pro-Am class, Rinaldi Racing put their Ferrari in 30th but were still in the pits. Rob Bell would not see his time beaten and the cars headed in for a quick turnaround and Q2.
Christian Hasse was posting the quickest first sector times in the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi but it was the #3 and #17 Team WRT Audi’s who swapped positions for the quickest times early on, both posting under one minute thirty. Kessel Racing TP12 not only hit the front in the Pro-Am class but put their #39 into second overall and in the silver class it was the #67 Attempto Racing Lamorghini sitting 11th overall. The #27 Orange 1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini, which had looked quick in Q1 went off and spun at turn twelve. On the other side of the Zolder circuit, Daniel Juncadella just could not find his way through traffic and pitted the #88 AKA ASP Mercedes. More cars were having their lap times cancelled due to the strict enforcement of track limit rules.
Mirko Bortolotti in the championship leading #63 Lamborghini had his time taken off as did the #66 Attempto Racing Lamborghini of Giovanni Venturini. Juncadella came back out the pits to put his Mercedes 2nd with the team having two of their four cars in the top five, the #90 sitting 4th. Lewis Williamson had his lap time cancelled for track limits as Robin Frijns put his #17 Audi top of the pack. Will Stevens also saw his lap time cancelled and as the times scrolled through the cars were running half a second quicker than they had the previous day.
Rafaelle Marciello, who had performed so well in the Blancpain GT Asian Series, went second in his Mercedes as Lewis Williamson, trying to make up for his cancelled lap time, pushed hard and found his McLaren going off at turn one and into the gravel. He re-joined but the tyres were covered in dust and it was going to take some time to get that cleaned off.
There were ten cars under 1:30, five of those being Audi’s and still lap times were being cancelled as Andrew Watson in the #59 McLaren saw his wiped from the timing screens. With one minute to go the #17 Audi led the #63 Lamborghini and the #74 Audi in 3rd. Time was of the essence and only seventeen cars on combined qualifying times would make it through to Q3.
Christophe Bourret in the #89 AKKA SP Mercedes spun at turn one and came to a halt in the gravel trap and the red flag was brought out to signal the end of the session. No Bentley’s would make it through to Q3.
The seventeen cars were being hastily prepared for Q3, only the #90 Mercedes had not posted a time under the one minute thirty mark and as the combined times were displayed on the screen there would be six Audi’s, one Ferrari, three McLaren’s, two Lamborghini’s and five Mercedes cars taking to the track.
Christopher Hasse posted the first quick time, a 1:29.887 having had to negotiate his way round a Mercedes and a Lamborghini en route the line, but it was Andrew Watson who was first to beat that time as he posted a 1:29.342 in the #59 McLaren, which had been running so smoothly across all the sessions. It was down to Team WRT driver Robin Frijns to knock Watson off the top of the timing screens as he posted a 1:29.025 in the Audi and the times began to tumble, the track was getting quicker and with less cars on the circuit there was a lot more room for positions to start swapping.
Marciello was next across the line and he went second ahead of Bortolotti but Andrew Watson hit back and put the Strakka Racing McLaren back into second with a time of 1:29.132, under a tenth off Frijns in first. Bortolotti was posting the best times in the middle sector but appeared to be losing time elsewhere on circuit and could only manage to stay 4th. In the Silver Cup class the #42 Strakka Motorsport McLaren led and sat 7th overall with the Pro-Am class being headed by the #39 Kessel Racing TP12 Ferrari of Carlo Van Dam, sitting 10th overall.
Frank Stippler, who had gone out late, was on a charge in the ISR Audi and he managed to go above the #63 Lamborghini of Bortolotti who had a lap compromised when a car ahead kicked up dust onto the track.
Times were staying as they were and it would be Robin Frijns who would take Pole Position.
Top Ten Cars:
1st – #17 Team WRT – Audi
2nd – #59 Strakka Racing – McLaren
3rd – #90 AKKA ASP – Mercedes
4th – #74 ISR – Audi
5th – #63 GRT Grasser – Lamborghini
6th – #43 Strakka Racing – McLaren
7th – #3 Team WRT – Audi
8th – #42 Strakka Motorsport – McLaren (Silver)
9th – #2 Team WRT – Audi
10th – #86 HTP – Mercedes