Finnish driver Toni Vilander is set to start the opening GT race of the Pirelli World Challenge season at St. Petersburg from Pole Position, after a record-breaking performance in his debut qualifying in the series.
The R. Ferri Motorsport driver steered his #61 488 GT3 to the top spot with a 1:10.923 tour of the street circuit, a lap four tenths faster than the rest of the 11-car field. The lap also broke the PWC lap record of the circuit, a 1:13.017 which was set by Michael Lewis’s Effort Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R in 2016.
“It was a good qualifying here for us today,” said Vilander. “We had good pace in the pre-practice rounds and I really enjoy the circuit. It’s fun. It’s the first time for me at the St. Pete track. This is very positive to enter the first of the championship this right.
“The R. Ferri team has been working hard to prepare for this season. The race today will be different as I have to be really aggressive. I hope we can keep this momentum for the rest of the season.”
Michael Christensen came closest to Vilander, the Porsche factory driver putting the #24 Alegra Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R second on the grid with a 1:11.377. Third in the running order was Daniel Keilwitz, setting Callaway Competition up for a successful debut weekend racing in North America with its C7. GT3-R.
On the outside of the top three looking in were eventually Spencer Pumpelly in TRG’s Aston Martin, just over half a second off in fourth, and Daniel Morad, driving the CRP Mercedes, lapping St. Pete in 1:11.589 to go fifth.
In the four-car Am class meanwhile, K-PAX Racing’s Rodrigo Baptista emerged as the fastest driver, giving K-PAX Racing a positive result in its first qualifying session as a Bentley customer team. His lap was impressive, a 1:12.545, just four tenths off his teammate Alvaro Parente in the Pro class, who ended up sixth in the overall running, making it six marques in the top six.
Baptista’s lap was also exactly four tenths quicker than Parker Chase, who claimed second in Am in his TruSpeed AutoSport Audi R8.
It wasn’t a completely smooth session, the organisers red-flagging it with five minutes to go after Canadian Scott Hargrove hit the barriers at Turn 14 in the #96 Pfaff Motorsports Porsche. One runner also missed the session, the TR3 Ferrari of Daniel Mancinelli.
Race 1 is set to begin at 15:50 local time in Florida, and can be streamed on world-challenge.com
Photo courtesy of Pirelli World Challenge