The #63 Grasser Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart and Rolf Ineichen will start this afternoon’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup race from pole position, in a qualifying where numerous front-running entries fell foul of red flags.
Following pre-qualifying, momentum looked to be with Grasser, particularly their #63 entry. As always, the grid for this afternoon’s race would be decided by three 15-minute sessions, which would be used to find an average lap time among each car’s three drivers.
The first 15-minute session was led away by Matt McMurry in the #22 Jenson Team Rocket RJN Honda NSX. His first lap was a mid-2:03, though he soon improved to a 2:01.773. This would ultimately be his best time in what would be a pause-heavy session.
Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini) was the early pace-setter; after eight minutes of the session, he was at the top of the session on a 1:59.114, over half a second clear of Dries Vanthoor in the #2 Team WRT Audi. Vanthoor’s best time at this stage of the session was a 1:59.668.
With just over six minutes remaining, the #10 Team WRT Audi of Ricardo Sanchez found itself in the gravel at Maggotts; the Mexican driver wasn’t quite able to avoid spinning the rear tyres, becoming beached and causing a red flag.
Green flags would soon wave again, however, another Audi found itself in the Maggotts gravel with two minutes and 18 seconds left on the clock.
This time, it was the #66 Attempto Racing Audi of Clemens Schmid. This entry was one of several cars that had not yet set a flying lap, and they would ultimately not get the opportunity as the session was not resumed.
Among the notable casualties of this were both Rowe Racing Porsches as well as Dinamic Motorsport – the winner of the previous round at Monza – the #59 Garage 59 Aston Martin of Come Ledogar and a trio of front-running Mercedes cars; the #4 and #6 Black Falcon entries, and the #88 Akka ASP Mercedes of Raffaele Marciello. These teams would not be able to improve on the grid beyond the cars that had completed a flying lap in this session.
Another notable affected party was R-Motorsport – while both cars had registered lap times, they were both ten seconds off the pace of Bortolotti.
This premature conclusion meant that no one got within half a second of Bortolotti’s 1:59.114 – advantage Grasser for the remainder of the qualifying process.
After the issues in the first session, there was no hesitation from anyone, with practically the entire entry immediately taking to the circuit. A momentary pause at Club Corner for Jake Dennis in the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin would have panicked the pit wall, but thankfully, the Brit fired up the car again before assistance was judged to be required.
The fastest of the early flying laps came from Luca Stolz in the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes, who broke the timing beam with a 1:59.083. Meanwhile, Christian Engelhart took the #63 Grasser Lamborghini to a 1:59.515, which would ultimately prove to be more than enough to ensure that the team’s average would be well clear of the pack.
The session would be a clear run, with no pauses, but also no improvement among the top four after their first flying laps; Luca Stolz held the top of the Qualifying 2 order, ahead of Matt Parry and Jake Dennis in the #62 and #76 R-Motorsport Astons, and the #63 Grasser Lamborghini of Engelhart.
After the second session, the Grasser outfit held the average lap time advantage by 0.765 of a second, courtesy of a 1:59.314. Pieter and Steijn Schothorst had done a wonderful job in the #55 Silver Cup-entered Audi R8, holding a provisional second place after two sessions.
Sandy Mitchell was among the first drivers to set a flying lap in the #78 Barwell Lamborghini. A 1:59.852 was an impressive first lap, however, Mitchell would likely be quick to point out that the #63 Grasser Lamborghini (Rolf Ineichen) held up his progress in the final turns of the lap.
Nicki Thiim (#76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin) would become the first driver to go below a 1:59 with five minutes of the session complete; a 1:58.890 serving as a good indication of what could have been for R-Motorsport had either car set a competitive lap in session one. Thiim’s car will start this afternoon’s race from 29th.
Rolf Ineichen only managed a 2:00.443 in the third session, but the #63 Grasser Lamborghini outfit would secure pole position for this afternoon’s three-hour race with an average lap time of 1:59.690. Despite not quite clinching overall pole, the Schothorsts and Mattia Drudi would be satisfied with a front row start for the #55 Attempto Audi, especially because their closest Silver Cup competition – the #78 Barwell Lamborghini – would line-up seventh overall.
The second row of the grid for this afternoon’s race will be headed up by the #519 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini, with the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport lining fourth.
The sister FFF Lamborghini – the #563 – would head row three, ahead of the #2 Team WRT Audi.
The #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport Aston Martin will line-up 18th overall in the effective Pro-AM pole. AM honours would go to the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini; Miguel Ramos setting the pace in the car to take the pace despite a session for Leo Machitski that the Russian described as ‘a bit poor’.
Mirko Bortolotti said after the session: “We saw yesterday in practice that tyre degradation is a big point this weekend, especially the new tyres that basically only last one lap. It was crucial to get the lap done. I managed to finish my flying lap despite some traffic, and that was crucial to get pole again after Monza, which was also really great for us.”
This afternoon’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup race begins at 15:00 local time.
Photo courtesy of Blancpain GT