Belgian Audi Club Team WRT dominated the first Blancpain GT Series qualifying sessions of 2018, with the Baudour-based squad securing pole position for both of this weekend’s races.
But they faced a stiff challenge from reigning overall champions Grasser Racing and their #63 Lamborghini, which will start both races from second place.
The two qualifying sessions took place this morning, with the first setting the grid for this afternoon’s race 1 and the second setting the grid for tomorrow’s race 2. In both cases, the driver who set the lap time will start the corresponding race.
Dries Vanthoor will begin this afternoon’s season-opening contest from pole position and will aim to maintain Audi’s excellent record at Zolder.
Vanthoor, who shares his #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine with Will Stevens, was competitive throughout the opening session and ultimately delivered a lap of 1m28.560s.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that happy with a pole lap,” said Vanthoor, who grew up a stone’s throw from the circuit. He beat Christian Engelhart (#63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini) to top spot, with the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT of Alex Riberas taking third on his series debut.
“It’s great to be on pole with so many friends and family here,” Vanthoor added. “It’s nice to have people here, to feel their support, but I don’t go quicker or slower – it’s just good fun!”
His fellow Belgian Audi Club Team WRT driver Robin Frijns will start tomorrow’s race 2 from pole position after setting the fastest time of the day when he ran in qualifying 2.
The Dutchman is reigning Sprint Cup champion and showed his quality with a blistering lap of 1m28.363s to fend off a determined effort from Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini).
“The car is working well and yesterday I was second quickest, so I was already confident,” said Frijns, whose #17 Audi teammate Stuart Leonard will start race 1 from P9.
“We have a good package and the Audi always works well at Zolder, so now we have to see how it goes in the race."
Frijns was cautious about his chances tomorrow, however, warning that Audi’s rivals will be more competitive over the hour-long contest.
“We have good qualifying pace, yeah, but I’m not so sure about race pace,” explained Frijns. “It looks like Mercedes might be quicker than us, but we will see.”
Behind Frijns and Bortolotti, the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine of Will Stevens and the #66 Attempto Racing Audi of Kelvin van der Linde secured the second row for tomorrow’s race, confirming Audi’s quality at Zolder.
In Pro-Am the TP 12-Kessel Racing pairing of Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo van Dam were dominant, with both drivers quickest in their respective sessions. Van Dam’s performance aboard their Ferrari 488 was especially eye-catching, with the Dutch ace securing fifth overall in qualifying 2.
“This isn’t really our strongest circuit, but the car was handling well today,” explained Van Dam. “It was tricky because of a few red flags. I had one clean lap but managed to put it on pole for our class and P5 overall, so I’m pleased.”
“The car setup wasn’t that good yesterday but today it was good, so I’m very happy,” added Bhirombhakdi, who also explained that the team had made changes to improve their pace ahead of qualifying.”
Finally, the Silver Cup class was dominated by Belgian Audi Club Team WRT with their #3 car.
But there were mixed emotions from their drivers. Gilles Magnus was thrilled to be P4 overall, but teammate Alessio Picariello was frustrated to only be P13 after struggling to find a clean lap in his session.
“I’m very happy with the result,” confirmed series newcomer Magnus. “Yesterday was the first time I drove a GT3 car in the dry and I was still struggling with the balance, but today I felt really confident. We reached our goal so I’m very happy.”
Picariello said there was much more pace to be found, but was nevertheless pleased with Silver Cup pole.
“I didn’t get one clean lap at all because of traffic and red flags,” said the Belgian. “I ended up doing my fastest time on used tyres, so I’m disappointed because we could have been much higher overall.
“But the first objective was to be on pole for Silver Cup and I’m really confident that we can push hard in the race,” he added.
This afternoon’s season-opening contest gets underway at 15.25 local time. All of the weekend's on-track activity will be streamed live on the Blancpain GT Series website.
• Qualifying 1 Results
• Qualifying 2 Resuls