The battle to be crowned Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup champions took another twist this morning, with a dramatic qualifying session at the Nurburgring posing more questions than it answered.
The opening race will give the Grasser Racing outfit an opportunity to reduce the gap to the leading crews after Mirko Bortolotti secured a commanding pole position.
Bortolotti delivered a lap of 1m54.246s aboard his Lamborghini Huracan GT3, adding a crucial bonus point in the process. It was his first pole position since the season-opening event at Zolder and, as the Italian ace later admitted, could not have come at a better time.
“I’m really happy to be back on pole,” said Bortolotti.
“We’re still in the fight. I still believe in [our chances] and until it’s mathematically impossible we will go for it. We’ve given ourselves a good starting spot for the first race and the goal will be to win it.”
Bortolotti and Grasser Racing teammate Christian Engelhart will therefore begin the opening contest 15.5 points shy of the championship leaders, with 33 still on offer across the two races.
The table-topping #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine will start third on Saturday afternoon thanks to Alex Riberas. The leaders will be satisfied with this result, but it might well have been a front-row start were it not for a superb lap by Albert Costa.
The Spanish racer was on form in his Emil Frey Racing Lexus, giving the Japanese car its best grid slot to date in the Blancpain GT Series.
There was less joy for the joint-championship leaders at AKKA ASP Team, whose #88 Mercedes-AMG was 10th with Michael Meadows at the wheel.
The second session saw an upset at the top of the timing screens. Raffaele Marciello looked set to clinch pole, which would have sent the #88 AKKA-Mercedes clear at the top of the standings thanks to the bonus point.
But a stellar late lap from Silver Cup runner Luca Stolz put the #6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG on overall pole, with his 1m54.007s bumping the AKKA car back to second.
It was nevertheless a good session for Marciello, particularly given the troubles faced by the #1 WRT-Audi. Christopher Mies suffered a heavy crash at turn 8, eliminating the Audi R8 LMS from proceedings and leaving the championship leaders just 14th on the grid for race 2.
As such, the #88 must start race 1 from the pack and the #1 will do the same in race 2. If anything, the results of qualifying have made it even more difficult to predict the outcome of the title battle.
The Pro-Am category remains close, but qualifying was dominated by the #39 TP 12 Kessel Racing Ferrari.
Piti Bhirombhakdi topped the first session, while crewmate Carlo van Dam secured class honours in the second. The Dutchman managed fifth on the overall grid, placing him six positions ahead of his nearest class challenger. What’s more, the #39 squad secured two vital bonus points.
Nico Bastian claimed Silver Cup pole and fifth on the overall grid in his #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG. The German driver has already secured his class title alongside Jack Manchester. Outright pole-sitter Stolz holds a clear Silver Cup advantage for race 2, starting 11 spots ahead of his nearest contender.
The weekend’s opening race begins at 14.05 and will be streamed live on the Blancpain GT Series website.