Just before the start of the Qualifying Race some raindrops fell on the Autodromo Internacional Algarve, but not enough to warrant rain tyres. At the start, Vincent Abril in the #84 Bentley Team HTP Continental managed to grab the lead from polesitter Christopher Mies, but the German in the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT car retook first position at the exit of turn one. Mies' move was deemed in breach of the rules however, for overtaking while not respecting the track limits, and the Audi driver had to serve a drive-through.
This gave Abril a comfortable lead of over two seconds, with the Audi's of Laurens Vanthoor and Marcus Winkelhock in second and third respectively. Both Audi drivers continued a couple of laps longer in their first stint, which proved to be advantageous for the #1 Audi Sport Team WRT R8. Robin Frijns managed to come out of pitlane in front of the Bentley, now driven by Maxi Buhk, but one lap later the former Blancpain Endurance Series champion used a textbook blocking pass to retake the lead.
Although series leader Frijns did his utmost best to keep up with the Bentley in the remainder of the race, the Dutchman lost too much ground in the final corner to try and overtake Buhk. Frijns remained under the rear wing of the Bentley though, and almost pulled it off after an inspired move in the final lap. However, he could not slow the Audi down in time, and ran wide a couple of corners from the end, which meant that Buhk crossed the line in first.
Both cars had managed to create an impressive lead over the rest of the field. After the pitstop the #6 Phoenix Racing Audi of Niki Mayr-Melnhof had lost contact with the leading pair, but enjoyed a healthy advantage over two cars that started the race down the order: the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari and the #88 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini, which had started from the pitlane after an engine change.
The duel between the GT Russian Mercedes in Pro-Am looked set to end in favour of Christophe Bouchut and Alexey Karachev, but a drive-through (converted to a 30 sec penalty) in the closing stages of the race gave the advantage to their team-mates Marko Asmer and Alexey Vasilyev.
Silver Cup contenders Jules Szymkowiak and Max Van Splunteren focused on moving up the order overall as well, and eventually claimed the eighth place on the starting grid of tomorrow's Main Race.
Maxi Buhk (#84 Bentley Team HTP Continental): "I expected the move from Robin Frijns. I felt he was a bit quicker and I guess he was waiting for the last lap to try something. I knew I had to defend everywhere I could to hang on to my position."
Robin Frijns (#1 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi): "I was not waiting for the last lap to try and overtake the Bentley, I was just waiting for a gap that would fit my Audi. There was an opportunity, but unfortunately there was a small contact and I punctured the left front. It was good fun, though."
Niki Mayr-Melnhof (#6 Phoenix Racing Audi): "It feels very good to be on the podium again, it's been a while. It's a shame that we lost some time in the pitstop - we had some trouble to get the car going again - but the speed of the car opens up opportunities for tomorrow's race."
Marko Asmer (#71 GT Russian Team Mercedes, 1st Pro-Am Cup): "It's unfortunate what happened to our team-mates, but the same thing happened to us in Moscow. The rules are the same for everyone, and if they are policed correctly, I have no problem with that. Now we should try and improve our set-up for tomorrow, so we can try and get a top-10 finish overall."
Jules Szymkowiak (#83 Bentley Team HTP Continental, 1st Silver Cup): "I am not really happy with my personal performances this weekend. Vincent and Maxi show that this car has a lot of potential. I am still adapting to the circuit and there is still some room for improvement. Maybe in tomorrow's race."
Sunday 6 September
08:50 – 09:10 Warm-up
14:05 – 15:05 Main Race (live TV)
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Blancpain - Innovation is our Tradition
Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, the watch brand bearing his name is the oldest in the world. Blancpain is currently engaged to the renewal of mechanical watchmaking and to passing on exceptional expertise from one generation to the next through constant investment in human resources, production facilities and research. This approach is its strength and the expression of our long-term vision, even though it goes against the tide of a certain tendency to seek immediate profit. From the creation of components through to watch design, Blancpain is distinguished by its ability to develop exceptional movements. Over the past ten years, the Manufacture has indeed developed no less than 35 new calibres.
Through its various models, Blancpain preserves its heritage of precision and elegance, while also displaying an innovative and occasionally provocative spirit. Its range encompasses the sportive L-evolution line, the legendary Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, as well as the classic Villeret collection, the high complication from Le Brassus collection and the Women models.
Pirelli – Official Tyre Supplier
Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.
Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past.The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.
SRO Motorsports Group - The architect of modern GT Racing
SRO Motorsports Group was founded by Stephane Ratel and has specialised in the promotion, support and organisation of many national and international motorsport series since 1995.
In 2015, SRO promotes several championships and series, such as the Blancpain GT Series (with the Blancpain Sprint Series and the Blancpain Endurance Series, including the iconic Total 24 hours of Spa), the Avon Tyres British GT Championship and the newly-created GT Sports Club and Ultracar Sports Club. SRO Motorsports Group has various franchise agreements, including the GT4 European Series.
SRO Motorsports Group runs also the SRO Race Centre by MMC, a high-level technical centre at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France.
SRO has offices in London, Paris and Liège.