2014 Blancpain GT Series champion Laurens Vanthoor is the first polesitter of the 2016 season. On the Misano World Circuit, the Belgian Audi-driver beat McLaren's Alvaro Parente by a mere 0.015 of a second, with last year's Misano winner Norbert Siedler in third with his Rinaldi Ferrari. Giacomo Piccini drove the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari to pole in Pro-Am, while Michael Meadows was fastest of the Silver Cup drivers in the #2 Audi. Stéphane Lemeret put the #55 AF Corse Ferrari on pole in the Am Cup. Fifteen cars ended up within the same second, in what proved to be an exciting qualifying session.
The battle for the 20 places in the deciding third part of qualifying proved to be fierce. After Q2 the first nineteen cars were within the same second, proof of the competitiveness of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup. It was Felix Rosenqvist in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG who topped the timesheets at that time, but in the deciding final ten minutes of Q3 the reigning European F3 champion had to settle for eigth. Other drivers were eager to get a quick lap in, for dark clouds were threatening over Misano. Alvaro Parente (#58 Garage 59 McLaren) was briefly on top, as was Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8. They were both beaten by Franck Perera in the #74 ISR Audi, but the Frenchman saw his quickest lap cancelled, for not respecting the track limits. That put Vanthoor back on pole, and with rain coming down over the Adriatic circuit, there were no more changes in the classification.
The fight for the class pole positions was intense as well, with Giacomo Piccini finishing first in the Pro-Am Cup; the Kessel driver will take a spot on the third row of the starting grid. Michael Meadows, who had been in eighth overall after Q2, put his # Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 on top in the Silver Cup, beating the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi of Markus Pommer by just under two tenths of a second. Stéphane Lemeret is having a not so easy weekend with the #55 AF Corse Ferrari - a new engine means the car will have to start the Qualifying Race from pitlane - but the winner of the Pro-Am Cup in the 2015 Total 24 Hours of Spa still managed to set the fastest time in the Am Cup.
The Qualifying Race for the opening round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series starts on Saturday evening at 20.50 local time. Live streaming and live timing is available on the official website or via the app.
Laurens Vanthoor (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8): “I feel very lucky to be on pole here. We achieved that multiple times last year but the entry list has more than doubled since then and, as a result, the quality is much higher. There are a lot of very good drivers and teams. So to be on pole is very satisfying, and even more so given how important it is to be starting near the front with such a large grid.”
Alvaro Parente (#58 Garage 59 McLaren): “It’s a shame we missed out on pole by such a small margin but I’ve got to be happy with second because we weren’t here last season and had no past data to rely on. The fact it rained yesterday also meant qualifying was the first time we’ve run in the dry. So a big thanks and congratulations to the team.”
Norbert Siedler (#333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari): “My first lap was a good one but I think it will be very difficult to maintain that position in the race. So we’ll target a top-five later today and then hopefully aim for the podium tomorrow.”
Giacomo Piccini (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari): "Now that we are near the front of the pack, we will try to get a good result overall, but our main focus remains the Pro-Am Cup."
Stéphane Lemeret (#55 AF Corse Ferrari): “It’s a shame to be starting at the back but I think we have the pace to claw a lot of positions back during the race. We’ll aim to score points in the qualifying race and see where that leaves us for tomorrow.”
Michael Meadows (# Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8): “It was tough out there; definitely a case of who was bravest and could get it done early enough. I waited until lap two and built up a bit which, in hindsight, probably wasn’t the right thing to do. The races are short enough that you can’t afford to take it easy at any point so we’ll just do our own thing and see how it works out.”