Despite the slight threat of rain in the early afternoon, qualifying for round three of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series was run in sunny conditions. The first two parts of qualifying were largely incident-free, but with 24 cars circulating within the same second and only 19 going through to Q3, there were always going to be tears for some of the favourites and outsiders. One of the more notable contenders not to make the cut was the Misano Qualifying Race-winning #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental of Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek. The Belgian-Spanish duo, who are currently fifth in the overall driver standings, will start Sunday's qualifying race from 24th.
In Q3 finding a clear lap was crucial. And Franck Perera, who joined ISR’s Audi squad at the start of 2016, managed exactly that in the final segment. His 1m23.260s was enough to give the Czech team its first pole position since joining the Blancpain GT Series.
Not that Perera could start his celebrations early. Jules Szymkowiak and Jazeman Jaafar, driving the #86 and #85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG respectively, both came within one tenth of Perera's time. Indeed, with the top 14 cars covered by less than half a se-cond, there was no room for error in the final 10 minutes of qualifying. That was some-thing championship leader Dominik Baumann and Misano winner Laurens Vanthoor dis-covered the hard way: the Austrian clipped one of the advertising hoardings and the Bel-gian got stuck in traffic during his final attempt, leaving them 11th and ninth fastest respectively.
For a long time it looked as though the fastest of the Pro-Am drivers, Morgan Moullin-Traffort in the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG, would also get a chance to make his mark in the final part of qualifying, but some last gasp improvements from others left the Frenchman a mere three hundredths shy of scraping into Q3. Right behind Moullin-Traffort was the fastest of the Silver Cup drivers: Luca Stolz and the #19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. With his main competitors only a couple of places behind him, and within two tenths, the fight for the Silver Cup promises to be keenly contested tomorrow, too.
With only one car entered in the Am Cup, Stéphane Lemeret took no risks in the #55 AF Corse Ferrari, for his and team-mate Claudio Sdanewitsch's main aim for the weekend is to score important championship points.
Tomorrow’s qualifying race starts at 12.05 local time, with the top-of-the-bill main race getting underway at 14.20. Live coverage is available on the official Blancpain GT Series website and app.
Franck Perera (#74 ISR Audi): “I have no real experience of this track but we have worked really hard, both here and during pre-season, to get on top of the new car. Obvi-ously Marlon is new to GT racing but we have just done our best in a short space of time to catch the guys ahead. Qualifying at the front here is really important because it is so difficult to overtake. The aim is to win and the car is good, especially over a stint. I am really confident that we have the pace to win tomorrow’s race.”
Jules Szymkowiak (#86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG): “Tomorrow is just the qualifying race but of course there are points to gain there. We will just make the best of it; I am not going to take too many risks even if the aim is to stay near the front and se-cure a good grid slot for the main race.”
Jazeman Jaafar (#85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG): “It was tricky throughout, to be honest. We managed to find a good gap, which was fortunate because, for us, the tyre’s peak comes early in the run. So we maximized what we had and managed to pull out P3. I am really happy for Mercedes-AMG to be second and third on the grid. Hopefully we can fight at the front tomorrow.”
Luca Stolz (#19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini): “It would have been really nice to make it into Q3, but we missed maybe a tenth in the last sector. But I am still happy with the Silver Cup pole. It is not easy to overtake here and we need to stay out of trouble, bring it home and fight for more points in the main race.”
Morgan Moullin-Traffort (#87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG): “It is nice to be on pole in the Pro-Am Cup here, especially since this weekend is the 10th anniversary of the first ever GT3 race weekend in history and back in 2006 I took pole position for the second race. I was hoping to get into Q3 here, but I made a mistake during what should have been my fastest lap. I think we had the speed to get into the top-10 overall.”
Stéphane Lemeret (#55 AF Corse Ferrari): “My aim is to win the race and score points for the championship because in the following races I think the other Am Cup cars will return to the series. So we need to take this opportunity to build an advantage. As a driver you always want to be the fastest, but today I was the slowest! However, if you look at the other Ferrari 458 lap times, especially my AF Corse team-mate Raffaele Giammaria, he was only half a second faster than me. He is rated Gold and I am Bronze, so I think my time was decent. Okay, I am last. But the level is so high and I was only two seconds off the overall pole. I have to be happy with that. I am very proud to be part of this championship; the level is incredibly high.”
Qualifying Race : 12:05 – 13:05 (Live TV)
Main Race : 16:20 – 17:20 (Live TV)
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