Qualifying took place on schedule for the opening round of the European Le Mans Series after heavy snow showers and cold conditions at the start of the day threatened delays.
The session, however, got underway on time and it was the LMGTE cars who rolled out for the first on-track action of the 2016 Europeans Le Mans Series. Richie Stanaway was immediately on the pace in the #96 Rofgo-entered Aston Martin 8 Vantage, putting in a 2:19.348 early in his 5 lap qualifying run. The battle for second place went to Ricard Lietz in the Proton Competition #88 Porsche 911 RSR 991 with a 2:20.286, closely followed by Andrea Bertolini in the #66 JMW Motorsport Ferrari F458 Italia with a 2:20.378.
The top six were rounded out two Ferrari F458 Italias, the #66 AF Corse car driven by Matt Griffin with a 2:21.309 and the #56 AT Racing entry driven by Pier Guidi Alessandro with a 2:21.360, followed by Wolf Henzler with a 2:21.419 in the #77 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR 991.
The LMP3 class was next on track in conditions that were still being described as wet but with a drying line appearing. With cold tyres and unable to reach speeds which made them aerodynamically effective, the LMP3 cars were initially struggling to beat the LMGTE times. Dino Lunardi in the Duqueine Engineering #19 Ligier JS P3 made the early running and looked set to take class pole. However, with the track continuing to improve it was Ross Kaiser in the 360 Racing #6 Ligier JS P3 who set the fastest time with a 2:13.264 on his fifth lap.
Lunardi finished the session second in class with a 2:13.315 while Enzo Guibbert in the #9 Graff-entered Ligier put in a flying final lap to qualify in third place with a 2:13.394.
“I’m a little disappointed’” said Lunardi after the session. “We have good pace and the race is most important. It is difficult to say where I lost time but the rain had stopped and lap after lap the track got better.”
The LMP2 cars were last on the circuit in the fast-and-furious qualifying format. Only Mathias Beche in the #46 Thiriet By TDS OREC 05-Nissan had set a time before the session was red-flagged after a spin by Damien Faulkner in the Murphy Protoypes #48 ORECA 03R-Nissan. After a delay of some eight minutes the car was recovered and the rest of the field returned to the track for a final shoot-out.
Mathias Beche finished the session taking pole position with a 2:06.471 set on his fourth lap. Four manufacturers filled the top four places. SMP Racing’s Stefano Coletti set a 2:07.0576 in the #32 BR 01, Léo Roussel finished third in the Pegasus Racing #29 Morgan-Nissan with a 2:07.624 and Harry Tinknell in the G-Drive Racing #38 Gibson 015S Nissan finished fourth with a 2:07.855.
With close performances across all three classes the race promises to be an exciting and closely-fought affair.
The lights go out for the start of the 4 Hours of Silverstone this afternoon at 14:30.