Photo: Blancpain GT Series
Luca Stolz put the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes-AMG GT3 on pole position for Race One at Brands Hatch for the opening round of the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe after a 20-minute session that saw the weather once again play its part. The session began with the rain that had plagued the earlier practice sessions starting to fall again, resulting in all the teams bar the #88 Akka ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Vincent Abril starting on rain tyres.
Kelvin van der Linde was topping the time sheets with a 1:25.664 in the #66 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo he shares with Clemens Schmid when the session was stopped with just under 13 minutes remaining. Diego Menchaca, behind the wheel of the #555 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3, had reversed into Paddock Hill Bend, with the resulting impact inverting the car. Menchaca was thankfully unhurt but the session was paused for recovery of the #555 entry and repair of the barrier.
The session resumed with the rain having passed and the track drying, resulting lap-times starting to tumble. Mirko Bortolotti, piloting the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, went to the top of time sheets and broke the 1:24s with a 1:23.945 on his eighth lap and was still pushing to go quicker.
Times started to tumble with Andrea Caldarelli in the #563 Lamborghini setting a 1:23.592 before Luca Stolz, driving the #4 BLACK FALCON Audi, set a 1:23.261 and provisional pole.
Disaster was to strike Bortolotti in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini in the closing seconds when the Italian driver ran wide at Stirlings and speared off to the left. A heavy impact with the barriers caused significant damage to the car and would mean that teammate Christian Engelhart would not be able to participate in Q2.
Bortolotti will start alongside Stolz on the front row with Nico Bastian in the #89 Akka ASP Team Audi completing the top three on the grid after having put in a 1:23.483. Bastian was the quickest of the Silver Cup drivers.
Class pole in the Pro-Am category went to the #52 AF Corse Ferrari F488 GT3 after Louis Machiels lapped in 1:25.893.
“It was not the easiest qualifying that I ever did,” said Luca Stolz. “There were mixed conditions at the start so we started on wet tyres and it was not so easy because it looked like the track was quicker on the slick tyre. We went to change to slicks and then it was red-flagged and it started to drizzle more. I thought we were not in the game anymore because we were P24 at that moment.
“The red flag helped us in the end because the track dried up a little bit and in the end the team decided to go on new tyres really late which was, I think, the key point to make a decent gap to our competitors. It was still not easy because there were still some wet parts but I’m really happy I’m on pole.”
Q2 got underway with black clouds again threatening to cause challenges. Unfortunately, within seconds the rain was back and Christopher Mies in the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi went off at Clearways and was collected by Stéphane Ortelli in the #24 Sainteloc Racing entry. The session was red-flagged after just four minutes of running for recovery and the rain continued to fall.
When green-flag running got underway, the track was sodden and grip was hard to find. Markus Winkelhock, at the wheel of the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi,had a huge spin at Surtees with the #26 car revolving multiple times on the grass as it headed towards Clearways.
When the chequered flag fell, it was the #90 Akka ASP Team Silver Cup Mercedes that found itself on pole position for Race Two, courtesy of a 1:23.604 by Fabian Schiller on his second lap early in the session. Starting alongside the German driver will be Nick Foster in the #55 Attempto Racing Audi who lapped in 1:23.762. Completing the top three was Maro Engel in the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes.
Fabian Schiller was delighted at his pole position.
“It was a great result,” said the German driver. “We didn’t expect to be on pole. I qualy I had my first set of new Pirelli tyres this year so it was quite a surprise. Conditions played into our hands. We have a very good team and I was lucky that Nico (Bastian) came to our car after Q1 and told where the wet and dry patches were. It definitely helped and I went out there on the first lap and attacked straight away. It was a good lap and good enough for pole. I’m very happy with it.”
The lights go out for Race One at 12:10 local time on Sunday May 5.