Photo: Blancpain GT Series
Provisional pole, ahead of Friday July 26’s ‘Super Pole’ shoot-out for the 2019 running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa was taken by the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team BLACK FALCON Mercedes-MG GT3, driven by Yelmer Buurman, Luca Stolz and Maro Engel, the trio lapping the iconic 7.004km Belgian circuit in an average of 2:19.570.
The #4 car was, on average, .081 seconds a lap quicker than the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 piloted by Dries Vanthoor, Frank tippler and Alex Riberas.
With the top 20 entries going through to Super Pole, taking provisional pole across the four evening sessions was probably less critical than encountering a problem and dropping out of the 20 quickest average times. However the sessions were competitive with all drivers pushing hard.
Qualifying got underway at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps with ambient temperatures still in the mid-30s but with the threat of rain having receeded.
The first session, primarily for the entries with four driver line-ups, was red-flagged after with just over ten minutes remaining after the #9 Boutsen Ginion Racing BMW M6 GT3 went off with Eric Maris at the wheel. Maris was able to get the car restarted and returned to the garage but the #9 entry would play no further part in the evening’s qualifying sessions.
Qualifying resumed after a break of seven minutes with nobody, at that stage, having set a flying lap time. As the 15 minutes counted down, it was Ricky Collard, driving the #762 R-Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 who set the first competitive time with a 2:20.359.
When the chequered flag came out, Collard’s time stood as the quickest of session, followed by Michele Beretta in the #555 Orange 1 FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 who set a 2:21.226.
Quickest of the Pro-Am Cup entries was the #93 Tempesta Racing Ferrari F488 GT3 with Jonathan Hui at the wheel with the Am Cup time sheets headed by Pierre Ehret in the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari.
Christina Nielsen was second quickest in the Pro-Am Cup class #43 Strakka Racing Mercedes with a 2:23.038 after the car had undergone some significant repair work following an accident for the Danish driver in the Bronze Test on Tuesday July 23.
The full grid of 72 cars was on the circuit for the second session, as the ambient temperature remained stubbornly high.
Earl Bamber in the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard immediately went to the top of the time sheets with a 2:20.047 but the session was red-flagged with eight and half minutes remaining after the #17 Silver Cup Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 driven by Alex MacDowell at the wheel had a big off-track excursion at Les Combes, causing significant damage to the left-hand side of the car.
The damage was sufficient to cause the #17 car to miss the remainder of qualifying and the session was paused with half the grid not having had the opportunity to set a competitive time. A lengthy delay ensued in order to make repairs to the barriers with talk continuing that the weekend’s race was forecast to receive some heavy rain.
When the session returned to green flag running, times started to tumble. Mirko Bortolotti in the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini was the first to break into the 2.20s with a 2:19.494. However Dries Vanthoor in the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT entry was quick to respond with a 2:19.236.
Track temperatures were starting to fall as Q3 began with the race director starting the session on a short call to avoid the schedule slipping further behind. Night Practice was due to start at 21:40.
Yelmer Buurman, in the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes, set the quickest time of the three sessions with a 2:19.231 on his second lap, but it was not sufficient to head the time-sheets on average lap times. That honour went to the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi in which Alex Iberas had set a 2:19.843 to set an average time of 2:19.231, .104 seconds quicker than the #4 BLACK FALCON Mercedes.
When the fourth session concluded, Maxi Götz, at the wheel of the #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing Mercedes was quickest with a 2:19.245, .128 seconds quicker than the #66 Attempto racing Audi in which Kelvin van der Linde lapped in 2.19.373.
On the average time sheets, it was the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team BLACK FALCON Mercedes who took provisional pole with an aggregate 2:19.570. The #2 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi was second quickest on average with a time of 2:19,651 with the #999 Team GruppeM Racing Mercedes completing the top three with an average of 2:19.697.
However the Super Pole shoot-out unfolds, the Silver Cup pole position will be taken by the #55 Attempto Racing Audi while pole position in the Pro-Am Cup class went to the #74 RAM Racing Mercedes.
The #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini took Am Cup class pole honours with an average lap time of 2:22.144.
Luca Stolz was happy to have taken provisional pole but was very aware that there is more work to do before the #4 car leads the field away at the front of the grid for the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
“The cool temperatures suit us so, yes, we will see tomorrow but it will be another hard day,” said Stolz. “I think Maro will do the lap and we definitely want to be on P1 to start the race. We did a really cool qualifying and each of us did a really decent lap. It was a good result for us and the car is running well.”
Super Pole gets underway at 19:05 on Friday July 26 with the lights going out for the Total 24 Hours of Spa at 16:30 on Saturday July 26.