The #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing Mercedes AMG GT3 crew of Maro Engel, Mikael Grenier and Raffaele Marciello took their second Intercontinental GT Challenge pole position of the season ahead of the Kyalami 9 Hours, Marciello lapping in weekend-best 1:42.029 to qualify on average .324 seconds quicker than the #32 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3 of Sheldon van der Linde, Dries Vanthoor and, driving the final session, Charles Weerts.
Completing the top three for Saturday’s contest was the the sister #33 Team WRT BMW BMW piloted by Phillip Eng, Augusto Farfus and Maxime Martin.
Qualifying got underway as track temperatures soared to 54 degrees C at the start of the three 15-minute sessions. As the first session got underway, there was drama for the #11 BigFoot Express Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Sun Moodley at the wheel as it ground to a halt at pit out. The car was quickly re-set and fired up.
Marcus Winkelhock set the early pace in the first session with a 1:46.460 but was quickly surpassed but Luca Stolz in the #20 Pro-Am entry with a 1:45.479. The times started to tumble with Winkelhock going back to the top of the timing screens with a 1:43.817 and Mattia Drudi going second, just .097 seconds back. As the session entered the final three minutes, Mettler in the #75 Pro-Am entry was quickest with a 1:43.519 but times were falling quickly. As the session drew to a close, it was the #999 GruppeM Mercedes of Maro Engel that was quickest with a 1:43.167 followed by Vanthoor in the #32 Team WRT BMW, .132 seconds behind.
Heading the Pro-Am class was the #75 driven by Yannick Mettler with a 1:43.519 with the #3 of Mikael Pitamber topping the timing screens in the GT3-Cup category.
Mikael Grenier took over the #999 car and put in a 1:43.602 on his first flying lap., improving to 1:42.657 on his second, to keep the #999 on provisional pole. Kelvin van der Linde lapped in 1:42.759 to keep the #32 car in second on the provisional grid while third was taken by Augusto Farfus who lapped in 1:42.834.
Raffaele Marciello took over the #999 for the final session with Charles Weerts behind the wheel of the #32, just .117 seconds back on the average timings. The #999 pilot put in a 1:42.556, the best lap of the weekend to that point, to put over a quarter of a second between him and Patrick Niederhauser in the #66 on the average timings.
As the session entered its final third, Marciello went quicker again wit a 1:42.029 and promptly returned the garage, the #999 Mercedes comfortably on pole by just over a third of a second. Pole position in the Pro-Am class was taken by the #75 Sunenergy by SPS Mercedes piloted by Kenny Habul, Jules Gounon and Yannick Mettler.
Class honours in the GT3 Cup category went to the #3 NGK Pablo Clark Racing Mercedes driven by MIkaeel Pitamber.
Maro Engel was delighted to the GruppeM car back at the front of the grid.
“Obviously (it’s) great to be back on pole and huge credit to the team who worked very hard,” he said. “We were a bit delayed on parts arriving late so a big job to get everything ready so a big thank you to the GruppeM team. It’s great to be on pole and great job also for these boys (Grenier and Marciello) here.
Mikael Grenier found less problems with grip than his teammate when he went out in the second session.
“For me honestly it was fine,” said Grenier. “For Maro, obviously as it was Q1 it was a different category and maybe there was some sand or oil on track but for me, from the first lap it felt quite nice The car balance was good but on race pace we still have to work a bit so let’s see tomorrow.”
The Kyalami 9 Hours, the second round of the 2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli, gets underway at 1300 local time on Saturday February 25th.