Belgian Audi Club Team WRT dominated Saturday's Blancpain GT Series qualifying sessions at Brands Hatch, securing pole position for both of Sunday’s Sprint Cup races.
Fresh from victory at Monza, where their #1 Audi R8 LMS triumphed in the opening Endurance Cup event of the season, the Belgian squad carried their impressive form over to the British circuit.
Blancpain GT Series points leader Dries Vanthoor bagged pole position for the opening race aboard his #2 machine, while Frederic Vervisch marked his first appearance of the season in the #17 car by taking top spot for race 2.
But neither WRT nor Audi will not have it all their own way on Sunday, with rival teams and manufacturers providing close competition in qualifying. They will be plotting a course to victory overnight, setting up a pair of highly entertaining contests.
Team WRT reign supreme in Pro
Vanthoor looked to be in control throughout the first segment of qualifying. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT driver spent almost the entirety of the 20-minute session on top of the times, eventually lapping in 1m23.931s to seal pole position.
His closest challenge came from another Audi R8 LMS, with Attempto Racing’s Steijn Schothorst continuing the impressive form that carried him to victory in the Sprint Cup opener at Zolder by taking second on the grid for tomorrow’s first race.
The young Dutchman was just 0.139s shy of Vanthoor, edging out a number of established stars to seal his spot on the front row. He was followed by the #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG of Michael Meadows, who showed well in front of his home fans to secure P3.
The top five starters for tomorrow’s race will be rounded out by the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine of Alex Riberas and the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart, both of whom were competitive but ultimately unable to challenge for the front row.
While the first segment of qualifying always seemed to be under Vanthoor’s control, the second session was a highly competitive affair that kept everyone guessing until the chequered flag.
The battle for pole eventually came down to a two-car tussle between the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team machine of Frederic Vervisch and Raffaele Maricello’s #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG. The latter ran his laps early, then parked the Mercedes and looked set to hang on and defeat Team WRT.
But Vervisch was determined to shine in his first Blancpain GT Series outing of the season and delivered a stellar lap to pip the Italian by just 0.109s. The #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT of Christopher Mies also looked to be in the battle for pole, eventually settling for P3 with a time just 0.178s off the quickest effort.
Indeed, there was little to choose between the front-runners. Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Grasser-Lamborghini) and Kelvin van der Linde (#66 Attempto-Audi) completed the top-five, with both lapping within a quarter of a second of pole.
With several competitive cars vying for supremacy, Sunday promises to deliver two highly entertaining races.
Competitive qualifying contest in Pro-Am, AKKA ASP Team dominate Silver Cup
Pro-Am class pole for the opening race was captured by the #39 TP 12-Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 of Piti Bhirombhakdi, who was a comfortable 0.596s clear of the #32 Team Parker Racing Bentley driven by Ian Loggie.
Having secured a clean sweep of poles and race victories at the previous Sprint Cup event, the Thai driver looked assured once more at Brands Hatch and will be targeting another triumph tomorrow.
Pole for race 2 went to Markus Winkelhock of Sainteloc Racing, who ended the highly-competitive second session in P7 overall, less than half a second shy of Vervisch’s best time.
It was a commanding showing from the experienced German ace, who will have seven Pro class cars between his #26 Audi R8 LMS and the nearest Pro-Am challenger at the start of tomorrow’s second race.
The Silver Cup category saw a clean sweep for the AKKA ASP squad, with Nico Bastian and Jack Manchester both securing class pole for tomorrow.
Bastian was particularly impressive in the first session, taking seventh overall aboard his #90 Mercedes-AMG and a comfortable Silver Cup pole. The German driver felt more was possible, but encountered traffic on his quick lap.
Manchester meanwhile bagged his maiden Blancpain GT Series pole on home turf, edging out the #31 Team Parker Bentley of Aron Taylor Smith. It was an impressive showing from the young Brit in only his third weekend competing in the series.
Frederic Vervisch, #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “This is my first Blancpain GT Series start this season and I’m on pole, so I’m extremely happy. Everything has gone really well. Audi has been good at this circuit in the past, but it’s still not a simple track. WRT are really strong when it comes to race strategy, so I hope we can finish where we have qualified."
Dries Vanthoor, #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: “I am just trying to do my best right now. Tomorrow we will look to do a good job in race 1 and bring it home where we’re starting. Our qualifying position for race 2 is not great (P14), so we just have to push as hard as we can and see what happens there.”
Markus Winkelhock, #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS: “This result is good but it could have been better. I didn’t put all my sectors together and I’m still missing two or three tenths to the overall pole, so we have to find a little bit on the car. Still, I think starting from P7 is not bad. We’re among the front-runners so anything is possible, especially at the start where it will be a little bit messy in turn 1 and turn 2. I’m really looking forward to the race and I’m hoping for a strong result in Pro-Am."
Piti Bhirombhakdi, #39 TP 12-Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3: “Our team only has one car here, so we’ve been trying different setups today. We still have problems with the braking and with stability, but the car is okay overall.”
Nico Bastian, #90 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: “I was P3 after my first set of tyres but I got traffic on the next set, which is why I couldn’t improve. When I see my delta time, I could have been P2 or P3. So I’m pleased with P1 in Silver Cup, but not with the overall position, to be honest. We have the race tomorrow to look forward to, however, so it’s all good.”
Jack Manchester, #90 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3: “This is my first pole, and on home turf, so I’m very pleased. There’s no better place than this to get it. I live 45 minutes from the circuit and got my driving licence here, so it’s perfect.”
Today’s opening one-hour race will start at 12.00 noon, followed by the second contest at 16.30. All of the action will be streamed live on the Blancpain GT Series.