UPDATE: The #1 Audi Sport Team WRT entry has since lost its pole position for an illegal performance modification, promoting R-Motorsport to pole position.
It’s Friday evening, the sun is beginning to dip behind the Ardennes forests and SuperPole for the 2018 edition of the Spa 24 Hours is well underway. Lap times are tumbling as improvements light up the timing screens, but there’s one name that rises above all.
Dries Vanthoor has been given SuperPole duties at the wheel of the number 1 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 entry, which of course, not only claimed victory in the Bathurst 12 Hours, but also leads the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup standings after winning the season-opener at Monza in April.
On Thursday, the car earned its place in the SuperPole session, finishing up fourth in the combined times from qualifying thanks to commendable efforts from the three drivers which share the car.
Vanthoor heads out as the session elapses into its final minutes. The young Belgian nails the throttle on the exit of La Source, rocketing through Eau Rouge and Raidillon at full noise before settling into the run up Kemmel Straight.
He rounds Pouhon and attacks Blanchimont with full commitment a little later in the lap, crossing the line in a lap time of 2:18.605s. That would not be it from the 20-year old, with Vanthoor going even quicker on his second flying lap, ultimately securing pole position for WRT and co-drivers Alex Riberas and Christopher Mies.
His second tour, a 2:18.578s, puts the number 1 machine 0.605s clear of the next best car, with Vanthoor the only driver to lap in the 2mins 18s bracket.
“This wasn’t an easy one,” says Vanthoor, who could barley contain his excitement after hopping out the car and celebrating with the team.
“When I got in the car, I decided to give everything that I possibly could. This pole position is thanks to WRT, Audi, the engineers, and all the people working in the background – our car was absolutely amazing.”
Fellow Belgian driver and former Spa 24 Hours champion, Maxime Martin, produced a rapid time earlier in the session which would stand for pole, before Vanthoor went on to better it. Martin’s effort still proved fruitful in front of his home-crowd, with the number 62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage driver steering his car to a 2:19.183s to claim second.
Nico Müller sneaked into third aboard the green-striped sister number 2 WRT Audi, as the number 72 SMP Racing Ferrari and Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi rounded out the top five.
It was an incident-free outing for the most part, however, a crash for Raffaele Marciello in the warm-up session just prior, meant the number 88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 would not take up its berth in SuperPole. The team is working to have the car ready for the race where it will hopefully start from 20th place.
Up front though, it’s all smiles in the WRT Audi garage.
“[It’s] very good,” said Vanthoor when asked by GT REPORT on his thoughts of taking pole for the Spa 24 Hours on home turf.
“There are a lot of Belgian fans, French fans. I also live 40 minutes away from here, so it’s nice to be on pole here. Of course, it’s also a great place to start the 24-hour race from pole position, it can also help a bit – I’m very satisfied.
“It’s very hot in the car. We’ll have to drink a lot, rest a lot, but the Audi has good cooling so it’s not too bad, but of course it’ll be hot.”
Asked what his squad’s game-plan will be for the race, Vanthoor said: “I’m expecting that we’ll make a good start in the first hour and then—I won’t say easily—but we’ll try to stay within the top three and go into the night in that position.
“We’ll have to survive the night and into the morning and then we’ll see where we are and can start to push—or not. It’ll depend on what all happens, you can never tell beforehand in a 24-hour race because it can all turn out differently.”
An impressive seven different brands made up the top ten fastest runners in SuperPole, while Audi were the best represented with the German manufacturer boasting six cars in the SuperPole, four of which finished among the top ten.
Frenchman Côme Ledogar was the first to break the 2’20-barrier, but ended up sixth in the best of the Garage 59 McLaren 650s GT3 entries.
Walkenhorst Motorsport’s number 34 car, which proved class of the field in the combined qualifying times, grabbed eighth and were the fastest of the BMW M6 GT3s, ahead of the leading Porsche in the form of the number 911 Manthey-Racing fielded machine.
Lamborghini were represented in tenth with the number 63 Grasser Racing Team Huracan, while the best of the Bentleys claimed 11th.
Mercedes-AMG is lamenting a disappointing result, with its best car way down in 14th in the shape of the number 4 Black Falcon car, with the Emil Frey Lexus Racing RC F GT3 19th.
The stage is now fully set for the 70th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Racing begins on Saturday at 16:30 CEST where the number 1 WRT Audi will lead the spectacular grid of over 60 cars into Eau Rouge and mark the start of the incredible twice-around-the-clock battle.
Miguel Bosch contributed to this report.