Raffaele Marciello and Christopher Mies have shared the pole positions for the opening two races of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Sprint Cup as times tumbled in a thrilling qualifying session around Brands Hatch, with poles not settled until the closing minutes.
The sessions were made up of two 20-minute runs, with times from Q1 setting the grid for Sunday’s opening race, while Q2 sets the order for the second of the Sprint Cup’s 60-minute races.
The Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is old school, it’s not one for the faint of heart and it doesn’t forgive mistakes with grass, gravel and barriers waiting for anyone who dares to put a wheel onto the grass.
Not that it put off Marciello. The AKKODIS ASP Team driver was absolutely flying, and was the first of the 29 drivers to set a quick time in the 20-minute session as he set a 1m22.844sec to put almost four tenths on Frederic Vervisch in the Comtoyou Racing Audi R8 LMS Evo2, but the Italian wasn’t to have the session all his own way.
That’s because Albert Costa and Konsta Lappalainen in the Emil Frey Racing Ferrari 296 GT3s were absolutely flying. The latter was the first to overhaul Marciello’s early effort with a 1m22.756sec before taking another tenth off to settle himself within the upper echelons of the runners who were all pushing to the absolute limit to find the final tenths.
For Costa, a 1m22.791sec put him onto the front-row alongside his Finnish team-mate with Mattia Drudi proving to be the biggest threat to the Ferrari’s dominance as he went third with a 1m22.830sec in the Tresor Orange 1 Audi.
Times wouldn’t change for a bit, though. Remember how drivers were pushing to the limit to find the ultimate lap times? Christian Engelhart found out first-hand what happens if you go over the limit. Setting the best middle sector of anyone in the Dinamic GT Huber Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R, the German pushed too hard going into the quick left of Stirlings and got stuck in the gravel on the outside. That caused the first of qualifying’s two red flags and the punishment for that, a deletion of the car’s fastest lap of the session, dropped the 992 from fifth to eighth.
Once the track went green again, Marciello was a man on a mission. With Lappalainen electing not to go out again, the fight boiled down to Costa and Marciello.
The Italian’s first sector wasn’t outstanding in the Mercedes-AMG GT3, but his middle was a personal best and then the final sector was a beast. Fastest of anyone down from Stirlings and through Clark Curve, Marciello broke the beam with a 1m22.258sec to storm to pole position.
His lap proved to be 0.307sec quicker than the rest of the field, headed by Costa who managed to spring ahead of the other royal blue 296 by 0.060sec, clocking a 1m22.565sec.
Fourth was Drudi, unable to improve late on, while Charles Weerts pushed up after the late interruption to put the #32 Team WRT BMW M4 GT3 into fifth – 0.049sec down on the Audi.
Lucas Legeret took sixth for Comtoyou Racing, and highlighted the competitiveness of the session as he snuck ahead of VSR’s Jordan Pepper by just 0.015sec – the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 relegated to seventh by less than a blink of an eye.
Alex Aka took Silver Cup pole and ninth overall for Tresor Attempto Racing, whilst Vervisch added another Audi to the top ten mix as he qualified – handily – in 10th.
If the Ferraris and Mercedes stole the show in Q1, the second session was all about the Audis as two Christophers – Mies and Haase – stole the show in a sign that while Audi might be starting to back out of GT racing, the R8 hasn’t had its day yet.
Actually in the early running, it was Giles Magnus – in the #21 – that topped the times, but Mies didn’t take too long to get his eye in behind the wheel of the #27 Sainteloc Junior Team entry as he broke into the 1m22s.
However, as more laps got logged, the times started to tumble with Dries Vanthoor – in the BMW he shares with Charles Weerts, and then Magnus all putting themselves onto provisional pole position.
For a time, it was an Audi top four with Mies and Haase heading Magnus and Patric Niederhauser in the second of the Sainteloc Audis. But, much like Q1, the session wouldn’t come without disruption and ironically it was an Audi that caused the second red flag as Lorenzo Patrese beached the #99 in the Paddock Hill Bend gravel trap after the rear snapped round on him going down the steep right-hander.
Once the session went green again, the Emil Frey Ferraris got back into their groove and it looked as though Thierry Vermeulen was on course to snatch away the top spot, but as soon as he crossed the timing line, the lap was taken away from him thanks to a breach of track limits at Graham Hill Bend.
To rub salt in the wound, Giacomo Altoe – in the sister #14 Ferrari – did go top with a 1m22.028sec. That didn’t last though, as Mies was winding himself up into a frenzy behind the wheel of the #27. First he moved up to second with a 1m22.055sec and then on his next he put in one hell of a lap – the fastest of the weekend so far – with a 1m21.716sec seeing off the rest of the competition.
The only other driver to get into the 1m21s was Haase, but he was a quarter of a second off the pace and just squeaked ahead of Altoe by 0.058sec.
Fourth went to Niederhauser, sixth-hundredths ahead of Maxime Martin in the Team WRT BMW he shares with Valentino Rossi. Martin was in the mix for pole early on in the session, but couldn’t quite find the final bits of time he needed – potentially handicapped by the fact that teams only have six sets of tyres per car for the full weekend and didn’t want to use up a set chasing down the Audis.
Sixth was Magnus in the end, taking some slight consolation in being the Gold Cup polesitter. Four thousandths behind was Nicolai Kjaergaard in the Garage 59 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo – the best result in a pretty quiet session for the British marque.
Ricardo Feller’s last lap was enough to move him from 14th to eighth in the Tresor Orange 1 Audi, with Niklas Krütten took ninth by the skin of his teeth, with Franck Perera’s fastest lap in the VSR Lamborghini just 0.001sec slower.
The first GT World Challenge Europe race of the weekend takes place at 11.05 UK time (12.05 CEST), with the second scheduled for 16.10 UK (17.10 CEST).
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