Blancpain Endurance Series – Pre-Qualifying Top 10
The No.14 KRK Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 PRO-AM entry of Belgians Rafael Vanthoor and Koen Wauters and Dutchman Dennis Retera ended the day fastest overall by producing a best lap of 1:58.760 in Pre-Qualifying at a sun-drenched Paul Ricard this afternoon.
“It’s a mixed feeling for me really,” Wauters said. “A mixture of happiness and questions because we have P1 which means the car is good and Dennis (Retera) is quick and we have very good possibilities of a good Qualifying but my last session was terribly bad because I had a tyre running flat which I didn’t know about.
“I came out of the car with a bad feeling and the team said to me ‘hey, you have P1’ which is pleasing of course. Both Rafael (Vanthoor) and I have to find some more time from here. The team gave us a car which is very good so I am pleased for them.
“It is going to be very warm tomorrow so saving the tyres is going to be important in the race. After 45 minutes the tyres start degrading a bit so if we can look after the tyres and find some time here and there, we could be good for the PRO-AM competition. We will go for the podium absolutely.”
In stark contrast to the wet and wild conditions of the first two rounds in Monza and Silverstone, the south of France was bathed in temperatures of 30C for the third instalment of the 2012 season.
The top three spots in Pre-Qualifying were filled by PRO-AM cars. Second fastest was the No.64 Black Bull Swiss Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Italian trio Tommaso Maino, Andrea Invernizzi and Mirko Venturi in 1:58.827.
Third fastest was the No.51 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia featuring Gaetano Ardagna (VEN), Daniel Brown (GBR) and Giuseppe Ciro (ITA) with a time of 1:58.914.
The best of the PRO cars was the fourth-placed Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia No.71 of Italians Stefano Gattuso, Davide Rigon and Daniel Zampieri with a best lap of 1:59.303.
The championship leaders – the No.3 Marc VDS BMW Z4 of Markus Palttala (FIN) and Belgian duo Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin, was down in 28th place with a 2:00.592.
The No.82 GCR Racing/Guy Clairay Dodge Viper of Gaël Lesoudier, Giles Vannelet and Luc Paillard maintained their grip on matters in the Gentleman Trophy battle by topping the class with a 2:03.258. The French trio was also fastest in class this morning in the Free Practice session.
Paillard said: "It was a good day for us. No problem. We are going to look at the top speed of the car because we are getting to the limiter quite early. The important thing on this car is that we have three drivers are of the same level and we can do the same lap times. It's a heavy car so we are penalised in second and third gear corners. It's a good car on a fast circuit.
"Our first objective is to finish here because we didn't finish at Silverstone and to win the class which we should be abel to do. Looking at the lap times, maybe a top 30-35 finish is feasible if the weather is nice."
Rob Bell, who together with British co-driver Mike Wainwright finished ninth in the Gulf Racing McLaren MP4-12C No.9, said: "Free Practice 1 was very good, Everything felt in order. The good thing is that driving with Mike he gets to drive in the Bronze test in the morning. It's a really good idea and it means that I can do a bit more in the second session and I've got a good amount of time in the car and enables us to do some quality set-up work. We were quickest initially and the P3 in the end in the morning.
"I thought we would be a little bit off here being so heavy. In the second session we were P9 is where we thought we would be. The Porsche, Ferrari and Mercedes are quick. It's horses for courses. We were strong at Silverstone, if it had been dry we would have done a good job. Here we have a long straight and we are disadvantaged a bit. But the championship is set up to get everyone about the same pace which is the ideal goal. In terms of how we've come together as a team this weekend, it's all gone to plan."
Maxime Soulet (BEL), who partnered Paul van Splunteren (NLD) and Dylan Derdaele (BEL) to the quickest time in the morning Free Practice session in the No.74 ProSpeed Competition Porsche, has high hopes for the race. "We knew were going to be OK here compared to Monza and Silverstone in the wet. We are much faster on the straights. If it stays dry, which it seems like, we will definitely be up there."
Tomorrow’s action starts with Qualifying at 09:00 local time. The three-hour race starts at 14:15.