Lamborghini got amongst the McLarens during qualifying for today's Blancpain Endurance Series season finale at the Navarra track in Spain. Dutchman Peter Kox was second fastest, just behind the dominant HEXIS McLaren driven by Fred Makowiecki and ahead of the third-place ART McLaren of Duncan Tappy. Bas Leinders, Markus Palttala and Maxime Martin were quickest of the two title-contending driver trios, qualifying their Marc VDS Racing BMW fifth with a time of 1:39.942. However, a 10-place penalty earned during the previous race at the Nurburging will see them start this afternoon's event from 15th on the grid, so their rivals in the #1 WRT Audi now start fifth.
“Fifth was not so bad, I did some mistakes so I think we could have been P2,” said Maxim Martin, who set the Marc VDS car's quickest time. “It will definitely be a big race – they're starting fifth and for sure they'll be protected by the other WRT cars,” he continued. “But anything can happen in a three-hour race. Navarra is not the best track for the car and it's not easy to overtake here, so it will be difficult. There was a little rain in qualifying, and rain in the race would be good for us: it would give us a better chance of getting back up to the front of the pack.”
The Marc VDS trio's chief rivals – Stephane Ortelli, Christophe Mies and Christopher Haase in the #1 WRT Audi – will line up fifth, and they also have Audi team-mates Frank Stippler, Oliver Jarvis and Filipe Albuquerque starting fourth to assist them. The #66 Vita4One BMW, #9 Gulf Racing McLaren, #40 Sainteloc Racing Audi and #71 Kessel Racing Ferrari completed the top ten.
WRT Audi's Mies (#1) and Jarvis (#6) were the early pace-setters in Q1, with David Rigon in the #71 Kessel Ferrari getting amongst them and Marco Bonanomi in the #2 WRT car in fourth. The Audis held the top three spots in Q1 for several minutes, while the #1 car's championship rival Leinders could only manage 18th quickest at the wheel of the #3 Marc VDS BMW. Stef Dusseldorp gave an early demonstration of the #7 HEXIS McLaren's potential by going third in the final seconds of the session, just ahead of Dino Lunardi in the #40 Sainteloc Audi.
With light rain now falling on the Navarra circuit, most teams elected to send their cars out early to record a 'banker' lap time. Boutsen Ginion Racing set the early pace, courtesy of new signing Andy Soucek in the #5 Pro-class car and Fabien Thuner in the #15 Pro-Am entry. Alvaro Parente quickly split them, before Haase in the #1 Audi took advantage of the easing rain to top the times with a 1:39.6. Alvaro Parente in the HEXIS McLaren quickly lowered the benchmark time significantly with a 1:37.2, while Gregoire Demoustier in the #12 ART Grand Prix car and Soucek in the #5 went second and third, proving the McLaren is the car to beat at the Spanish track this weekend. The rain then got heavier, prompting most teams to bring their cars in early a few minutes before the official end of the session.
The rain had stopped once again by the start of the final part of qualifying. Kox in the #24 Lamborghini and Frank Kechele in the #66 Team Vita4One BMW were quick straight away, but drivers' championship challenger Stephane Ortelli in the #1 Audi briefly led both of them before Kox improved once more. He and Briton Tappy in the ART McLaren both dipped into the 1:37s, but HEXIS' third driver Fred Makowiecki soon blitzed the opposition with a 1:36.8 to put pole position beyond doubt. A final improvement from Kox put the Lamborghini on the front row, but he was still half a second slower than the French team's McLaren. Tappy's time was good enough for Pro-Am pole and third overall, and in the press conference afterwards he stated that an overall podium was a realistic goal for him and co-driver Demoustier. Makowiecki meanwhile said: “It was a very good lap, and the team worked really hard yesterday to find a good balance on the Michelin tyres, as we normally race on Pirellis in GT1. I hope to add to our GT1 victories at Navarra earlier in the year.”