Stephen Errity, GT correspondent
New Zealander Matt Halliday put in a well-judged performance on a damp but drying track to clinch pole position for this afternoon's GT1 World Championship qualifying race in Zolder, Belgium, but then received a three-place grid penalty for crossing the white line at the pit exit during the session.
The sanction means Oliver Jarvis and Frank Stippler in the WRT Audi R8, second-place finishers in both of last round's races at Nogaro in France, will now start from first place this afternoon. A very quick lap in the dying moments of Q3 saw Stippler set a time only two tenths of a second slower than Halliday's effort. “We didn't expect to be on the front row, the Audi is usually not the strongest in mixed conditions,” he said afterwards. “But the team made the right decision with the tyres.”
Halliday had gambled on slick tyres at the start of the final part of the session, and was immediately setting fast times in his Exim Bank Team China Porsche 911. He continued to lower his laptime through Q3, eventually finishing on a 1:33.568, only around three seconds off Friday's dry-weather pace. “Zolder suits the Porsche more than Nogaro did,” Halliday explained, “but we really just took a gamble with the dry tyres in Q3. You often have to take gambles in racing, and they don't always work out, but today it did.” The car will start fourth with the penalty.
Former World Touring Car Championship driver Darryl O'Young impressed by putting the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo he shares with Peter Kox into third place, upped to second after the Porsche drop. “It was tough in the wet as we didn't have the proper set-up,” he said. “We only barely made it through Q3 and Q2, but then made the right decision to go on slick tyres for the last session.”
The All-Inkl.com Mercedes SLS AMG GT3s had looked strong in the earlier parts of qualifying, but Thomas Jaeger and Nicky Pastorelli in the could only manage fourth at the end of the three sessions. Halliday's penalty upgrades them to third. Laurens Vanthoor and Stephane Ortelli were fifth in the #1 WRT Audi and will start just behind the demoted Porsche.
Michael Bartels also had slicks on from the off in Q3, but was unable to capitalise like Halliday did. The #18 Vita4One BMW Z4 he shares with Dutchman Yelmer Buurman will start sixth this afternoon, just ahead of the second Mercedes SLS of Marcus Winkelhock and Marc Basseng in seventh.
Elsewhere, it was another difficult session for the Hexis Racing McLarens. The team's lead car, piloted by Fred Makowiecki and Stef Dusseldorp, qualified down in 10th, while Gregoire Demoustier in the other MP4-12C did not get out of Q1 and will start 16th. The ageing Aston Martins and lone Ford GT struggled once again, while the pair of AF Corse Ferraris, which had looked very strong in Friday's dry conditions, were not as impressive in the damp and came home ninth and 12th.