The final round of the 2005 FIA GT Championship will see Christophe Bouchut on pole position for the fourth time this year. The Russian Age Racing Aston Martin he shares with Antonio Garcia will start ahead of the two JMB Racing Maserati MC 12 cars, with the nr 15 of Championship leaders Andrea Bertolini and Karl Wendlinger second, ahead of the nr 16 of Jamie Davies and Philipp Peter. Unusually, pole position changed in the second session, after Bertolini had set the best time in the first forty-five minutes of qualifying for tomorrow's race.
In GT2, Mike Rockenfeller set pole position in the nr 66 GruppeM Porsche, ahead of Emmanuel Collard in the nr 88 GruppeM car, and the nr 90 Spyker Squadron Spyder C8, in the hands of Jeroen Bleekemolen.
BOUCHUT CLAIMS THIRD POLE IN A ROW
After claiming pole in Magny-Cours in the Russian Age Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, Christophe Bouchut has set the best qualifying time for the last three races of the season, giving him a 100% qualifying record in the Aston Martin DBR9. The last time a driver managed three consecutive overall poles was back in 1998, when both Bernd Schneider and Ricardo Zonta took four in a row in their AMG Mercedes CLK LM cars. Bouchut set a best time of 1:54.184 in the second session, finishing a tenth ahead of the nr 15 Maserati, after a close battle throughout the day Bouchut was delighted with his performance, and is looking forward to the race. "The Aston Martin is really quick," he said. "I was really impressed with Andrea [Bertollini]'s lap time in the first session. Honestly, I thought I would not be able to improve on it. The car reacted very well and I improved by just a tenth of a second. My new team mate Antonio [Garcia] is really nice and he is driving very well - and we both want to win."
Bouchut will start ahead of the two JMB Racing Maserati MC12s, Andrea Bertolini having placed the nr 15 on the front row. "I had a good fight with Christophe [Bouchut] for pole position," Bertolini explained. "For us, it is very important to work towards the race in order to get a maximum points. The balance of the car is very good and I hope for a good result in the Championship." Jamie Davies, driving the nr 16 JMB Maserati for the first time, set the third-fastest time, just three tenths of a second off pole. As for the other Championship contenders, Babini and Biagi were the fastest of the Vitaphone Maserati cars, in fourth, just ahead of the nr 11 Larbre Competition Ferrari 550, with nr 9 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati of Bartels and Scheider sixth. The nr 12 Larbre Competition car was a fine seventh, ahead of the nr 2 GPC Ferrari. The Zhuhai winners, the nr 6 GLPK Carsport Corvette, was tenth, having struggled on the smooth circuit.
ROCKENFELLER COMPLETES GRUPPEM POLE DOMINATION
For the eleventh time this season, it will be a GruppeM Porsche that will start from the front of the GT2 grid. Although all four drivers have shared the qualifying tasks, and both poles and wins have been claimed by both cars, the team has nevertheless claimed eleven pole positions, as well as the Team and Drivers titles this season. The battle between the two cars has never shown signs of letting up, and Bahrain was no exception. With the nr 66 car lighter than the nr 88 for the first time this season, Rockenfeller set a time of 2:01.468 in the first qualifying session, which could not be bettered during the second, generally faster, session. This was not, however, the car's best time of the day, as they set a time of 2:00.766 in the second free practice session. "It is quite good to be on pole. It is the first time that we have less weight in the car than our team mates. It made things a little bit easier for us," the 21-year-old GT2 Champion explained.
With Collard qualifying second in the nr 88 car, despite carrying 75 kg penalty weight, third on the grid will be the nr 90 Spyker Squadron Spyder C8, having set a time of 2:02.922 in the afternoon. "We found a good set-up for the race," Collard said. "Still, I think it will be very difficult. Also, the Spyker is coming closer, so there will be a close fight tomorrow. I hope that we will not disturb the GT1 race because they will have to overtake three GT2 cars at the same time, which is going to be difficult !"
Fourth place went to the nr 86 GPC Ferrari 360 Modena of Drudi, Pirri and Pregliasco, ahead of Moro and Kaufmann in the nr 97 Lammertink Porsche.
VERTIGO IMPROVES IN THE AFTERNOON SESSION
The sole G2 competitor in Bahrain, the Belgian Racing Vertigo Streiff, set a time of 2:06.711 this afternoon to qualify seventh among the GT2 cars. The team, which was still suffering gear-box problems after their differential failure in Dubai, made a big improvement in the afternoon, after failing to set a qualifying time this morning. "The technical staff is working very hard and they are going to change the gearbox," Bas Leinders explained. "Normally tomorrow, everything should be ok. Compared to last year here in the Bahrain GT Festival, it will be not be possible to obtain the same results when we came 7th overall and 2nd in GT2. We hope to finish the race and we will look at the GT1 battle tomorrow on the track". Leinders is sharing the car with Renaud Kuppens and Vanina Ickx.
FIRST QUALIFYING : BERTOLINI GAINS UPPER HAND
Andrea Bertolini set the best time in the first qualifying session, held in the middle of the day. In the nr 15 JMB Maserati MC 12, he set a time of 1:55.063, nearly four tenths ahead of the nr 17 Aston Martin, qualified by Christophe Bouchut. The nr 16 JMB was third fastest, with a time of 1:56.041, just seven thousandths of a second ahead of the nr 10 Vitaphone Maserati of Babini and Biagi. In GT2, the nr 66 GruppeM Porsche set the best time, with a lap of 2:01.468, over a second fastest than the nr 8 car, with the nr 90 Spyker third.
With most teams expecting the second session to be the faster, some cars waited as long as possible to come out, while cars such as the nr 2 GPC Ferrari 575 and the nr 11 Larbre Ferrari 550 opted not to take part at all, in order to save their tyres for the afternoon.
The nr 6 GLPK Carsport Corvette was the first to take provisional pole in the session, with a time of 1:56.942. Thirteen minutes into the session, the nr 17 Aston Martin went fastest, with a time of 1:55.810, improving later to 1:55.455. With fifteen minutes to go, the nr 15 JMB Maserati came out, and was quickly up to second, setting the fastest time of the session seven minutes before the end.
SECOND QUALIFYING SESSION: THREE IN A ROW FOR BOUCHUT
The second session started at 16:30, finishing in the dark. With temperatures lower than at midday, the cars which had not set a time in the morning, including the nr 11 Larbre Competition Ferrari, quickly came out onto the track. The nr 15 Maserati set a time of 1:55.009, improving on their earlier provisional pole, and signalling that times were likely to improve.
Fourteen minutes into the session, Jamie Davies, in the nr 16 Maserati MC 12, set a time of 1:54,565, nearly a second better than the previous best, to top the tables. However, the other cars had not yet had their final word, and Andrea Bertolini set first a time of 1:54.616, which he then improved to 1:54.296 to move into the lead. Twenty-five minutes into the session, Bouchut went out again in the nr 17 Russian Age Racing Aston Martin and set a time of 1:54.184, which was good enough to secure pole for the Frenchman. For the last fifteen minutes, in total darkness, times did not improve, guaranteeing another pole for Russian Age Racing. Unlike GT1, the leading GT2 times did not improve in the afternoon, and Rockenfeller's midday lap of 2:01.468 remained good enough for pole.
Collard, in the nr 88 Porsche, improved by two tenths, remaining second, while the nr 90 Spyker took nearly a second off his best time to retain third place, ahead of the nr 86 GPC Ferrari 360, and the nr 97 Lammertink Porsche, nearly two seconds better than in the morning.