Jetalliance Aston Martin on provisional Spa 24H pole

Karl Wendlinger stormed to the provisional pole Thursday evening for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the fifth round of the FIA GT Championship. The Austrian aboard the No. 33 Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin DBR9 posted a 2:14.581 lap time around the...

Karl Wendlinger stormed to the provisional pole Thursday evening for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the fifth round of the FIA GT Championship. The Austrian aboard the No. 33 Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin DBR9 posted a 2:14.581 lap time around the legendary 7.004-km Spa-Francorchamps circuit, good enough to hold the top spot overnight.

Wendlinger's lap, like the majority of the 44 cars competing the twice-around-the-clock Belgian marathon, was set during the first 60-minute qualifying session. Many cars were close to four seconds slower during the second 90-minute night session, as teams concentrated on getting all of their drivers qualified for Saturday's enduro. For Wendlinger and co-drivers Ryan Sharp, Alex Muller and Lucas Litchner-Hoyer, things are running to plan.

However, the fortunes for another GT1 class favorite turned by the wayside in the closing moments of qualifying. Chrisophe Bouchut, who had just ripped off the second quickest time, suffered a major accident at the high-speed Blanchimont complex with ten minutes remaining in the first session. Traveling an estimated 260 kph, the Frenchman lost control of his No. 3 Selleslagh Racing Corvette C6.R, slamming hard into the tire barriers. Bouchut was taken to a local hospital for observation, complaining of back pain.

Bouchut's accident has forced the Belgian team to repair the heavily damaged Corvette. All four corners of the American muscle car sustained some sort of damage, but the chassis is luckily in tact. With the help of fellow Corvette entrant Phoenix Carsport Racing and the recently withdrawn DKR Engineering C6.R, SRT is optimistic of rebuilding the car in time for the race.

Defending Series champions Vitaphone Racing put its No. 1 Maserati MC12 third on the grid provisionally, with a 2:15.209 lap time. Peugeot factory ace Stephane Sarrazin and Krohn Racing's Eric van de Poele have joined regulars Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini in the Italian supercar for this weekend's race.

The first of the Phoenix Carsport Racing Corvettes clocked the fourth best time Thursday, with the No. 10 Gigawave Motorsport Aston Martin rounding out the top-five overall.

In the GT2 category, the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari F430 GT of Thomas Biagi ended up quickest of the pack, setting a 2:21.504 lap time in his Prancing Horse. The Italian, and co-drivers Christian Montanari, American Le Mans Series regular Dominik Farnbacher, and Matias Russo, edged out the No. 77 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari, which qualified second provisionally. Third, and best of the Porsche brigade, was the No. 76 IMSA Performance Matmut 997 GT3 RSR of Raymond Narac, Richard Lietz and Patrick Long, another ALMS star.

While AF Corse continues to show its muscle as the team to beat in GT2, the Italian squad suffered a dent in its armor today as its lead No. 50 Ferrari suffered an engine failure, only completing three laps. The car missed the night qualifying but will be out for Friday's third session.

In G2, a non-homologated invitational category, the No. 102 McDonald's Racing Porsche 996 Bi-Turbo of Wolfgang Kaufmann set the quickest time, edging out the No. 101 Belgian Racing Gillett Vertigo, the only other car in this class after the late withdrawal of the two Mosler MT900s. The fourth category competing this weekend, G3, was headed by the No. 123 Muhlner Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S.

The 24 Hours of Spa has been the marque event on the FIA GT calendar since 2001, and that attracts some of the world's finest sports car drivers who don't usually compete in the series. In addition to Farnbacher and Long, Mika Salo and Jamie Melo (No. 50 AF Corse Ferrari), Dirk Muller (No. 56 CR Scuderia Ferrari) and Wolf Henzler (No. 60 Prospeed Competition Porsche) are other notable ALMS regulars racing here this weekend.

The above list doesn't include other world-class aces such as Pedro Lamy (No. 7 Larbre Competition Saleen S7-R), Jan Lammers and Tomas Enge (No. 8 IPB Spartak Racing Lamborghini Murcielago) and Darren Turner (No. 10 Gigawave Aston Martin) who have all been drafted in to complete teams' endurance lineups. The mix of season regulars and guest drivers makes this race one to watch every year.

A final 45-minute qualifying session Friday at 12:50 CET will lock the positions for Saturday's 24-hour marathon. However, as seen in past years, times set during the third and final session usually are not quicker than Thursday's dusk session. If it proves true yet again, we will be looking at a familiar grid for Saturday's start.

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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Jan Lammers , Tomas Enge , Dirk Müller , Karl Wendlinger , Mika Salo , Darren Turner , Eric van de Poele , Stéphane Sarrazin , Pedro Lamy , Michael Bartels , Patrick Long , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Christian Montanari , Andrea Bertolini , Thomas Biagi , Wolf Henzler , Dominik Farnbacher , Ryan Sharp , Raymond Narac , Richard Lietz , Alex Muller , Matias Russo
Teams AF Corse , Prospeed Competition , Krohn Racing , Larbre Competition , IMSA Performance Matmut , DKR Engineering