A tense and dramatic qualifying session was played out in the atmospheric city of Baku, the vibrant capital city of Azerbaijan this afternoon. 28 spectacular FIA GT Series cars are now ready to do battle in the first Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika and enthral a huge crowd of Azerbaijani fans with the final rounds of the 2013 season tomorrow.
Starting on pole position will be the #12 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Rene Rast (DEU) and Niki-Mayr Melnhof (AUT) after Rast set a scorching best lap around the undulating 4.38kms track of 1m42.551s. The lap was six-tenths of a second faster than the second placed Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of Markus Winkelhock (DEU), who shares with team mate Enzo Ide (BEL). The German set a best lap of 1m43.062s.
Rast was clearly the quickest man throughout the session, setting a host of purple sector times in his committed seven lap run. The German delighted his team after they had affected repairs from free practice incidents and the pole position gives a glimmer of light to his team mate Mayr-Melnhof’s slim Pro Cup title chances.
Stéphane Ortelli (MCO) and Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) in the #11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra made it an all-Audi top three in qualifying at Baku today. The Pro Cup category leaders have a 5-point lead over team mates Edward Sandström (SWE) and Frank Stippler (DEU) in the #13 Audi. The title leaders gained an early advantage after Sandström was adjudged to have caused an accident with the Callaway Corvette in Free Practice 1 and given a five place grid penalty for tomorrow mornings qualifying race, meaning they will start in a lowly 17th position.
The Boutsen Ginion team had an encouraging day at Baku with both of their McLaren’s in the top 8. The Alexander Sims (GBR) and Stef Dusseldorp (NDL) entry was in 4th place while the Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) and Frederic Vervisch car ended in 8th place.
In the Pro Am class it was the HTP Gravity Charouz pairing of Andreas Simonsen (SWE) and Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) who led the way with their 4th pole position of the season. Simonsen set the time of 1m45.207s to give the Pro Am points leaders a 20-point advantage despite some brake problems on their Mercedes SLS AMG GT3. With their Pro Am title rival – Hari Proczyk (AUT) qualifying 3rd in class, the GRT Grasser Racing driver has much work to do on the streets of Baku tomorrow if he is to stand any chance of overturning the large gap.
Second place in Pro Am was the Novadriver Audi R8 LMS, in which Michael Ammermuller (DEU) set the best time. Ammermuller joined the team at the last round in Navarra, scoring a podium position with team owner and driver Cesar Campanico (PRT), so will be aiming for more big points tomorrow.
The leading Gentlemen Trophy class entry was the AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia which was qualified superbly by 2011 FIA GT3 European Champion, Federico Leo (ITA). Setting a best of 1m45.156s the Italian secured a 15th place overall starting position for himself and team mate Claudio Sdanewitsch (DEU), who is aiming for a hat-trick of class victories after previous successes in Slovakia ring and Navarra.
Raceday at the Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika will kick off with a warm up session at 08.00. The Qualifying Race kicks off at 09.15, while the 2013 Main Race is at 13.00 (all times local) to underline an exciting and competitive 2013 season of FIA GT Series action.
René Rast, Team WRT – Audi R8 LMS #12 (Pro Cup): “Today was a great day for us, we are taking one more point for pole position and it will help put Niki in a better place in the championship even if it will still be difficult for him to win but he can still fight for that. All in all, we can be very happy. Obviously we had a tough start today, when the team had to repair three cars in the first free practice. But the team did a really good job. It was a tough job for the mechanics but it was nice to pay them with the pole position at this amazing and challenging street circuit.”
Andreas Simonsen, HTP Gravity Charouz – Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 #2 (Pro Am): “This track is quite difficult because there is a lot of braking but overall I think that we did a good job. We are happy to be P1 of the Pro Am and we would like to continue like that in order to secure the championship tomorrow. It is a bit tough but we are 20-points ahead and there is still 34 points to take and on this track but any slight mistake and you end up in the wall, so in one race everything can be over. We have a bit of pressure but we will try to stay out of any danger and out of the walls! I like the track, even if it is not perfect for us in some corners but overall the circuit is very nice. Concerning the city of Baku it is the first time I am here and I am very impressed by the buildings and the people of the city.”
Fédérico Léo , AF Corse – Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 #50 (Gentlemen Trophy) “I am always happy to come back into to GT racing as I won the FIA GT3 European Championship a few years ago. For me, this is the first time with the Pirelli tyres but I am not so happy with my lap as I could have done much better without the traffic and a few small mistakes. I will do my stint and try to fight with the Pro and Pro Am cars tomorrow, but I will not push too much and will try to do a great race with Claudio (Sdanewitsch).”
FIA GT Series