Qualifying is over - the race can now begin ! After two qualifying sessions on Thursday evening and a further session on Friday, the grid is now set for the 57th edition of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, round 6 of the FIA GT Championship. Most times were set in the first evening session on Thursday, which ended in the wet; the second night session took place on a damp and drying circuit and was therefore slower. Today's third session saw few changes to the overall results, as the session was generally slower, but a number of cars did manage to recover from earlier problems to claim their grid positions. With a Maserati one-two overall, followed on the grid by an Aston Martin and a Corvette, and a Ferrari sixth, the starting grid promises a fine race tomorrow, as proved by the exciting first qualifying session, where at one point seven cars from six makes were timed within seven tenths of a second. A close Porsche battle in GT2, a varied and closely-fought G2 class and the first-ever female FIA GT pole setter in the G3 class, tomorrow should see a fascinating edition of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.

WEATHER

After a dry first qualifying session and a second extremely wet night session, the weather was overcast on Friday, but it remains warm and humid. Occasional showers during the day proved that the race could be extremely difficult from a weather point of view.

MICHAEL BARTELS ON POLE POSITION

The nr 9 Vitaphone Maserati MC 12 confirmed its pole position in the third qualifying session, the car shared by van de Poele, Bartels and Scheider setting the fastest time of 2:17.296 ahead of the nr 28 Aston Martin DBR9 of Brabham, Turner and Sarrazin and the nr 10 Vitaphone Maserati of Babini, Biagi and Davies.

The time of 2:14.845 set yesterday by Bartels was therefore confirmed as the fastest of the weekend, and the nr 9 car will start from the front of the grid for tomorrow's Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. This is the first pole position for the team this year, and Bartels was pleased with the result. "Pole is one little step; you need lots of luck to do well, so many things can happen, and the weather is always a factor at Spa. We're very pleased to have claimed the first pole position for the team, especially because of the high quality of the GT1 class competitors."

It will be an all-Maserati front row, with the nr 15 JMB Maserati of Wendlinger, Peter and Bertolini second, the time of 2:15.297 having been set by Andrea Bertolini in yesterday's first qualifying session. "Our qualifying time was good, as it was very difficult to get a clear lap. But it is very good to have an all-Maserati front row."

The second row will be made up of the nr 29 Aston Martin of Goossens, Kox and Lamy, Lamy having set the time. "We have spent the weekend getting better, after we were off the pace at the test day. We have improved the car, although the current setup still isn't brilliant. If we don't have any problems, for sure we will be up there able to fight for the top places." Fourth place went to the nr 6 GLPK Corvette - making three different manufacturers in the top four.

COLLARD LEADS GRUPPEM DUO IN GT2

Emmanuel Collard claimed his third pole of the season, with a lap of 2:22.856 around the 6.946 km Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the nr 88 GruppeM Porsche he shares with Tim Sugden and Stephane Ortelli. "For us, this race is very important because of the double points on offer; we have to hope we have no mechanical problems, so we can close the 15-point gap to our team-mates," Collard explains. Their car was second fastest in the third and final qualifying session, where the nr 66 car, recovering after their collision yesterday, set the best time of 2:25.971 to improve to second in GT2. "We have gone well today; we now have the race engine and gearbox fitted. The car feels okay - we will have to wait and see what happens in the race. This is a special race for me - I really enjoy it, and I think we're going to be quick tomorrow," Marc Lieb explained. Third place went to the nr 67 Autorlando Porsche of Moccia, Groppi and Camathias, Moccia having been pleased with his time of 2:27.045.

BELTOISE ON POLE IN G2

PSI Motorsport set the best time in the G2 class, with the Porsche shared by Anthony Beltoise, Damien Coens and Jean-Luc Blanchemain setting a time of 2:25.898 to place them 18th overall, just behind the two GruppeM cars. "For me, this is the first time in a Porsche 996 GT3 RSR," Beltoise said.

"We had some problems in free practice, and were very slow, but we managed to find a good set-up for qualifying, with help from the team. I am driving with two gentleman drivers, so our plan is to reach the finish of the race, without taking too many risks." The nr 191 Renstal de Bokkenrijders Porsche was second fastest, ahead of the nr 105 Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo. The nr 121 Force One Chrysler Viper qualified third. The team had suffered a broken transmission in the first qualifying sessin, but improved in the night session and then went fastest in the G2 class in third qualifying, to claim third place on the G2 starting grid.

VANINA ICKX ON POLE IN G3

For the first time, a female driver has taken pole position in an FIA GT class : Vanina Ickx will start from the pole position in the G3 class, in the nr 123 Mulhner Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3 Cup. "This is the first time I've been to the qualifying press conference, so it's a bit strange. Being on pole doesn't mean that much, as there are on three entries in our class. Our main hope is to see the chequered flag. Last year we finished tenth overall; we hope to do better, but it will not be easy."

The nr 124 Mulhner Motorsport Porsche was second, with the nr 112 Levy Team GB car third.

DRIVER QUOTES

GT1 - pole, 2:14.845, Maserati MC12 GT1, van de Poele/Bartels/Scheider.

Michael Bartels: "So far our weekend has gone quite well. We had good signs on the test day, when we concentrated on race tyre performance. This weekend the car went very well right from the start of free practice, and was competitive.

Pole is one little step; you need lots of luck to do well, so many things can happen, and the weather is always a factor at Spa. We're very pleased to have claimed the first pole position for the team, especially because of the high quality of the GT1 class competitors.

I think we can expect some 'sprint' racing in the first few hours, as there are points awarded after 6 and 12 hours. After that things should settle down, as everyone tries to make it to the chequered flag.

For sure the Maserati cars are looking for points in the championship, so we won't be trying to fight with the Aston Martin cars, as that cause us to drop points."

2nd, 2:15.297, Maserati MC12 GT1, Bertolini/Wendlinger/Peter.

Andrea Bertolini: "Our qualifying time was good, as it was very difficult to get a clear lap. Being on the front row isn't really that important for the race, so we have been working on a good balance for the race, and working on tyres."

3rd, 2:15.552, Aston Martin DBR9, Goossens/Kox/Lamy.

Pedro Lamy: "We have spent the weekend getting better, after we were off the pace at the test day. We have improved the car, although the current setup still isn't brilliant. If we don't have any problems, for sure we will be up there able to fight for the top places."

6th, 2:16.226, Ferrari 550 Maranello, Vosse/Mollekens/Bouchut/Gardel.

Christophe Bouchut: "Qualifying didn't go like we expected. Our performance was not as good as we wanted, as the engine wasn't pushing as hard as expected. Sixth on the grid is not bad, it's just not as good as the team had hoped for.

The Ferrari 550 Maranello is now a real challenger, capable of fighting for the overall victory. We have an advantage compared to the Maserati because we are quicker in the rain - and it will rain!"

GT2 - pole, 2:22.856, Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, Collard/Sugden/Ortelli.

Emmanuel Collard: "Well, we have to hope our luck is going to change! The race is going to be difficult because of the weather - there will be both wet and dry periods in the race. For us, this race is very important because of the double points on offer; we have to hope we have no mechanical problems, so we can close the 15-point gap to the top drivers.

I think it will be very difficult for a GT2 car to make it onto the overall podium, as the GT1 cars are very quick. There will be rain, which will help us a lot, but I don't think it will be enough."

2nd, 2:24.477, Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, Lieb/Rockenfeller/Luhr.

Marc Lieb: "We have had lots of problems this weekend. Yesterday we had an engine misfire during the first qualifying session, and in the second session I got hit by another car after Eau Rouge - the other driver couldn't decide what line to take, and hit me on my right rear wheel.

After that I had a 230km/h impact, and the car was almost totally destroyed. The team worked very hard to rebuild the front end, but once they had finished that, they found that something had broken at the back too, and they had to replace the whole rear suspension.

We have gone well today; we now have the race engine and gearbox fitted. The car feels okay - we will have to wait and see what happens in the race. This is a special race for me - I really enjoy it, and I think we're going to be quick tomorrow."

3rd, 2:27.045, Porsche 996 GT3 RS, Moccia/Groppi/Camathias.

Luigi Moccia: "We're very pleased to be in third place; all three drivers are going well, and the team have done a very good job on the car. Now we have to look forward to the race."

G2 - pole, 2:25.898, Porsche 996 GT3 RS, Coens/Beltoise/Blanchemais.

Anthony Beltoise: "Well, this race is certainly a change in temperature from my last race in Dubai, but it's still very hot in the cockpit of the Porsche!

For me, this is the first time in a Porsche 996 GT3 RSR. We had some problems in free practice, and were very slow, but we managed to find a good set-up for qualifying, with help from the team. I am driving with two gentleman drivers, so our plan is to reach the finish of the race, without taking too many risks - the plan is to see the chequered flag on Sunday afternoon."

G3 - pole, 2:33.658, Porsche 996 GT3 RS, Ickx/Bermes/Hemroulle/Reis.

Vanina Ickx: "This is the first time I've been to the qualifying press conference, so it's a bit strange. Being on pole doesn't mean that much, as there are on three entries in our class. Our main hope is to see the chequered flag. Last year we finished tenth overall; we hope to do better, but it will not be easy."

-fia-