Zhuhai: Qualifying report

Two new pole position men ! The FIA GT Championship opened its eleventh season with the 2006 Championship-winning teams claiming pole in both categories -- although for both drivers, it was their first FIA GT pole position ! 2003...

Two new pole position men !

The FIA GT Championship opened its eleventh season with the 2006 Championship-winning teams claiming pole in both categories -- although for both drivers, it was their first FIA GT pole position ! 2003 Champion Thomas Biagi placed the nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12 at the front of the grid for tomorrow's race, while FIA GT newcomer Dirk Muller gave AF Corse Motorola its first GT2 pole position with the nr 50 Ferrari 430 GT2. Zhuhai saw the start of a new qualifying system, with fifteen minutes for GT1 followed by fifteen for the GT2/G2 cars.

BIAGI CLAIMS HIS FIRST-EVER FIA GT POLE

Thomas Biagi, the 2003 Champion, has finally claimed the statistic he was missing and set his first-ever FIA GT pole position. Racing this year alongside 2006 Champion Michael Bartels, the Italian emerged ahead of two Corvettes in an extremely close 15-minute qualifying session, setting a time of 1:31.339. "This pole was one of my goals this season, so now it is done, I feel more relaxed," Biagi said. "The race is going to be really tough, and with the new two-hour format it is going to be interesting."

He was just five thousandths of a second ahead of Mike Hezemans, in the nr 5 Carsport Holland Corvette C6R, and 25 thousandths faster than Anthony Kumpen, in the PK Carsport Corvette C5. "The car just worked fine, we were in the top three all the time, and it is important for tomorrow as the race is going to be tight and we do not know how the conditions will be," Hezemans explained. His former team-mate Kumpen was equally pleased : "We have one of the oldest cars, but we are still in the front. Our team did a great job during the winter, as they completely rebuilt the car, we have to thank them because with their hard work we are in third position today. I hope it will continue this way."

Fourth place went to FIA GT newcomers Scuderia Playteam Sarafree, with the nr 11 Maserati MC 12 in the hands of reigning Champion Andrea Bertolini. Placing the PSI Experience C6 in fifth position, Philipp Peter confirmed the speed of the Corvette cars around the Zhuhai circuit.

The leading Aston Martin was sixth, Fabio Babini setting a time of 1:32.304 in the nr 23 Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9, just ahead of Karl Wendlinger in the nr 33 Jetalliance Racing DBR9. The top seven qualified within one second of each other. The nr 7 All-Inkl.com Lamborghini Murcielago was tenth.

The 15-minute session saw Hezemans take provisional pole position early on, only to be demoted by his former team-mate Anthony Kumpen. Hezemans retaliated and regained the pole, just two hundredths separating them. Half-way through the session, Biagi set his time of 1:31.339, narrowly taking provisional pole.

DIRK MÜLLER PLACES AF CORSE MOTOROLA ON POLE

AF Corse Motorola will start from the front two places for tomorrow's GT2 grid, Dirk Muller having claimed the category pole position with the nr 50 Ferrari 430 GT2, while Gianmaria Bruni took second place with the nr 51 car. Andrew Kirkaldy, who claimed eight pole positions last season, had to be content with third position, putting an end to the run of ten consecutive poles for Scuderia Ecosse.

Muller, returning to his endurance roots after a number of years in the FIA European and then World Touring Car Championships, was delighted with his result. "One -- two for AF Corse, and my first pole position for Ferrari : I'm really happy," he said. Bruni was equally pleased with his starting position for his first race out of single-seaters, and thanked his experienced team-mate, double FIA N-GT Champion Stephane Ortelli : "He has so much experience and a very good career in GT racing, so he is helping me a lot, and gives me good advice. I have to thank him."

Kirkaldy made up another all-Ferrari top three, on the first time out with Pirelli tyres. "We are going to have a hard fight in GT2 this year; it is going to be great ! This session was close, we worked hard with Pirelli. They did a great job for us. We are learning with them, they are learning with us, and we are moving forwards together."

He was closely followed by Emmanuel Collard in the BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche 997 GT2. Fifth in the session was the second Scuderia Ecosse car, which had broken its engine in the first free practice session. Due to this, its times were cancelled and the car will start from the back of the grid. This promoted the Ebimotors Porsche shared by Busnelli and former GT3 race-winner Marcello Zani to fifth. Tech9 were sixth on their GT2 debut, ahead of Felbermayr-Proton's Porsche 996 car.

The session started with Collard on provisional pole, with a time of 1:35.896. His time was overtaken by that of Bruni, in the nr 50 Ferrari, who was in turn displaced by Kirkaldy; at this stage, the top four were within five tenths of a second. Eight minutes into the session, Dirk Muller set a lap of 1:35.113, which proved good enough for pole.

Quotes from the Zhuhai qualifying press conference

Thomas Biagi -- nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Maserati MC12, 1st GT1:

"It is my first pole position in the FIA GT Championship. Last year I came very close at the Paul Ricard HTTT, but at the end a Corvette took the pole by a very small margin It is great to start the season with a pole position, and this pole was one of my goals this season, so now it is done, I feel more relaxed. The race is going to be really tough, and with the new format it is going to be interesting. I think it is going to be a really hard job for everybody; we will have to choose the right strategy. For sure Michael Bartels, all the Vitaphone Racing Team, Maserati, Michelin and me, we are all going to try our best to start the season with a great result."

Mike Hezemans -- nr 5 Team Carsport Holland Corvette C6.R, 2nd GT1:

"I'm happy because we did not do any testing, we just drove twenty laps last week, to see if the car was ok. The car just work fine, we were in the top three all the time, and it is important for tomorrow as the race is going to be tight and we do not know how the conditions will be. Corvette and Michelin did a lot of testing in United States, so that helped us. They did the testing, and we are trying what they chose."

Anthony Kumpen -- nr 4 PK Racing Corvette C5-R, 3rd GT1:

"Due the new rules it was not possible to be three drivers in a car, so we had to find another solution, and that is why this year I'm next to Mike on the starting grid. We have one of the oldest cars, but we are still in the front. Our team did a great job during the winter, as they completely rebuilt the car, we have to thank them because with their hard work we are in third position today. I hope it will continue this way. We won the Belcar with this car, as well as the race in Zhuhai two years ago, and we hope to get some other good results in the FIA GT Championship... "

Dirk Muller -- nr 50 AF Corse Motorola Ferrari 430 GT2, 1st GT2:

"I'm really happy, and happy for the team. The decision to race together was a bit of a rush, and we did not have a lot of time for testing. We managed to be straight away very quick, we worked hard and we were focused on the whole week-end, not only on qualifying. One -- two for AF Corse, and my first pole position for Ferrari : I'm really happy."

Gianmaria Bruni -- nr 51 AF Corse Motorola Ferrari 430 GT2, 2nd GT2:

"It is a fantastic result for the team, and as Dirk said we did not have time to test a lot. I felt quite comfortable in the car. For me it is the first time that I'm driving something else than a single-seater car, so I'm happy with the result. It is a good start, but also I have a big help next to me with Stephane Ortelli. He has so much experience and a very good career in GT racing, so he is helping me a lot, and gives me good advice. I have to thank him. I know that the FIA GT Championship is great, with hard fighting, as I saw it on the TV last year. This year seems to be even more difficult, and I'm pleased to be in the middle of this battle, in an Italian team, with an Italian car. I'm Italian so I can't ask for better."

Andrew Kirkaldy -- nr 61 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2, 3rd GT2:

"It is the end of my series of pole positions, but it had to happen one day... I did not expect to do so many pole positions last year, so anyway it was a great series. We are going to have a hard fight in GT2 this year; it is going to be great. This session was close, we worked hard with Pirelli. They did a great job for us. We are learning with them, they are learning with us, and we are moving forwards together. It is very close, and we'll see what happen during the race, where everything could happen."

-credit: fia

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Gianmaria Bruni , Dirk Müller , Karl Wendlinger , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Ortelli , Michael Bartels , Anthony Kumpen , Mike Hezemans , Fabio Babini , Andrea Bertolini , Thomas Biagi , Andrew Kirkaldy , Marcello Zani , Philipp Peter
Teams Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse