Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and Alvaro Parente (PRT) took a memorable victory in this morning’s qualifying race at Slovakia Ring after a thrilling and action packed hour of GT sprint action.
Parente made an astonishing 8th to 2nd position move at the start of the race to ensure team mate Loeb was in prime position to later snatch the lead from the leading #12 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra driven by Niki Mayr-Melnhof (AUT) with twenty minutes of the race remaining.
Loeb executed a well-judged move in his McLaren MP4-12C and despite some initial retaliation from Melnhof after he backed off for a yellow flag, the 9-time World Rally Champion crossed the finishing line with 4.753 seconds to spare.
In second position, scoring six points and increasing their series points lead was Stéphane Ortelli (MCO) and Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) in the #11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra.
Fighting back from a qualifying penalty that saw them start, Ortelli overtook Peter Kox’s (NDL) Lamborghini Blancpain Reiter GT3 car to delight the team with another consistent points finish to stretch their advantage in the title race to 16 points.
Partnered with Kox was Stefan Rosina (SLK) and the Slovakian fans favourite delivered the basis for 3rd position with an excellent first stint in the Lamborghini Gallardo FLII. Finishing in 4th position was the second of the Sebastien Loeb Racing McLaren’s driven by Andreas Zuber (AUT) and Mike Parisy (FRA) to make it a very satisfactory race for the French squad.
The fight at the front of the field was thrilling in the second half of the race and at one stage the top five positions were covered by just 0.7s. Among the group was the HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes driven by Alon Day (ISR), who fought through to second place with a daring move on Mayr Melnhof’s Audi R8 LMS ultra.
However, the subsequent contact resulted in a drive through penalty demoting the Israeli to 10th place and out of the points. Earlier in the race, René Rast (DEU) had opened up a healthy lead over Parente before a long safety car to recover the BMW Sports Trophy Team India car of Armaan Ebrahim (IND) erased the German’s advantage.
The Pro-Am category produced equally thrilling battles at the front of the field with the #2 HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 driven by Andreas Simonsen (SWE) making a sensational late race manoeuvre to take maximum points.
The Swede, who shares with Russian team mate, Sergei Afanasiev (RUS), overtook the points leader, Hari Proczyk (AUT), in the GRT Grasser Lamborghini to claim the class win. Proczyk’s team mate, Dominik Baumann (DEU) enjoyed an excellent opening stint to hand over the class lead but the Lamborghini eventually finished 4th in Pro-Am after a separate late-race spin.
The HTP Gravity Charouz drivers now lead the GRT Grasser pair by just one point in the Pro-Am table. Rounding out the Pro-Am top three was Alex Buncombe (GBR) and Wolfgang Reip (BEL) after a solid drive in the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN entry.
In the Gentlemen Trophy class, Michele Rugolo (ITA) and Claudio Sdanewitsch (DEU) took a clear win in their AF Corse run Ferrari 458 Italia. Despite a first corner excursion from Rugolo, the pair finished well ahead of category points leaders Petr Charouz (CZE) and Jan Stovicek (CZE) to score a debut victory and thus line up in class pole for the main race later this afternoon.
The teams and drivers now have a short break before the main race gets underway at 14.15cet this afternoon.