Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Frank Kechele set the fastest time in qualifying for the Silverstone round of the Blancpain Endurance Series in his #66 Vita4One Racing BMW Z4, but all eyes were on his new team-mate Adam Carroll. The Northern Irish single-seater ace had never driven a GT car before today, yet still put in a time only a few thousandths slower than Kechele during the session – and with more fuel on board. With 2011 Blancpain drivers' champion Greg Franchi also in the pole-winning car, the German team is in a very strong position ahead of Sunday's three-hour race. “My Q3 lap was not perfect, but it was pretty near it,” said Kechele confidently afterwards. “We knew Monza didn't fit our car, but the fast corners at Silverstone suit it much better.”
The other big story to emerge from qualifying was the pace of the McLarens, which has greatly improved since Monza. Briton Duncan Tappy was second-fastest overall, and quickest in the Pro-Am class, driving the #12 MP4-12C run by the French ART squad. “There's been a lot of testing since Monza, but I personally haven't driven the car since then,” said a clearly delighted Tappy afterwards. “For that reason, I felt I had a lot of time to find from the first session, so I'm very, very happy with second.”
Third on the grid went to the Monza-winning Marc VDS BMW of Bas Leinders, Markus Palttala and Maxime Martin, fresh from their impressive fourth-place finish at the Nurbrugring 24 Hours. “I think third place is roughly what I expected from this car and this track,” commented Martin. “It's a good time, the car is not perfect, we struggled a little but it's quick. The race is long, it's three hours – so we will see what happens tomorrow. We're in a good position for tomorrow's start. Anywhere in the top five is a good place to start, but the start is a few seconds and the race is three hours. For us, rain would be great!”
Like all the McLaren teams, Gulf Racing had a challenging weekend in Italy, but things are looking much better this weekend after Rob Bell put the #9 car fourth on the grid for Sunday. Surprisingly, the fastest Audi R8 was not one of the two WRT cars – that honour instead going to fifth-place qualifier Gregory Guilvert in the #40 Sainteloc Racing machine, familiar to fans of the GT3 European Championship.
The #1 and #2 WRT Audis will start tomorrow's race from 12th and 22nd respectively. The fastest Mercedes SLS was less of a surprise: Monza podium finishers Koen Wauters, Karl Wendlinger and Anthony Kumpen in the KRK Racing car in eigth, just ahead of another satisfied McLaren team, United Autosports. You have to look all the way down to 14th to find the quickest Ferrari – the AF Corse car of Raffaele Giammaria and Jack Gerber. The Maranello cars have struggled in the wet everywhere they've raced this season, so tomorrow's rainy forecast makes grim reading for them and all the other Ferrari 458 teams.