Silverstone: Qualifying report

The 2006 season of the FIA GT Championship is underway at Silverstone, where 29 cars are taking part in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy : the British round of the FIA GT Championship. After two free practice sessions, led by the Phoenix...

The 2006 season of the FIA GT Championship is underway at Silverstone, where 29 cars are taking part in the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy : the British round of the FIA GT Championship. After two free practice sessions, led by the Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9 of Piccini and Deletraz and the Zakspeed Saleen of Janis and Bert in GT1 and Scuderia Ecosse in GT2, the shorter, qualifying system saw a new car take pole position for Sunday's race. Mike Hezemans, in the nr 4 GLPK Carsport Corvette C6R, claimed his ninth FIA GT pole position with a lap of 1:58.288 in wet conditions, while in GT2, Andrew Kirkaldy claimed the first pole position for both Scuderia Ecosse and the Ferrari 430 GT2 in the FIA GT Championship.

HEZEMANS ON POLE IN GT1

Mike Hezemans took the first pole position of the year, and gave the Corvette C6R its debut pole on its first appearance in the Championship. With the wet track, the Michelin tyres appeared to be the key, as the three fastest cars were all on Michelin tyres : the GLPK Carsport Corvette, the Zakspeed Saleen and the Phoenix Aston Martin DBR9. "It was unbelievable," he said. "We haven't tested in the wet at all, so I didn't know what to expect. And I had massive grip, so it's just thanks to Michelin. Nine pole positions in the Championship is not bad. Who has more ?" Actually, in terms of overall pole positions, Mike is now in the joint lead, along with Bernd Schneider, who also claimed nine pole positions between 1997 and 1998.

With the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati in fourth position, there were four different makes in the top four; this was also the best qualifying position for a Saleen since 2004.

KIRKALDY IN THE LEAD IN GT2

After a run of 13 pole positions in the British GT Championship last year for Scuderia Ecosse team-mates Andrew Kirkaldy and Nathan Kinch, the duo appear to be keen to keep up their record in the FIA GT Championship. With their new Ferrari 430 GT2 car, Kirkaldy claimed pole position in the GT2 class, having set a good time early in the session that was no-one else could equal. He was followed by the nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, driven by Emmanuel Collard, with the second Scuderia Ecosse car third. "The car was exceptional," Kirkaldy said. "Like most other people we haven't tested in the rain, and we haven't had a chance to test the tyres in those conditions, so it was a surprise when there was so much grip. The car was very good indeed."

QUALIFYING SESSION RUNDOWN

The session was declared wet after a heavy shower, and the track remained wet throughout. The first car to claim provisional pole was the Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12 of Bartels and Bertolini, setting a time of 2:00.911 in the wet, with the nr 7 Cirtek Aston Martin second. The nr 33 RaceAlliance Saleen then took second, while the leading GT2 car, the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari, was sixth overall with 2:04.113.

With 15 minutes to go, the Zakspeed Saleen took provisional pole with a lap of 1:58.905, followed by the nr 1 Maserati and the nr 4 Corvette C6R. With 11 minutes to go, the Corvette improved to second with a time of 2:00.546. Just past the half-way point, Andrea Piccini, in the nr 5 Phoenix Aston Martin, moved up to third.

Times continued to drop, with both the nr 4 and nr 5 improving but remaining in position. However, with less than four minutes to go, the nr 4 Corvette set a lap of 1:58.288 to take provisional pole. The Zakspeed Saleen was in the pits at the time, and was not able to improve, giving Hezemans his ninth pole. In the closing stages, the nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche moved up to second in GT2, separating the two Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari cars.

The end of the session saw four different makes in the top four, with the Corvette C6 ahead of the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen, the nr 9 Phoenix Aston Martin and the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati. The nr 7 Cirtek Aston Martin was fifth, with the nr 24 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin sixth.

The leading GT2 car was eighth : the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari, with the nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche second and the nr 63 Scuderia car third. Fourth was the JMB-GruppeM Ferrari of Tim Sudgen and Iradj Alexander, ahead of the two AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2 cars. The sole G2 car, the Gillet Vertigo, was 22nd overall.

PADDOCK STATISTICS

29 cars will line up on Sunday at 13:30 for the first round of the 2006 FIA GT Championship, the winner of which will be awarded the 101-year-old Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy. With 12 cars in GT1, 16 in GT2 and 1 in G2, cars from ten different manufacturers will line up : Aston Martin, Corvette, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Nissan, Panoz, Porsche, Saleen and Vertigo.

This year, we have teams of seven different nationalities, with drivers from sixteen different nationalities. The biggest contingent is the British, with 12, followed by 11 Italians, ten Austrians, six Germans, four Swiss and four Belgians, three French drivers, two each from the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia, and one each from Australia, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Brazil, Finland and Canada/Greece.

DODGE BRAND TO SUPPORT FIA GT AND FIA GT3 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Coinciding with the introduction of its vehicles in Europe, the Dodge brand has been appointed 'Official Cars Supplier' to the FIA GT and FIA GT3 European Championships for 2006. Dodge will provide a fleet of six vehicles for use on and off the race circuit at each round of the FIA GT and FIA GT3 Championships during the coming season, which starts on May 6 and 7 with the 'Silverstone Supercar Showdown' in England. The Dodge fleet will consist of an 'Official Safety Car', an 'Official Pace Car', one 'Official Medical Car' and three additional Dodge vehicles that will serve as VIP and Media shuttles during the series. "The Dodge brand has an historic affinity with motorsport and a series like this complements many of the attributes of the brand such as bold design, capability and affordable power," said Stephane Labous, Director of International Marketing and Communications, Chrysler Group. "So, this is a natural tie-in for the Dodge brand and we are delighted to be appointed as official cars supplier to this exciting racing series."

Commenting on the agreement, Stephane Ratel, Chairman of SRO, the race series promoter, said: "I'm thrilled that SRO and Dodge have entered into this agreement to supply the official cars for the 2006 season of the FIA GT and FIA GT3 European Championships. Over the years, Dodge cars have played a major role in the FIA GT series, with the Viper winning five Championships between 1997 and 2002, as well as two editions of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. In 2006, a new era of Dodge participation is just starting, with nine Dodge Viper Competition Coupe cars entering the all-new FIA GT3 European Championship, making this collaboration particularly relevant and timely."

Tomorrow's race starts at 13:30 local time , for 98 laps of the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. It will be shown live on a number of TV stations, including Player in the UK, AB Moteurs in France, Sky Italia in Italy, Sport1 in the Netherlands and Al Jazeera Sport in the Middle East.

DRIVER QUOTES

Pole position, GT1 : Mike Hezemans, nr 4 GLPK Carsport Corvette C6R
"It was unbelievable. We haven't tested in the wet at all, and last year our car did not go well in the rain, so I didn't know what to expect. And I had massive grip, so it's thanks to Michelin. I think the top three are all on Michelin. I had a lot of traffic in the beginning, but saw P2 and then P1, which was nice. The twenty minute session is not so nice for the other drivers, as only one gets to drive, but it saves one set of tyres ! Nine pole positions in the Championship is not bad. Who has more ?"

2nd in GT1 : Jarek Janis, nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen S7
"Qualifying for us was pretty good, we're on the front row. When I went out I had quite good grip in the first lap, but then it went quickly down. So I decided to come in and change tyres. But the problem was that with just a 20 minute qualifying session, I lost 5 minutes in the scrutineering bay to check my weight. Then I changed the tyres and went out again but I could only do one lap. But I'm really happy to be on the first row. For us it's quite good, as the Saleen is showing good things and hopefully tomorrow we will also be somewhere on front."

3rd in GT1 : Andrea Piccini, nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9
"For the team it's the first time in the Championship, so it's great for them to be third on the grid. This was the first time we drove the car on the wet, so we didn't really know how to set up the car. We tried to get a good compromise to get good grip. Michelin chose really good tyres, and we are happy with the choice we have done and with our result today. For tomorrow's race, we don't know what the weather will be like, but we are sure we can get closer to the Corvette and Saleen in the wet, and in the dry, we had great pace in the first free practice session, so we are very confident about the race."

Pole position in GT2 : Andrew Kirkaldy, nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2
"The car was exceptional. Like most other people we haven't tested in the rain, and we haven't had a chance to test the tyres in those conditions, so it was a surprise when there was so much grip. The car was very good. I set pole position on lap two and decided to come in to try different tyres, which unfortunately were not quite as good. Thanks to Michelotto who have done a fantastic job getting the car ready, and the team have worked hard. Michelin tyres have been the right choice. We had the last 13 poles last year, and now again here, so we hope to keep that going. It would be nice to win as many races as last year, but I think that will be difficult !"

2nd in GT2 : Emmanuel Collard, nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche 996 GT3 RSR
"I am quite happy as since yesterday we had not expected to be on the front row for tomorrow, but we found good intermediate tyres for qualifying, and I am very happy to be here. For sure, the GT2 category is more competitive this year, but it is better for the series and it's also good to have good competition between cars. It's going to be a tough race tomorrow -- we'll see what happens."

3rd in GT2 : Tim Mullen, nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2
"We're going to be quite busy this year doing both the British GT Championship and the FIA GT, and we started off well with two wins at Oulton Park. All weekend so far both Andrew and myself have gone well in all conditions, so we're just looking forward to tomorrow. Like him, this was my first session in the wet, and I had a bit too much understeer. But it's OK, and we're both quite confident for the race tomorrow."

G2 : Bas Leinders, Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo :
"Things are not too bad, but we are struggling with some problems with the brakes. We hope to solve the problem for tomorrow, but we're not sure. Our aim is to finish the race tomorrow and then come with more developments for the next race. We'd like to see more cars in the G2 class, and to up the pace a bit to get close to the top of the GT2 class, which is the aim of the Gillet Vertigo for this season. But I'm sure that with my team-mate Renaud Kuppens we will have a nice race tomorrow."

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Andrea Piccini , Emmanuel Collard , Bernd Schneider , Mike Hezemans , Stéphane Ratel , Nathan Kinch , Tim Mullen , Bas Leinders , Andrew Kirkaldy , Renaud Kuppens , Alexander Iradj , Jarek Janis
Teams Nissan Motorsport , Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse , Phoenix Racing , Team Zakspeed