Spa: Qualifying report

Round 4 of the 2006 season of the FIA GT Championship takes the teams and drivers to Belgium and the wonderful circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, most frequently cited by drivers as their favourite track. The Proximus 24 Hours of Spa has been one of...

Round 4 of the 2006 season of the FIA GT Championship takes the teams and drivers to Belgium and the wonderful circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, most frequently cited by drivers as their favourite track. The Proximus 24 Hours of Spa has been one of the highlights of the Championship since 2001 and, with double points on offer, always plays a determining role in the final title battle.  This year, even more than usual, a fine battle is on the cards in all four classes.  With four different overall winners in five years, who will emerge victorious on Sunday at 16:00?  At Spa, tough on men and machines alike, along with its reputation for capricious weather, anything could happen.

  Qualifying for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa moved away from the standard 20-minute session, which was replaced by two night qualifying sessions and one day-time session, giving a total of 195 minutes of track time.  However, the qualifying times were set by most teams during the first session, set once the temperatures were cooling but before night fell.  Phoenix Racing claimed pole with their Aston Martin DBR9, while Scuderia Ecosse took the GT2 pole, maintaining their 100% qualifying record for this season.  Manthey Racing took G2 pole with the new Porsche 911 GT3 RSR, while Aston Martin Racing made it two pole positions today, claiming the G3 pole as well as that for the first race in the FIA GT3 European Championship.   PICCINI CLAIMS POLE FOR PHOENIX RACING

Andrea Piccini took pole position for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa with a lap of 2:14.871, in the nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9.  After Corvette in Silverstone, Saleen in Brno and Maserati in Oschersleben, this is the fourth different make to claim pole position this year, out of four races.  This is Piccini's second pole at Spa, as the Italian also claimed the coveted front row position in 2002, at the wheel of the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello.  Andrea's time was just outside that set by Michael Bartels in 2005, 2:14.845.  "It was a very good lap," Piccini explained. "The team have done an excellent job on the car. We knew it was OK after our performance on the test day. We never really pushed in practice, we worked on getting a good balance for the race, then yesterday evening we went out and did our best."

Second and third places on the grid went to last year's victors, Vitaphone Racing Team, with Jamie Davies setting the second fastest time in the nr 2 Maserati MC 12.  His lap of 2:14.952 was less than two tenths slower than that of his team-mate Michael Bartels, in the nr 1 car.  Fourth place went to the nr 23 Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9 of Pescatori, Babini, Enge and Kox, ahead of the GLPK Carsport Corvette C6R of Longin, Kumpen, Mollekens and Hezemans.   THIRD POLE OF THE SEASON FOR ANDREW KIRKALDY

Scuderia Ecosse claimed pole position in every round of the British GT Championship last season, and the team seems set to try and maintain their record, with Andrew Kirkaldy setting his third pole of the season in the nr 62 Ferrari 430 GT2.  The Scottish driver added Spa to his poles at Silverstone and Oschersleben, while his team-mate Tim Mullen took the front position in Brno.  Kirkaldy, who is sharing the car with Nathan Kinch and Marino Franchitti this weekend, set a time of 2:22.095, less than a tenth ahead of the nr 58 AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2, and five tenths ahead of the nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2.  The Ferrari cars dominated the category, occupying the top six positions.  The nr leading Porsche, the nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche of category leaders Collard and Riccitelli was seventh, just ahead of the Spyker Squadron Spyker C8 Spyder.    MANTHEY RACING LEADS G2

The G2 category, for cars from national GT championships, saw pole go to the brand-new Porsche 911 GT3 RSR entered by Manthey Racing, in its first competitive race.  Marc Lieb, reigning FIA GT2 Champion, set the fastest time, placing the nr 111 car in 12th position on the grid, with the team's second car in 13th position, just ahead of the GT2 pole sitter.    Third in the category was the nr 194 Prospeed Competition Porsche, with the nr 107 Chrysler Viper fourth, ahead of the Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo.  "The new car represents a huge step forward, as you can see with our lap times," Marc Lieb explained.  "It is even more of a thoroughbred racer than its predecessor."   BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA ON G3 POLE

BMS Scuderia Italia has claimed overall pole position at Spa for three out of the five editions of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa held as part of the FIA GT Championship.  This year, the team claimed pole again, but this time in the G3 category, with their Aston Martin DBRS9.  The car, which usually competes in the FIA GT3 European Championship, set a time of 2:28.606, ahead of it's fellow GT3 competitor, the Pouchelon Racing Dodge Viper Competition Coupe.  Third was the nr 116 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe.   FIRST QUALIFYING SESSION RUNDOWN : PICCINI ON PROVISIONAL POLE

The beginning of the first qualifying session was extremely hectic, with nearly all cars on track, pushing very hard in order to make a good time early in the session.  Jamie Davies, in the nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati, was the first man to be on provisional pole position, with a lap of 2.14.952. The nr 4 GLPK Corvette C6R, driven by Bert Longin was second, Christian Pescatori (Aston Matin BMS) third and Philipp Peter (Race Alliance Aston Martin) fourth. After a number of laps, nearly all the drivers went back to the pits, while the nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC12, driven by Michael Bartels, the nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin of Andrea Piccini and the nr 23 Aston Martin BMS Aston Martin DBR9 with Thomas Enge at the wheel, took to the track.

Andrea Piccini moved initially into third position and then, with a lap of 2.14.871, the Aston Martin driver took provisional pole. Michael Bartels set the third-fastest time, with a lap of  2:15.082, with Enge fourth in the nr 23 Aston Martin BMS DBR9.  This hierarchy was to stay the same until the end of the hour.

The nr 34 PSI Experience Corvette C6R had clutch problem, but managed to set the 9th time.   On GT2, Andrew Kirkaldy in nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2 set the fastest time early in the session, with a lap of 2.22.095, ahead of six other Ferrari 430 GT2 cars ! The nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche 996 GT3 RSR was on 7th position, with the Spyker 8th.   In G2, there was a huge battle between both Manthey Racing Porsche 997 GT2. First, Lucas Luhr (nr 197 Porsche 997 GT2) set the fastest time on 2.21.420 just ahead Timo Bernhard. Then Bernhard went to the pits and give the wheel to Marc Lieb. With a lap of 2.21.420, the former overall winner of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa set the fastest time. Both Porsche 997 GT2 were ahead of the GT2 cars.   The nr 105 Porsche 996 Cup was leading the G3 during most of the session, ahead of the nr 195 Prospeed Competition Porsche 996 Cup. But at the end of the first qualifying session, the GT3 cars improved. The nr 115 BMS Scuderia Italia Aston Martin DBRS9 set the fastest time (2.28.606), ahead of the nr 114 Pouchelon Racing Dodge Viper Competition and the nr 116 Dodge Viper Competition.   NIGHT QUALIFYING TWO : VITAPHONE IN THE LEAD; RSV MOTORSPORT BEST IN GT2

The second qualifying session was ninety minutes long, from 22:00 to 23:30.  During that time, all the drivers had to set a lap time in the dark.  Although it had been expected that some cars may try to improve their qualifying time in the first few minutes of the second session, no-one was able to equal the Phoenix Racing time from the first session.  The nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati came closest, setting a time of 2:15.846 to lead the session, over two seconds faster than the nr 1 Maserati MC 12.  The Phoenix Racing Aston Martin was third, ahead of the PSI Experience Corvette C6R and the Race Alliance Aston Martin.

In GT2, newcomers RSV Motorsport, from Spain, set the best time with a lap of 2:24.953 in the nr 71 Ferrari 430 GT2.    The nr 58 AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2 was second, ahead of the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari.  The G2 class was led by the nr 111 Porsche 997 GT2, while the fastest G3 car was the BMS Scuderia Italia Aston Martin DBRS9.   THIRD QUALIFYING SESSION : ZAKSPEED IN THE LEAD

With most cars having set their qualifying time on Thursday evening, only 28 cars took to the track on Friday, for the 45-minute final qualifying session.  With the weather hot and humid, there were little hopes for improvements.  The best time was set by Zakspeed's nr 9 Saleen S7R, driven this weekend by Brno winners Sascha Bert and Jarek Janis, joined by Andrea Montermini and Jan Charouz.  Their time of 2:18.021 was half a second ahead of the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati, with the nr 36 PSI Experience Corvette C5R in third place.  The best GT2 time was set by the nr 59 AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2 of Salo, Aguas and Scheider, ahead of their team-mates in the nr 58 car.  The best time in G2 came from the Race Alliance BMW GTR M3 of Lichtner Hoyer, Gruber and Engelhorn, with the leading G3 car the Porsche 996 GT3 Cup entered by Jean Charles Levy.     The Proximus 24 Hours of Spa starts on Saturday July 29th at 16:00

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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Andrea Piccini , Tomas Enge , Jamie Davies , Lucas Luhr , Michael Bartels , Timo Bernhard , Marino Franchitti , Andrea Montermini , Marc Lieb , Tim Mullen , Andrew Kirkaldy , Bert Longin , Jan Charouz , Sascha Bert , Philipp Peter , Jarek Janis
Teams Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse , Prospeed Competition , Phoenix Racing , Team Zakspeed