Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Tomorrow's Super Pole shootout to decide the top 20 grid positions for the weekend's Blancpain Endurance Series Spa 24 Hours looks set to be dominated by BMW Z4 and McLaren MP4-12C teams. Young German Frank Kechele set the pace during Thursday night qualifying with a 2:19.473 in the #66 Team Vita4One Z4. Another three BMWs secured a place in the Top 20, including Kechele's closest challenger, the Marc VDS Racing machine of Maxime Martin, Bas Leinders and Markus Palttala, who will be second to qualify tomorrow.
The first of the evening's two qualifying sessions at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit began at 8:20pm – but the outside temperature was still 26 degrees Celsius. The times stayed in the 2:21s for the first few minutes of the session, with first Bernd Schneider in the Preci-Spark Mercedes SLS and then Nick Cadei in the Mtech Ferrari 458 topping the timesheets. Peter Kox in the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo was first to break into the 2:20s, before Marc Sourd went quicker in the SAINTELOC Audi R8. Schneider's car ended the two sessions 13th quickest.
Kechele smashed the 2:19 barrier with just over an hour of the session remaining, then bested his own time shortly afterwards with a lap no-one could match for the rest of the night. “I'm very happy to be quicker than Max (Martin) in Belgium,” he said afterwards. “The cooler temperatures meant we had more power in the second session, but visibility was worse. We knew we had a consistent car, now we know we have a quick car, too.”
Nico Verdonck continued the strong form shown by the McLarens in free practice and pre-qualifying by putting the Boutsen Ginion Racing machine second shortly afterwards. He was quickly demoted to third by DB Motorsport's Jeroen Den Boer (another BMW entry), but the McLarens are clearly a force to be reckoned with in Belgium this weekend – Verdonck's car lines up sixth in the Super Pole, Den Boer's fifth.
Belgium's IndyCar star Bertrand Baguette put in an impressive performance in local team GPR Racing's Aston Martin V12 Vantage, eventually placing 10th. Another local hero, Maxime Martin, came closest to beating Kechele's time with around 50 minutes of the session to go, slotting the Marc VDS BMW into second thanks to a lap of 2:19.552.
The top Audi teams were conspicuous by their absence in the early part of the session, and a gearbox change prevented the all-star Le Mans line-up of Tom Kristensen, Andre Lotterer and Marcel Fassler from making their mark in the first session. But another Le Mans winner, Stephane Ortelli, put the WRT Audi R8 into third with 45 minutes remaining. This would become fourth by the end of the session, leaving the #1 car as one of only two Audi R8s in tomorrow's shootout.
The final improvement came from McLaren works driver Alvaro Parente (a late addition to the #88 Von Ryan Racing car's driver squad), who became one of only three drivers to break into the 2:19s. “There was a bit of strategy going on in that session, with everyone trying to see what the others were doing,” he commented. “We did a perfect job with the tyres – I only used one set all session.”
A red flag then interrupted the session with just under half an hour remaining, after Karim Oijeh suffered a heavy accident at the bottom of Eau Rouge in the ASM Team McLaren. The car played no further part in the evening's running but looked to be repairable in time to take up its 20th-place slot in Super Pole.
A cooler track and poorer visibility meant none of the frontrunners improved their times in the later second session; however Fassler did manage to get the star Audi trio into the Super Pole shootout with a time of 2:20.565 towards the end of the session – good enough for13th.
With grid positions 21-66 now locked in for the race, all eyes will be on the Top 20 tomorrow afternoon, with each car getting two flying laps on its own to try to claim pole position.
Spa 24 Hours: Top 20 Super Pole Runners
|1||66||M Lauda/G Franchi/F Kechele||Vita4One BMW Z4|
|2||3||M Palttala/B Leinders/M Martin||Marc VDS BMW Z4|
|3||88||A Parente/R Barff/C Goodwin/R Wills||Von RyanMcLaren MP4-12C|
|4||1||C Haase/C Mies/S Ortelli||WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra|
|5||36||S Lemeret/J van Hooydonck/J den Boer||DB Motorsport BMW Z4|
|6||5||N Verdonck/E Mondron/J Clarke/E Poele||Boutsen Ginion McLaren MP4-12C|
|7||24||M Hayek/P Kox/J Menten/A Thurn Taxis||Reiter Lamborghini Gallardo LP600|
|8||29||T Coronel/S Colombo/E Liberati/M Cerruti||ROAL BMW Z4|
|9||8||H Riegel/M Stursberg/C Menzel/U Alzen||Haribo Porsche 997 GT3 R|
|10||89||T Verbergt/D Dupont/R Latinne/B Baguette||GPR Aston Martin V12 Vantage|
|11||74||D Derdaele/P Splunteren/M Soulet/F Bouvy||Prospeed Porsche 997 GT3 R|
|12||62||K Hummel/P Quaife/T Mullen/A Christodoulou||McLaren MP4-12C|
|13||6||M Fassler/T Kristensen/A Lotterer||Phoenix Audi R8 LMS Ultra|
|14||90||D Jones/G Jones/M Jordan/B Schneider||Preci-Spark Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG|
|15||69||R Goethe/S Hall/J-C Walter||Gulf Racing McLaren MP4-12C|
|16||4||B Longin/M Hezemans/H Moser||Marc VDS BMW Z4|
|17||33||D Tuchbant/E Dermont/A Leclerc/F Perera||Almeras Porsche 997 GT3 R|
|18||51||G Ciro/G Ardagna Perez/D Brown/T Vilander||AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia|
|19||83||P Gache/E Clement/O Pla||SMG Challenge Porsche 997 GT3 R|
|20||47||P Lamy/L Silva/R Bravo/K Ojjeh||ASM Team McLaren MP4-12C|