The fastest 20 cars from yesterday evening’s qualifying progressed to the final shootout ahead of the race’s 70th edition, with each crew nominating one driver to contest two flying laps of the Spa-Francorchamps circuit.
In the event only 19 cars were able to contest the session after a heavy accident in warm-up side lined the #88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG GT3. Raffaele Marciello was at the wheel at the time and had also been scheduled to contest Super Pole, but the French squad will now focus on repairing the damage in time for the start of the 24 Hours.
The 19 remaining drivers ran in reserve order to their finishing positions in Thursday’s qualifying session, taking to the track at one-minute intervals.
Though his crew had taken fourth position on average times during Thursday’s qualifying, Vanthoor had in fact set the fastest individual lap and was therefore considered to be among the leading contenders to secure top spot in Super Pole.
The youngster was the 16th driver to emerge on to the track and set the fastest time of the session on his first flying lap, then went even quicker on his second run to score a truly dominant pole position. For his efforts, the Belgian ace was rewarded with a special commemorative tyre by Pirelli to mark the 70th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Dries Vanthoor, #1 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS, said: “This wasn’t an easy one. When I got in the car, I decided to give everything that I possibly could. This pole position is thanks to WRT, Audi, the engineers, and all the people working in the background. Our car was absolutely amazing. Endurance races can help us score important points, especially for the Intercontinental GT Challenge, but it is going to be a long race and a lot can still happen.”
Vanthoor’s supremacy was confirmed by his best lap time, a 2m18.578s, which made him the only man to get below the 2m19s barrier and put 0.605s between the WRT driver and his nearest rival.
That was another local favourite, Maxime Martin, whose time of 2m19.183s aboard the #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage had looked set to secure pole until Vanthoor showed his ultimate pace.
Nevertheless, Martin’s effort ensured that two Belgian drivers finished on at their home circuit.
Maxime Martin, #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage, said: “Firstly, I would like to congratulate Dries and Nico for their performances today. An all-Belgian top-two is a nice result, especially here at Spa. This will be the first Total 24 Hours of Spa for R-Motorsport, so a place on the front row is just amazing for our guys.”
Swiss racer Nico Muller was third in his #2 Audi Sport Team WRT machine, lapping just under two tenths shy of the Aston Martin.
Nico Muller,#2 Audi Sport Team WRT Audi R8 LMS, said: “The temperature affected our car today, but fortunately we had time to find a better set-up. As usual, WRT did an amazing job and gave us a very quick car. Dries pulled it out of the bag and congrats to him for that, because it was something quite exceptional. Now I just can’t wait to go racing and challenge Maxime and Dries tomorrow.”
Davide Rigon put the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 in fourth spot, ensuring an excellent result for the Italian marque’s lone Pro class representative.
Kelvin van der Linde was an impressive fifth in his Motoplast by Land-Motorsport Audi R8 LMS, ahead of another strong performer, Come Ledogar, who led much of the session in his Garage 59 McLaren 650 S GT3. Thursday’s qualifying pacesetter, the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3, will start from eighth spot.
Of the 10 brands represented in the Super Pole, seven were among the top-10 fastest runners in this Friday’s session. Audi was the best represented with six cars contesting Super Pole, four of which finished among the top-10.
The #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 set the fastest average time in qualifying for the Total 24 Hours of Spa to lead a contingent of 20 cars into tomorrow’s Super Pole session, while starting positions 21 through 63 have been finalised for this weekend’s race.
The trio of Philipp Eng, Tom Blomqvist and Christian Krognes delivered consistently quick performances aboard their M6 GT3 to take provisional pole. Norwegian ace Krognes proved to be particularly impressive by topping his segment of qualifying with a lap of 2m19.012s.
The fastest individual time belonged to Dries Vanthoor, who hustled his #1 Audi Sport Team WRT machine around the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 2m18.763s. That saw the youngster lead his segment, though ultimately the #1 R8 LMS he shares with Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas took fourth on combined times.
Among the other outfits to secure safe passage to Friday’s session were the defending race winners, Audi Sport Team Sainteloc, whose #25 entry was second fastest on average times. It led a quartet of R8 LMS machines, with two Audi Sport Team WRT cars followed by the #29 Montaplast by Land-Motorsport entry.
Frederic Vervisch, #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc Audi R8 LMS, said: “There is no extra pressure on my shoulders after joining last year’s winners and in fact I enjoy the trust Audi that has put in me to join this team. There is an excellent atmosphere and we are laughing all the time. We have a good average time today, and if we can stay out of trouble I think we will have an enjoyable weekend.”
Last year’s runner-up, the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental GT3, was also comfortably among the top-20 in sixth spot, followed by a Mercedes-AMG, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini and an Aston Martin.
Of the three to miss out, the #23 GT Sport Motul Team RJN Nissan GT-R was a mere 0.020s shy of securing a spot among the 20 fastest cars. The #54 Emil Frey G3 Jaguar XK also came close to booking a Super Pole spot in 23rd, but the car nevertheless secured a very comfortable pole position for the Silver Cup class.
Alex Fontana, #54 Emil Frey G3 Jaguar, said: “First of all, I am really happy to be here, especially as this is our fourth Endurance Cup pole position in a row. It wasn’t an easy task as we saw in free practice that we still had some work to do on the car. As was the case for most of the drivers, it was difficult to get a clear lap because of the traffic. We just missed SuperPole, which would have been a great achievement, but we still have something to show for our work.”
Japanese marque Honda, which is making its first appearance at the 24 Hours with its new NSX GT3, will start from ninth in Pro-Am and 49th overall.
The Pro-Am class pole-sitter delivered a highly impressive performance, with the #49 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Euan Hankey, Felix Rosenqvist, Darren Burke and Salih Yoluc securing 25th overall. Burke was second fastest in his qualifying segment, setting the #49 crew up for a particularly strong showing.
Felix Rosenqvist, #49 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3: “Nothing really went wrong during qualifying. The car felt great, which is a good sign for the race. To be fair, we did not expect to be this close to SuperPole. My three teammates did an amazing job and it is fantastic to be on pole in Pro-Am, as this was our goal.”
Am Cup pole was secured in commanding fashion by the #188 Garage 59 McLaren 650 S GT3 of Chris Harris, Alexander West, Chris Goodwin and Andrew Watson. The British squad took 37th overall, beating several Pro-Am and Silver Cup cars in the process.
Andrew Watson, #188 Garage 59 McLaren 650 S GT3: “We have a lot of fun within this team and Alexander West is the reason I am here, so delivering this result means a lot to us. Garage 59 is a great team and I couldn’t have asked for more. On the other hand, pole position does not mean that much in such a long race. Now we will have to fight in order to keep the position.”
In Group National, the #67 GDL Racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo will start from first in class after snatching top spot at the very end of qualifying.
Sarah Bovy, #67 GDL Racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo: “To be honest, I was not expecting to be on pole, because we had a 10-second gap and I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to get a clean lap in. In the end, we managed to do it and this is something I can tick off my to-do list!”
The #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage were among the significant absentees from Super Pole after a technical problem forced it to miss the final segment of qualifying. The car was fourth on average times when Jake Dennis came to a halt at Raidillon, scuppering the crew’s hopes of making Friday’s battle for the top grid positions.
The #7 Bentley Team M-Sport machine will start from the back after failing to register a lap in the final segment of qualifying. It will be joined by the #6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3, which did not contest qualifying after suffering an accident in free practice.
Audi Sport Team WRT led a one-two for the German brand in pre-qualifying with Alex Riberas putting his #1 R8 LMS on top during the final quarter of the session.
The Spanish ace lapped 0.181s clear of the #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc entry, which is seeking to defend the outright victory it secured at Spa 12 months ago. Despite Audi leading the way it was another competitive session, with seven brands featuring among the top-10.
Heavy rain showers hit Spa between free practice and pre-qualifying. While the racing line had largely dried up by the time cars took to the track at 18.15, there were still visible wet patches. This did not discourage the drivers from venturing out, however, with almost the entire field pouring on to the circuit when the session went green. Within just a few minutes, 60 cars had taken to the 7km track.
And nor did it prevent a significant improvement on the lap times recorded earlier in the day. More than a dozen drivers quickly beat the best effort set in free practice, while Markus Winkelhock became the first this year to get below the 2m20s mark in his Audi Sport Team Sainteloc R8 LMS.
The German driver was then knocked off the top of the times by the similar Audi Sport Team WRT machine of Riberas, which set a time of 2m19.758s and remained in front until the chequered flag flew. Third spot went to the #117 KUS Team75 Bernhard Porsche 911 GT3, with 2014 Spa winner Laurens Vanthoor setting the lap for the German squad.
Outside the Pro class, the quickest runner was the #991 Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GTR. The Am Cup machine took an impressive 12th overall and lapped just 0.7s shy of the pace-setting Audi.
The #49 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 entry was the fastest Pro-Am runner, taking 21st overall, while in Silver Cup the #12 Ombra Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 led its class with the 28th best lap of the session. The #6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 was the only car not to run in pre-qualifying following an accident in free practice.
Pre-qualifying ended just over a minute early when the #18 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Antonelli Motorsport stopped towards the end of the lap. By Melissa Warren