Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren)Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon will start this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa from the front of a record 72-car grid after securing top spot from a dramatic Super Pole battle.

The result was decided on the very last lap of the session, which concluded with three brands among the top three as Porsche and Ferrari joined Mercedes-AMG at the head of the field.
Maro Engel was at the controls of the #4 machine for the deciding round of qualifying, which saw the 20 fastest cars from Thursday's session gunning for a place on the front row of the grid.

Maro Engel, #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon said: “Going into qualifying, I was a little worried that we would not have the pace to fight for pole. But my engineer told me to remain calm, that everything would be alright, and as soon as I did three corners on my first flying lap I knew the car was great. When I heard from my engineer that I was half a second down after my first lap, I tried to squeeze everything out of the car on my second attempt. I am very happy that it worked out. The team gave me great car to drive and I have to thank my teammates as well, because they set some great lap times in qualifying yesterday. Being on pole for this legendary race is fantastic, but once the flag drops it does not count for much anymore. The big aim is to be first on Sunday afternoon.”

It was another of the Stuttgart marque's 911 GT3 R entries that set the early pace, with third runner Mathieu Jaminet posting a 2m19.027s in the #98 ROWE Racing machine.

It was not until the ninth qualifier that the lead changed hands again, with Davide Rigon delivering a superb lap aboard the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari. The Italian ace circulated in 2m18.806s to knock Jaminet off top spot and put the Maranello marque in control at Spa.

Davide Rigon, #72 SMP Racing Ferrari said: “We found that we lost some time yesterday due to the high temperatures, just like the other turbocharged cars, but we managed to qualify in the top-20 thanks to the hard work of my team. My engineer made a perfect choice for the tyre pressures in Super Pole, and I managed to do a good lap. A good starting position is always important, especially here.”

Three cars later the pole-sitter changed again when Porsche ace Laurens Vanthoor hit his stride. The local favourite posted a 2m18.605s on the second of his two flying laps aboard the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard machine, sparking hopes of a home pole-sitter at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren) Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren) Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren) Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren) Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren) Spa 24 qualy (Photo by Melissa Warren)

 

 

 

Laurens Vanthoor, #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard said: “If you would have asked me to sign up for a front-row position before Super Pole, I would have done it. But, after spending most of the session on pole and only losing it by 0.017 seconds, it's obviously a bit disappointing. I would not be a proper racing driver if I didn't feel that. Maybe I should have gone to the toilet beforehand! But I'm in front of my brother on the grid, and that is actually the most important thing. Seriously though, Porsche is doing well this year and they have made a big effort for this race. Every factory driver is here, and we all want to do well. It will not be easy, because there are plenty of other cars that want to win as well.”

From this point onwards, it was a case of who could better the Belgian. The most likely candidate appeared to be his brother, Dries, who showed eye-catching speed in yesterday's qualifying aboard the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT entry.

But the younger Vanthoor was unable to recapture the same pace this evening, with his best effort ultimately placing the #2 Audi sixth on the grid for tomorrow's race. This left one final runner, the #4 Black Falcon car driven by Engel, which showed flawlessly consistent pace in qualifying but had not necessarily looked to be the fastest over a single lap.

Engel quickly silenced any doubters, however, with his first effort good enough for second spot. That left the German ace with one final chance to snatch pole. Despite the pressure Engel delivered when it mattered the most, circulating in 2m18.588s to beat local hero Vanthoor by just 0.017s and cap a thrilling Super Pole session.

The Bernhard-Porsche would have to settle for second on the grid, though Vanthoor's crew is clearly firmly in contention for this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa. Rigon remained third, with his #72 Ferrari squad also among the leading candidates to lift the winners' trophy on Sunday afternoon.

Fourth spot went to Nick Tandy in the #998 ROWE Racing Porsche, one of six Pro class efforts for the Stuttgart marque among the top 20. Daniel Serra was fifth in the HubAuto Corsa Ferrari, securing a superb result for the Total 24 Hours debutants.

Sixth-placed Dries Vanthoor led a trio of Audi entrants. He was followed by teammate Nico Müller in the #1 R8 LMS, while Mattia Drudi completed a phenomenal effort from leading Silver Cup squad Attempto Racing to book a place among the overall top-eight. Maxi Buhk (#999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM) and early pace-setter Jaminet completed the top 10.

The level of competition in the Super Pole session was proven by the fact that the leading 11 cars were separated by less than half a second. Indeed, all 20 of this evening's runners – as well as a number of dark horses that qualified outside the top 20 – could emerge as contenders for victory in this year's race.

Super Pole Results
1 #4 Engel/Buurman/Stolz Mercedes-AMG Team BLACK FALCON 3 2:18.588 181.9 19:32:51 Mercedes-AMG GT3 BLACK FALCON
2 #117 Bamber/Bernhard/Vanthoor KÜS Team75 Bernhard 3 2:18.605 0.017 0.017 181.9 19:24:56 Porsche 911 GT3 R KÜS Team75 Bernhard
3 #72 Molina/Aleshin/Rigon SMP Racing 3 2:18.806 0.218 0.201 181.6 19:21:56 Ferrari 488 GT3 SMP Racing
4 #998 Makowiecki/Pilet/Tandy Rowe Racing 2 2:18.822 0.234 0.016 181.6 19:26:30 Porsche 911 GT3 R Rowe Racing
5 #227 Cassidy/Foster/Serra HubAuto Corsa 2 2:18.854 0.266 0.032 181.5 19:27:39 Ferrari 488 GT3 HubAuto Corsa
6 #2 Vanthoor/Riberas/Stippler Audi Sport Team WRT 2 2:18.923 0.335 0.069 181.4 19:29:33 Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT
7 #1 Frijns/Müller/Rast Audi Sport Team WRT 3 2:18.994 0.406 0.071 181.4 19:23:51 Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT
8 #55 Schothorst/Schothorst/Drudi Attempto Racing 2 2:19.007 0.419 0.013 181.3 19:24:30 Silver Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 Attempto Racing
9 #999 Buhk/Auer/Götz Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing 2 2:19.013 0.425 0.006 181.3 19:28:31 Mercedes-AMG GT3 GruppeM Racing Team
10 #98 Müller/Dumas/Jaminet Rowe Racing 3 2:19.027 0.439 0.014 181.3 19:15:53 Porsche 911 GT3 R Rowe Racing
11 #20 Lietz/Christensen/Estre GPX Racing 2 2:19.067 0.479 0.040 181.3 19:11:29 Porsche 911 GT3 R Grand Prix Extreme
12 #99 Olsen/Campbell/Werner Rowe Racing 3 2:19.259 0.671 0.192 181.0 19:17:47 Porsche 911 GT3 R Rowe Racing
13 #76 Kirchhöfer/Lynn/Dennis R-Motorsport 3 2:19.326 0.738 0.067 180.9 19:19:52 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 R-Motorsport
14 #62 Vaxiviere/Parry/Martin R-Motorsport 3 2:19.341 0.753 0.015 180.9 19:14:47 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 R-Motorsport
15 #44 Vautier/Williamson/Paffett Mercedes-AMG Team Strakka Racing 2 2:19.501 0.913 0.160 180.7 19:23:35 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Strakka Racing
16 #54 Bachler/Rizzoli/Ashkanani Dinamic Motorsport 2 2:19.881 1.293 0.380 180.2 19:20:27 Porsche 911 GT3 R Dinamic Motorsport SRL
17 #129 Mies/Feller/Green Montaplast by Land-Motorsport 3 2:19.894 1.306 0.013 180.2 19:20:54 Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 Land Motorsport
18 #59 Ledogar/Watson/Adam Garage 59 3 2:20.470 1.882 0.576 179.5 19:16:54 Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 Garage 59
19 #563 Lind/Caldarelli/Mapelli Orange 1 FFF Racing Team 3 2:21.397 2.809 0.927 181.2 19:27:57 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 Orange 1 FFF Racing Team
20 #35 Chiyo/Matsuda/Burdon KCMG 3 2:26.921 8.333 5.524 180.7 19:19:04 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 KCMG Motorsport Group

Night qualifying
Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon secured provisional pole position for the Total 24 Hours of Spa in the night qualifying session. The #4 Black Falcon crew of Maro Engel, Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz delivered a typically accomplished showing to secure provisional pole, with all three drivers finishing among the top-five in their respective qualifying sessions.
The reigning Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champions are among the strongest contenders to triumph on Sunday afternoon and confirmed this status by securing clean laps when it counted. Buurman's effort was particularly impressive, with the Dutch driver posting a 2m19.231s, the best time of the whole qualifying process.
The Black Falcon crew will be joined by a further pair of Mercedes-AMG squads, though it was the rival Porsche brand that secured the best Super Pole representation with all six of its Pro class cars making the top-20. Audi will also be out in force with four cars, while Aston Martin (3 cars), Ferraris (2 cars, Lamborghini and Nissan (1 car) will join them in the deciding session.
BMW will not be present, however, with its best-placed car securing 31st and reigning winner Walkenhorst Motorsport taking 35th. Bentley also narrowly missed the cut, with the #107 Continental GT3 just six-thousands shy of a spot in Super Pole, while Honda's sole Pro class car took 33rd.
Other significant absentees were the #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc (22nd), the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini (24th) and the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG (27th).

Class pole positions decided in Silver Cup, Pro-Am and Am Cup
Silver Cup outfit Attempto Racing secured its third successive Endurance Cup pole in the night qualifying session, but it is safe to say that neither of the previous two were as significant as this. The #55 Audi R8 LMS does not yet have a definite grid position, having secured a place in Super Pole, but it will certainly be the class pole-sitter having emerged as the only Silver Cup car among the top-20 overall.

This in itself represents a remarkable achievement by the crew of Steijn Schothorst, Pieter Schothorst and Mattia Drudi, who were competitive with the overall pace-setters in each session on their way to seventh overall. Drudi will tackle Super Pole and, having posted the fourth-best time in his qualifying segment, will hope to secure an even better result tomorrow.

Ram Racing will be the leading Pro-Am car when the race gets underway on Saturday afternoon, with the #74 Mercedes-AMG crew of Remon Vos, Darren Burke, Christiaan Frankenhout and Tom Onslow-Cole taking 41st on the 72-car grid.

This result will see them start three places clear of their closest class contender and with two Silver Cup cars in between. It represents the first Pro-Am pole of the season for the team and was led by a stellar effort from Vos, who was 10th quickest overall in his qualifying segment.

Barwell Motorsport's #77 Lamborghini will be the leading Am Cup entrant as it goes in pursuit of a second successive Total 24 Hours of Spa class win. The car was second among its peers heading into the final session, with the #33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari looking strong ahead of the deciding phase. But, when Patrick Kujala climbed aboard the Lamborghini, the Barwell crew hit the front as the Finnish driver completed a fine job by Adrian Amstutz, Leo Machitski and Richard Abra.

They will start 53rd overall on the 72-car grid, which will establish a new GT-era record when the 24 Hours begins on Saturday at 16.30.

Pre-qualifying
The #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini topped the pre-qualifying at Spa-Francorchamps to put the leading Am Cup contender at the head of the overall order.

Silver-graded driver Patrick Kujala circulated in 2m20.123s during the latter stages of the 60-minute session, beating the nearest challenge by almost two tenths.

Though an unexpected presence at the top of the overall standings, the #77 Barwell crew enters this year's race among the favourites to take Am Cup victory. The British outfit secured class honours in 2018 and has returned with an unchanged driver line-up for this year's race.

The #999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM entry was second quickest thanks to 2013 race winner Maxi Buhk, whose time of 2m20.322s was 0.199s shy of Kujala's benchmark. The similar #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon car was third with Maro Engel at the wheel, while the overall top-five was completed by #107 Bentley Team M-Sport and HubAuto Corsa machines, driven by Jules Gounon and Daniel Serra respectively.

It was not just the #77 Barwell car that showed strongly in pre-qualifying. The sister #78 machine also topped the Silver Cup classification, going 11th quickest overall with Sandy Mitchell at the controls. In Pro-Am, Andrea Bertolini put the #52 AF Corse Ferrari at the head of the order and 26th overall.

A total of 70 cars set times during the session, which saw spots of rain during its latter stages. The exceptions were the #25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc machine – which only got as far as completing an out-lap – and the #97 Oman/TF Aston Martin, which remained in the garage for repairs following its earlier free practice accident.

While the session remained largely dry, the rain intensified shortly after the chequered flag.

Practice
KÜS Team 75 Bernhard began its 2019 Total 24 Hours of Spa assault in ideal fashion as Laurens Vanthoor paced today's opening practice session for the Belgian endurance classic.

The #117 Porsche recorded a best lap of 2m20.098s during the final 10 minutes, securing local star Vanthoor early bragging rights. The 2014 race winner will share the Bernhard-Porsche with Earl Bamber and team boss Timo Bernhard this weekend, forming part of a six-strong assault on the Pro class by the Stuttgart marque.

The #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin took second spot thanks to Maxime Martin, ensuring a Belgian one-two at the top of the order. The 2016 race winner recorded a 2m20.335s to establish his crew as an early front-runner.

Indeed, the Astons looked strong in free practice. The Garage 59 squad completed the top-three, with Andrew Watson lapping just 0.080s shy of the R-Motorsport car.

Yet another Aston was on top in Pro-Am, with the #97 Oman Racing with TF Sport entry leading the way thanks to Nicki Thiim, whose lap was good enough for sixth in the overall classification.

But the session would end badly for the #97 Aston Martin, with Salih Yoluc crashing at Raidillon during the final half-hour. This brought out the only red flag of the 90-minute run and gave the Oman/TF crew a significant repair job ahead of a busy afternoon at the circuit.

The #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG led the Silver Cup order with Nico Bastian at the wheel and ended the session a very respectable 10th overall, confirming its status as favourite for class honours. In the Am Cup, the #29 Raton Racing by Target Lamborghini secured top spot courtesy of young ace Alberto Di Folco. By Melissa Warren 

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