Ford GTs headed the running of the first session of the FIA GT1 World Championship at the Algarve circuit, blue oval badges cars topping both the Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying at the Portuguese venue. The cars did, however, come from two different teams.
For those who have been following the championship throughout its inaugural year it should come as no surprise that it was Marc VDS that led the first session, which took place on a drying track after an overnight storm. Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin have been fastest on several occasions this year on wet tracks and the all-Belgian line-up were once again top in a session that took place on a drying track.
Times tumbled during the session, falling by ten seconds to Leinders' best time of 1:44.446, 0.182 seconds faster than championship leaders Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels in the Vitaphone Maserati MC12. Michael Krumm set the third fastest time for Sumo Power GT and the no.6 Matech Ford of Nicolas Prost and Neel Jani was fourth fastest.
The Algarve track clearly suited the Fords, the normally nimble GT helped by another change to the balance of power regulations, as Martin explains; “I’m not sure if the balance of performance change has made that much difference because we have a little bit more power, eight horsepower more, but we have 12 kilos more so I think it is more or less the same.”
Any suspicions that the Fords were the car to beat were confirmed when Richard Westbrook put the other Matech Competition Ford fastest in the second session.
“This track suits us more than any other and if we can’t be quick here we really haven’t got a hope,” said Westbrook, once more sharing the no.5 car with Thomas Mutsch – the man chasing Bertolini and Bartels for the title. “It’s so far, so good and what’s pleasing we are getting more out of the new tyres than we have in previous races, where the Ford is very good on old tyres. It seems to be working but we’re not taking anything for granted. It always nice to quickest in practice but I know everyone else is going to improve, so we have to as well.”
Second fastest was the no.2 Maserati of Enrique Bernoldi and Miguel Ramos, with Leinders and Martin a strong third, even when the track had dried and hot and sunny conditions prevailed – only two cars running more than a dozen laps as most of the field saved it's tyres for later in weekend.
Young Driver AMR – the winners of previous round at the Nurburgring – struggled in the second session after Darren Turner and Tomas Enge had claimed fifth fastest in Free Practice. The pair of Aston Martin DB9, however, could only manage 21st and 22nd in Pre-Qualifying the Nurburgring victors ahead of Stefan Mucke – this week joined by Pedro Lamy (in his home nation) rather than regular teammate Christoffer Nygaard.
“With the temperature rising, we’re not looking that strong at all,” admits Turner. “So the guys are busy try to look through the data to see if we can improve the car and get back up there.”