British Driver Ben Hanley clinched pole position in the Superleague Formula by Sonangol for the Olympiacos team at this weekend's race on the Ordos International Circuit in China.
Hanley was signed by the Greek team to replace Chris Van Der Drift after his huge accident at Brands Hatch. It was a good debut for the young Brit as he managed to take fourth on the grid at Adria during the Italian round. But due to other commitments, Ben missed the last round at Portimao.
Back behind the wheel, Hanley left it late in the final head to head in qualifying when he came up against the in-form Australian driver John Martin in the home team car of Beijing Guoan. Having trailed Martin in the first to sectors of the one lap head to head, Hanley pulled out all the stops to set a blistering final sector time to beat the Beijing driver by over a second at the line.
Leaving it late seemed to be a feature throughout the qualifying session for Hanley as he only managed to sneak into the top four of group B and into the knockout stages thanks to his very last flying lap. Again he came me from behind to beat Robert Doornbos of Corinthians and Flamengo driver Andy Soucek in the quater and semi final rounds respectively.
John Martin continued his fine form by making it into the last two in qualifying for his fourth round in a row after topping the group A times and thus giving the home fans something to cheer about with his car on the front row. Martin beat FC Basel's Max Wissel in the quarter finals and Frank Perera of Bordeaux in the semi finals on his way to second place.
On his return to the series, Perera will line up in third place ahead of Soucek who had set the fastest time of all in the group stages before losing out to Hanley in the semi final shootout. Doornbos takes fifth ahead of the impressive Fredric Vervisch in the red Liverpool car. Wissel and FC Porto debutant Earl Bamber will line up in seventh and eight places.
This strong qualifying will help boost the chances of Olympiacos in the championship standings as Hanley's last gasp lap in the group stages meant Series leader Davide Rigon in the RSC Anderlecht car missed out on progressing to the shootout by just one tenth of a second. The other title hopefuls Craig Dolby of Tottenham Hotspurs and AC Milan's Yelmer Buurman both suffered technical issues in practice and subsequently dropped out in the group stages of qualifying along with Marcos Martinez for Sevilla and reigning champion Adrian Valles on his return in the Sporting Lisbon car. This means the three top drivers in the championship table will be grouped together with Rigon and Dolby side by side on row five and Buurman just behind ready to pounce.
Afterwards, Ben Hanley spoke of his pleasure in taking the pole position by saying, “I'm really delighted. We had a few problems in practice but the team did a great job and we've now got a well balanced car. John (Martin) made a mistake in the last corner of the final so I really pushed and managed to get pole. Tomorrow it's important to score as many points as we can so we can close in on the four clubs above us.”
John Martin told the awaiting media, “Unfortunately I made a mistake in the final corner, but it's a fourth consecutive front row start so I have to be pleased with that! The team has been outstanding again and the car has been quick all morning. I really like the circuit. The first part is quite slow and technical but the last sector is really quick. Hopefully we can win the race tomorrow to give the Beijing Guoan fans something to cheer about!”