A dominant performance by the Young Driver AMR crew of Stefan Mucke and Jose Maria Lopez clinched pole position for the Qualifying Race of the final round of the FIA GT1 World Championship in San Luis.
Star of the session was the Argentine Lopez, the man who missed out on his chance in F1 when the USF1 team failed was in fine form as one of the few local drivers brought in by teams for the round. He was comfortably fastest in the first of the three segments of qualifying, GT1 using a similar method to F1 in losing the slowest group of cars after every segment.
His lap of 2:15.3 was enough to put him seven tenths clear of the Marc VDS Ford GT of Maxime Martin. However, while the crew of one Aston Martin celebrated their early pace the driver duo of the other were forced to confront their slim title chances dwindling to nothing.
Darren Turner and Tomas Enge need to score points in the Qualifying Race in order to take the title fight to the headlining Championship Race. But Turner, taking the car for the 20-minute opening session could only manage the seventeenth fastest time, seeing the no.7 car knocked out after the first round and a very long way from the podium places who will score the points in the Qualifying Race. Following their second place in Interlagos in the previous round the car is running with an additional 40kg, perhaps the difference around the 3.9 mile track
Painfully the car that demoted them into the drop zone was the no.2 Vitaphone Maserati of Enrique Bernoldi – the teammates of the no.1 car Turner and Enge are trying to wrestle the title from.
Even more painful will be the pace of the no.1 car of Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini. With a car 40kg lighter than in Brazil they will line up third on the grid knowing all they need to do to clinch the title is maintain their position through the hour-long race.
“It was important for us today not to make a mistake because the walls are very close and you never know if you if you can race the next day if you have an accident and the chassis is broken,” said Bartels. “We did the best job we could to be safe, to be quick, to be in Q3 and to stay ahead of our direct competitors for the championship. There's still an important job to do.”
Stefan Mucke took the no.8 for the second part of qualifying, and picked up exactly where Lopez had left off, with another fastest time in the session, three tenths slower than his co-driver.
“Stefan [MÃ¼cke] did a good job to get the car on P1 in Q2 because he only did five laps before Qualifying and didn't really know the circuit,” Lopez said after clinching pole. “I think we make a strong pair. This is a category that depends on team work, you rely on your mechanics and your co-driver a lot. I had a moment this morning and I nearly hit the wall and in Q3 I was on the limit and not knowing the car I spun but I was relieved to cross the line in P1 after that. For tomorrow I think we will be strong.”
Lopez's run in the 10-minute final session saw the team's only scare as he spun the car on the exit of turn 19 and was briefly facing the wrong way up the track as the Sumo Power GT Nissan with Peter Dumbreck at the wheel flashed by. The Argentine kept the red and white DB9 off the barriers and was able to flick the car back around to continue.
The very next lap he set what would become the pole lap, a 2:14.406 eclipsing the lap of Fred Makowiecki in the no.9 Hexis AMR entry who completed an Aston Martin sweep of the front row, even Makowiecki nearly half a second clear of the Maserati behind.
The Reiter Lamborghini of Frank Kechele and Sergio Jimenez will start fourth, Jimenez replacing his fellow Brazilian Ricardo Zonta. The second cars from Hexis and Reiter will share the third row.
Despite the high speed nature of the track flanked with barriers the session was relatively incident free. Bas Leinders had the only incident of note, wiping the rear wing off the Ford GT that Martin had got through to Q2 in such form.