The versatile Jeroen Bleekemolen topped qualifying for the opening round of the Blancpain Sprint Series at Nogaro in a Grasser Racing Lamborghini.
Sharing his car with team regular Hari Proczyk, Bleekemolen defeated reigning champion Laurens Vanthoor by 0.132s in Q3 to claim pole position for Sunday’s qualifying race, which will set the grid for the main race of the Coupes de Paques (Easter Cup) event on Monday.
“It was good fun,” said Bleekemolen. “We only had half a day of testing before the start of the season, so it is very pleasing to immediately be where we want to be: in front of all the others. It will be a close race however. Everybody knows that the Audi R8 LMS Ultra performs well here, and we knew beforehand that it would be hard to beat them. But we did so in qualifying, and now we will have to try and do the same in the race. It will be exciting, for sure.”
Vanthoor is continuing with the WRT Audi squad this season but has a new co-driver in Cesar Ramos, with the Belgian and former co-driver Stephane Ortelli split into separate cars.
Rene Rast put the WRT #2 that he is sharing with Enzo Ide into third place on the grid ahead of another Lamborghini – that of Peter Kox and Blancpain boss Marc Hayek.
Audi R8s filled five of the top seven places, with Phoenix Racing drivers Markus Winkelhock and Marc Basseng qualifying fifth and seventh respectively. The cars they share with Niki Mayr-Melnhof and Alessandro Latif will start either side of the WRT-run G-Drive Racing entry of Ortelli and Gregory Guilvert. The latter is filling in for Roman Rusinov, who brings the G-Drive backing to the team but is contesting the World Endurance Championship round at Silverstone this weekend.
The rapid HTP Motorsport duo of Blancpain Endurance champion Maximilian Buhk and Maximilian Gotz were forced to settle for eighth in their Mercedes SLS, with the BMW Team Brasil cars of Caca Bueno and series newcomer Nelson Piquet Jr completing the top ten. Bueno and Piquet are paired with Sergio Jimenez and Matheus Stumpf respectively.
Reigning Pro-Am class champion Sergei Afanasiev narrowly missed out on a place in Q3 in the second HTP Mercedes with new team-mate Stef Dusseldorp and will line up 11th ahead of Scuderia Villorba Ferrari pairing Filip Salaquarda and Andrea Montermini and the final WRT Audi entry of Mateusz Lisowski and Vincent Abril.
Alex Zanardi will start 14th on his racing return in a ROAL Motorsport BMW, just ahead of the sister car of Stefano Colombo and ex-GP3 racer David Fumanelli.
Tomas Enge‘s time in the second Grasser Lamborghini he shares with Sascha Halek was only good enough for 16th. The 20-car field is completed by the two Fortec Motorsports Mercedes of Miguel Toril/Nico Bastian and Benjamin Hetherington/Armaan Ebrahim and the two McLarens run by series newcomers Bhaitech for Fabio Onidi/Giorgio Pantano and Sten Pentus/Daniel Lloyd.