The #2 Audi Sport Team WRT team will start the 2015 Total 24 Hours of Spa from pole position after Frank Stippler edged fastest in a very close Superpole session at the famous Belgian Grand Prix track.
The session, which brings the race’s qualifying sessions to a climax was open to the fastest 20 teams from Thursday night’s time trials with each nominating a single driver to turn two flying laps, the fastest of which would count towards making up the front end of the grid.
Going out in reverse order based on their earlier times Stippler had to wait to take to the track, his team’s night session topping performance the sixth fastest time going into the finale.
That gave time for the target time to be established. It took only two cars for last year’s pole time (2:18.710) to be beaten as Steven Kane landed the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport car on provisional pole, completing a lap of the 7km track in 2:18.492, but that too was swept aside as the session picked up pace – figuratively and literally.
Maxime Soulet, tasked with qualifying the sister M-Sport Continental GT3, moved the pole time down another tenth, the two white and British Racing Green cars briefly holding a 1-2 until Kevin Estre bumped the pair from the front row, his 2:18.147 effort in the #58 Von Ryan Racing McLaren looking to have secured the prime starting position even as the first cars out started to complete their second flying laps. But even as the first five cars to finish their allotted laps failed to improve the signal of intent from Stippler was there, the German slipping to second, four thousandths slower than Estre’s time.
While Estre, who proved his single lap mettle last year in smashing the record lap in qualifying for the Nurburgring 24 Hours, was unable to move the pole out of reach, the Audi man would go quicker the second time around. He bettered his own time by two tenths to take provisional pole by 17 thousandths in car that will be co-driven by Stephane Ortelli and Nico Mueller.
“The guys have done a great job in preparing the car for the Superpole,” said Stippler. “This was about the best lap I could do, I think. Of course I am proud of this achievement, but it is only a small step. Tomorrow we will see how competitive the car is over a long run.”
His time then hand to withstand scrutiny from those teams and drivers fastest over a single lap on Thursday. These included the #1 Audi R8 LMS of the defending winners with Laurens Vanthoor at the wheel and overnight pole sitter Maxime Martin in the #45 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 GT3.
Neither man was particularly fast on their first lap – both recording times in the 2:19 bracket but as traffic thinned out, leaving the stage to the fastest drivers both made their move up the order. Vanthoor could only reach sixth on a 2:18.412, Martin 12th another three tenths slower.
Estre’s time remained second fastest at the end of the session, though Andrea Piccini came close to deposing him, placing the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari third fastest overall and on pole for the Pro AM Cup class – just as it had been overnight. The Italian shares the car with countryman Alessandro Bonacini, Pole Michael Broniszewski and British driver Michael Lyons.
“After the qualifying session I promised I would try to beat Laurens Vanthoor and Maxime Martin – and I did – but these two guys proved to be even quicker,” said Piccini, referring to Estre and Stippler. “Our aim is to go for the Pro-Am Cup honours, my team-mates are in a good position for the championship, but if we can go for a good result overall, we will take that opportunity as well.”
Alvaro Parente, in the second of the Von Ryan 650S GT3, took fourth fastest ahead of Soulet’s previously pole sitting time.
Behind Vanthoor and the #1 crew Bernd Schneider gave the #18 Black Falcon team second fastest in Pro Am. Nicky Catsburg (#46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS), Vincent Abril (#84 Bentley Team HTP) and Steven Kane completed the top ten.
Stefan Mucke was third fastest among the Pro Am runners, claiming 15th overall for Leonard Motorsport AMR with the top 16 in the session covered by less than a second.
The 2015 Total 24 Hours of Spa is scheduled to start at 4:30pm local time tomorrow (Saturday July 24). www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have updates throughout the race.