Blancpain GT Series, Round 6, Endurance Cup, Paul Ricard – Qualifying:
Jake Dennis and the #17 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS car will begin the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup 1000 Kilometres of Paul Ricard from 13th position, while Ben Barnicoat will start from 31st, following an exciting final 15-minute qualifying session in southern France.
The race is a warm-up for the next round, July’s Spa 24 Hours, and Barnicoat wasted no time in taking to the track for the first of three qualifying sessions in order to gain track experience in the #58 Strakka Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 which he shares with team-mates Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar.
Barnicoat’s best time of 1m 59.650s, set on an early lap around the 3.6-mile circuit was 1.4 seconds behind that of the early pacesetter, Racing Steps Foundation graduate James Calado in the #55 Ferrari 488 GT3 and good enough for 19th position. Barnicoat then handed the car over to Bell for the second qualifying session.
Dennis had to bide his time before taking to the wheel of the #17 Audi R8 LMS in the second session, having seen team-mate Stuart Leonard set the 29th best Q1 time of 2m 00.472s.
But Dennis was unable to improve on the car’s best overall time, opting to pit early and readying the car for the final Q3 session in which grid positions would be determined.
Like Dennis, Bell was also unable to improve on Barnicoat’s Q1 time in the #58 Strakka McLaren, dropping to 37th overall.
Dennis moved out of the car for team-mate Robin Frijns to fight for the car’s ultimate grid slot. With lap times being bettered by all cars in the final session, the Dutch racer quickly posted a best time of 1m 57.663s to put the car in the top six early times.
Ledogar posted the 18th quickest time, with the qualifying best of 1m 57.666s with five minutes remaining of the session, eventually slipping to 31st by the chequered flag, but start as the leading McLaren in the field. The Strakka squad will hope to take advantage of an evolving track throughout the lengthy race distance to improve on their position.
Frijns improved on his early best time to cross the line with a 1m 57.217s to place the car in 13th place on the grid for Saturday’s six-hour, 1000-kilometre race.
The #4 Team Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 snatched a last-second pole position from the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3. The #50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 demonstrated a strong performance from Ferrari machinery to claim third spot on the grid.
“The car seems to be handling quite well,” Dennis said, “but we still need to work on a few things to catch up on the leading Mercedes and Ferraris. Hopefully we can have a clean race and fight for a strong position.”
Barnicoat lamented the car’s lack of pace on a track with a long back straight: “We are struggling a lot, we feel that we have a very poor BOP [Balance of Performance] here which made qualifying difficult.
“The race will be a tough one with our lack of straight-line speed but will be pushig hard to make the most and capitalise on other car’s mistakes.”
|Circuit Automobile Paul Ricard (5.861km / 3.642 miles): Qualifying|
|Pos||Driver||Team||Car||Time / Gap|
|1||Stolz / Christodoulou / Buurman||Black Falcon||Mercedes-AMG GT3||1m 56.442s|
|2||Shayter / Molina / Rigon||SMP Racing||Ferrari 488 GT3||+0.031s|
|3||Lathouras / Rugolo / Pier Guidi||AF Corse||Ferrari 488 GT3||+0.157s|
|4||Frey / Ortelli / Costa||Emil Frey||Jaguar G3||+0.217s|
|5||Eriksson / Buhk / Perera||Team HTP Motorsport||Mercedes-AMG GT3||+0.279s|
|6||Smith / Jarvis / Kane||Bentley Team M-Sport||Bentley Continental GT3||+0.364s|
|7||Calado / Fisichella / Cioci||Kaspersky Motorsport||Ferrari 488 GT3||+0.533s|
|8||Soucek / Soulet / Abril||Team M-Sport||Bentley Continental GT3||+0.622s|
|9||Serralles / Van Der Zande / Juncadella||Akka ASP||Mercedes-AMG GT3||+0.665s|
|10||Garcia / Müller / Rast||Audi Sport Team WRT||Audi R8 LMS||+0.724s|
|13||Leonard / Dennis / Frijns||Team WRT||Audi R8 LMS||+0.775s|
|31||Barnicoat / Bell / Ledogar||Strakka Racing||McLaren 650 S GT3||+1.224s|
Free practice: Barnicoat/Bell/Ledogar 57th, 2m 02.005s, +3.563s; Leonard/Dennis/Frijns 22nd, 1m 59.567s, +1.125s. Qualifying: Barnicoat/Bell/Ledogar 31st, 1m 57.666s, +1.224s; Leonard/Dennis/Frijns 13th, 1m 59.217s, +0.775s.
Photo: Patrick Hecq / Team WRT. Copyright-free Racing Steps Foundation images are available from the RSF Image Bank at www.jakobebrey.com/rsf