Raffaele Marciello (#89 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG) and Ulysse De Pauw (#53 AF Corse Ferrari) shared the spoils in today’s season-opening Sprint Cup qualifying at Brands Hatch.
Clear skies and sunshine greeted competitors at the British venue, which also welcomed a significant crowd of spectators to enjoy a busy day of track action. The day culminated in the grid being set for both of tomorrow’s 60-minute races, the first of which will see a new name start at the front of the pack.
De Pauw beat a number of more fancied contenders to bag a maiden overall pole in his very first event with the crack AF Corse squad. In doing so, he also ensured that a Ferrari will start at the front of a Sprint Cup grid for the first time since 2015.
The Belgian driver and teammate Pierre Alexandre Jean were among the favourites for Silver Cup honours this weekend, particularly after showing excellent pace during free practice and pre-qualifying. Nevertheless, with the likes of Jules Gounon (#88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG) and Mattia Drudi (#12 Tresor by Car Collection Audi) also contesting the opening session, De Pauw was not the obvious pick for overall pole.
But the pace of the Ferrari was immediately clear as De Pauw posted a 1m21.770s on his first run to establish himself as the man to beat. He went even quicker during the final few minutes, only to have the time deleted for track limits. Still, no one could topple the #53 machine from the top of the order. Gounon and Drudi came closest and will occupy second and third on the grid respectively, followed by Timur Boguslavskiy (#89 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG) and reigning champion Charles Weerts (#32 Team WRT Audi).
De Pauw’s closest Silver Cup contender in Q1 was fellow countryman Gilles Magnus, who qualified seventh overall in the #26 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi and ended the session in the gravel, causing a red flag in the process. Valentino Rossi finished his first-ever Sprint Cup qualifying in 17th position overall at the wheel of the #46 Team WRT Audi, circulating 1.186s shy of De Pauw’s benchmark. The Pro-Am poleman will start two places back, with Louis Machiels leading the way at the wheel of the #52 AF Corse Ferrari.
Marciello was the clear favourite to bag P1 for race 2 having comfortably topped both free practice and pre-qualifying, but his chances looked to be over when the #89 Mercedes-AMG drifted wide at Paddock Hill Bend and clipped the barriers during the early part of the session. Marciello recovered to post the third best time at the halfway mark, then returned to the pits where the Akkodis ASP crew checked the car over. Remarkably, there appeared to be little more than cosmetic damage.
Even more remarkably, Marciello returned to the track and went quickest in the middle sector as he sought to deprive Patric Niederhauser (#25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi) of a maiden series pole. Less than 10 minutes after narrowly escaping disaster, Marciello completed the lap with another purple sector and leapt to the top of the order with a 1m21.370s. Moments later the #66 Attempto Racing Audi found itself in the barriers, bringing out the red flag with just over a minute left on the clock. Marciello’s lap could not be challenged.
Niederhauser held on to second spot, ending the session just 0.073s shy of the #89 Mercedes-AMG’s pole lap. He was followed by fellow Audi runners Dries Vanthoor (#32 Team WRT) and Christopher Haase (#11 Tresor by Car Collection), while Jim Pla completed the top-five at the wheel of the #88 Mercedes-AMG.
Pro-Am standout Ben Barker did a superb job to put the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini sixth overall in Q2. He will not compete tomorrow, however, with teammate Alex Malykhin forced to withdraw from the event due to illness. As such the #111 JP Motorsport McLaren of Christian Klien and Patryk Krupinski will head the Pro-Am grid for race 2, while Pierre Alexandre Jean was seventh overall to add another Silver Cup pole in the #53 AF Corse Ferrari.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group