Stéphane Ortelli has put the No. 3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi on pole at Nogaro for the Blancpain Sprint Series Qualifying Race later today, in what turned out to be a fiercely competitive session.
The French veteran posted a 1:24.731 lap time early on in the Q3 shootout, with other cars edging ever more closer as the session progressed.
“I set the pole in the final race at Baku last year, and we continue in the same manner this year,” said Ortelli. “I like the car, the track and the competition is great in this series.”
Maxi Buhk’s HTP Bentley initially seemed to be Audi’s main challenger this morning, but Maxime Martin’s final flying lap in the No. 77 BMW Team Brasil Z4 GT3 moved him up into second, only 0.089s shy off Ortelli’s pole time.
Buhk ended up in third (+0.186s), making it three different brands in the top three.
“I really didn’t expect this result because track is too narrow for our car,” said Buhk. “The Bentley wasn’t working as it should in FP1. The second practice session went better and we found some tenths overnight.”
Audi’s strong showing in both practice sessions didn’t materialize in qualifying, with WRT struggling on several fronts.
Christopher Mies’ No. 2 Audi went off in the final corner during Q1, but could continue after the necessary repairs.
Meanwhile Robin Frijns crashed the No. 1 Audi at the same spot a couple of minutes later, breaking the car’s front right suspension and putting it on the back foot, the team is currently assessing the damage.
The No. 6 Phoenix Racing Audi of Marcus Winkelhock is the second R8 LMS on the grid in fourth, closely followed by Frank Stippler’s No. 4 WRT Audi in P5.
Craig Dolby gave the 2015-spec Nissan GT-R a competitive debut in the series and ended up in sixth, while Dutchman Jules Szykowiak (HTP Bentley) impressed during his first outing in a GT by putting in the eighth time overall and first in the Silver Cup.
The top ten remained within the same second, while a mere 0.232s separated the first five cars.
On-track action resumes later today with the Qualifying Race at 2:15 p.m. local time.