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WRT Leads Audi Front-Row Lockout in Imola Qualifying

WRT, Sainteloc form Audi front row for GTWC Europe Endurance season-opener at Imola…

Photo: Patrick Hecq/SRO

Team WRT drivers Charles Weerts, Kelvin van der Linde and Dries Vanthoor set the pace in qualifying to lead a provisional Audi front row for the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup season-opener at Imola.

The drivers of the No. 32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II produced an average time of 1:40.322 across the three qualifying sessions on Sunday morning to top the 52-car leaderboard.

However, a spin for Weerts during Q3 caused a session-ending red flag, which kept the results provisional until just under two hours before the planned race start time.

The GTWC Europe sporting regulations state that “incidents occurring during qualifying may result in either the deletion of lap times by the race director or stewards, or a drop of grid positions, the number of positions to be decided by the stewards.”

Weerts was able to keep his 1:40.059 attempt that was set before the spin at Tamburello, backing up the 1:40.622 from Vanthoor in Q1 and van der Linde’s 1:40.286 from Q2.

The qualifying result yielded Audi’s first Endurance Cup pole since the opening round of the 2020 season, which was also held at Imola.

Lucas Legeret, Patric Niederhauser and Christopher Mies completed the R8-dominated front row by qualifying second in the No. 25 Sainteloc Junior Team Audi, 0.023 seconds behind WRT on average.

Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying pacesetter Mercedes-AMG Team Akkodis ASP set the third-quickest combined time, ahead of the No. 12 Tresor by Car Collection Audi and the No. 111 JP Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3.

Iron Lynx ended up sixth with its Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo driven by Miguel Molina, James Calado and reigning champion Nicklas Nielsen.

Tresor by Car Collection held the top spot after two sessions, with Christopher Haase topping Q1 and Mattia Drudi coming through in fifth at the end of Q2.

With one qualifying group remaining, Car Collection’s Audi held a 0.171 advantage over Sainteloc and a further 0.009 seconds over the No. 32 WRT.

However, Weerts and Mies both managed to beat Luca Ghiotto by more than half a second, resulting in a shift at the head of the order as Weerts brought WRT’s average down below that of Sainteloc.

The best-placed Porsche 911 GT3 R was the No. 54 Dinamic Motorsport machine in 12th, one place ahead of the top Lamborghini from Emil Frey Racing.

ROWE Racing’s BMW M4 GT3s will start ninth and 18th for the car’s maiden GTWC Europe race as a fully-homologated vehicle, although the higher-placed No. 98 car has been given a 10-place grid drop due to Augusto Farfus improving a sector under yellow flags.

A three-place grid drop was also given to the Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG for the same reason, along with a penalty of the same severity for the No. 5 HRT Mercedes-AMG which impeded another car.

McLaren factory driver Marvin Kirchhofer set the fastest lap of the weekend so far, as one of two competitors to break the 1m 40s barrier.

Kirchhofer steered the JOTA McLaren, which provisionally qualified 10th, to a 1:39.489 while Jules Gounon produced a 1:39.559 in the No. 88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

Nine-time Grand Prix motorcycle racing world champion Valentino Rossi took the third leg in his No. 46 WRT Audi crew’s qualifying effort, producing a 1:41.342.

That put the Italian and his co-drivers Frederic Vervisch and Nico Mueller 15th in the overall order.

All three of the 15-minute qualifying sessions were red-flagged due to incidents.

The opening session was halted with two minutes to go when Henrique Chaves’ Garage 59 McLaren ended up deep in the Rivazza gravel, while the second was truncated by Barwell Lamborghini driver Rob Collard spinning to face the wrong way at the first turn.

There was also a simultaneous puncture for the No. 97 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3, although this was not related to the Collard incident.

Attempto Racing’s No. 99 Audi claimed the Silver Cup pole courtesy of a 1:40.566 average from Marius Zug, Nicolas Schoell and Alex Aka who qualified seventh outright.

The first grid for the new Gold Cup category will be led by the Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG crew of Jens Liebhauser, Lorenzo Ferrari and Lucas Auer who combined for a 1:41.401, beating the No. 21 AF Corse Ferrari squad by one and a half tenths.

AF Corse did, however, manage to secure the Pro-Am pole with its No. 52 Ferrari driven by Stefano Constantini, Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini.

RESULTS: Qualifying (final)

Story updated at 1:42 p.m. CET to reflect confirmation of the qualifying result

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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