While the spotlight was set firmly on the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe title contenders, the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG emerged from the shadows to take a brace of pole positions for this weekend's Hungaroring finale.
Having fallen out of the championship fight during last weekend's Nürburgring event, the #88 Mercedes-AMG crew of Raffaele Marciello and Vincent Abril are competing for pride at the Hungarorirng. They will also hope to secure the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe teams' title for the AKKA ASP squad and are now perfectly placed to bag maximum points at the Hungarian venue.
Marciello was quickest in the first session with a 1m43.049s, edging out title contender Luca Stolz in the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG. The German driver was two-tenths shy of Marciello, but will be satisfied to have out-performed all of his championship rivals during Q1.
Mirko Bortolotti took third spot in the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini, which remains an outside bet for the title after strong qualifying showings by the Italian and teammate Christian Engelhart. Simon Gachet put the #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi seventh on the grid, while the points-leading #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini of Marco Mapelli was eighth.
There was worse to come for the FFF Lamborghini squad in Q2. Out front, Abril delivered what he later called "one of the best laps of my career" to set an unbeatable 1m42.994s benchmark. Close behind him, Christian Engelhart completed an excellent qualifying showing by Grasser Racing to put the #63 Lamborghini on the front row, just 0.092s shy of the rapid Monegasque.
Dries Vanthoor took third, ahead of Maro Engel in the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG. The German driver posted a competitive late lap to secure a second-row spot, which could prove crucial in tomorrow's season-ending race. Christopher Haase replicated teammate Gachet's performance in the #25 Sainteloc Audi by qualifying seventh.
The story of the session, however, was the #563 Lamborghini. Andrea Caldarelli showed flashes of pace, posting purple sectors as he sought to move up the order, but ultimately did not put a complete lap together. This led to him qualifying eighth, which became 13th when his best effort was cancelled for a track limits infringement at turn four. Exactly how damaging this will be depends on the result of this afternoon's opening race, which starts at 15.10 CET.
In the Silver Cup class, AKKA ASP is on the brink of securing the teams' title after taking a brace of impressive pole positions. Thomas Neubauer bagged top spot in Q1 with the sixth-best lap overall, which could also prove vital as he and #89 Mercedes-AMG teammate Nico Bastian look to capture the class drivers' championship. Felipe Fraga went one better in Q2, qualifying fifth overall to take an excellent Silver pole for the sister #90 car.
The Pro-Am class was just as competitive. Rinat Salikhov took race 1 pole in his #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, edging out title rival Hiroshi Hamaguchi (#519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini) by just 0.113s to bag the bonus point. In the second session Jim Pla secured top spot and broke into the overall top-10, ensuring the bonus went to a non-title-contending crew. The #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG driver narrowly beat Phil Keen (#519 Lamborghini) and David Perel (#333 Ferrari) to set up an intriguing class battle this weekend.
Following this afternoon's opening run, the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season will conclude tomorrow afternoon with the deciding race at 13.45. All of the weekend's action will be streamed live on the Blancpain GT Series website and social media channels.
> Q1 Results
> Q2 Results