The battle for the Sprint Cup title is closer than ever following a pair of crucial qualifying sessions at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which set the grids for this afternoon's deciding races.
Both 60-minute contests will see a title contender start from the front of the field. Albert Costa did the job in Q2, taking Emil Frey Racing's fourth successive Sprint Cup pole, while Raffaele Marciello produced a stunning lap to top Q3 by a significant margin. The Italian driver cannot win the championship himself, but can help AKKA ASP teammate Timur Boguslavskiy to do so.
Costa topped Q2 by lapping 0.062s faster than Marciello. The #88 Mercedes-AMG was followed by the Attempto Audi cars of Fred Vervisch and Mattia Drudi, while Maro Engel took fifth in the #4 HRT Mercedes. The German driver edged out fellow title contenders Kelvin van der Linde (#31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) and Dries Vanthoor (#32 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT), setting up a tense start to proceedings this afternoon.
They were followed by the Silver Cup and Pro-Am pole-sitters respectively. Oscar Tunjo was a factor throughout the session and ultimately qualified his #2 Tokosport Mercedes-AMG eighth overall, one spot head of Eddie Cheever III. The Italian will start from ninth, three spots clear of his closest class rival, in the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari.
Qualifying two was a Marciello masterclass. The Italian's best time of 1m43.296s was an incredible 0.675s clear of his closest challenger, earning a bonus point that could be crucial to Boguslavskiy's title push. Van der Linde took second in the #31 WRT Audi, followed by Vanthoor in the sister car. Costa was fourth, meaning that all but one of the championship hopefuls will start the season-deciding race from the first two rows.
The exception will be Engel, who could only manage 11th in the #4 HRT Mercedes. The German was just two tenths shy of a place in the top-six, but that deficit could prove crucial later this afternoon. Ezequiel Perez Companc took Silver Cup pole with a superb fifth-place overall, edging out the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini of Mikäel Grenier. The Sky Tempesta Ferrari doubled up in Pro-Am, with Cheever taking 12th overall.
Today's season-ending Sprint Cup contests will take place at 12.25 and 16.30. Live coverage will air live on the official GT World Challenge Europe website and Facebook pages, as well as the GT World YouTube channel.