Mercedes-AMG backed up its strong Friday showing at Circuit Paul Ricard by sweeping the front row of the grid for tonight's six-hour race, with Akkodis ASP set to lead the field away from pole position.
In one of the hardest-fought Endurance Cup qualifying sessions in recent memory, five cars looked to have a legitimate shot at pole heading into the final 15-minute run. Ultimately it was the #88 of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy that sealed top spot, hunting at a fascinating contest later today.
Marciello gave Akkodis ASP the ideal start by leading Q1 from Alessio Rovera (#51 AF Corse Ferrari) and Maro Engel (#777 Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar), setting all three teams up for a crack at pole. In Q2 the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Davide Rigon hit the front, bringing his crew into contention, while a consistent showing from the #40 Tresor Orange1 Audi added another challenger to the mix.
At the final reckoning, though, it was Gounon who truly delivered. The French-born driver is a Circuit Paul Ricard specialist and produced the fastest lap of the day – a blistering 1m52.982s – to put his car on pole. Indeed, no one else could get within three tenths of this impressive benchmark.
The #777 Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar entry will start second after Luca Stolz and Fabian Schiller backed up Engel's strong Q1 showing. The AF Corse Ferrari pair secured third (#51) and fifth (#71) on the grid, a highly encouraging result for the Italian marque's new 296 GT3. They were split by the #40 Audi, which should also be a factor in this evening's race.
Sixth spot went to the #11 Comtoyou Racing Audi, followed by the #87 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG, the #25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi, and the #32 Team WRT BMW. The latter was the best of the M4 runners, none of which appeared to have pole-winning pace today. Porsche and Lamborghini were also notabl absentees from the front of the order, their best entries qualifying 13th and 14th.
Winward Racing gave Mercedes-AMG another pole position by topping the Gold Cup classification. The #57 machine qualified an excellent 10th overall, despite Russell Ward being 30th after Q1. Indy Dontje began the recovery by finishing eighth fastest in Q2, while Philip Ellis was a superb P3 overall in the final session.
The sister #157 Mercedes-AMG ensured a Winward one-two, while the #5 Optimum Motorsport McLaren was third among the Gold Cup runners. All three of the class leaders were within a second of Akkodis ASP's overall benchmark and will start inside the top-15 on the grid.
Grasser Racing continued its strong form by bagging Silver Cup pole. The Austrian squad's #58 Lamborghini led both of Friday's outings, but it was the #85 crew of Clemens Schmid, Glenn van Berlo and Benjamin Hites who swept their sessions to secure class pole. They will start 17th overall, a full 11 places clear of their closest contender. The #12 Comtoyou Racing Audi was second in class, followed by the #58 Grasser machine.
In contrast, the Bronze Cup leaders could hardly have been closer. Garage 59 won the battle thanks to its #188 McLaren crew of Miguel Ramos, Henrique Chaves and Louis Prette, who qualified 18th overall and just 0.063s clear of the #79 HRT Mercedes-AMG. The #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche was just 0.097s off class pole, suggesting a highly competitive race this evening.
Barwell Motorsport took Pro-Am pole in the final session. The Lamborghini squad held pro driver Dennis Lind back until the end, with Adam Balon and Rob Collard running sessions one and two. Lind did more than enough to move the #78 crew from second to first, followed by the #24 Car Collection Porsche and the #38 ST Racing with Rinaldi Ferrari. All 57 cars participated in qualifying, which ran without any interuptions.
Tonight's six-hour Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup race sets off at 18:00 and concludes at midnight. All of the action will air live in the GT World YouTube account and the Fanatec GT Europe Facebook page.