Reigning FIA GT Series champion Stephane Ortelli took pole position for the final round of the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series, beating his former teammate and co-champion Laurens Vanthoor by less than one tenth of a second. Jeroen Bleekemolen managed to claim third in his Grasser Lamborghini, while Stefano Colombo took pole position in the Silver Cup. Marc Basseng was quickest of the drivers in the Pro-Am Trophy, before severely damaging his #5 Phoenix Racing Audi at the end of Q1.
Despite overcast conditions for the final qualifying session of the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series season, the track remained dry throughout. Nevertheless, a couple of drivers were caught out by the slippery conditions around the Baku street circuit. Vincent Abril (#4 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi), Marc Basseng (#5 Phoenix Racing Audi) and Benjamin Hetherington (#63 Fortec Mercedes) all hit the concrete walls very hard, fortunately without any bodily harm. For Marc Basseng, who set the quickest time in the Pro-Am Trophy before making contact with the wall, the event might well be over, as the damage to his car could well be terminal.
With the fastest 15 drivers qualifying for the decisive third part of the qualifying session, the final ten minutes of the session were always going to be exciting. Alvaro Parente, in the #61 Bhaitech McLaren, was the first to set a reference time, but Laurens Vanthoor was quick to push the Portuguese driver off the top of the rankings. The Belgian could not enjoy his top spot for long, as his countryman Frederic Vervisch in the #16 Boutsen Ginion McLaren created quite a surprise when putting his car on provisional pole position.
With Vanthoor improving his time and reclaiming first top spot, it looked like the die was cast, but like a jack-in-a-box Stephane Ortelli managed to put his #9 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi just in front of the #1 Audi, claiming his first pole position of the season. Jeroen Bleekemolen in the #28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini had to settle for third on the grid for the Qualifying Race, after being caught in traffic. Series leader Maximilian Götz (#84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes) will start from 7th, with the first eleven cars on the grid qualifying within one second.
The Qualifying Race starts at 9:15 on Sunday.
Stéphane Ortelli (#9 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi): “It is a good feeling to be at the front of the grid, especially with Laurens next to me on the front row. It brings back nice memories of last year, when together we won the race and the title. The field here in Baku is again very competitive and the track is very intense, with little room for error. I have raced on a fair share of street circuits in my career and I have to say that this one is very exciting. Formula 1 should change their plans and come and race here. The layout of this year is better than last year’s, but as we have seen during qualifying this is a difficult circuit to master as well. Tomorrow we should set a good example and drive a good race in the Qualifying Race.”
Laurens Vanthoor (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi): “I must admit that at first I was a bit disappointed when I heard I was in P2, but when I heard it was Stephane who beat me, I did not feel too bad about it. After winning the title together last year we became good friends, and if there is one guy by whom I think it is okay to be beaten, it’s him. It will be a hard fight tomorrow, especially in the Main Race. Combining a street circuit like this one with a lot of prize money should always bring some exciting racing.”
Jeroen Bleekemolen (#28 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini): “Although third is our worst qualifying session of the season, we shouldn’t be too unhappy. The car felt really good, even though I had a big issue in Q2 with the front brakes locking up. To be quick around the streets of Baku you should be able to rely on the ABS, so that was a bit of an issue. Luckily, it functioned properly in Q3 and I could really go for it. On the final lap I risked a little more and I was doing well, but unfortunately I hit some traffic and was blocked into turn 8. I don’t know if I could have beaten Stephane’s time, but it probably would have been really close.”
Stefano Colombo (#34 ROAL Motorsport BMW, 1st Silver Cup): “This is the first time I race on a street circuit and even though I am ‘last of the first’ with my 15th time in Q3 I am pretty happy with my performance. We are on pole in the Silver Cup and with the #4 Audi crashing in Q1 there might be a small chance to fight for the championship. It could happen.”