Report: Qualifying Report, Silverstone 2009

Wendlinger and Bruni on pole

The first round of 2009 will get underway at Silverstone on Sunday May 3rd, at 14:15 local time, with the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy.  Karl Wendlinger, who won the Trophy last year with his team-mate Ryan Sharp, will start from pole this year, but in a new car from a new team : the K plus K Motorsports Saleen S7.  This is his 9th pole in the history of the Championship. Vitaphone qualified in second and third, with Bertolini and new team-mate Alex Müller.   As for GT2, Gianmaria Bruni took pole for AF Corse,with Martin Ragginger, aged 20, second in the Brixia Porsche, after the nr 80 Hexis Racing AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage, which had set the second-fastest time, lost its qualifying laps due to ride-height issues.

As always, much changes over the winter, and the real state of play between the teams and drivers only begins to come clear once qualifying is over.  In 2009, factors at play included the new tyre situation – with development rubber outlawed, and all cars using commercially available tyres from either Michelin or Pirelli – and some additional handicap weights in GT2, with the fully-professional crews now carrying 50 kg, compared to 35 kg last year. 

Free Practice and pre-qualifying gave the first indications of what was to follow : that K plus K Motorsport’s Saleen looks to be extremely fast, that Hezemans and Kumpen are a force to be reckoned with in the PK Corvette, that Vitaphone’s Maserati MC 12 cars are on the pace and new signing Alex Müller is a real addition to the team.  In GT2, the additional weight and new tyres appeared to be giving some of the favourites issues, while Hexis Racing AMR with the Aston Martin Vantage V8, and fellow new entrant Brixia Racing with their Pirelli-clad Porsche, were looking fast.

During the 15 minute qualifying reserved for GT2, Bertolini was on the pace from the start, in the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati, closely followed by his team-mate Alex Müller.  However, ten minutes into the session, Wendlinger set a lap of 1:42.216 on his first flying lap.  Over nine tenths faster than Bertolini’s best time, the Italian headed straight for parc fermé, leaving the Austrian on pole ahead of the two Vitaphone cars.  Hezemans was fourth for PK, ahead of Luc Alphand Aventures, with Mario Dominguez in the second K plus K Saleen sixth.

This is the first pole for a Saleen S7-R since Adria in 2006, when Jarek Janis put the Zakspeed Saleen on pole.  This time, it is a Czech team rather than a Czech driver who had placed the car at the front of the grid.  Setting his ninth pole position, Wendlinger commented : “It is an excellent result with a new team, new car and a new group of people together. Of course we did a lot of testing, or enough testing, to learn the car enough.  But when you arrive at the first race of the season you never really know where you are.  We saw in the two free practices that we were pretty competitive, but the first qualifying session really gives you the answer.  The car worked very well, my thanks to K plus K Motorsport and our engineer Othmar Welti – the set-up is great and the car is fast. We showed we are fast enough for pole, but for the race it is a question of consistency, to keep the tyres as good as possible, and we will see how this will work tomorrow.”

In GT2, AF Corse’s defending Champions of Vilander and Bruni had been out of the top three in both free practice and qualifying. However, when it came time for qualifying, the situation was suddenly reversed, and Gianmaria Bruni set a lap of 1:50.230. “It is fantastic to start the season like this.  This year, with penalty weights as a professional driver and new tyres, it is rather different, especially with our engine having less power.  Compared to someone with no weight around this track it is quite hard.  With Toni we found a good set-up and came out for Qualifying and got a good lap.  The race is another thing, but at least 30% of the work is done.  We’re looking OK and ready for the challenge.”

The second-fastest time was set by Frédéric Makowiecki in the nr 80 Hexis Racing AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage.  However, all the car’s times were cancelled after post-session scrutineering, due to the car failing the ride-height test, and with incorrect size components on the car.  It will start from the back of the grid.

This promoted the Brixia Racing Porsche 997 GT3 RSR to second place.  The car, a new entrant for 2009 although the team has been a race-winner in the FIA GT3 European Championship, was driven by newcomer Martin Ragginger of Austria, a recent graduate from the Porsche Junior Team in the Porsche Carrera Cup.  Only 20 years old, he is the youngest driver on the grid this weekend.
After the loss of the Aston, which will now start from the back of the grid, Tim Mullen moved up third in the CRS Racing Ferrari 430 GT2.  Fourth was Barba Lopez in the second AF Corse Ferrari, with the second CRS Ferrari fifth.  Prospeed Competition’s Porsche rounded off the top six.

Today also saw the first qualifying session for the new generation of GT1 cars.  The best result was set by Bas Leinders in the Marc VDS Racing Ford GT1. “First of all I would like to thank our team owner Marc Van Der Straaten for giving us the possibility to race in GT1, to prepare a very nice and important project for 2010.  We are really looking forward to that.  We are really happy to be here,  the preparation was very short for us, with just two short tests in Magny-Cours and Paul Ricard HTTT, but it is not going too badly.   The car is quite different from the 2009 cars, we have 100 kg more, less power as we lack almost 20 km/h at the end of the straight, so there is quite a difference. So to qualify in the top ten, and maybe get some nice points tomorrow, would be nice. In the end, I always say it is four wheels and a steering wheel, so it doesn’t matter if it’s a Formula One or a Formula Ford, a Vertigo or even better a Ford GT, all you have to do it go to it, and that’s what we’ll do tomorrow.”

The Pre-Qualifying session took place in bright sunshine. After a red flag about 10 minutes in, where the nr44 Matech GT Racing Ford GT stopped on the track after 2 laps, the session went by without any incidents. Karl Wendlinger, in the nr14 K plus K Motorsport Saleen S7 set the best time of the session, with a lap of 1:43.592, having put new tyres on and lapped nearly 4 tenths faster than his nearest rival. Mike Hezemans in the nr4 Pekaracing Corvette Z06 were second fastest, setting at time of 1:43.991. The third best time of the session, 1:44.145, was set in the nr2 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati of Ramos and Muller. In GT2, the best time was 1:49.691, set by Mackowiecki in the nr80 Hexis Racing AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage – the first time an Aston has topped the GT2 time sheets. Lucchini and Ragginger set the second fastest lap time of 1:50.498 in the nr97 Brixia Racing Porsche 911 GT3 RS. The third best time was set by Alvaro Barba Lopez and Niki Cadei in the nr51 Af Corse, with a lap of 1:50.628. It is a long time since the FIA GT Championship has seen three makes in the top three in GT2.

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