Audi and Ferrari shared a GT3 pole position apiece after Absolute Racing’s Martin Rump and HubAuto Corsa’s Nick Foster topped a thrilling Blancpain GT Series Asia qualifying session at Suzuka this morning.
Elsewhere, Ryuichirou Ohtsuka and Sunako Jukuchou topped the GT4 class aboard their GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG and Team Studie BMW M4, respectively.
Q1: RUMP TOO HOT TO HANDLE
Six different manufacturers featured in a top-seven covered by just one second, but ultimately it was Rump who took pole with plenty of time to spare.
Shae Davies was the first of the front-runners to post a representative lap before a flurry of mid-session improvements saw Rump move to the top. The Estonian’s 2m02.267s was 0.333s faster than championship leader Dennis Lind could muster aboard FFF Racing’s leading Lamborghini, which prompted Absolute to pit their Audi well before the end of Q1.
Markus Pommer’s GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG finished another 0.3s behind the Huracan, while Davies’ late improvement vaulted the Craft-Bamboo Racing Porsche back ahead of HubAuto Corsa’s Ferrari driven by Leo Ye Hongli.
A particularly impressive lap gave leading amateur Hiroshi Hamaguchi Pro/Am pole and sixth overall for FFF Racing after the Japanese driver finished just ahead of FP3 pace-setter Edoardo Liberati in KCMG’s Nissan, the sixth manufacturer inside the overall top-seven.
OD Racing’s Aditya Patel completed the top-eight less than a tenth further back.
Meanwhile, GruppeM and Ryuichirou Ohtsuka’s practice pace marked them out as serious GT4 contenders, and so it proved when the Japanese driver claimed pole on his Blancpain GT Series Asia debut.
His 2m14.989s lap would end up fastest of either session and was also a second quicker than Takayuki Kinoshita’s Team Studie BMW, which shares the class front row.
Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu starts third ahead of Brian Lee’s TTR Team SARD Porsche and Ringo Chong (Team iRace.Win).
Q2: LATE LAP HELPS FOSTER LEAD HUBAUTO FRONT ROW
Unlike Q1’s action, which centred around a busy middle period, the morning’s second 15-minute session remained wide open in both classes until after the chequered flag had fallen.
HubAuto Corsa were first to strike when Tim Slade and Foster claimed provisional pole and second place in quick succession with laps separated by just 0.007s. Their advantage was short-lived, though, when GruppeM’s Patric Niederhauser and Raffeale Marciello pushed the Ferraris down to third and fourth.
Niederhauser then lowered the provisional pole time again on his next flying lap to leave HubAuto’s duo with something to aim for.
Slade was first up and duly delivered the weekend’s first sub-2m02s lap en route to a 0.177s advantage over his Swiss rival’s #999 Mercedes-AMG. That appeared to have settled things but, just as everyone headed for the pits, Foster picked his moment to head out for one final attempt. Purple first and final sectors, as well as a PB in the middle, duly settled it in the Australian’s favour, his 2m01.584s proving an incredible 0.322s quicker than Slade’s time.
Niederhauser and Marciello formed an all-GruppeM row two ahead of FFF Racing’s Marco Mapelli, whose late effort bumped team-mate Martin Kodric down to sixth.
Absolute Racing’s Adderly Fong was the leading Audi driver in seventh, and Alex Imperatori rounded out the top-eight aboard KCMG’s Nissan.
GT4 also enjoyed a dramatic finish when BMW Team Studie’s Sunako Jukuchou pipped long-time leader Reinhold Renger to pole after the chequered flag had flown.
The Japanese team and driver’s 2m15.259s was 0.140s faster than GruppeM’s Mercedes-AMG, which finished two tenths ahead of Gilles Vannelet’s similar Team iRace.Win model.
Jean Marc Merlin’s Craft-Bamboo Mercedes-AMG also claimed a place on row two at the expense of Max Chen (Team Studie BMW) and Keo Chang (Tawan Top Speed Porsche).
This weekend’s first 60-minute race starts at 14:20. Watch it live from Suzuka via the championship’s Facebook page and website.