GruppeM Racing’s Mercedes-AMGs claimed a crucial pole position apiece in qualifying for this weekend’s Blancpain GT Series Asia title decider at Ningbo earlier today thanks to Nico Bastian and Raffaele Marciello.
It was a similar story in the GT4 class where BMW Team Studie’s #81 M4 sealed top spot in both sessions. Those results could prove crucial to Sunako Jukuchou and Takayuki Kinoshita overhauling title rival Reinhold Renger and his co-driver Ryuichirou Ohtsuka whose GruppeM Mercedes-AMG starts both races from second.
Q1: BASTIAN SAVES HIS BEST FOR LAST
Nico Bastian handed co-driver Patric Niederhauser a useful head start in this year’s championship showdown by pipping points leader Dennis Lind to pole position in the morning’s first qualifying session, which featured seven different manufacturers covered by less than one second.
Niederhauser trails FFF Racing’s #19 crew by 12 points with two races remaining but knew a strong first qualifying session would heap additional pressure on Lind and Martin Kodric, who must also serve a 15s pitstop success penalty this afternoon. And Bastian, who can’t win the championship, duly obliged.
KCMG’s Edoardo Liberati led after the first round of flying laps but was pushed down to second by Lind next time around. It looked destined to remain that way until the final two minutes when Bastian’s 1m42.838s effort leapfrogged him above both the Lamborghini and Nissan.
Lind’s subsequent effort fell short of the Mercedes-AMG driver’s best, who remained 0.098s faster than the Dane, while Liberati – whose continuing championship challenge relies on him and Florian Strauss winning this afternoon – starts third.
Indigo Racing’s strong practice pace had marked out the Korean team as one to watch, and so it proved when Roelof Bruins jumped up to fourth at the chequered flag. That came at the expense of Absolute Racing’s Anthony Liu, who was nevertheless both the fastest amateur and Audi driver on show.
Team-mate Franky Cheng beat Jono Lester’s HubAuto Corsa Ferrari to sixth, although the Australian’s late improvement did move him ahead of Craft-Bamboo’s leading Porsche driven by Sandy Stuvik. Andre Couto’s Phoenix Racing Asia Bentley and Darryl O’Young’s 991 GT3 R rounded out the top-10.
But there was a setback for overall title contender and Pro/Am championship leader Hiroshi Hamaguchi who starts 15th after contact with Morris Chen’s Ferrari brought an early end to the FFF Racing Lamborghini’s session.
The GT4 class once again boiled down to a straight fight between BMW Team Studie and GruppeM Racing. Ryuichirou Ohtsuka held provisional pole for a time but was bumped down to second by Sunako Jukuchou who claimed his fifth consecutive class pole by 0.5s.
That will prove vital if the BMW is to build a big enough advantage over the championship-leading Mercedes-AMG that would negate the Japanese crew’s 15s pitstop success penalty.
Third went to the M Motorsport KTM that Justin McMillan races solo, while Team iRace.Win’s Ringo Chong – the only other driver able to win the title this weekend – lines up fourth.
Q2: NO STOPPING MARCIELLO
Raffaele Marciello converted his practice pace into pole position for Ningbo’s season closer on Sunday after out-pacing weekend-long rival Tim Slade by 0.184s.
The duo had traded fastest times across all three practice sessions and resumed their position at the top of the standings in a 15-minute session delayed by Phoenix Racing Asia’s stranded Bentley. When it resumed Marciello wasted no time laying down the fastest lap of the weekend so far – 1m41.780s – to effectively end the conversation before it had barely begun.
His HubAuto Corsa rival also set a personal best but ultimately fell just short, while the team’s second Ferrari driven by Nick Foster starts third after lapping another 0.254s adrift of GruppeM’s pole-winning Mercedes-AMG.
Patric Niederhauser ultimately prevailed in a seesaw battle for fourth after a late lap helped him jump above Manuel Metzger, who underlined Indigo Racing’s pace, and championship leader Dennis Lind.
Absolute Racing Audis filled positions seven to nine – Adderly Fong beating Alessio Picariello and Martin Rump – while Alexander Imperatori’s KCMG Nissan completed the top-10.
Elsewhere, BMW Team Studie and GruppeM’s personal battle for control of GT4 continued with Takayuki Kinoshita pinching pole from Reinhold Renger in the final moments of qualifying. Just 0.068s separated the pair ahead of tomorrow’s potential title decider.
Justin McMillan’s M Motorsport KTM again headed up row two, while Alex Au (Team iRace.Win), Diana Rosario (Craft-Bamboo Racing) and Brian Lee (TTR Team SARD) completed the top-six.
This afternoon’s first 60-minute race begins at 15.20 local time. Watch it live on the championship’s Facebook page and website, On.cc in Hong Kong, and across China via the dedicated streaming services listed below.
SMG Live: http://t.cn/E7ctiqm