Nogaro: Pole for Phoenix as Porsche Score Pole in GT2

The Saleen and SRT Corvettes could not match the pace of the front runners

Qualifying for the eighth round of the 2008 FIA GT Championship saw Phoenix Carsport driver Marcel Fässler claim his fourth pole position of the season. The Swiss driver, who shares his car with fellow countryman Jean-Denis Deletraz, put in a fine lap of 1:23.703, fractionally faster than last year’s pole time. “It is amazing to do the fastest lap in qualifying,” Fässler commented. “It is always a good start for the race weekend. But as we know tomorrow is another day. However, we’ll try to win, as we still have a small chance to get the Championship, but we need a really perfect weekend to stay in the race for the battle. We also hope our sister car will be close to the Maserati cars tomorrow.”

Marcel joins quite a select group of drivers who have managed four overall pole positions in a season, including the likes of Bernd Schneider, Ricardo Zonta, Julian Bailey, Jamie Campbell-Walter, Walter Lechner Jr, Christophe Bouchut and most recently Jarek Janis in 2006.

His lap, set five minutes before the end of the 15-minute session, dislodged the provisional pole-setter Greg Franchi. The Belgian marked an extremely successful return to competition for the Larbre Competition Saleen S7-R, which had crashed in the warm-up for the Total 24 Hours of Spa after setting pole. “The team rebuilt the car totally after the big crash in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, and they have done a very good job. The car is very quick and I think we have a good chance of a good result tomorrow,” Franchi commented. He shares the car with Vincent Vosse, who is also competing in the FIA GT3 European Championship this weekend.

Third on the grid for tomorrow’s two-hour race will be the nr 3 SRT Corvette C6R, Christophe Bouchut having set a lap of 1:23.996. The French driver was pleased with the result, as they had struggled in the practice sessions. “I am in France , and my target is to win,” he said. “I have been racing at this track for twenty years, I won my first F3 race here – so I think I know the track well !”

The GT1 drivers took their time emerging from the pits once their 15-minute session started. As Fässler explained : “”This circuit is quite difficult : it is very hard on the tyres. I think it will be quite interesting in tomorrow’s race to see how people handle this factor.” Kumpen was first to set provisional pole in the nr 4 PK Carsport Saleen, until his time was eclipsed by that of Greg Franchi in the Larbre Saleen. Franchi’s time looked as if it might give Larbre its second pole of the season, after Lamy in Spa, until Fässler set his pole-setting lap.

Behind them, Simonsen will complete the second row in the nr 10 Gigawave Aston Martin DBR9 he will share with Philipp Peter. Fifth went to Alexandre Negrao in the nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati, ahead of Kumpen’s Saleen. Brno winner Wendlinger was seventh in the nr 33 Jetalliance Aston Martin DBR9, the Austrian having outbraked himself at the end of the straight on his flying lap; the team’s second car did not take part, and will not race tomorrow, following a heavy crash in pre-qualifying, with Jiri Janak at the wheel. Newcomer DKR Engineering will share the fifth row with Championship leaders Vitaphone, whose Maserati MC 12 is the heaviest in GT1, and who had trouble with traffic in the 15-minute session.

The Aston Martin Vantage makes its debut in the G2 class

In GT2, Richard Westbrook claimed his first-ever FIA GT pole position in the nr 61 Prospeed Competition. The British driver, who is sharing the car with newcomer Alex Davison this weekend, put in an excellent lap to claim provisional pole right at the start of the session, and was never seriously challenged. His time of 1:26.296 was eight tenths of a second better than the GT2 pole set this time last year. “At last, some good news in our team,” he said. “I was a little bit surprised as we were really struggling in practice; it’s a very tricky circuit to get right. There are so many different types of corners that it is difficult to get the correct balance. We guessed on the set-up, but we guessed right. I really didn’t think I’d get pole, but the car was excellent and we’re all smiling in the garage again !”

He will start alongside Christian Montanari, the driver from San Marino setting a time of 1:26.628 in the nr 51 AF Corse Ferrari. “The car was immediately good today,” he said. “It is important for us to start in the front tomorrow, and we want to take more points to improve our Championship position.” Third-fastest was Tim Mullen in the nr 55 CR Scuderia Ferrari; he is sharing the car with Andrea Piccini this weekend, with the team fighting for second position in the GT2 Teams Championship. “We were going well in both practice sessions, but the track changed for us a bit in qualifying. It went from a lot of understeer in the first two sessions to a lot of oversteer in that one – I had a few big sideways moments,” he explained.

Gianmaria Bruni was fourth, despite carrying 75 kg success ballast as well as the 35 kg penalty for two professional drivers in the nr 50 AF Corse Ferrari. As long as the car he shares with Toni Vilander finishes ahead of the nr 77 BMS Scuderia Ferrari in tomorrow’s race, the duo should secure the title.

The third row of the grid will also be an all-Ferrari affair, with the nr 56 CR Scuderia starting just ahead of the nr 95 Advanced Engineering Pecom Racing Team car, qualified by Matias Russo.