> Italian becomes first back-to-back pole winner since 2004
> 13 IGTC entries and all five full-season manufacturers contest 20-strong Super Pole
> Result: Super Pole
AKKA ASP’s #88 Mercedes-AMG starts this weekend’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa up front after Raffaele Marciello became the first driver to seal back-to-back pole positions in the event’s GT3 era.
The Italian set a blistering 2m17.949s to head up a top-20 featuring 13 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli entries, four of which feature on the first two rows.
One of them, Mirko Bortolotti’s Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini, had occupied top spot since Super Pole’s halfway stage after usurping Emil Frey Racing’s Huracan driven by qualifying’s individual pace-setter, Ricardo Feller. But he could only watch on while his fellow countryman then lowered the weekend’s fastest time by 0.303s on his first attempt.
The second effort would also have been fast enough for pole had it not been removed for a track limits infringement. But by that stage it was just Marciello against the clock anyway after AKKA’s crew, which also comprises Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella, topped Thursday night’s qualifying session and earned the right to run last in Super Pole.
That laid the foundations for a feat not achieved since Fabrizio Gollin recorded consecutive pole positions with BMS Scuderia Italia in 2003-04.
Feller ultimately fell to fourth behind Maro Engel’s Haupt Racing Mercedes-AMG. Both drivers would have qualified one place further back without the pit exit infringement that saw Nicki Thiim’s Garage 59 Aston Martin penalised five places post-session.
MARCIELLO MAKES IT LOOK EASY
After a number of the early runners had laps cancelled for track limits, the first driver to make a serious bid for pole was Ben Barnicoat, who ran second in the #38 JOTA McLaren and posted a 2m18.597s. This remained the benchmark until Feller went three hundredths quicker, demonstrating the potential that the Italian marque’s Huracán GT3 has shown all week at Spa.
This was the latest in a series of impressive showings from the young Swiss racer, but his time on top was brief as Bortolotti delivered a special lap at the wheel of FFF’s Pro crewed entry. The Italian ran 10th, but as successive drivers failed to beat his 2m18.525s a first Super Pole triumph for Lamborghini edged closer.
Running fourth from last, Engel looked on course to topple Bortolotti at the wheel of the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT entry, but a small error at the final chicane scuppered his chances and left the German driver second. Thiim also couldn’t find the pace for pole, which just left Marciello.
After mastering heavy rain last year, the Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP driver had clear skies above when he took to the track in search of another Super Pole. He completed the job on his first flying lap, becoming the only driver this year to break the 2m18 barrier at Spa-Francorchamps by setting an unmatchable 2m17.949s. There was no improvement on his second tour, but it did not matter: Marciello had done it again.
He led an all-star top-three ahead of Bortolotti and Engel, while Feller confirmed his status as future champion by placing fourth. This gave the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini pole in the Silver Cup and represents the best-ever qualifying position for the class at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
Sheldon van der Linde was a fine fifth in the #34 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW, followed by the equally impressive Barnicoat. Mattia Drudi (#66 Audi Sport Team Attempto), Nicky Thiim (#59 Garage 59 Aston Martin), Mathieu Jaminet (#22 GPX Racing Porsche) and Felipe Fraga (#89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG) completed the top-10.
As well as the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini, three more Silver Cup contenders competed in Super Pole: Pierre-Alexandre Jean put the #107 CMR Bentley 12th, Thomas Drouet took 16th in the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG, while Philip Ellis was 19th in the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG. Seven brands were represented in the top-10, with only Bentley and Ferrari absent.
The 2021 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa will get underway tomorrow at 16:30 and will see Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP seek to become only the second team in 10 years to win the race from pole. Every minute of the action will be streamed live on the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa website, the event's official Facebook page and the GTWorld YouTube channels.
Raffaele Marciello, #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP: “I just wanted to try and qualify the car inside the top five and to stay out of trouble at the beginning of the race. That's why I didn't drive too aggressively. For the race I can count on an excellent team and mega team-mates. I think we have the package to do really well, but we are not the only ones that want to win this race. We will need a bit of luck with the weather, the strategy, etc. But if everything goes right we should be able to be at the front.”