AF Corse Ferraris sound a warning in Zolder Free PracticeThe AF Corse Ferraris laid down a marker after two sessions of Free Practice in Round Two of the FIA GT1 World Championship at a wind-swept Zolder in Belgium.
Fastest overall for the day was the Ferrari 458 Italia No.3 of Filip Salaquarda (CZE) and Toni Vilander (FIN) who recorded a time of 1:30.739 on the 4km track. “As you can see from the times, the top few cars are really very close,” Vilander said. “The track is very demanding, so it is difficult to make a big gap here but with our car I feel the balance is quite good at the moment.
“There is always a margin to improve, but so far it looks good, from the first time we went out in Free Practice One we looked quite good.
“Now we are looking forward to tomorrow, I personally hope it stays dry so that it is a bit easier for everybody and a bit more solid, if there is a wet track drying or rain coming, it is a big casino again.”
Third overall was the sister Ferrari No.4 of Belgian favourite Enzo Ide and Italy’s Francesco Castellacci with a 1:30.902.
“This is a track I know quite well, but this is the first time for me to be here with this car. I think we have a good package, we pushed hard to get to the front and showed some real improvement today,” Ide said.
“Maybe tomorrow some teams will be even closer, but you never know, today is only Free Practice, tomorrow is when everyone will push, and we will see where we are. Wet or dry we will push, and we will have to see the end result.”
Heavy cloud hovered overhead for most of the day with a sprinkle of rain threatening. The track conditions remained dry but the forecast is for rain at some stage during the weekend.
Splitting the Ferraris was the No.9 Exim Bank Team China Porsche 911 of Mike Parisy (FRA) and Matt Halliday (NZL) who posted a 1:30.772 to underline their claims as likely challengers for a podium position this weekend.
Most of the morning work was done by Halliday as Parisy explained. “This morning was Matt’s first session on the track here at Zolder, so I did just a few laps and let him get in the car.
“This afternoon I pushed a lot to see where I was with the car, and I had a good feeling, and it turned out to be the second fastest time of the day. It is a good performance for us, as we are one of the smaller teams, all is new for us.
“Our target is to be in contention for the world championship, we know we have the potential, the car, the team, us drivers I think the team spirit will grow and I think we can do beautiful things.
“Our aim is for a podium this weekend, we will see during Qualifying where we will end up. I think we can find the solution very easily if it is wet, so I am not too concerned for the weather.”
BMW showed a marked improvement from the opening round in Nogaro to be nearer to the top of the timesheets. In Nogaro, France for the opening round, the BMW Z4s were mid-pack and struggling for pace.
At the tight and twisty Circuit Zolder it was a different matter with the car able to meet the technical challenges of the track layout.
In the morning session, the Vita4One BMW Z4 of Yelmer Buurman (NLD) and team boss Michael Bartels (DEU) set the fastest time of 1:31.376 in the No.18 car. In the afternoon session, they combined for the fourth quickest time of 1:31.058. “This technical track suits the BMW a lot better because we are not at such a disadvantage with the straight-line speed like Nogaro,” said Buurman. “Hopefully we can push hard for some good points this weekend.”
The second BMW, the No.17 of Mathias Lauda (AUT) and Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof (AUT) was sixth fastest in the morning to reinforce the change of fortune for the BMW squad.
The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes squad, second in the championship after solid results at Nogaro, were also up with the front-runners. The No.37 SLS AMG of Thomas Jager and Nicky Pastorelli was fifth fastest for the day with a 1:31.507.
The Dutchman was relatively pleased with the day’s result. “I think we are a little bit closer than it looks, we didn’t get a clear lap on the good tyres. I think we are still missing some speed to be on pole position, but there are some things we are going to do over night to try and find that speed,” Pastorelli said.
“I think the car is very consistent, the race pace is really good, we just need to work on the qualifying speeds. We had rain in Nogaro, and we didn’t start too well in the wet, but we had time to understand a lot of things. I’d rather have it completely dry or completely wet to be honest. I’d rather not have mix conditions, because it’s always a gamble then.”
The best performing Audi R8 LMS of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, all-conquering in France, was the No.33 of Oliver Jarvis (GBR) and Frank Stippler (DEU) with 1:31.559 to be in the top six. The No.32 car of local hero Laurens Vanthoor and Stephane Ortelli (MON), double race-winners in the opening round, were lurking further down the order with a 1:31.984.
There were mixed fortunes for the Hexis Racing McLarens. Frederic Makowiecki (FRA) and Stef Dusseldorp (NLD) in the No.1 car produced a 1:31.837 while the No.2 car of Gregoire Demoustier (FRA) and Alvaro Parente (PRT), hampered by electrical issues in the morning, completed 31 laps in the afternoon to record a 1:32.740 to be 13th overall.
Peter Kox (NLD) and Darryl O’Young (CHN) in the No.25 were the best of the Reiter Engineering Lamborghinis with a 1:31.642. The second Lamborghini of Tomas Enge (CZE) and Abert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU), third in the Qualifying Race in Nogaro, clocked a best lap of 1:32.106.
At the foot of the standings were the Sunred Ford GT No.10 of Milos Pavlovic (SRB) and Matteo Cressoni (ITA), sporting a new white livery, and the Valmon Racing Team Russia Aston Martins of Belgium’s Maxime Martin and Alexey Vasiliev (RUS) and Andreas Zuber (AUT)/Sergei Afanasiev (RUS).