BMW wins battle of wills in Qualifying Race
Having scored a single point at the season opener in Nogaro, the BMW outfit took eight points for first place with the No.18 car while the No.17 of Austrians Mathias Lauda and Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof added a further two points for fifth place.
The performance underlined BMW’s improvement since the Easter weekend where they struggled for pace.
“We had a very difficult weekend in Nogaro where we scored just one point, so it is nice for the team, with all the hard work, all the long nights. It is a good victory,” said team leader Bartels.
“It feels very good to win, but I hope we can double up with the Championship Race tomorrow, and then we could claim some big points for the weekend.”
In second place was the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG No.37 of Nicky Pastorelli (NLD) and Thomas Jager (DEU) after a consistent drive from third on the grid.
“The track seems pretty good for this car and hopefully it will be like that at other tracks from now on,” said Pastorelli.
“We gambled a little bit on the conditions set up wise and it meant we found it a little difficult at the beginning, but once the track started to dry up we were really quick.”
Matt Halliday (Mike Parisy) in the No.9 Exim Bank Team China Porsche 911 held off a spirited late charge from the Hexis Racing McLaren MP4-12C No.1 of Frederic Makowiecki (Stef Dusseldorp) to clinch the final podium position.
“After the difficult weekend in Nogaro, and with the Qualifying not being too good this morning, it was good to find the pace in the race. Fourth place feels like a victory after Nogaro,” said a relieved Dusseldorp.
“Philippe Dumas (team manager) asked me after 15 minutes how the track was, if it was starting to dry up and how the conditions were. I told him that it looked like it was drying but I think we should wait for as long as possible to decide what to do, and in the end we changed to slicks,” added the Dutchman. “We made the perfect decision.”
The No.9 Porsche had set pole in Qualifying but was relegated three places on the start grid due to a pit lane infringement in Q3. Parisy, who started the race, said: “My stint was very hard, we just needed to keep the car on the track at the start in the very tricky conditions.
“I am very happy for the team to be on the podium, we are still a young team, and it’s pretty impressive for us to be sitting here.
“We will push again tomorrow and fight to be higher, but for now I am very happy for what the team has achieved.”
Markus Winkelhock (Marc Basseng) in the second Mercedes appeared to be heading for a comfortable win but his progress was halted by throttle problems six minutes from the finish. The No.38 car was finally classified sixth – a chance missed for the double race winners here last year.
“Something was wrong with the throttle. We have to check it, and check it again to be sure we understand,” Winkelhock explained.
“It is a shame to have been leading the race, with the car feeling not too bad, and then to throw what could have been an easy victory away.
“I am absolutely not happy at the moment but we can not change it now and I just have to look forward to tomorrow,” he added.
The race began in wet conditions but as the sun came out and a dry racing line appeared, tyre choice at the pit stops came into play.
The Belgian Audi Club WRT Team’s decision to stay on wet weather tyres after the stop backfired as the front runners, all on slicks, hunted them down.
Local favourite Laurens Vanthoor (Stephane Ortelli) in the No.32 Audi R8 LMS was forced to pit a second time for dry tyres as was the No.33 pole-sitting car of Frank Stippler (Oliver Jarvis) who had resumed in the lead after taking over from Oliver Jarvis (GBR).
The Audis paid a heavy toll for their tactical gamble. The championship leaders in the No.32 eventually finished 12th, one place behind the sister car at the flag.
“We were in a strong position until we made the wrong decision, with the tyres, and it has cost us a lot. I hope we can turn things around for tomorrow as it is my home race and the home race for the team,” said the disappointed Vanthoor.
Peter Kox (NLD) in the Lamborghini No.25, starting third, made a flying start to lead the field into the first turn ahead of the No.33 Audi.
However, Kox was deemed to be a little over-eager at the start by the race stewards and was handed a drive-through penalty. It dropped the Lamborghini down to 11th and the team chose to fit slick tyres for Darryl O’Young’s stint. The Chinese driver brought the car home in 8th place.
The Valmon Racing Team Russia Aston Martin DBRS9 No.7 of Maxime Martin (BEL) and Alexei Vasiliev (RUS) was ninth ahead of the No.2 Hexis Racing McLaren of Gregoire Demoustier (FRA) and Alvaro Parente (PRT).
It was a mixed day for the AF Corse Ferraris. The No.4 car of Enzo Ide (BEL) and Francesco Castellacci (ITA) started from the pit lane after a loose wheel nut forced the 458 Italia into the box prior to the grid formation.
They eventually finished seventh while the No.3 of Toni Vilander (FIN) and Filip Salaquarda (CZE) was 13th.
“For me and Enzo, we did a really good job having to force our way from the back, after having had a problem with a wheel nut before we went out to the grid,” said Castellacci.
“Starting effectively in last, finishing seventh is a really great result for us, so we are really happy with it,” he added.
Among the retirements were the Reiter Lamborghini No.24 of Tomas Enge (CZE) and Albert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU) with electrical problems after 38 minutes and the Aston Martin No.6 of Andreas Zuber (AUT) and Sergei Afanasyev (RUS).
Enge said; “It was looking good for the first few laps and then I started to have an issue with shifting, not with the gearbox, but with shifting itself. We had some electronic issue, and eventually I had to just stop the car in the pits as the problem got worse.”
China’s Ren Wei spun into a tyre barrier in the No.8 Porsche and limped back into the pits with half an hour gone.
The No.10 Sunred Ford GT had brake problems and the team took the decision to find a fix ahead of tomorrow’s main event which starts at 14:45 local (+2 GMT). Like today, Zolder’s changeable weather will be a factor.