McLaren, Mercedes share last poles
Mercedes-AMG was the brand to beat in qualifying at Circuit Ricardo Tormo after earning five pole positions from a possible six, but it will be the JOTA McLaren (pictured) that leads the field away for Sunday’s first Sprint Cup contest thanks to a blistering lap from Ben Barnicoat. The British racer snatched pole in the dying minutes of the opening session, knocking long-time leader Luca Stolz (Team Toksport WRT) off top spot by 0.073s thanks to a 1m32.711s lap. This was the second successive Sprint Cup qualifying led by Barnicoat: the McLaren also topped Q1 at Brands Hatch but was penalised for weaving during the session and ultimately lined up third.
The second row will be shared by a pair of Silver Cup crews. Óscar Tunjo secured a fine third in the #6 Toksport WRT Mercedes-AMG after the Colombian posted a 1m32.820s, just a few tenths shy of teammate Stolz. Dennis Marschall gave the #99 Attempto Racing machine its best starting spot of the season in fourth, while also posting the best result for an Audi in either qualifying session. Two more Mercedes-AMG runners were next on the timing screens: Timur Boguslavskiy took fifth in the #88 AKKA ASP car, while Ezequiel Perez Companc was sixth quickest in the Madpanda Motorsport car. The brand’s Q1 success continued thanks to Valentin Pierburg, who put the SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes-AMG on top of the Pro-Am classification. The German delivered a superb lap that was within 1.1 seconds of Barnicoat’s benchmark, and also earned a bonus point that could prove vital in the battle for the class championship.
Maro Engel bagged his second overall pole of the season by narrowly topping Q2. The #6 Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT driver was just 0.007s clear of Jules Gounon in the AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG, who produced his best qualifying performance of the season to book a spot on the front row for race 2. Jim Pla qualified the sister car in third position to earn Silver Cup pole, while Dominik Baumann took top spot in Pro-Am with a stellar lap in the #20 SPS Automotive Performance. Baumann will start fourth overall, 11 spots clear of his nearest class rival, while his effort also earned another bonus point for the SPS squad. Having secured both poles, the Pierburg/Baumann pairing have moved to second in the Pro-Am standings and are now within 13 points of the class lead.
This quartet of Mercedes-AMG drivers was followed by Christian Engelhart, who was on fine form at the wheel of the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche. He will share the third row with Albert Costa, the Spanish ace proving to be the best of the Lamborghini runners in sixth position. Ferrari was also represented in the top-10 thanks to Sky Tempesta Racing after Eddie Cheever III qualified ninth overall and fourth in the Silver Cup class.
The second session saw the top-24 cars split by less than one second and produced a number of surprises. The title-winning #32 Team WRT Audi was only 13th with Dries Vanthoor at the wheel, while qualifying specialist Raffaele Marciello was a lowly 23rd in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG. The Italian had a lap cancelled during the first 10 minutes for track limits violations and did not run in the latter stages, consigning one of the pre-event favourites to a difficult task in the second contest.
The 2021 Sprint Cup season will conclude on Sunday with a pair of 60-minute races, the second of which will mark the 100th since the series was formed in 2013. With the overall titles already secured by Team WRT and its #32 pairing of Weerts/Vanthoor, the focus will be on who can capture the Pro-Am and Silver Cup titles. Both are currently led by Lamborghini squads, but with the Valencia circuit seeming to favour Mercedes-AMG the battle is far from over. Both races will be streamed live on the official series website and social media platforms.