The result was decided on the very last lap of the session, which concluded with three brands among the top three as Porsche and Ferrari joined Mercedes-AMG at the head of the field.
Maro Engel was at the controls of the #4 machine for the deciding round of qualifying, which saw the 20 fastest cars from Thursday’s session gunning for a place on the front row of the grid.
All 20 were present and correct for the start at 19.05, with Kevin Estre running first in the #20 GPX Racing Porsche. It was another of the Stuttgart marque’s 911 GT3 R entries that set the early pace, with third runner Mathieu Jaminet posting a 2m19.027s in the #98 ROWE Racing machine.
It was not until the ninth qualifier that the lead changed hands again, with Davide Rigon delivering a superb lap aboard the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari. The Italian ace circulated in 2m18.806s to knock Jaminet off top spot and put the Maranello marque in control at Spa.
Three cars later the pole-sitter changed again when Porsche ace Laurens Vanthoor hit his stride. The local favourite posted a 2m18.605s on the second of his two flying laps aboard the #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard machine, sparking hopes of a home pole-sitter at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
From this point onwards, it was a case of who could better the Belgian. The most likely candidate appeared to be his brother, Dries, who showed eye-catching speed in yesterday’s qualifying aboard the #2 Audi Sport Team WRT entry.
But the younger Vanthoor was unable to recapture the same pace this evening, with his best effort ultimately placing the #2 Audi sixth on the grid for tomorrow’s race. This left one final runner, the #4 Black Falcon car driven by Engel, which showed flawlessly consistent pace in qualifying but had not necessarily looked to be the fastest over a single lap.
Engel quickly silenced any doubters, however, with his first effort good enough for second spot. That left the German ace with one final chance to snatch pole. Despite the pressure Engel delivered when it mattered the most, circulating in 2m18.588s to beat local hero Vanthoor by just 0.017s and cap a thrilling Super Pole session.
The Bernhard-Porsche would have to settle for second on the grid, though Vanthoor’s crew is clearly firmly in contention for this year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. Rigon remained third, with his #62 Ferrari squad also among the leading candidates to lift the winners’ trophy on Sunday afternoon.
Fourth spot went to Nick Tandy in the #998 ROWE Racing Porsche, one of six Pro class efforts for the Stuttgart marque among the top 20. Daniel Serra was fifth in the HubAuto Corsa Ferrari, securing a superb result for the Total 24 Hours debutants.
Sixth-placed Dries Vanthoor led a trio of Audi entrants. He was followed by teammate Nico Müller in the #1 R8 LMS, while Mattia Drudi completed a phenomenal effort from leading Silver Cup squad Attempto Racing to book a place among the overall top-eight. Maxi Buhk (#999 Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM) and early pace-setter Jaminet completed the top 10.
The level of competition in the Super Pole session was proven by the fact that the leading 11 cars were separated by less than half a second. Indeed, all 20 of this evening’s runners – as well as a number of dark horses that qualified outside the top 20 – could emerge as contenders for victory in this year’s race.
The 2019 Total 24 Hours of Spa will get underway tomorrow at 16.30, concluding at the same time on Sunday. With a 72-car car grid establishing a new record for the event’s GT era, the Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon machine will have its mirrors full when the Belgian flag waves to start this year’s contest.
Maro Engel, #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon: “Going into qualifying, I was a little worried that we would not have the pace to fight for pole. But my engineer told me to remain calm, that everything would be alright, and as soon as I did three corners on my first flying lap I knew the car was great. When I heard from my engineer that I was half a second down after my first lap, I tried to squeeze everything out of the car on my second attempt. I am very happy that it worked out. The team gave me great car to drive and I have to thank my teammates as well, because they set some great lap times in qualifying yesterday. Being on pole for this legendary race is fantastic, but once the flag drops it does not count for much anymore. The big aim is to be first on Sunday afternoon.”
Laurens Vanthoor, #117 KÜS Team75 Bernhard: “If you would have asked me to sign up for a front-row position before Super Pole, I would have done it. But, after spending most of the session on pole and only losing it by 0.017 seconds, it’s obviously a bit disappointing. I would not be a proper racing driver if I didn’t feel that. Maybe I should have gone to the toilet beforehand! But I’m in front of my brother on the grid, and that is actually the most important thing. Seriously though, Porsche is doing well this year and they have made a big effort for this race. Every factory driver is here, and we all want to do well. It will not be easy, because there are plenty of other cars that want to win as well.”
Davide Rigon, #72 SMP Racing Ferrari: “We found that we lost some time yesterday due to the high temperatures, just like the other turbocharged cars, but we managed to qualify in the top-20 thanks to the hard work of my team. My engineer made a perfect choice for the tyre pressures in Super Pole, and I managed to do a good lap. A good starting position is always important, especially here.”
Mattia Drudi, #55 Attempto Racing Audi: “We are close to the factory cars, and for a Silver Cup crew that is a really good result. It will not be easy to stay in this position. I am sure that all the Pro guys will push very hard from the start, but the 21 grid positions between us and the second-placed Silver Cup car should be helpful.”
Press release Total 24h of Spa, picture Jean-Baptiste Lassaux/Sport-Auto.ch