Audi grab advantage on opening day at Nogaro

Audi had seized the initiative at the end of both Friday Free Practice sessions as the 2012 FIA GT1 World Championship strode onto the stage at the opening round Nogaro, France.

As the sun broke over the Circuit Paul Armagnac in the morning, it was the Belgium Audi Club Team WRT No.33 R8 LMS Ultra of Frank Stippler (DEU) and Oliver Jarvis (GBR) which topped the timesheets with the day’s fastest time overall of 1:127.109.

French squad Hexis Racing, the defending teams’ champions, were on the pace throughout with the pairing of Fred Makowiecki (FRA) and Stef Dussledorp (NLD) taking their McLaren MP4-12C No.1 to within 0.254 seconds off top spot. The No.2 car of Alvare Parente (PRT) and Gregoire Demoustier (FRA) was half a second behind and inside the top 10.

The Reiter Engineering Lamborghini squad were pleased with their work. The best time by the No.24 car of Tomas Enge (CZE) and Albert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU) was a 1:27.424 under morning conditions. Peter Kox (NLD) and Darryl O’Young (CHN) were just three tenths off their stable-mates.

The ever-exhuberant von Thurn und Taxis is revelling in the GT1 spotlight. “It’s great to be part of the FIA GT1 World Championship. It’s quite a big step for me but I’m looking forward to the challenge and I have a good team-mate (Tomas Enge) to learn from,” he said. “Today the car felt good, perhaps better than we thought so we have a good base for Qualifying.”

In the afternoon’s second session, the AF Corse Ferrari 458s finished one-two Belgium’s Enzo Ide and Italian team-mate Francesco Castellacci produced a time of 1:27.548 to pip the sister car of Toni Vilander (FIN) and the Czech Republic’s Filip Salaquarda (1:27.679).

For Mercedes, represented by the All-Inkl Munnich Motorsport team, Nicky Pastorelli (NLD) and Thomas Jager (DEU) in the No.37 Mercedes SLS AMG produced a best lap of 1:27.810 in the morning. In the No.37 the German pair of Marc Basseng and Markus Winkelhock were just two places behind them in sixth with a 1:27.913.

For the Exim Bank Team China Porsche No.9 of New Zealander Matt Halliday it was a good Friday. He and local hero Mike Parisy were seventh in both sessions and in the hunt for points from the weekend. “The car is quite different to what I have driven before and the circuit I’ve never seen before but to be P7 in both sessions is a good start,” Halliday said.

“We’ve just got to fine tune some things and for Qualifying I think we can be in with a chance of fighting for a good grid position and strong race. To come away from the weekend with a solid result is the aim.”

In the No.8 Porsche, Chinese star Ren Wei enjoyed his first taste of the world championship. “It is a great feeling to be part of the championship,” he said. “It is a very nice atmosphere, the people are very friendly. I enjoyed getting the feel of the car and I hope to be able to have a good Qualifying tomorrow.”

Vita4one Racing Team produced consistent running over the two sessions and bucked the trend of the day by going faster in their BMW Z4s in the afternoon. Multiple GT champion Michael Bartels, paired with Dutchman Yelmer Buurman in the No.18 recorded a best of 1:28.580 while the No.17 of Austrians Nicolaus Mayr-Melnhof and Mathias Lauda clocked a 1:29.326.

Belgium’s Maxime Martin, a late-comer to the Valmon Racing Team Russia squad alongside Russian Alexey Vasiliev were near the tail of the pack with a best of 1:29.476 while the other Aston Martin DBRS9 of Andreas Zuber (AUT) and Sergey Afanasyev (RUS) turned in a 1:30.454.

The Sunred Ford GT No.10 of Milos Pavlovic (SRB) and Italian Matteo Cressoni gained valuable track mileage in both sessions, having failed to set a time in FP1. As Pavlovic explained, the team has some catching up to do having been a late arrival to Nogaro.

“Obviously we are starting a bit behind the other teams as the car has only just arrived and the team has come together late but we were able to run today to get some laps and begin to work in improving the performance. Our aim from here is to keep improving for Zolder and for the next race.”

(Image: © Markus Berns / SRO)