The 4.692km (2.915 mile) track was bathed in brilliant sunshine and air temperatures touched 26C in the afternoon as teams ran through their set-up check list on the first day of action in round five of the FIA GT1 World Championship.
Conditions for the morning’s 1:20 minute session were more favourable for good lap times with a gentle wind and moderate track temperatures. As the afternoon sea breeze blew in, and the mercury rose, so the lap times dropped off.
To illustrate the point, the top six times in the morning were the quickest overall.
In the afternoon, the competition was as intense as ever however, with just over a second separating first and 12th places.
The AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia No.3 of Toni Vilander (FIN) and Filip Salaquarda (CZE) emerged with a best overall lap time of 1:44.508 – set in Free Practice 1.
“Today’s practice has been hopeful, the track temperature changed quite a lot and the wind got stronger throughout the day,” Vilander said.
“We’re now analysing and working on the car so it’s consistent for the race. I really like this circuit, it’s my fourth race here now and my pace is normally pretty good so as long as we stay consistent, and take care of the car, it is looking good for us.”
Second fastest overall was the Vita4One BMW Z4 of Michael Bartels (DEU) and Yelmer Buurman (NLD), the Championship Race winners at the previous round in Slovakia. The pair set a time of 1:45.253.
Third quickest was the No.38 ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG of team manager Marc Basseng and German co-driver Marcus Winkelhock (1:45.317).
Local hero Alvare Parente and Gregoire Demoustier (FRA) were the leading Hexis McLaren with a best overall time of 1:45.907 – good enough for 8th place in the No.2 car.
Parente believes the team is heading in the right direction as tomorrow’s Qualifying looms.
“Today was a very busy day, we worked a lot on the set-up on the car in between the first and second practice sessions, which improved the balance of the car for our second run,” the Portuguese driver said.
“We don’t seem to be as strong as we were in Slovakia and Navarra but we are working and making progress. Our times are not bad and they are quite consistent, plus all the times from the teams are very close, the difference between second and fifth was only a tenth of a second.
“We are working hard to improve the car and I believe, performance wise, we will be in a good position in relation to our opponents.
“The championship is more competitive than ever and we know we will have to give our best so we can be among the fastest in tomorrow’s Qualifying and Qualifying Race. I’ll try to explore the cars potential and I believe I can mix with the fastest guys, but we will have to see where we end up.”
The No.25 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini of Peter Kox (NLD) and Darryl O’Young (CHN) was fastest in the afternoon with a 1:45.809 which puts them seventh overall after being hindered by electrical issues in the morning.
“This afternoon’s practice session went really well considering the technical problems we had this morning with car,” O’Young said.
“We only really had one session to see how the car was performing around the circuit and we managed the fastest lap so that puts us in a good position potentially.
“All the way down the order the times are very close so we’ll have to see what happens as the weekend goes on, but I’m happy so far.”
Nicky Pastorelli (NLD), who partners Thomas Jäger (DEU) in the ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes No.37, is quietly confident of a good showing this weekend.
The pair finished the day with a best time of 1:46.288 to be sixth in Free Practice 2. “The car feels good, it handles well,” Pastorelli said. “So, yes, I am optimistic and hope we’ll have a good couple of races so we can add more points.”
The Sunred Ford GT No.10 of Matteo Cressoni (ITA) and Milos Pavlovic (SRB) rose as high as second in the afternoon with a 1:46.005.
It was an eventful day for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT squad. The No.33 Audi R8 LMS ultra of Frank Stippler (DEU) and Oliver Jarvis (GBR) set the fastest time for the team of 1:46.220 in the morning session.
The sister car of Stephane Ortelli (MON), a race winner at the third round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard last weekend, and Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) produced a best time of 1:46.337 but both of the Audis are hoping to make up ground tomorrow.
The best of the Exim Bank Team China Porsches was the No.9 car of Mike Parisy (FRA) and Andreas Zuber (AUT) with a time of 1:47.488 to be towards the tail of the time sheets.