Heavy rain during the morning may have given way to light cloud just before qualifying got underway, but the circuit was still soaked… and in more ways than one. The session was delayed by half-an-hour to clear up a huge oil spill from the previous session, which meant the field poured out onto a track that was still wet, complete with a thick trail of damp dust used to treat the oil.
That left essentially one line around the lap, and made things very tricky for the first laps. The majority of the field began the session on full-wet Pirelli tyres, but soon realised the warm temperatures were creating a dry line, so the times tumbled as each crew took a turn to pit for slicks.
A total of 11 different drivers enjoyed a short spell at the top of the times, before things settled down and the result again looked to be heading Porsche’s way as Hendrik Still’s W&S Motorsport 718 Cayman led the similar cars of the flying Mikhail Loboda (W&S) and Moritz Wiskirchen (Allied Racing) with an incredible 0.006s covering the top three heading into the final lap.
But then came a string of late surprises. The first in the form of Etienne Cheli, who managed to shave a fraction of a second off Still’s best time to put the #8 CMR Toyota GR Supra onto provisional pole, before Lariche benefited from being pretty much the final car to take the flag, making the most of the improving track conditions to sneak into top spot by just 0.033s. Cheli did enough to hold second on the road, but will have a grid drop of three places for overtaking under yellow flags during practice.
Silver Cup championship leader Lluc Ibañez also found a way past the Porsches to snatch third at the flag, but he will also have to serve a three-place grid penalty for the opening race for passing under yellow flags during practice, dropping the #15 NM Racing Team Mercedes-AMG to sixth in the actual order.
That will promote Still to second, and Pro-Am pole, ahead of Am pole-sitter Loboda and Wiskirchen. Theo Nouet enjoyed a strong debut to put the Drago Racing by ZVO Mercedes-AMG seventh on the grid, ahead of Tom Canning’s Racing Spirit of Léman Aston Martin. Dante Rappange brought the V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaro into ninth, with Konstantin Lachenauer rounding out the top 10 in the #10 Racing Spirit of Léman Vantage.
Loboda’s pace put him well clear in the Am ranks, with his closest rival being Stanislav Safronov back in 15th. Christophe Hamon – who had led the times outright early on – was third in class aboard the #69 Team Fullmotorsport Audi.
Even though the track was almost fully dry for the second segment of qualifying, the session certainly wasn’t without its own drama.
Enzo Joulié made the best of the early running to lead the way in the #15 Mercedes-AMG he’d taken over from Ibañez, before Erwan Bastard showed that Saintéloc is well and truly back on form with a superb effort to dip into the 1m47.0s bracket.
Contact in the pack then sent Mike David Ortmann’s PROsport Aston Martin spinning into the gravel, which prompted a full course yellow that prevented anybody from challenging Bastard’s time.
Running resumed with just seven minutes to go, but soon after a clash between Mauro Ricci’s Akkodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG and Jason Tahincioglu’s Boruson Otomotiv Motorsport BMW sent the M4 into the barriers and summoned the red flags that would ultimately end the session.
That handed Bastard and team-mate Roee Meyuhas their first pole of the season, coming right off the back of their first victory last time out at Spa-Francorchamps.
Robert Consani built on team-mate Lariche’s work superbly by sneaking the Team Speedcar Audi R8 into second before the stoppage, with a great effort from late entry Will Tregurtha putting the #5 Team Spirit Racing Aston Martin he shares with Nico Hantke third. Spa winners Loïc Villiger and Antoine Leclerc took fourth – and Pro-Am pole – in the CODE Racing Alpine, ahead of Robert Haub’s Drago Mercedes.
Romain Monti was seventh fastest in the #66 CMR Toyota he shares with Antoine Potti, as Gus Bowers took eighth in the #10 Racing Spirit of Léman Vantage. Kenny Herremans was ninth in the Camaro, ahead of Joulié.
The whole of qualifying never quite went to plan for Pro-Am championship leaders Jim Pla and Jean-Luc Beaubelique in the #87 Akkodis ASP Team Mercedes-AMG. Pla could only manage 13th in Q1 after contact, with Beaubelique just 29th in Q2.
W&S doubled up on Am poles, with Andrey Solukovtsev picking up where Loboda had left off in the #37 Porsche. He finished 15th overall, seven places clear of Aleksandr Vaintrub’s NM Mercedes and Michael Blanchemain’s Team Fullmotorsport Audi. Championship leaders Benjamin and Mauro Ricci have work to do after Benjamin qualified fourth in Q1 and Mauro sixth in Q2.