AKKA ASP’s Anthony Pons resisted race-long pressure from Autovitesse Garage R.Affolter’s Cedric Leimer to extend his perfect 2017 Blancpain GT Sports Club season-opening weekend with a hard-fought win in Saturday evening’s Qualifying Race at Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.
Starting from pole position in the #72 Mercedes-AMG GT3, Pons, who had also topped both free practice sessions, got away cleanly to lead into the first corner. Meanwhile, fellow front row starter Leimer and third-placed Pierre Hirschi were caught out by the fast-starting Daniele Perfetti in the second AKKA ASP entry.
Skirmishes in the pack, including one involving reigning double Iron Cup champion Martin Lanting and last year’s Overall runner-up Nico Vandierendonck triggered an early Safety Car period, which also saw Marco Galassi’s Team Malucelli-run Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 park into retirement.
Racing action resumed with 14 minutes left on the clock in the 25-minute contest and it did not take long before Leimer’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 started hounding Perfetti’s Mercedes-AMG GT3. Leimer made quick work of his fellow Swiss before immediately setting about chasing the race leader.
Thus began a thrilling battle between Pons and Leimer, with the Lamborghini ferociously looking for a way past, but to no avail. The Frenchman managed to hold off the charging Huracan to maintain his perfect record at Misano.
Team-mate Perfetti rounded up the podium positions in a very strong showing for AKKA ASP. Oliver Baumann made it three Mercedes in the top four with his DB-Motorsport-entered SLS AMG GT3, while Hirschi eventually had to settle for P5 at the flag.
Klaus Dieter Frers was the best Iron Cup challenger by crossing the line in sixth position for the #3 Artega Rennsport Ferrari 488 GT3. HTP Motorsport’s Willem Paulys de Pundert and Kessel Racing’s Stephen Earle completed the Iron Cup podium.
Anthony Pons: "Cedric pushed me really hard! I had a good start but the re-start after the Safety Car period was quite tricky and it took a couple of laps before the grip came back. Still, I had the Lamborghini hot on my heels and he was really shadowing me. I played the long game and eventually managed to open a little gap in the closing stages and get some breathing space. That’d be great to secure a grand slam this weekend but the guys behind are very competitive so it’s shaping up to be another great fight on Sunday.”
Cedric Leimer: “The Mercedes is very fast on the straight line but we were better in the corners. At the start, I was focusing on taking the lead from Anthony but ended up slipping behind Daniele, who had a great launch. In the end, it’s a good result after a strong race. For the Main Race, we need to try and take the lead at lights out and hold on to the position.”
Daniele Perfetti: “I enjoyed a strong start but after the Safety Car I made a small mistake - in one of the turns there was oil and Cedric passed me again. It took some time to get back into a rhythm. It was a fun race and I’m happy to be on the podium. Hopefully I can go one step if not two better on Sunday!”
Sunday’s Blancpain GT Sports Club Main Race at Misano starts at 11:00, local time. With the grid determined by the Qualifying Race results, race winner and early championship leader Pons will line up on pole position again, with Leimer alongside him and team-mate Perfetti right behind.
The race will once again be streamed live with both English and French commentary on blancpainsportsclub.com/live.
2017 Blancpain GT Sports Club - Misano Qualifying Race results
1. Anthony Pons (centre) celebrates winning Misano’s Blancpain GT Sports Club Qualifying Race ahead of Cedric Leimer (left) and Daniele Perfetti (right).
2. Anthony Pons leads Cedric Leimer and Daniele Perfetti during the 25-minute contest.
3. Klaus Dieter Frers (centre) celebrates topping the first Iron Cup podium of the season with Willem Paulys de Pundert (left) and Stephen Earle (right) completing the top three.