Liu and Picariello grab Blancpain GT Series Asia poles at Buriram

BBT’s Anthony Liu has claimed pole position for this afternoon’s Blancpain GT Series Asia race at Chang International Circuit in Thailand, while J-Fly by Absolute Racing’s Alessio Picariello edged an ultra-close second session to start tomorrow’s 60-minute race up front.

In GT4, EKS Motorsports will start both races from pole position. Penalties befalling two of his rivals handed Byron Tong top spot for Race 1, before team-mate Eric Lo lapped fastest in the second session.

Q1: Liu claims Ferrari’s first Blancpain GT Series Asia pole
Anthony Liu lead from start to finish in this morning’s first qualifying session at Buriram, and could even afford to lose his fastest time to a track limits violation, en route to his, BBT and Ferrari’s maiden Blancpain GT Series Asia pole.

The Chinese driver, who won Sepang’s second race last month, set a best time of 1m.34.020s to beat Rino Mastronardi’s Spirit of Race-run 488 GT3 by 0.3s after the Italian vaulted up the order late on.

Mitch Gilbert scored victory in Sepang after starting Race 1 from pole position, but the Silver Cup-entered OD Racing Audi didn’t quite have the pace to trouble the two Prancing Horses on this occasion. Instead, the Malaysian lines up third after finally overcoming Hunter Abbott’s GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG, which featured parts cannibalised from the team’s second entry after Abbott crashed out of free practice yesterday.

Spirit of Race’s other Ferrari driven by Jiang Xin, Martin Kodric’s VSR Lamborghini Huracan and the Craft-Bamboo Racing-run Porsche 991 of Darryl O’Young completed a top-seven featuring five different manufacturers covered by less than one second.

KCMG’s Naoto Takeda was fastest of the Am Cup entries after recording the 15th fastest overall time aboard his Audi.

GT4 was far less straightforward, though. Jean Marc Merlin produced the fastest time on track, the Craft-Bamboo Racing driver’s solitary flying lap of 1m47.787s edging out Keo Chang by just 0.142s. However, championship regulations state that a driver must complete two timed laps in qualifying or face a three-place grid penalty, which was subsequently applied.

Ordinarily that would have elevated Chang to top spot, but his times were deleted for making avoidable contact with the #59 Singha Plan-B Motorsport Team Audi. Therefore, it will be EKS Motorsports’ Byron Tong who starts on pole for the second time this season later this afternoon.

Q2: Picariello holds off Buhk and Yoong in close second session
J-Fly by Absolute Racing’s Alessio Picariello made an instant impression on his Blancpain GT Series Asia debut by claiming pole position for the weekend’s second 60-minute race at Buriram earlier today.

The Belgian is joined on the front row by GruppeM Racing’s Mercedes-AMG factory driver Maxi Buhk who nudged Audi R8 LMS Cup’s Alex Yoong down to third with his final flying lap of the session.

“Honestly, I came here with the goal of securing pole position,” said the Audi R8 LMS Cup championship leader Picariello. “We worked very hard throughout practice – it didn’t look so good in FP1 but we kept at it, improved a lot and Absolute Racing gave me a great car for qualifying. I could push like crazy and, in the end, it paid off. It’s such a small margin but I think that’s quite normal for Buriram. I’ve been here before with other championships and like the circuit. Plus Jeffrey is improving all the time. We should be in the fight tomorrow.”

Buhk found himself fastest initially but was soon replaced by Picariello who set successive fastest times aboard his Audi R8 LMS GT3. His best of 1m33.576s was ultimately enough to see off Buhk by just 0.071s, while Yoong – who claimed pole for Sepang’s second race – was another 0.034s further back.

Rui Aguas topped final practice in his Spirit of Race Ferrari, and for a time the Portuguese held second place. However, a track limits violation saw his fastest lap deleted and eventually left the 488 GT3 a tantalising 0.151s shy of Picariello.

Davide Rizzo yo-yoed around the top-six throughout the session but was unable to replicate Liu’s Race 1 pole. Instead, the BBT Ferrari lines up fifth for tomorrow’s 60-minute contest, one place ahead of Martin Rump’s KCMG by Champion Racing Audi.

Carlo van Dam produced a fine performance aboard his older-generation Singha Motorsport Team Thailand Ferrari 458 en route to the session’s seventh quickest time, with Max Wiser, Shaun Thong and Kantasak Kusiri completing the top-10.

Am Cup honours once again went KCMG’s way, this time courtesy of Takuya Shirasaka, while Eric Lo made it two GT4 pole positions for EKS Motorsports after the Hong Kong driver lapped 0.389s faster than Ringo Chong’s HubAuto Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport MR.