In a night of electrifying speed and precision, Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing once again proved their mettle by clinching the pole position for the second consecutive year at the prestigious Lenovo Gulf 12 Hours. Held at the mesmerizing Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, this event saw a stunning display of GT3 cars from leading manufacturers like Audi, BMW, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, and Porsche.
The qualifying session was a spectacle of its own, unfolding under the glittering lights of the warm Abu Dhabi evening. Each team participated in four 15-minute qualifying sessions, with every driver contributing to the final outcome. The team's consolidated lap time was determined by the combined average of each driver’s fastest lap, adding a layer of collective strategy to the individual flair.
Standing out among the high-caliber grid was the #99 Mercedes-AMG GT3, masterfully handled by Maro Engel, Luca Stolz, and Mikael Grenier. This team, representing Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing, clocked an astounding four-lap average of 1min 51.272secs, setting the benchmark for the competition. Engel’s statement post-qualifying reflected a mix of satisfaction and caution, acknowledging the pole position while highlighting the unpredictability and challenges of the race ahead.
Complementing their victory, Mercedes-AMG Team 2 Seas Motorsport car #14, driven by the adept trio of Jules Gounon, Maximilian Goetz, and Fabian Schiller, secured the second spot in the front row. Their performance, just 0.232secs behind the leaders, ensured an all-Mercedes-AMG front row, showcasing the brand's dominance in the field.
The Pro-Am category, featuring a mix of professional and amateur drivers, was equally competitive. Herberth Motorsport grabbed the Pro-Am honours with its Porsche 911 GT3 R, impressively ranking third in the overall results. The team, comprising Antares Au, Tim Heinemann, and Matteo Cairoli, exhibited skill and synergy, much to the delight of motorsport enthusiasts.
Adding to the glamour of the event was MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi. Teamed up with Dries Vanthoor and Nick Yelloly in the Team WRT-run BMW M4 GT3, Rossi’s team will commence the race from a commendable fourth position on the grid.
Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing showcased their depth with their second car, the #77, helmed by Lucas Auer, Lorenzo Ferrari, and Frankie Bird, which secured the fifth overall spot. Additionally, the #88 Garage 59 McLaren 720 GT3 EVO, with Alexander West, Marvin Kirchhöfer, and Louis Prette at the wheel, finished second in Pro-Am and sixth overall.
However, the qualifying session had its share of drama. Car Collection Motorsport experienced mixed fortunes, with their #21 Porsche 911 GT3 R topping the Am class but facing a setback when their #12 Porsche 911 GT3 R, driven by Stefano Constantini, crashed during qualifying two. This incident caused a significant delay for barrier repairs, adding an unexpected twist to the session.
As the teams gear up for the main event, the stage is set for an exhilarating 12-hour race. Mercedes-AMG Team GruppeM Racing's pole position has set high expectations, but as Engel insightfully remarked, the race is an entirely different challenge. Motorsport fans around the world eagerly anticipate the unfolding of this high-octane drama at the stunning Yas Marina Circuit.