Veteran Toni Vilander of Finland made a spectacular debut in the streets of St. Petersburg Saturday morning by driving the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports Ferrari 488 GT3 to a provisionally new Pirelli World Challenge GT qualifying track record in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Vilander, the two-time 24 Hours of LeMans winner, posted a quick lap of one minute, 10.923 seconds (91.36 miles per hour) to easily better the old GT qualifying mark set by Michael Lewis (Effort Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R) in 2016 at 1:13.017 (88.746 m.p.h.).
All GT qualifying times are unofficial until the stewards review and technical inspection is completed.
Vilander led both practice sessions Friday in his first runs at the tight, tricky 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit near the St. Petersburg harbor. But the veteran improved his best clocking of the weekend in the middle of the 20-minute time trials.
“It’s a good qualifying here for us today," said Vilander. “We had good pace in the pre-practice rounds and I really enjoy the circuit. It’s fun. It’s the first time for me at the St. Pete track. This is very positive to enter the first of the championship this right. The RFerri team has been working hard to prepare for this season. The race today (Saturday) will be different as I have to be really aggressive. I hope we can keep this momentum for the rest of the season."
Not only was the pole winner making his first appearance at the St. Pete course, the second and third place qualifiers – Michael Christensen and Daniel Keilwitz – were also new to the street circuit.
Christensen, driving the Tampa-based No. 24 Alegra Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R, timed in the other front row spot Saturday with a 1:11.377 (90.78 m.p.h.) with Keilwitz, in the popular No. 26 Callaway Competition USA Corvette C7 GT3-R, placing third at 1:11.419 (90.73 m.p.h)
The top seven GT cars included six different makes in qualifications with Ferrari, Porsche, Corvette, Aston-Martin, Porsche, Mercedes and Bentley.
Spencer Pumpelly of Atlanta, Ga., the 2017 Lime Rock Park GT SprintX winner, drove the No. 00 TRG Aston-Martin Vantage GT3 to fourth on the 12-car GT grid with a 1:11.514 (90.61 m.p.h) followed two-time 2017 GT SprintX race winner Daniel Morad of Toronto, Ont., Canada, in the No. 2 CRP Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 at 1:11.589 (90.51 m.p.h.), 2016 GT champion Alvaro Parente of Portugal in the all-new No. 9 K-PAX Racing Bentley Continental GT3 at 1:12.125 (89.84 m.p.h.) and Scott Hargrove of Tsawwassen, B.C., Canada, in the No. 96 Pfaff Motorsports/Castrol Porsche 911 GT3 R at 1:12.256 (89.68 m.p.h.)
Leading the GTA category in Saturday ‘s morning with 17-year-old high school junior Parker Chase of New Braunfels, Tex., in the No. 19 TruSpeed Motorsports Audi R8 LMS with a time of 1:12.945 (88.83 m.p.h.).
Round 1 of the Pirelli World Challenge GT Sprint series is set for Saturday at 3:50 p.m. EST at St. Petersburg. Round 2 for the GT/GTA divisions is scheduled for Sunday at 3:15 p.m. EDT.
|1||1||Pro||Toni VILANDER||Kankaanpaa FIN||Ferrari 488 GT3||1:10.923|
|2||2||Pro||Michael CHRISTENSEN||Karlslunde DEN||Porsche 911 GT3 R (991)||1:11.377|
|3||3||Pro||Daniel KEILWITZ||Villingen-Schwenningen GER||Callaway Corvette C7 GT3-R||1:11.419|
|4||4||Pro||Spencer PUMPELLY||Atlanta GA||Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3||1:11.514|
|5||5||Pro||Daniel MORAD||Toronto ON CAN||Mercedes-AMG GT3||1:11.589|
|6||6||Pro||Alvaro PARENTE||Porto PORT||Bentley Continental GT3||1:12.125|
|7||7||Pro||Scott HARGROVE||Tsawwassen BC CAN||Porsche 911 GT3 R (991)||1:12.256|
|8||1||Am||Rodrigo BAPTISTA||Sao Paulo BRAZ||Bentley Continental GT3||1:12.545|
|9||2||Am||Parker CHASE||New Braunfels TX||Audi R8 LMS||1:12.945|
|10||3||Am||Yuki HARATA||Narita JAP||Lamborghini Huracan GT3||1:13.861|
|11||4||Am||Martin FUENTES||Mexico City||Ferrari 488 GT3||1:13.861|
|12||8||Am||Daniel Mancinelli||Italy||Ferrari 488 GT3|