Following the 4 qualifying sessions on Thursday night, Reema Juffali - at her first season in GT3 and endurance racing - claimed pole position in the Bronze Cup category for SPS Automotive Performance. Iron Dames were tenth fastest in the Gold Cup class, while Samantha Tan Racing - at their biggest race to date - will start from P17 in Silver Cup.
At the end of an exciting qualifying at Spa Francorchamps ahead of the 2022 edition of the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa, GT3 newcomer Reema Juffali - at her first ever participation in the event and at only her second 24 hour race - claimed pole position in the Bronze Cup category.
Juffali followed Tim Muller, George Kurtz and Valentin Pierburg at the wheel of the #20 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes AMG GT3, getting onboard for the final leg of the qualifying session. With a 2:20.120 lap, the Saudi racing star was the fastest of her team by almost 2 seconds and brought the average combined lap time for the #20 crew to 2:21.716 - well clear of the #35 Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW in the same class.
Reema Juffali, 30, started competing internationally in 2019, when she joined the British F4 field for her first single-seater campaign. After two years, she moved to British F3 - then rebranded GB3 Championship. In January 2022, she made her switch to GT3 racing, as she entered the 24 Hours of Dubai. With an outstanding performance, she finished second in class in her first ever endurance race.
Having won in ProAm at her debut in International GT Open, she then launched her own racing team, Theeba Motorsport. She now joined SPS Automotive Performance - which first supported the Theeba operation at Estoril in GT Open - for her first running of the iconic Spa 24 Hours.
The SPS drivers line up always held the lead Bronze lead over the four qualifying sessions at Spa, with Juffali as the benchmark in class.
With 66 cars on track, Q1 went underway at 20:30 local time - as the sun started to set over the Ardennes. Q1 turned out to be a clean session; with 17th overall and fifth in the Gold Cup, 18 year old Doriane Pin - at her second GT World Challenge Europe race with Iron Dames - had a great run and was the second fastest Ferrari overall. Al Faisal Al Zubair was fastest overall in the #777 Al Manar Racing by HRT Mercedes.
It would then be Rahel Frey in the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari 488 GT3 for Q2; unfortunately, a red flag caused by the stranded #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche driven by Ralf Bohn at Turn 9 disrupted the session and meant that Frey only had a handful of minutes the set a significant lap once the green flag waved again.
Despite the heavy traffic, Rahel set a 2:19.122 that put the #83 in ninth place in the Gold class. The #71 sister car of Antonio Fuoco topped the overall times, preceding the #6 KPAX Racing Lamborghini of Jordan Pepper.
Q3 again was halted by a red flag in its early stages, when the #27 Leipert Lamborghini of Taylor Cooke went into the tyre barrier on top of Radillon after spinning on cold tyres.
The accident left all the other drivers with 6 minutes only to set a time; Sarah Bovy was P12 in class, with a 2:19.693 lap.
Iron Lynx topped again the session, this time in a 1-2 that saw James Calado (#51 Ferrari) leading Daniel Serra (#71 Ferrari). Mirko Bortolotti was third fastest for Emil Frey Racing in the #63 Lamborghini.
For the final leg of qualifying - now in total darkness - Michelle Gatting took the helm of the Iron Dames Ferrari and, on her third lap, she recorded a 2:18.301 that would stand as the team's fastest effort. With the Dane's lap, the combined average resulted in a P10 in class for record-breaking team Iron Dames, who will be the first all-female crew to start the 24 Hours of Spa in 25 years.
With drivers lapping within tenths to each other, Iron Dames' consistency is looking like a strong point for the race.
“The Iron Dames managed to get a top ten in class starting position in qualifying, with all four drivers showing their capability", commented Andrea Piccini, Team Principal at Iron Lynx. "This is the most competitive GT race in the world, and we believe we had the pace to finish third tonight."
“Doriane is new to the team this weekend, and she’s integrating well" - he continued. "It's her first 24-hour race and the first time that she will be driving into the dark, so it will be a big challenge. Both Rahel and Michelle lost their best lap due to red flags, but the feeling with the car is good and this is the most important thing for the race."
While it was the Winward Racing Mercedes of Lucas Auer to top Q4, the aggregate times meant that Iron Lynx remained on top with its #71 and #51 cars, followed by the KPAX Lamborghini. The Italian team - already winner of last year's edition - thus secures prime spots for Friday's Super Pole session, which will see the top-20 battling for pole position.
There was drama for the star-studded #47 KCMG Porsche of Vanthoor/Olsen/Tandy, who suffered a brake failure in Q3 and were unable to set a time in Q4 - resulting in a 64th place on the grid.
At their first ever race in GT World Challenge Europe, Samantha Tan Racing returned to the track after missing a few rounds in the SRO-sanctioned American series due to an unfortunate accident in Race 1 at VIR, when driver-owner Samantha Tan was hit two times on top of the fast esses section. The global supply chain disruptions resulted in ST Racing falling victim to spare parts shortages.
With cooperation from Netherlands-based Bas Koeten Racing, Samantha Tan Racing returns to Europe after the historic win at the 12H of Mugello - the first global success for the new BMW M4 GT3 machine - and enters the biggest GT race on the planet with Samantha Tan, Harry Gottsacker, Nick Wittmer and Maxime Oosten.
Samantha Tan - in her first outing at the iconic circuit and at her biggest race of her career so far - had a positive Q1, finishing P14 in Silver Cup class.
Maxime Oosten was out on track for Q2 and, with a 2:22.240, he completed the 15 minute session in P19 in class.
It was then Nick Wittmer's turn for Q3 and, in the final minutes of the red-flagged disrupted session, the Canadian set the team's best lap with a 2:19.934.
Harry Gottsacker - on the day of his birthday - took over the #28 ST Racing BMW for Q4 and was 18th among the Silver Cup entries - bringing the Canadian outfit to P17 in the aggregate results with an average time of 2:21.479.
The four drivers' close gaps are a promising sign for Saturday's 24 hour race, which gets underway at 16:45 local time.
But pole positions in the PRO and Silver classes will be decided on Friday, with the Super Pole session at 19:00. One nominated driver will set two flying laps of the Spa Francorchamps circuit - in reverse order from tonight's qualifying - to determine the top-20 slots of the starting grid.