Maassen's Corvette sets the pace on day of surprises to land pole position

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The Independent Online

The Corvette of Xavier Maassen and Jos Menten was the surprise winner of yesterday's FIA GT1 World Championship qualifying race at Spa, in a contest that succeeded in turning all previous form on its head.

The first surprise of the day was the retirement of the Maserati MC12 of Vitaphone. The previously dominant car of Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini had struggled in qualifying, and a first lap coming together with the Nissan GT-R of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Warren Hughes saw the Maserati limp into early retirement.

The collision also did no favours to the Sumo Power Nissan team, another previous race winner in this first season of the FIA's newest world championship. "It was a silly move by Bartels," said Campbell-Walter. "I went into the corner with the Mad Croc Corvette and we were both giving each other room. Bartels then came steaming up the inside and understeered into me. It was a big hit and it pushed me into the Corvette. It's a shame to see an experienced guy who has won a championship trying to win a race at the first corner."

Meanwhile, the double race-winning Ford GT of Romain Grosjean and Neel Jani was struggling to make an impression and eventually came home two laps down.

There was, however, no denying Maassen his win: the Corvette had been dominant in free practice as well as in qualifying. "We had a good car except for the last couple of laps, with both oversteer and understeer due to the tyres. We still have a job to do tomorrow but it's great to be on pole for the Championship Race. We'll look at the data and see if we can improve a bit for tomorrow."

After the race Stephane Ratel, the series chief, announced plans to secure races in the US and China for the 2011 calendar.

The Championship Race will be streamed live in HD tomorrow at 11:00 on