Saturday saw qualifying and Championship chasing TF Sport and Barwell Motorsport shared the GT3 spoils after Mark Farmer and Phil Keen prevailed in two hotly contested senior class sessions in hot and sunny weather. Meanwhile in GT4, Alex Reed secured his and Lanan Racing’s maiden class pole positions for the opening one-hour race before Ross Gunn put Beechdean AMR top of the timesheets for the start of race two.
Just a month since he clinched his first championship victory at Spa, Mark Farmer’s name was once again at the top of the timesheets after overcoming Jon Minshaw by just 0.075 seconds in a big fight to determine who would start tomorrow’s first one-hour race on pole. The Demon Tweeks Barwell Lamborghini, which goes into tomorrow’s two races just 8 and a half points behind championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam, twice set the fastest time only to be beaten by Farmer. In fact, TF Sport’s Number eleven Aston Martin Vantage GT3 was only third fastest after its first run before claiming second and then finally top spot deep into the ten minute session.
Farmer was pleased;
“I’m absolutely delighted, especially coming off the back of our first win at Spa last time out. We had a test here so knew the car was good but, to be honest, I was hopeless in today’s first practice session!
Jon pulled me in, told me off and from then on we were fine! The quali simulation went okay but, importantly, I didn’t make any mistakes when it counted in qualifying. We’ve always had the pace this year but it’s just been a case of stringing everything together.”
Minshaw therefore lines up one place ahead of his main rival Johnston who was another to improve his position late in the session, although the second of the TF Sport Astons was over four tenths shy of its sister machine on pole. He shares the second row with AmDTuning.com’s Lee Mowle, who remained a threat throughout, while Alasdair McCaig’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S starts fifth. Another of the championship contenders, Rick Parfitt Jnr, was sixth in the Team Parker Racing Bentley after a late effort moved him above Liam Griffin’s Barwell Huracan by just 0.016s. Ian Stinton’s Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 completed the top-eight.
The Pro session began with all eyes on practice pace-setters Jonny Adam and Alexander Sims but ended with Keen making amends for co-driver Minshaw’s last gasp defeat by Farmer. Keen had been on the pace in practice and was immediately on the pace in qualifying by setting what would end up being the pole time on his first flying run. The Lamborghini’s 1m47.167s wasn’t just good enough to see off Adam by a meagre 0.051s but also eclipsed Sims British GT qualifying benchmark from last year by 0.242 seconds. Adam likened a mistake on his second flying lap to that of a golfer missing a three-foot putt to win a Major, but will be content to at least start alongside his main championship rival after out-pacing Sims – whose Barwell co-driver Griffin also remains a title contender – by almost four tenths.
Jon Barnes starts fourth in the second TF Sport Aston after failing to replicate co-driver Farmer’s heroics. He was just 0.086s shy of Sims but two tenths clear of Joe Osborne who made it two fifth places for AmDTuning.com’s BMW. Rob Bell’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren ended up just three hundredths slower in sixth while Mike Simpson’s encouraging run put the Tolman Motorsport Ginetta within a second of the frontrunners.
PFL Motorsport’s Jody Fannin, who was also less than a second shy of pole, completed the top-eight.
In an echo of Farmer in GT3, Alex Reed claimed his and Lanan Racing’s maiden British GT pole position just four weeks after winning for the first time at Spa. The Ginetta driver recorded two times quick enough to secure top spot, first beating Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s Sandy Mitchell before making sure on the following lap. Ultimately his 1m57.809s was fast enough to beat championship leader Graham Johnson by 0.305 seconds after the PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport G55 also leapfrogged the 570S.
“That wasn’t at all expected!” He said afterwards, “Since Spa we’ve made one tiny change and the car feels perfect right now. That’s the long and the short of it. Joey being P3 in the Pro session proves it was no fluke and we were also the best Ginetta in both qualifying groups. That’s important for us. We’re not really looking at the championship but if we can get third that would be a great first season.”
Mitchell, who was aiming to make it three consecutive poles this weekend, eventually wound up just 0.032s further back in third. However, he was also the thick end of a second faster than namesake (but no relation) Jack Mitchell in the Generation AMR Macmillan Racing Aston Martin. Title contender Jack Bartholomew, joined for the first time this weekend by reigning class champion Ross Gunn, will need to move forward from fifth if he’s to make inroads into Johnson’s points lead, while RCIB Insurance Racing pairing William Phillips and Aaron Mason line up sixth and seventh.
Abbie Eaton’s team mate Marcus Hoggarth made it four manufacturers inside the top-eight in their Maserati ahead of Sean Byrne’s Century Motorsport Ginetta, which missed FP1 thanks to an engine change. Team-mate Anna Walewska was 10th, one place and less than three tenths clear of Paul Hollywood whose team mate is Jamie Chadwick.
It was then their team mates turn to qualify for the race two grid, Matthew George’s searing practice pace suggested he and the Generation AMR SuperRacing Aston Martin would be the combination to beat in GT4 Pro qualifying, but in the end it was reigning champion Ross Gunn who stole the show. George made the early running but was soon usurped by Gunn who initially lapped 0.378s faster. However, a concern over whether that lap would be deleted for a track limits violation stirred the Beechdean AMR ace into further action and the subsequent 1m56.710s effort that would ultimately secure him pole by 0.505 seconds.
“I was quite surprised when they told me the gap because I didn’t feel like my first lap was that quick. But then I was told about the track limits violation so knew I’d need to go again and do a better job.”
said Gunn who was happy to be back in his championship winning car, “The car was absolutely on rails – the complete opposite to practice when we were fighting a few gremlins. The GT4’s like a comfy pair of slippers really so coming back to the class this weekend isn’t a big change for me. I shake down the cars a lot for Beechdean so everything felt very familiar straight away.”
Any hope George had of closing that gap ended early, along with the session, in the barriers but the SuperRacing driver can be happy with a place on the first row following his and the team’s best showing of the season so far. Joey Foster backed up co-driver Reed’s earlier pace by netting third for Lanan Racing, but only by 0.025s over Bradley Ellis who, like Gunn, is back in the category this weekend for the first time since last season. Mike Robinson completed the Ginetta train in fifth, while Ciaran Haggerty’s McLaren lines up sixth. Matthew Graham and Jamie Chadwick completed the top-eight. Nathan Freke, Walewska’s team mate took ninth with Mason tenth and Abbie Eaton just outside the top ten in eleventh in the Ebor GT Maserati. Her season though is no longer in doubt with Eaton able to compete at Snetterton and Donington thanks to new sponsors Nielsen chemicals.
The first race starts at 11:50am on Sunday morning with the second at 4:05pm. Tickets are available on the gate. By Marc Waller