The M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 has carried its fine form of last weekend into the first free practice session for the Avon Tyres British GT Championship’s Silverstone 500 event. The #17 Continental headed the 37 car field by 0.196 seconds from a predominantly British top ten thanks to Steven Kane’s best time of 2:04.063 on the Grand Prix layout at the home of British Motorsport.
Early in the session it was an almost expected BMW advantage, with Joe Osborne at the wheel of the #8 Triple8 Z4 GT3, leading the times for the opening laps of the one hour session. That soon changed when the now race winning Bentley joined the circuit and hit the top of the time sheets on its first lap. From the fourth timed lap of the day, Kane and Rembert Berg driven #17 was never headed.
Over the course of the hour session several cars popped up in second for the GT3 battle. First it was Alexander Simms in the #79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 but they were soon displaced when the Bentley hit the track. Jonny Adam’s first flyer from the defending champion car, the Beechdean AMR Vantage V12, took second soon after the #17 car grabbed the top spot.
The #8 BMW then countered to grab the second spot by the halfway mark.
A slightly scrappy session saw a lot of the cars pinged for track limits. First to get the black and white flag was the #24 United Autosports McLaren who were warned inside the first ten minutes of action. John Gaw’s #6 PGF Kinfaun AMR Vantage, shared with Phil Dryburgh was warned ten minutes later. Just after the halfway mark it was the session leader who got pinged for track limits at Abbey while the #30 AF Corse machine of Jacques Dyver and Charlie Hollings and the #40 CWS 4×4 Spares Ginetta of Colin White and Tom Sharp found the attention of the stewards at Stowe corner.
The #30 machine would have its team manager called to the race director along with the #24 McLaren MP4-12C GT3 later in the session though with no penalties handed out we cannot be sure that the issue was track limits.
The tail end of the session was a story of improvement further down the field, though for the #2 Generation Bentley Racing machine that improvement took them right into the thick of the action. Steve Tandy started off in the car but handed over to James Appleby who set cars best time. While it was only fifth in the final classification for the session Appleby did move the big Brit up to second for a while.
It was a story of great British brands come the end of the session with Bentley in first and fifth thanks to M-Sport and Generation. Second went to a late improvement for Liam Griffin and Rory Butcher in the #5 Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage. A Germanic interloper in the top seven came in the form of the ever present and ever-rapid Triple 8 Z4 who retook third thanks to Lee Mowle.
Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam took fourth in the final session classification for Beechdean ahead of the Generation car with the second Oman Racing Aston, that of Ahmad Al Harthy and Michael Caine, in sixth. A late rise for Andy Schultz and Paul Bailey put the Horsepower Racing Vantage into seventh place ahead of the #13 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of John Dhillon and Aaron Scott and the United Autosports Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Mark Patterson and Matt Bell.
Tenth place went to the most British of Japanese cars, the JRM built and Nissan GT Academy Team RJN run Nissan NISMO GT-R GT3. That it’s British built would be enough, even without one of the UK’s faster drivers Alex Buncombe and a Knight of the realm and Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy behind the wheel.
GT4 came in an almost solid block of cars, though the single Invitation class car split the APO Sport Porsche 997 GT4 of James May and Alex Osborne from the rest of the pack. That was due to an early off for the #37 machine at Stowe corner which would end the pair’s involvement. The car died on it’s out lap so didn’t set a time and denied Osborne a taste of the track in a 911.
The class honours were taken by the Twisted Team Parker Ginetta G55 GT4 of Adrian Barwick and Bradley Ellis, though they spent a large part of the session trying to match the pace of the Team Parker Racing Porshce. Dan Cammish was the star of the show in this car, setting an almost unassailable time early on and dominating the early GT4 running. After all, why break the habit of a championship winning season in Formula Ford. Barrie Baxter didn’t embarrass himself in the Porsche but Cammish laid down a very strong marker.
Eventually Cammish’s 2:15.376 was bettered by Ellis who dropped the GT4 class into the 2:14s with a 2:14.696.
Third in the class went to the Academy Motorsport Ginetta G55 of Oli Basey-Fisher and Matt Nicoll-Jones who overcame the pace of the Century Motorsport run #42 Ginetta which initially held second to the #44 Parker 911. Tom Oliphant was the quicker of the two in the Century car he shared with Declan Jones.
Early title protagonists Beechdean AMR and TF Sport played second fiddle to the Parker/Century battle ahead. Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings took the top Aston spot in GT4 for Beechdean, while Andrew Jarman and Devon Modell struggled for pace relative to the head of the GT4 field. At almost four seconds off the class leading pace the TF Sport pairing had both the Fox Motorsport Ginetta and the Track Group #50 Aston Martin Vantage GT4 Challenge between themselves and their title rivals.
The sole Invitation entered machine was that of GPRM who are still awaiting a homologation for their Toyota GT86 based G86 GT4 machine. A 2:19.177 for the James Fletcher and Stefan Hodgetts driven Toyota seems off the GT4 pace but this is the first time the car has run in competition and the team are happy with the early development of this new entrant into the GT4 arena.
The second practice session gets underway at 11:50 with Qualifying for the Silverstone 500 coming at 16:05 this afternoon.