Andrew Howard surprised much of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, outpacing the pro drivers of the series, including his own co-driver Jonny Adam, to set the fastest time of the first practice session at Brands Hatch.
His surprise lap came with five minute to go of the hour long session, during the 20 minute chunk set aside for the Bronze graded drivers on the grid. As such he was able to take the #007 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3 out onto the Kent venue’s Grand Prix track with slightly less traffic on an ever improving surface as the day’s racing warmed up under clear skies.
His lap of 1:26.760 was nearly half a second faster than the quickest ‘pro’ lap, set by Phil Keen in the final seconds before the open practice segued into the Bronze only part of the morning’s running.
At the time Keen had taken the lead of a one-two for the Barwell Motorsport run BMW Z4, the teams – and some of the drivers – ‘fresh’ from taking third and fourth in their class last weekend’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. Keen, who along with domestic co-driver Jon Minshaw, was part of the team that finished fourth in Belgium, completed a lap of the 2.4 track in 1:26.808, to knock Alexander Sims and the Ecurie Ecosse liveried machine off the top spot. Having stood on the Spa podium with the team BMW factory man Sims was back in action with Marco Attard, with whom he holds the championship points lead.
Their session got off to an uncertain start to the session as their early progress was delayed by an electrical problem that robbed Sims of all power in the early minutes. A change of ECU in the pits, however, seemed to rectify the problem, leaving the #1 team to complete the session.
Sims’ best lap was a single thousandth quicker than Matt Bell’s best in the TF Sport Aston Martin he shares with Derek Johnston. Jonny Adam was fourth fastest at the end of the open session, only to have his 1:27.037 eclipsed by his supposedly slower co-driver later in the session.
Adam Carroll’s lap early in the session put the FF Corse Ferrari 458 fifth quickest in the session ahead of the better of the two Oman Racing Team Aston Martins (the #6 of Liam Griffin and Rory Butcher), Triple Eight Racing’s BMW, the Team LNT Ginetta G55 GT3 of Mike Simpson and Steve Tandy, Hector Lester and Benny Simonsen’s Rosso Verde Ferrari and the #2 Oman Racing Team entry which was another to have their competitive entry into the session delayed, an oil leak leaving the car smoking and briefly pressing team boss David Bartrum into the role of fire monitor.
James Birch was the fastest man in GT4 in the Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 he shares with Norwegian Aleksander Schjerpen. His time of 1:34.439 sat atop a 1-2-3 locked out by teams running the lower spec Ginettas with the University of Bolton team’s example second ahead of the Tolman Motorsport run car that Luke Davenport had put fastest in class early in the session.
Some teams armed with the G55 GT4 were not so fortunate. Fox Motorsport’s Jamie Stanley suffered a broken steering rack on his car half way round the lap. To their credit the team were able to repair the car for Paul McNeilly to take out in the final 20 minutes. However, he would end the session stopped at Surtees.
Also with problems were the #53 Stratton Motorsport Ultratek Lotus Evora of James Nash and Richard Taffinder. The alternator belt on their machine failed starting a damaging chain reaction that ended with the engine overheating, ending their session and putting the team under pressure to get the car out for the second practice session at 12:45pm.
GPRM’s Toyota GT86 also sat out most of the session, the team struggling to find the engine power needed to match the Ginettas at the top of the class. Drivers Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher will be hoping a new engine map can move them up the order in the second session, their best lap more than three seconds off the pace in class.