Porsche Carrera Cup GB regular Stephen Jelley scored Avon Tyre British GT Championship pole position for the Trackspeed squad, lapping Donington Park quickest in a 45 minute session divided into two parts by a lengthy red flag.
Jelley has returned to the Trackspeed fold to once more partner reigning British GT champion David Ashburn. The two previously shared the no.1 Porsche at Brands Hatch in June, but were forced to retire from the two hour event.
Local driver Jelley assessed the session; “very good obviously, we've ended up on pole so we couldn't ask for anything more. David didn't really show his hand, just did the minimum that he was required to do so that we didn't take anything out of the tyres and we managed to improve significantly from one set of tyres to the other. We made a couple a couple of changes to the car so now it's very, very good, we'll make a couple more changes to make it last the distance tomorrow because obviously three hours is very long. But we've put ourselves in the safest position, that's the most important thing for a big long race this – that we're at the front of grid so there's less chance of getting involved in some stupid incident.”
Alex Mortimer – with co-driver Andrew Tate winner of the most recent GT race at Rockingham three weeks ago – led the first half of the session for CRS Racing with a lap of 1:30.698, the Ferrari driver still fastest when the red flag came out.
The immediate cause of the stoppage was the ABG Motorsport KTM XBow, which had been put in the gravel on the exit of the Fogarty Esses, the Formula Three and GT weekend using the full Grand Prix track at the East Midlands venue. However, the longer delat was caused by Jay Palmer's United Autosports Audi – off at McLeans.
Not only did the damaged R8 LMS need retrieving from the gravel but the impact to the right hand side of the car had damaged the tyre barriers, track workers taking the opportunity to make repairs of the barriers while the Audi was hoisted onto a recovery truck for its trip to the pits.
With the structure of the qualifying session changed – three 15 minutes sessions were initially planned, but the lack of three man teams had forced a rethink – there was a danger the session would peter out, but the 27 minutes of the session that remained when the green flag restarted the running proved as eventful as the first 18.
Matt Bell was the first man to move ahead of Mortimer's benchmark for pole, but was soon himself eclipsed by Tim Bridgman in the no.2 Trackspeed Porsche.
Jelley (1:30.315) then went 0.040 seconds better than his teammate to set up an all Porsche front row that only Matt Griffin could cleave apart in his MTECH Ferrari 458. Bridgman and Bell's times claimed the second row with Mortimer's first half time (1:30.698) good enough for fifth place despite the flurry the flurry of later improvements. However, both the CRS entries will have to take longer final stops during the race as success penalty for their Rockingham 1-2 finish.
Jonathan Adam secured sixth fastest with a 1:31.000 lap for Beechdean Motorsport, the Scot steadily improving during his stint after Andrew Howard had struggled for pace before the red flag.
Glynn Geddie put the championship leading Ferrari seventh ahead of the similar cars of Scuderia Vittoria and the second MTECH car – driven by Julien Draper and David Back for the weekend. The 360 Vision entered Ferrari 430 Scuderia upheld some honour of the older model with tenth place, two places clear of the Rosso Verde on its British GT debut.
JRM's Nissan GTR GT3 was just twelfth fastest after drivers Alex Buncombe and Nicky Catsburg had run around the fringes of the top ten all session.
The James Nash and Phil Glew crewed Lotus Evora set the pace in GT4, a tenth faster than Dan Denis and David McDonald – double winners for Scuderia Vittoria at Rockingham.
Sunday afternoon's three hour race is the longest event on the British GT Championship calendar, and with teams having to make three mandatory pitstops strategy could play a big role in deciding the outcome.
However, as Jelley told The Checkered Flag their precise strategy remains fluid; “it makes sense that the amateur of the pairing starts first because then if there's a safety car then you're not losing time, and then you've just got to play it by ear and see what happens, see what safety cars come out and what the weather's like and be reactive.”