The pair of visitors for the final round of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship stole the front row in qualifying for the series finale at Donington Park, snatching the focus – momentarily – away from the title battle.
It was Peter Kox, sharing a Reiter Engineering Lamborghini with Nico Pronk and United Autosports driver Alvaro Parente who set the front row laps, one either side of a brief red flag which halted the session six minutes from the end when the Invitation Class Chevron GR8 stopped on track.
Moments before the stoppage Peter Kox had leapt to the top of the times with a stunning lap of 1:28.082 around the Donington Park GP track, blowing apart what had been an incredibly close qualifying session until then.
The session started with a majority of the faster drivers in their respective cars – Nico Pronk in the Reiter Lamborghini the only major exception – and the order was set with Allan Simonsen on provisional pole with a lap of 1:28.687 in Hector Lester’s Rosso Verde Ferrari returning to the grid after missing the previous two rounds.
Parente, sharing a second United Autosports McLaren MP4-12C with the team co-owner Zak Brown, was second fastest, with Matt Bell slotting the team’s other car into fourth, the two UA cars sandwiching Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin.
When much of the grid pitted to give their less experienced driver the necessary laps in the session Pronk gave way to Kox, and the Dutchman responded hauling the red LP560-4 up the order. Into the top ten. Into third. And after a pitstop from new tyres, into pole position by over six tenths of a second. While Kox’s progress up the order, squeezing more and more speed from the car looked effortless he later explained to The Checkered Flag that an electrical glitch in the gearbox threatened to derail their aspiration. However, politely the issue, ebbed away just long enough to allow Kox to take pole position.
Kox’s newly created advantage over Simonsen cutting from 15 to ‘just’ nine the number of cars covered by a second at the top of the timesheets.
Despite the return of the power steering problem that limited their track time in the day’s second free practice session Matt Griffin, heading the mouth-watering championship battle with MTECH co-driver Duncan Cameron, responded to go third fastest before the red flag brought all the cars back to the pits.
It’s debateable whether the stoppage, which came with 5:44 remaining, altered the destination of pole position – the question as to whether Griffin, Simonsen, Parente of anyone else could have deposed the Lamborghini man remaining unanswered.
Both Simonsen and Parente found the time to improve, the Dane trimming his deficit to Kox to just under four tenths before Parente leapfrogged back into second, a time of 1:28.157 just 0.075 slower than Kox. Parente had a final lap left in the session but through two sectors of the lap failed to improve upon his own time and aborted the lap, leaving pole position to Kox.
Simonsen kept third place ahead of Griffin, the MTECH securing the best starting position of the seven title contending teams, though he was just one place better than Phil Keen’s lap (1:28.799) that secured fifth place for the #31 Trackspeed Porsche he shares with David Ashburn, another one of the five title contenders who can guarantee themselves the 2012 title with a victory in the two hour race.
Beechdean Motorsport – just outside of the title fight – will start fifth. Ecurie Ecosse, with Alasdair McCaig another title contender, will line up sixth. McCaig was another ‘gentlemen’ driver to take the first stint in the session before Oliver Bryant took over pulling the car up the order, as high as fifth place at one point. Motorbase Performance’s two Porsche were eighth and ninth with the Matt Bell/Charles Bateman United Autosports McLaren completing the top ten.
RJN Motorsport, who start the weekend third in points, struggled for pace all day, failing to break into the top ten in either of the free practice sessions and only qualifying 14th following a gearbox change after the second session
Newly crowned GT4 champions Team WFR were easily fastest in their class, trimmed to just three cars for the final round, 1.3 seconds ahead of the factory supported Mazda MX5.
FF Corse pairing Ryan Hooker and Gary Eastwood were the better of the two GTC class cars, four spots ahead of category rivals Jordan Racing with their Chevron GR8. Hooker and Eastwood need only finish the race to clinch the title, though the focus will be on the fight for the GT3 and overall title.
The Checkered Flag will have a live blog coverage of the race, scheduled to start at 2:40 on Sunday September 30. Motors TV will have same day coverage of the race with a 90 minute program starting at 6pm. There is a Spotter Guide for the race available for download at http://lendurance.co.uk/2012/09/british-gt-spotter-guide/.