TF Sport and Beechdean AMR have put themselves in a brilliant position to claim tomorrow’s British GT Championship drivers championship titles as they claimed GT3 and GT4 pole positions at a now dry Donington Park.
First on the track it was the GT3s and a testament to the talent in the ‘Am’ side of the driver line-ups was clear to see as top spot on the timing screens swapped between Beechdean’s Andrew Howard, TF Sport’s Derek Johnston and Barwell Motorsport’s Jon Minshaw as they looked to put their co-drivers in the best position to set a strong combined time and claim what they all know is a valuable pole position.
At the end of the first ten minute session, Derek Johnston clocked a 1:29.366 to go just 0.011s ahead of Andrew Howard who used his last lap of the session to move up into second place.
When the ‘Pro’ drivers came out, Howard’s teammate Rory Butcher couldn’t capitalise on their promising position as Butcher came back in at the end of the out-lap and wheeled the Beechdean machine back into the garage with a mechanical issue.
Thankfully that didn’t affect fellow Aston Martin racer Jonny Adam in the TF Sport machine as he fired the first shots in the #DoningtonDecider with a combined time of 2:57.173 to put himself immediately out of reach – even more so when he lowered his combined time to 2:56.968.
After the session, Adam told The Checkered Flag: “It’s a perfect position to start tomorrow, Derek’s lap was mega and it was very close in the Ams – the first four were separated by a tenth or two. The car felt really good even though it hadn’t done much dry running at all and to bolt tyres on and just do a lap time is quite impressive.
“With Minshaw third they’re still quick, and we still need cars in between us so we just have to do our thing and hopefully Derek’s brimming with confidence tomorrow. He’ll start on pole, get the head down and see what he can do in his stint.
“The top six or seven are good Ams and they’re verging on piecing it together and getting really close, a tenth here or there can jump you up from fifth to the front row.”
Speaking of combining well with the Am drivers, Phil Keen looked to have secured himself 2nd place – and able to put the pressure on the TF Sport car tomorrow – but a mega lap from Rob Bell in the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S in what was the last lap of the session saw the McLaren jump up to the front-row and provide the meat in the championship battling sandwich.
In fourth, and making it an all-Lamborghini front-row, was Spa 24 Hours winner Alexander Sims who built on an average lap by Liam Griffin to put himself in with a good chance of victory tomorrow.
With the fun of GT3 completed, it was the turn of GT4 to start the #DoningtonDecider title battle but it appeared Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty in the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S hadn’t read the script as Mitchell – who went out in the first session – set a 1:36.734 to put the Scottish pair top with half of qualifying completed.
Mitchell spoke to The Checkered Flag after qualifying: “I’m really happy with how the session went, there was not much margin to first [Mitchell and Haggerty would eventually qualify second] so that’s really close. Our race pace has been good, especially in the last couple of rounds so hopefully we should be able to do some good lap times in the race and maybe jump the guys at the front.”
Behind him, Generation AMR MacMillan Racing’s Matty Graham had an absolute blinder of a session to finish second by two-hundredths of a second. Rounding out the top three was the fellow Aston Martin Vantage of Jack Bartholomew, doing wonders for his title battle as Graham Johnson in the PMW World Expo Racing Ginetta G55 GT4 couldn’t match the front running pace.
Come time to combine those times and it was clear to see that Beechdean’s Ross Gunn hadn’t lost his touch in a GT4 car as he set quick laps almost every time round to substantially lower the combined time to what turned out to be a 3:13.109.
Afterwards, Gunn was pleased he could assist Bartholomew’s title bid telling TCF: “It’s very satisfying to be on pole and it’s testament to the operation of the team, the car was just mint. We’ve got our work cut out for us slightly this weekend with the pit stop penalty and a little bit of extra weight but it seems to have actually balanced the car quite nicely for this weekend, in the wet we were relatively competitive and then in the dry we were solid.”
While the Beechdean pair should be confident that they claim the team’s fourth GT4 drivers title in a row, title rivals Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson are only in third and with the battle going down to who finishes higher, there could be a monumental scrap about to unfold.
For Mitchell, that squabbling could see them take advantage and claim what would be a second victory in as many weekends after their success at Snetterton: “We’re aiming for a win, like I said race pace has been good so hopefully I can get a good start and then yeah I’ll see what I can do.”
The final race of the 2016 British GT Championship season takes place tomorrow, Sunday 11 September, with the two hour race starting at 1pm.