The first day of the 2018 British GT Championship meeting at Rockingham Motor Speedway is in the books. The Demon Tweeks sponsored Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen claimed pole position for the first endurance race of the year.
Here is how the day unfolded:
Free Practice 1:
Free practice 1 got underway at 09:30 with heavy skies dropping steady rain on the International Super Sportscar circuit. Despite the tricky conditions, which resulted in a GT4 car placing a very impressive 7th overall, the session ran green from start to finish.
Top spot went to the ERC Sport Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Yelmer Buurman and Lee Mowle, the factory driver setting the fastest time. The early running was led by the championship leading Lamborghini of Minshaw and Keen, with the Mercedes topping the tables just after the mid-way point. The final margin between the big Benz and the #33 machine was just 0.188 seconds come the end of the session.
Third place in the GT3 class went to Aston Martin care of Nicki Thiim in the TF Sport Vantage.
Most surprising in the GT3 class was the complete lack of pace from the defending champion car. The #1 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 spent much of the session in the garage. Rick Parfitt and Ryan Ratcliffe struggled with a gearbox issue for much of the hour, turning in only 13 laps to the session topper’s 29.
The duo placed 11th out of 11 entries into Pro-Am, 12th of the entire GT3 field and a lamentable 30th overall.
GT4 was a field of total domination with Tolman Motorsport taking the top three positions in the McLaren 570S GT4, aided and abetted by the carbon fibre chassis, unique to the McLaren in the class. The #4 machine of Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien set its fastest time on lap 24 of 29 while the two team cars set their fastest laps earlier in the session.
The #5 machine of Lewis Proctor and Jordan Albert took second in class while the #56 entry of David Pattison and Joe Osborne placed third. All three Tolman McLarens placed inside the top 11 spaces, usually reserved for GT3 machines.
Best of the rest fell to Stellar Motorsport with the #68 Tom Canning and Sennan Fielding driven Toyota GT86 GT4.
Free Practice 2:
The weather gave no let up between the two free practice sessions, which left a seriously soggy race track for the return of British GT action. Once GT3 cars hit the track, visibility was appalling with hanging spray as Pirelli launched standing water skyward.
The deteriorating weather led to a succession of red flags for stuck GT4 machines and crashed GT3 cars. Most notable of the fallen racers was the #17 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage, which despite crashing placed third in the session. Derek Johnston and Marco Sorrensen shared the car, the 2016 champion losing the car and spinning into the Chapman gravel trap.
Also visiting the Chapman gravel was the Fox Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4. The Mark Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst driven machine was recovered after a lengthy delay, the car stuck in gear and requiring a 4 wheel lift rather than a quick tow by a pickup. Ben Wallace was the cause of the final stoppage after an off at Gracelands which resulted in the session being stopped and ended 6 minutes early.
Top GT3 honors went to Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam, the round 1 winners leading home an Aston Martin 1-2-3 in their Optimum Motorsport run Vantage. Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim took second place in the #11 TF Sport machine with the team car in the gravel and third.
First of the non-Banbury built machines was the #33 Barwell Lamborghini with FP1 toppers ERC Sport in fifth.
In GT4 top spot went to the #50 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 of Mike Newbould and Will Burns with a time good enough to secure a top ten position. Team Parker Racing took second place in class, 11th overall, with the Mercedes-AMG of Nick Jones and Scott Malvern. Third in class and best of the McLaren horde went to the Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat driven Track-Club entry, winners of the first round at Oulton Park.
First up for qualifying, on a thankfully drier track than for practice, came the Am drivers of the GT3 class. Once again, Flick Haigh put in a stunning time to outpace title rivals Barwell Motorsport by almost a second. Jon Minshaw took second place with the Devon Model driven RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R GT3 in a distant third place.
The only real drama in the session came from the FP1 leaders ERC Sport. Lee Mowle had the wheel when there was apparent contact with the pit wall. Mowle opted to park the car on the grass between the speedway and the pit wall and was dragged back after the session ended. The car then fired and was driven back into the pits for attention by the team.
Only Mowle failed to set a lap time in the session which cost the car a potential front row start. Unusually for British GT there was a wide gap in the times, with almost two seconds covering the top three spaces and almost 12 seconds between the first and last classified time.
When the drivers changed over and the Pros had their turn, it was all about the Lamborghini of Phil Keen. A 1:29.235, by far the fastest time of the day sealed the #33 car’s pole position. The only car within a second of the pole sitter was the ERC Mercedes, Yelmer Buurman’s pace unrewarded after Mowle’s early problems meant that no aggregate time could be calculated.
Third went to Nicki Thiim, who snatched the inside of the second row from the McLaren 650S GT3 of Balfe Motorsport. Rob Bell was only 0.039 seconds slower than the TF Aston.
Combined classification for the two sessions puts the #33 on pole, back to back with their round 2 pole which assured them victory in the aborted Oulton Park encounter. Pole gives the Lamborghini the best chance of escaping at the front and building a lead to negate the 20 seconds of success penalty applied as they lead the title fight.
Despite a shocking 7th in class from Jonny Adam, the Optimum Aston Martin took second place, a vital win if they are to repair the damage to their championship aspirations after the off before the second race in Cheshire. Brand mates TF Sport took third place with the #11 entry ahead of the #69 Lamborghini of Sam De Haan and Jonny Cocker.
ERC Sport will start at the back of the GT3 field.
A Tolman 1-2 in GT4 Pro qualifying was the first step on the route to a GT4 front row lock out. Charlie Fagg demolished all competition with a blistering lap in the early running. Team mate Lewis Proctor also struck early, but was unable to match the lightening pace of the #4 car. The gap between the two McLarens was an astonishing 1.2 seconds. Third went to Ben Green in the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4, which had led the session at the start but couldn’t match the sure-footedness of the Tolman duo.
The second session saw Michael O’Brien cement the pole position for Tolman, putting in the second fastest time of GT4 qualifying. The margin for pole sits at 1.968 seconds, a time usually covering the top ten in the hotly contested class. Jordan Albert in the second Tolman 570S hammered the team’s advantage home, securing a front row lock out over Ben Tuck in the M4.
The Century car won’t be taking its earned grid spot though after Green was found to have infringed under yellow flags in the first part of qualifying. A three place penalty will drop the M4 down to sixth on the grid and promote Track-Club’s McLaren, HHC’s #55 G55 of Callum Pointon and Patrick Mattiesen and Academy Motorsport to third fourth and fifth respectively.
The first endurance race of the season gets underway on Sunday at 13:10. You can follow all the action on free-to-view streaming from the British GT Facebook page or via TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk’s live blog coverage from the circuit.