Poles for the first two rounds of the 2019 British GT Championship season have been set in two 10 minute sessions at Oulton Park. Carrying on the strong performances from free practice, RAM Racing took the first pole of the year while Barwell Motorsport secured the top spot for round 2.
GT3 Am Qualifying
First up for qualifying were the Am drivers in the GT3 class and it was Ian Loggie in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 of RAM Racing which took the top spot. The former Bentley racer struck hard and early, taking the top spot with his first lap, a 1:35.250. Later in the session Loggie would improve to a 35.061 but as with GT4 qualifying, either of the two lap times would have done the job.
A fine reward for a morning of labour came in the form of second place on the race 1 grid for Team Parker Racing and their Bentley Continetal GT3. Ryan Ratcliffe had the wheel for the session and straight away pumped in his best lap of the day, a 35.658 which was good enough to get the outside of the front row.
An early surge from the Aston Martin entries led by Mark Farmer for TF Sport whimpered out, the best of the Banbury cars placing just eighth at the end of the session despite sitting as high as second early on. It was Sam De Haan for Barwell who took third place on the grid with JRM‘s Bentley behind. A slow start to the season for the Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 started to turn the corner with fourth place thanks to Dominic Paul.
The one car which completely failed to perform was the McLaren 720S GT3 of Balfe Motorsport. The team had been struggling with an electrical issue all through free practice and managed to squeeze one decent lap out of the car. Unfortunately soon after it posted a 36.845, good enough for eleventh place, it limped back to the pits under the cover of white flags and took no further part in the day.
GT3 Pro Qualifying
Always the hot session of the qualifying day in British GT, GT3 Pro qualifying didn’t disappoint. Seven changes at the top in a ten minute session left spectators guessing to the last minute.
First it was the Aston Martin entries which left the pits first so got their times in first. Once everyone had a banker in, the session heated up. With the exception of a stunning 1:33.804 for Nicki Thiim, later disallowed, it was almost exclusively a two horse race.
Adam Christodoulou for Team ABBA would strike hard and fast, only to be almost instantly countered by Callum Macleod for RAM. Four times the two Mercedes-AMG GT3’s exchanged the top spot before the eventual pole sitter came to the party.
Phil Keen for Barwell looked quick for a couple of laps but still the Mercedes battled, then almost out of the blue came the 1:33.541 which took the front row by almost half a second from RAM Racing.
Mark Lemmer, team owner at Barwell, was pleasantly surprised but still wary of the Mercedes when he spoke to us after .”I think the Merc will be hard to beat. We’ve got a lot of new cars, so it makes sense for SRO to use the Merc as a reference car and then see where everyone else is at. But they know we are the team that is probably most advanced with our car, having spent much time with it. They know that Aston is probably catching up but never the less they will use the Merc to reference everyone else from because its a known quantity.”
Despite the newness of the car, Lemmer was confident the team had gotten to grips with the EVO spec Huracan in an extensive pre-season program of testing and racing; “We have done a lot of preparation, this feels like season 2 for us with the new EVO. Its our third event of the year because we did Mugello 12 hours and we’ve one Blancpain Monza, its been a brilliant pre-season.
“Its a good car and we understand it like we’ve had it for a couple of seasons already.”
With pole secured for Barwell by Phil Keen, the Mercedes continued to scrap over second, finally settling on RAM Racing in second and ABBA in third. JRM Racing took the honor of best of the Bentleys while Nicki Thiim did manage to set the best Aston Martin time, 6th overall.