Optimum Performance Puts Ellis and Wilkinson on Pole

by Nick Smith

Circuit de Spa-Fracorchamps has given the Optimum Motorsport pairing of Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis their first pole position in the 2019 British GT Championship. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3 crew weathered red flags and downpours to secure the top spot ahead of the 2 hour race on the Belgian Grand Prix circuit. GT4 was claimed by the Century Motorsport pair of Mark Kimber and Jacob Mathiassen who triumphed on a changeable, drying track, in a session which couldn’t decide if wanted to be wet or dry.

Experience was the key to success in GT3 qualifying, which was fully wet due to the torrential downpour which soaked the Ardenne 30 minutes before the green flag. Usually British GT pole goes to a Pro/Am pairing, the slightly slower pace of the amateur racer being more than off-set by the blistering pace of a Gold or Platinum graded driver. With the difficult conditions restricting the performance of the faster drivers and further slowing the less experienced paddlers, the conditions gave an ideal chance for a Silver/Silver crew to upset the applecart.

And upset it they did.

The Ams went first with Wilkinson battling toe to toe with the Team Parker Racing Bentley of Ryan Ratcliffe. Early provisional pole actually went to Richard Neary in the Team ABBA Racing Mercedes-AMG, but once the Aston Martin and Bentley crews got on song, it was a ten minute celebration of British engineering.

Wilkinson’s penultimate lap put him on the top of the pile, but a quick reposte from Ratcliffe gave the Bentley the advantage. Wilkinson wasn’t done though and a little over two and a half minutes later, the #96 once again topped the pile. Bradley Ellis entered the pro session with a 0.4 second margin of superiority.

Come the fastest session of the weekend, Ellis immediately set to work, keeping the Aston Martin comfortably ahead throughout the second 10 minutes. That meant that any battles would be for the lower spots on the grid, of course after placing 11th from 14 entries in GT3 Am qualifying, the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO of Michael Igoe and Dennis Lind wasn’t going to be a contender.

How wrong we can be.

Lind was lightening on the track, blasting around the circuit in a sub 2:40 time. Only fellow Dane and AMR Pro driver Nicki Thiim was able to get close but the performance of the #2 Aston Martin of Mark Farmer in the opening session wasn’t good enough for the TF Sport to trouble the front row. Indeed, despite Thiim’s strong performance, the V8 Vantage GT3 will start on the inside of the sixth row! WPI Motorsport however now revel in a front row start, care of the demolishing pace of the pro driver.

Third place on the grid will be occupied by Ratcliffe and team mate Glynn Geddie, the Team Parker Racing machine alongside the RAM Racing machine of Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod. Championship leaders Phil Keen and Adam Balon line up fifth ahead of the Team ABBA crew of Neary and Adam Christodoulou.

GT4: Century Motorsport Gamble and Gain for Pole

Credit: BritishGT.com/Jacob Ebrey Photography

When qualifying on a drying track, its always a gamble if you consider switching to slicks. Century Motorsport played that gamble to perfection to claim pole position in the GT4 qualifying session at Spa.

Heading out on slick tyres seemed foolish at best as a decidedly ropey outlap and initial part of the session saw Tolman Motorsport with James Dorlin, Academy Motorsport with Alex Toth-Jones and Scott Maxwell for the Multimatic Motorsports entry all tussle for the top spot. A crescendo was forming among the wet shod runners, building to a grand stand finish for the 10 minute Am qualifying session.

As the tension built to eruption, it wasn’t one of the session long protagonists who took to the top though. Mathiassen came round for his final lap, all but ignored in the action among the McLaren, Aston Martin and Ford runners, to punch in a time 3.3 seconds faster than anyone had gone so far.

Of course with that margin of victory in the first session, there was no way anyone was going to depose the #42 BMW M4 GT4 from top spot. The battle instead was for second on the grid and down. Having changed drivers and all now switched to slicks, the cars headed out for the pro session.

Patrick Kibble and Josh Price ‘won’ the second part of qualifying, their TF Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4 rising from relative obscurity to the front row of the grid. Seb Priaulx did his best to oust the Aston, but fell a tenth short and will line up in the #15 Mustang on the inside of the second row. Josh Smith continued James Dorlin’s good work to take fourth place ahead of the Beechdean AMR run #11, Martin Plowman another pro to launch the car he shares with Kelvin Fletcher into a strong position from aways back.

Second place in the championship is no guarantee of success either, as Callum Pointon and Jordan Collard found. The #57 HHC Motorsport McLaren will line up 11th for the race with a job of work to do if they are to keep any hope of a championship alive. Their rivals start third.

The race gets underway at 12:20 on Sunday with live coverage on the British GT website.

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