Brands Hatch Falls to McLaren Qualifying Onslaught.

by Nick Smith

Balfe Motorsport and HHC Motorsport have collectively locked out the poles for McLaren GT in qualifying for the penultimate round of the 2019 British GT Championship at Brands Hatch. Going out to qualify in near perfect conditions GT3 took to the track first and whilst neither of the pole sitting drivers rose to excessive prominence in their own session, collectively they slipped 0.133 seconds ahead of their nearest rivals.

In GT4 it was Callum Pointon who initially took the wheel of the pole sitting McLaren, topping his session before handing over to Dean Macdonald. In the second session, Macdonald also managed to come out on top but only just, allowing the #97 of Ash Hand and Tom Canning within 0.086 seconds in second place.

GT3: Balfe Motorsport Secure Maiden Domestic Pole for McLaren at Brands Hatch.

The McLaren 720S GT3 had never taken a pole on home soil, until Balfe Motorsport put in a stunningly consistent performance across the two GT3 qualifying sessions to top the grid at Brands Hatch. Team owner Shaun Balfe laid the groundwork in the Am session by setting a 4th place time behind the Spa-Francorchamps winning #96 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3 of Ollie Wilkinson. Its the second time in two races that the silver graded driver has topped his qualifying session but unlike the qualifying battle in the Ardenne, this time Optimum Motorsport team mate Bradley Ellis wouldn’t be able to seal the deal and secure pole.

Performance in excess of all expectations for the #9 Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 secured second place during the driver changes, class debutant Angus Fender showing his raw talent in his first competitive session aboard a GT3 car. Equally impressive was the third place for Team Parker Racing‘s Bentley Continental GT3, secured by Ryan Ratcliffe before handing over to Glynn Geddie, just a week after a massive crash for Ratcliffe in the Bentley during the Total 24H Spa which had initially put his participation in the Brands Hatch weekend in doubt.

With Balfe just 0.130 seconds off the pole, it was tight as you could want at the head of the field as Am drivers departed and Pro drivers settled in to duke it out for pole.

With Balfe having teed the ball up so well, it was up to Rob Bell to secure the ace. 8th in the Pro session may not seem like an astonishing time but on collective efforts it was more than enough to secure the top spot by 0.086 seconds. Ellis in the Aston Martin looked strong but couldn’t complete the deal, the Optimum crew will start in second place for the two hour race tomorrow ahead of championship leaders Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker. Neither the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO nor the pole sitting McLaren will be encumbered by any success seconds in the race, a statement not true of the race winning Aston Martin which will have to serve 20 seconds of success penalty whilst also carrying extra weight, as both Wilkinson and Ellis are silver graded drivers.

That means that third on the grid could be almost as good as pole for the chances of the Lamborghini. Title rivals Phil Keen and Adam Balon managed only 9th place in the collective timings and start very much on the back foot. On the plus side for the sister Barwell Lamborghini, they are also devoid of success penalty after retiring two weeks ago. On the negative side of the ledger is the fact that both Balon and Keen could only manage 12th in their individual sessions and queuing up behind are the #7 Bentley who was third in the first session and the #72 Lamborghini only needs to drop two places to fall out of the points completely.

Should de Haan and Cocker manage to win while Balon and Keen drop back two places, the title fight could be wrapped up tomorrow afternoon.

There are a succession of quick cars in third to sixth too though, Graham Davidson took sixth in his session, which mated to Jonny Adam‘s performance gives the #42 Aston Martin fourth on the grid. Adam won at Brands Hatch last year and Davidson has unfinished business with the circuit after his Jetstream Motorsport Aston Martin was robbed of a good finish by a freak accident for his then co-driver Maxime Martin. Fifth sits the #9 Century Motorsport BMW, Jack Mitchell the slower of the two drivers but quick enough to negate the Q2 topping pace of Callum Macleod. The #6 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 will start sixth when Callum’s time was added to Ian Loggie‘s 9th place performance from Q1.

Rob Bell told Mark Wirrel on the circuit PA, “It’s been a lot of hard work to get here and there’ll be more hard work tonight. Shaun had a great turn of speed and the car seems to be working well. It wasn’t when we got here, we had a little bit of work to go, but we methodically got through it. The team have done a great job, so it’s a nice day for us all.”

GT4: Dominance Keeps HHC Motorsport Title Hopes Alive.

Credit: BritishGT.com/Jacob Ebrey Photography

In GT4 it was clear dominance from the #57 McLaren, Callum Pointon and Dean Macdonald both topping their sessions to secure pole position for the two hour race tomorrow. Pointon set the provisional pole time in Q3, 0.067 seconds clear of Ash Hand in the TF Sport Aston Martin. When it came time for Macdonald to repeat the feat he managed to pry an extra 0.019 seconds from Tom Canning in the #97 machine to secure the top spot. It also assured Woking of a fairy tale headline for their first domestic GT3 pole with the new car.

Vitally important for the #57 crew is that championship leaders Multimatic Motorsports had a qualifying session to forget. Despite the #15 Mustang of Scott Maxwell and Seb Priaulx having clear road for both of their opening laps, neither rose to much attention during the 20 minutes of competition, Priaulx’s 8th place in Q4 serving to drag the pony car kicking like a reluctant stallion into the 10th starting gate for the penultimate race of the year.

20.5 points separate the #57 in fourth place in the championship from the leading Mustang. It will take very solid work for the #15 to limit the damage headed to the final round at Donington Park.

To achieve the aim, Maxwell then Priaulx will have to fight their way past the #97 Aston Martin from TF Sport which took second in both sessions to average second place. Martin Plowman for Beechdean AMR made up for Kelvin Fletcher‘s 8th place in Q3. Though in fairness to the actor turned racer, Fletcher did have the #11 running in first place early in the session, and set the stage for a third place start in the race thanks to Plowman’s final session pace.

Of more concern to both the #57 and the #15 is the pace of the #4 Tolman Motorsport McLaren of James Dorlin and Josh Smith who sit 3rd in the title fight and fourth on the grid. Thankfully the #5 of Jordan Collard and Lewis Proctor could only muster 15th place in qualifying, putting their second place championship position in jeopardy. Team Parker Racing start fifth with their Mercedes-AMG GT4 for Nick Jones and Scott Malvern ahead of the #75 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4.

Dean Macdonald said, “I was nervous for that one! I even said on the radio that it didn’t feel quite right, but I’m happy now. We’ve no time penalty from Spa, so we’re in a really good position. Our race pace looks really promising as well.”

You can read exactly how the session panned out in our archived live blog of qualifying. The race gets underway tomorrow at 13:00 and will be covered live here on TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk as usual. Additionally, you can watch a live broadcast of the race on both the SRO’s GTWorld Youtube channel and on BritishGT.com.

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