Keen and Balon Top First Practice for Donington Decider

by Nick Smith

Barwell Motorsport‘s Phil Keen and Adam Balon have started their final charge for the 2019 British GT Championship title off in the best way possible, topping the timesheets for Free Practice 1 at Donington Park. The duo, who currently lead the GT3 Drivers Championship, headed the session by a Martin of 0.168 seconds but their nearest championship rivals were in a lowly seventh in the classification.

In GT4, Scott Maxwell set the fastest time in the Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 he shares with Seb Priaulx. The #15 machine lead the championship for much of the year but suffered greatly at Brands Hatch last month and dropped to third in the standings. Unfortunately for the Multimatic crew, their rivals in the #97 TF Sport Aston Martin were only three places and 0.587 seconds behind.

GT3: Barwell Keen To Take Title.

The Barwell celebrations at starting the final race meeting of the year off right were no doubt fuelled by the position of their closest rivals. Jonny Adam and Graham Davidson managed only seventh in the session and were 0.653 seconds off the pace at the end of the hour. Progress for the crews was hampered by a red flag which split the session with 20 minutes to go, just as most teams were preparing to go out and set their strongest laps, meaning that Phil Keen’s early push stood the test of time to top the table.

Of concern to the #72 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 will be the second placed car in the session. After a terrible start to the year at Oulton Park, Balfe Motorsport have been improving throughout the season and regularly challenging for the top spot. Out of the box pace on the fifth of 17 laps for Rob Bell, who shares with team boss Shaun Balfe, shows that the sole McLaren 720s GT3 in the field has both pace and reliability. They currently seat equal 4th in the title fight with Optimum Motorsport‘s Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis and their continual improvement could very well lead to the car’s maiden win coming at just the right time.

TF Sport took third, but not with the championship leading machine. Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim hold seventh in the title standings and are mathematically out of the fight for the title but with nothing to hold them back, Thiim is free to just push on pace and his #2 machine could be a contender for both pole and race victory.

For the other championship contenders it was a session which they may want to forget. #69, the third placed Lamborghini of Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker, struggled to ninth place in the first outing, four places down on the similarly equipped WPI Motorsport crew of Dennis Lind and Michael Igoe. The #18 machine managed this despite being one of the two parties involved in the red flag incident.

The Lamborghini was minding its own business between Schwanz and McLeans on the Grand Prix layout at Donington Park when the #32 Track Focussed KTM X-Bow GT4 rejoined from a run on the grass which started at Old Hairpin and finished with a coming together. The Lamborghini got back to the pits on its own account, the KTM was stricken and made its way back to the team on a wrecker.

The other GT3 car in championship contention is the #96 Optimum Motorsport machine but a poor performance on pace sees Ellis and Wilkinson languishing in 12th of 15 GT3 cars, only the G-Cat Racing Porsche, #99 Beechdean AMR machine and the #9 Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 turned slower fastest laps in the session.

The #15 Multimatic Motorsports Mustang at Coppice on the Donington Park Grand Prix circuit.
Credit: Craig Robertson/RacePhotography.net

GT4: Multimatic Top Close Fought Practice.

In GT4 it was as anyone expected, a Multimatic Mustang on top of the pile. The pairing of Maxwell and Priaulx showed in the previous visit to Donington Park just how much of a weapon the #15 machine could be around the 2.48 miles of the GP loop. There was however genuine challenge from others for the title of top dog in FP1. Six of the GT4 runners were covered by less than a second at the end of the hour.

Second in the session went to the out of contention #75 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin, Mike Robinson setting the time in the car he shares with Patrick Matthiesen. Fourth though went to championship leaders Tom Canning and Ash Hand, the former setting the time which was just 0.03 seconds shy of Sennan Fielding for Steller Performance in the Audi he shares with Richard Williams.

Fifth in the hour went to the #95 TF Sport Aston Martin who are also out of contention along with the #20 Balfe Motorsport 570s GT4 in sixth. Seventh went to second place in the championship and McLaren’s best hope, the #57 HHC Motorsport run 570s. Dean MacDonald and Callum Pointon will be looking to improve their form in Free Practice 2 as they are the only team in the GT4 field who can guarantee a title win by winning the race except the championship leaders.

The second free practice session gets underway at 12:45 this afternoon with qualifying at 16:35. Live coverage of qualifying will be available on TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk. The championship’s traditional #DoningtonDecider starts at 13:15 on Sunday and will be covered live on this website with live TV available on BritishGT.com.

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