Balfe Motorsport took the McLaren 720S’s first pole in British GT as Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell came out top in a hard-fought fight at the penultimate round of the season at Brands Hatch.
GT4 pole was equally as competitive, with HHC Motorsport making it a McLaren double as the team’s #57 McLaren 570S topped the times with Dean Macdonald and Callum Pointon.
Following on from the Silver drivers dominating at Spa, it seemed history was about to repeat itself as Ollie Wilkinson – who took a lights-to-flag victory for Optimum Motorsport – traded the top spot with fellow Silver driver Ryan Ratcliffe in the Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 as the Am section of qualifying got well underway.
Also adding into the mix of Silvers was Angus Fender, who is making his GT3 debut this weekend in a Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3. The former GT4 racer appeared to be on course to take the top spot at the end of the first ten-minute stint but Wilkinson’s final lap pipped him by 0.048sec.
Ratcliffe sent the Bentley into the Pro section of qualifying in third, with Balfe fourth and Sam De Haan – who could win the title this weekend alongside Jonny Cocker – securing fifth.
That order shook itself up somewhat when the Pros jumped in behind the wheel though as Bell’s first lap gave the McLaren squad an unassailable 0.133sec advantage on combined times over Bradley Ellis – who took over from Wilkinson and ensured the Aston Martin team starts on the front-row once again.
The power of the Pros was in full force on the second row as Cocker took third in the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo, just 0.057sec ahead of one of his championship rivals. That was Jonny Adam, whose 1m24.706sec pushed the #47 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage onto the second-row after team-mate Graham Davidson’s sixth-best time in GT3 Am.
Another championship rival, the second Barwell Lamborghini of Adam Balon and Phil Keen, will have some work to do in tomorrow’s two-hour race after their combined time was only good enough for 9th – 1.2sec off pole. Just behind them is the Team Parker Bentley as Glyn Geddie struggled to match Ratcliffe’s brisk opening.
Elsewhere, Fender’s rapid time was built upon by Jack Mitchell to steer the #9 BMW to a fifth-place start only one-tenth ahead of the RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod – the latter setting the fastest time of qualifying with a 1m24.340sec.
Pointon and Macdonald never relinquished the top spot in GT4 throughout the 20 minutes of qualifying as the pair took the fastest lap in both their respective sessions.
That’s not to say they breezed away with pole though, as the #97 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage of Ash Hand and Tom Canning finished just 0.086sec down on the fastest time with the former leading early in the Am portion of qualifying.
In another sign that GT4 qualifying was a battle between just British brands, the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin of Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman took third overall and Pro-Am pole. Just 0.003sec behind the pair was the #4 Tolman Motorsport McLaren of James Dorlin and Josh Smith hinting at just how close tomorrow’s 120-minute race could be with the sharp-end of the field so evenly matched.
Team Parker Racing took fifth in their Pro-Am Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Nick Jones and Scott Malvern. The latter had set the fastest sector times in his session, but Jones’s still reasonable 1m33.425sec proved to be a bit too much to break into the second-row.
Sixth went the way of another Aston Martin – the #75 Optimum entry of Patrik Matthiesen and Mike Robinson – with the Steller Performance Audi R8 LMS of Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding taking seventh.
Just squeezing into the top ten – in the very final position – are championship leaders Seb Priaulx and Scott Maxwell in the Multimatic Ford Mustang as the pair both failed to match the pace of the fastest cars in their session. The duo have an outside chance of sealing the GT4 title this weekend, but will need to work hard to make up places in a tightly-packed field around a rather narrow Brands Hatch circuit.
The penultimate race of the 2019 season gets underway on Sunday (4 August) at 1pm UK time (2pm CET) and the full stream of the race will be on GT REPORT.