Lewis Proctor and Phil Keen proved they’ve developed no rust in the off-season as they shared pole positions for the opening pair of one-hour Intelligent Money British GT Championship races at Oulton Park.
In GT4, reigning class champions TF Sport proved a force to be reckoned with as it took pole for race one and came close to doing the same for race two but was pipped by Euan Hankey in the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 570S GT4.
The Am section of the entry list set the grid for race one, with the Pros doing likewise for race two, and in the Am portion of GT3 qualifying it was very much a McLaren 720S GT3 masterclass.
Optimum Motorsport driver Proctor was rapid from the off as the British squad had the car right on the money around the Cheshire circuit as he did battle with Jordan Witt in the #10 2 Seas Motorsport McLaren, the pair battling throughout the 10-minute session – along with Angus Fender in the second 2 Seas entry.
The trio were quickly into the 1m34s and for a long time it appeared that Witt was going to make a perfect debut in the Bahraini-entered car but Proctor’s late lap secured the top spot by the narrowest of margins – 0.001sec – as his 1m34.547sec proved to be just enough.
Witt settled for second, a tenth ahead of Fender who couldn’t quite squeeze out that last bit of performance from his 720S.
It could have all been different at the chequered flag, though, as World’s Fastest Gamer James Baldwin sprung to the top of the times with a mammoth lap in the Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren. But before he even had the opportunity to savour his pole, it was taken off him for a track limits penalty. He was left with his second-best lap which put him fourth.
Fifth went to the first of the non-McLarens as Sam De Haan put in a great lap in his Ram Racing-run Mercedes-AMG GT3, beating out a late effort from Rob Collard – the BTCC regular making his British GT debut in the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo.
Ian Loggie was seventh in the second Ram Racing Mercedes, with Richard Neary in eighth and Adam Balon recovering from a free practice crash to take ninth. Duncan Cameron rounded out the top 10 in his AF Corse Ferrari 488, while Michael Igoe (Lamborghini), Nick Jones (Bentley Continental) and John Seale (Lamborghini) rounded out the 13-car GT3 class.
GT4 action was slightly less intense as Connor O’Brien in the #95 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT4 stormed to the top early in the running and rarely looked troubled as Sam Smelt in the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota GR Supra could only get within 0.374s of O’Brien’s 1m43.003s.
Patrik Matthiesen made it three manufacturers in the top three as he powered the HHC Motorsport McLaren 570S to third – only 0.153s ahead of Dan Vaughan in the second of the TF entries. The latter was running second early on, but couldn’t make up time as the session went on.
Fifth went to Jordan Albert in the Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang GT4, only a fraction ahead of Chris Wesemael in the second of the HHC McLarens.
Ben Hurst was the fastest of the Century Motorsport BMW M4s in seventh, with team-mate David Whitmore ninth in the Team Tegiwa-sponsored entry. The pair sandwiched Mia Flewitt – the only Pro-Am entry – who finished eighth for Balfe Motorsport.
The order was tipped on its head for the Pro section of qualifying as Huracáns proved to be the cars to beat as Phil Keen demonstrated why he’s always been a championship contender as he monstered qualifying in the #78 Barwell entry.
Initially, Yelmer Buurman was the man to beat in the Mercedes he shares with Loggie as he dropped into the 1m33s but his hold on the top didn’t last long as first Keen and then his team-mate Sandy Mitchell – in the car he races with Collard – both powered ahead of the Mercedes factory driver and ensured a front-row lockout for Barwell.
With Buurman unable to improve his time, he was forced to share the second-row with the second of the Ram cars driven by Patrick Kujala who was also the last of the leaders to be able to drop into the ’33s.
Fifth went to Marcus Clutton in the JMH Auto Lamborghini he shares with Seale as he just pipped Ollie Wilkinson – in the Optimum McLaren – by 0.024s.
Matt Griffin took seventh, ahead of a chain of Silver Cup McLarens which couldn’t demonstrate the same level of pace when faced with the Gold-rated Pros. Jack Mitchell took eighth in the same 2 Seas entry that took Witt to the front-row in the Am qualifying, with Dean Macdonald just behind in ninth in the #9 2 Seas car.
Michael O’Brien completed the top 10 in the Jenson Team Rocket entry while Scott Malvern edged Sam Neary in the Team Parker Racing Bentley to relegate the Team ABBA Racing Mercedes to 12th, ahead of Dennis Lind in the WPI Motorsport Lamborghini which also struggled with Igoe.
Balfe bounced back in spectacular style in the GT4 Pro section of qualifying as Eaun Hankey proved why he’s a sharp-hand racing McLarens as he undid the TF Sport dominance. His lap late on of 1m42.792s was initially nine-hundredths faster than Jamie Caroline in the #97 TF Aston he took over from Vaughan and despite a late improvement from Caroline which moved him to within 0.027s of pole, Hankey’s time was never in doubt.
Jordan Collard repeated team-mate Matthiesen’s performance as he secured another third-place start for HHC Motorsport by squeezing race one pole-sitter – the #95 TF car now driven by Patrick Kibble – down into fourth.
Repetition was also the name of the game for Matt Cowley who took fifth again for Academy’s Mustang as he shares the third row with James Kell in the Supra.
There was also déjà vu for BMW as Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke put the #43 M4 in seventh, with Luke Sedzikowski propping up the grid. Again the pair were the bread for a McLaren sandwich, but this time it was the #57 HHC machine of Gus Bowers.
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