Enduro Motorsport & Barwell Motorsport topped the two Free Practice sessions as the Intelligent Money British GT Championship rolled into Donington Park for the first time this year.
In GT4, the front-running Century Motorsport BMW of Will Burns and Gus Burton topped the morning session, while in the lunch-time session, Scott McKenna’s late flying lap in the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Supra ensured the Speedworks-run squad went into qualifying on a high.
Free Practice One
Marcus Clutton was on the pace from the off, as the Enduro Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 became a presence at the top of the timing screens early on in the first 60-minute session, upsetting what had been a Lamborghini-dominated affair in the very opening stages of FP1.
That’s because Dennis Lind and Sandy Mitchell powered their respective Barwell Motorsport Huracán’s up to the top of the GT3 times early on, the duo continuing what has been a strong start to the season for the two crews.
Their hold on the top was disrupted by Scott Malvern, a pace-setter in Friday testing, as he continued a run of front-running pace in the Team Parker Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R to snatch the top spot for himself.
But, in a recurring theme for the first half of the morning practice, his hold on the top didn’t last long as Clutton lowered the benchmark yet further with his 1m27.550sec almost a quarter of a second faster than the chasing pack – headed by Yelmer Buurman’s RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3.
After the session, Clutton said the team’s strong pace was thanks to his and team-mate Morgan Tillbrook’s increasing knowledge of the car and getting used to the characteristics of the 720S, and believes they’ll have the pace to trouble the top five at Donington.
Lind, and team-mate Leo Machitski finished the session in third, with Malvern and Nick Jones in fourth. Bouncing back from Silverstone troubles was the WPI Motorsport pairing of Michael Igoe and Phil Keen. The pair were the biggest movers after a mid-session red flag to recover James Kell’s Team Rocket RJN McLaren 570S GT4 from the Old Hairpin gravel trap, they put in the fifth fastest time.
The Neary’s took sixth in the Team Abba Racing Mercedes, whilst Mitchell and Adam Balon took seventh.
Compared to the constant changing in GT3, the GT4 category was settled quite early in the session as Gus Burton’s 1m35.751 in the Century BMW M4 GT4 proved unbeatable – despite some effort from the rest of the class.
Indeed, his closest rival proved to be the best of the Pro/Am entries – the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Supra of Scott McKenna and John Ferguson. Quick throughout FP1, McKenna set the team’s best lap on his final run of the session to improve on a time that had kept them second in GT4 pretty much throughout.
It did, though, give them a touch more breathing space over the Ciceley Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4, in which Jake Giddings has settled into a comfortable groove at Donington Park. He finished third overall alongside Dave Whitmore, about one-tenth ahead of the Assetto Motorsport Ginetta G56 of Charlie Robertson and Mark Sansom.
0.008sec behind the Ginetta was Silverstone winner Newbridge Motorsport, the Aston Martin team on form again despite Matt Topham racing with a new co-driver this weekend as Darren Burke subs in for Darren Turner, who is at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.
Burke, an experienced Caterham racer and race winner in the Blancpain GT Series, pipped Steller Motorsport’s Sennan Fielding to fifth by 0.013sec – highlighting just how close GT4 should be this weekend.
Free Practice Two
The second session proved to be a hive of activity as the teams perfected set-ups for the qualifying session, meaning the top spot in GT3 proved to be up for grabs until the closing laps.
As the session got underway, it was Clutton who once again took the Enduro Motorsport McLaren up to the top spot, going beneath his benchmark time from FP1 as the early morning cloud gave way to warmer temperatures and glimmers of blue sky.
It looked as though he would hold that top spot until the very end but with just over ten minutes remaining, teams up and down pitlane put on fresh Pirellis as they put in practice for the later qualifying session.
First it was Yelmer Buurman – rapid in FP1 – who dethroned Clutton before falling back down to second as the McLaren found even more time to regain the top spot.
They couldn’t regain the P1 after a second wave of rapid laps though as first Scott Malvern – who told GT REPORT that he and Nick Jones are getting increasingly confident in their Team Parker Porsche – and then Sandy Mitchell lowered the bar to relegate the Enduro pair to third.
In a sign of how close it might be for qualifying, the top three were covered by 0.025sec, with the whole top eight covered by just a little more than 1.1 seconds.
After his earlier time-topper, Buurman took fourth alongside Ian Loggie, with Beechdean AMR in fifth thanks to Jonny Adam’s late pace alongside Andrew Howard.
There was just the one red flag in FP2, which came from the Team Abba Racing Mercedes-AMG. On his first lap, Sam Neary was forced to pull off the road just after the Fogarty Esses after what he believes was either a rim failure or a brake failure.
“We believe it was either a rim failure or a shattered disk,” he told GT REPORT. “I pressed the brake pedal and it felt like something exploded. We probably won’t be out for qualifying but the race tomorrow should be wet so it’s all to play for.”
In the GT4 category, Scott McKenna’s final lap of the session ensured the Toyota Supra topped the times.
For much of the lunchtime practice, it was the two Team Rocket RJN McLarens of Michael Benyahia and Katie Milner who locked out the top spots but Carrera Cup graduate McKenna pulled out an amazing lap to head the class by more than half-a-second with the fastest lap of the weekend so far.
After serving a ten-minute stop/go at the start of FP2 after overtaking under red flags in the earlier practice, the Century Motorsport BMW of Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke finished fourth fastest – second of the Pro/Am crews – just besting the Newbridge Aston Martin as Matt Topham and Darren Burke once again proved to be will in the lead mix in GT4.
Less than a tenth behind the Vantage was Jamie Stanley’s Fox Motorsport McLaren, while Mark Sansom put the Ginetta G56 seventh.
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