RAM Racing’s Yelmer Buurman and Ian Loggie will start the Intelligent Money British GT Championship’s first trip to Donington Park in pole position after one of the tightest qualifying sessions in years.
Newbridge Motorsport also prevailed in a hard-fought GT4 qualifying session, with Matt Topham and new team-mate Darren Burke prevailing – with the latter racing in British GT for the first time.
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Less than two-tenths of a second separated the top four as the battle for pole position simmered to boiling point at an equally scorching Donington Park.
From the very first laps of the Am section of qualifying, the battle for the top spot was non-stop with drivers out-doing each other and finding more speed as the track continued to rubber in. First to really set a time was RAM’s Loggie as he put in a 1m28.477sec which initially put him second, before being promoted to the top after Michael Igoe’s opening effort in the WPI Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán was deleted because of track limits.
Despite Kelvin Fletcher mixing it in the Paddock Motorsport Bentley Continental GT3, the opening session proved to be a straight fight between Igoe and Loggie. Both improved their times at the flag, but it was the Mercedes that prevailed in the battle of the Ams.
It almost wasn’t converted by Buurman though, as he took over the pink Mercedes-AMG GT3. His first two laps were good enough to secure pole on combined times, but both were deleted for track limits violations at the Old Hairpin.
That gave Phil Keen – taking over from Igoe – a sniff of the top spot, but Buurman’s final lap proved to be good enough to set a combined time of 2m55.302sec giving the duo their first pole position of the year.
They didn’t secure pole easily, as Keen continued to improve his own laps to bring down his and Igoe’s combined time. Looking strong on the final lap, he fell tantalisingly short – only 0.050sec off to finish second.
Although on the flip-side, you could argue Keen and Igoe were lucky to start on the front-row. The ever-rapid Sandy Mitchell was setting blisteringly quick lap times in the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini – building on Adam Balon’s great opening time – and fell short by the exact same margin as Keen’s gap to Buurman to start third.
Fourth continued a great run of form for the Team Parker Racing pair of Nick Jones and Scott Malvern, as the latter set the fastest lap of the weekend so far to put the Porsche 911 GT3 R into fourth. His 1m26.670sec put the pair 0.064sec off the inside of the second-row and in a great position to bank some big points in the championship.
After topping the morning’s first practice session, the Enduro Motorsport crew of Marcus Clutton and Morgan Tillbrook put themselves in great shape for the two-hour race with fifth in their McLaren 720S GT3 – keeping well on-track to hit Clutton’s prediction of the duo battling for the top five in the race itself.
The second McLaren in the GT3 field of Lewis and Stewart Proctor took sixth, with Martin Plowman eventually qualifying the Paddock Motorsport Bentley in seventh – not quite able to really push any lower down the order.
Beechdean AMR took eighth, and the second Barwell Lamborghini of Dennis Lind and Leo Machitski took ninth. Those two rounded out the GT3 runners, as the Team Abba Racing Mercedes was unable to join the session with the team still working hard to repair the car after a brake disc explosion in FP2.
The secondary class emulated GT3 in providing a battle for pole that no one could predict until the chequered flag was finally waved.
From the very start of the Am session, the times were changing quicker than you could blink as the Team Rocket RJN McLarens, the Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang and the Steller Motorsport Audi R8 LMS all seemingly in the mix for pole with Matt Topham running not too far behind either in the Newbridge Aston Martin Vantage.
The picture only really became clearer when the second session started to really get rolling with the Pro/Am entries – like Topham’s – starting to make their presence felt.
Times kept quickly changing with the Rocket McLarens rolling through the top spot, but it only settled down when Darren Burke – subbing for Darren Turner – put the Newbridge Aston onto the top in what ended up being an unbeatable time at the top of the class.
With pole secured, it ended up being a fight to see who would join Burke and Topham on the front-row. Initially it was Charlie Robertson’s Assetto Motorsport Ginetta which was second, but he was first unseated by Scott McKenna’s Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Supra and then Harry Hayek in the #4 RJN McLaren he had taken over from Katie Milner.
Despite McKenna improving late, Hayek’s effort was enough to secure second for the duo – their best effort of the season so far, as the McLarens found good form in the East Midlands.
McKenna’s lap was good enough to secure third alongside co-driver John Ferguson. After the session he told GT REPORT: “That couldn’t really have been improved! It’s so tight at the front and what people are missing is that we’re a Pro/Am pairing – the position has been earned through John.
“We’re doing something right because we’ve not qualified outside of the front two rows so far this season and we should be in a good position for the race, starting quite protected on the inside of the second-row.”
Fourth went to Robertson and Mark Sansom, the pair continuing a strong run of qualifying of their own, while Steller Motorsport took fifth – Richard Williams and Fielding putting in marvellously consistent laps, both in the 1m35.8s, but the quicker laps in the second session relegated the pair down.
Sixth went to the big Mustang of Cowley and Will Moore, while the second of the RJN McLarens finished seventh in the hands of Alain Valente and Michael Benyahia.
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