Jota’s Ben Barnicoat and AKKA ASP’s Raffaele Marciello shared the pole positions for GT World Challenge Europe‘s return to Brands Hatch after a two-year absence in a session spiced up late-on by a heavy rain shower.
Barnicoat set pole in his McLaren 720S GT3 for race one and, in a change in the normal schedule for the Sprint Cup, race two qualifying was taken by Marciello in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 – both sessions taking place on Saturday, with the two 60-minute races on Sunday.
Race One Qualifying
After disruption earlier in the day, the first qualifying session was more essential track time for the 28 cars tackling the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and, initially, it was tricky to figure out who was going to take the top spot.
At the halfway mark, it was Ricardo Feller leading for Emil Frey Racing, just ahead of Pierre-Alexandre Jean’s CMR Bentley Continental GT3 – the big Bentley showing the same pace it has done in years gone by in British GT around the Kent track.
That status quo didn’t last long though, as drivers started to find their groove, with Patrick Kujala first nibbling on the front-row by slingshotting himself up to third in the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 – quickly replaced by Timur Boguslavskiy in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3.
On his next lap by, Boguslavskiy powered onto the front-row but was denied pole position a rapid lap from Barnicoat – putting his McLaren on pole with a 1m24.341, half-a-tenth ahead of the Mercedes racer.
A testament to how close the action was came in the shape of Charles Weerts. The Belgian was flying in his Team WRT Audi R8 LMS but couldn’t find that extra fraction of speed he needed to break on to the front-row, finishing just 0.008sec off second.
Indeed, almost as close was Luca Stolz in the Toksport WRT Mercedes. An early pole-sitter, Stolz couldn’t improve later in the session and will start the opening race of the weekend in fourth, only 0.014sec down on Weerts.
Feller fell to fifth in his Lamborghini Huracán GT3, with Jean’s Bentley in sixth – neither of the racers able to find that final tenth of a second they needed to move higher than row three. The former still took pole for the Silver Cup however.
The second Emil Frey Lamborghini was seventh in the hands of Konsta Lappalainen as he leaped ahead of Kujala on his penultimate lap of the 20-minute session.
Two Mercedes-AMGs rounded out the top ten, with Ezequiel Perez-Companc just edging out Juuso Puhakka.
Notable further down the order, Barwell Motorsport took Pro-Am pole in its #77 Lamborghini Huracán with Miguel Ramos qualifying 23rd overall.
Race Two Qualifying
Compared to the first session, the second session was very much a tale of three stages as the teams went out to set early banker laps, had the session disrupted as a rain shower blew through the circuit, and then there was a mad scramble to try and set a better time right at the death as the track dried out again.
Not that it affected eventual polesitter Raffaele Marciello too much. The Italian was absolutely on it from the very start of the session as he set his pole lap – and the fastest lap of the weekend so far – on just his second lap of the session with a 1m23.660sec.
He headed a train of four AMGs at the top of the times, with Oscar Tunjo’s Silver Cup Toksport WRT entry lining up second. Maro Engel and Jim Pla took third and fourth, having relegated early pacesetter Dries Vanthoor down to fifth in his Audi.
That didn’t last long mind you. As the track went dark and the typical British summer made its presence felt, with a dark cloud depositing a fair bit of water across the circuit and making conditions decidedly greasy.
To make things awkward, the rain didn’t last too long and with just a few minutes of the session remaining, teams up and down pitlane felt confident enough to send cars back out with enough time for what ended up being about two flying laps.
The first to really move was Vanthoor, who powered up to second just two-tenths down on Marciello’s effort, which no doubt made the Mercedes driver start to sweat – he was one of the few drivers not to go back out to try and improve on his time.
Indeed he possibly had a heart attack when Maro Engel put in his time, the Toksport racer just 0.091sec down as he ensured it was a Mercedes front-row.
Vanthoor slipped to third in his Audi, but was only 0.003sec ahead of the second AKKA ASP entry of Jules Gounon, who set his best lap on his eighth and final tour of the circuit.
Silver Cup pole, and fifth overall, went to Tunjo after his early efforts. He’s joined on row three by Ryuichiro Tomita who stunned on his first trip to Brands Hatch with sixth in the #31 WRT Audi.
Despite running near the top early doors, Jim Pla faded to seventh and was lucky not to be relegated further as Christopher Haase jumped up from low down in the top 20 on his last lap.
Henrique Chaves ensured Barwell took both Pro-Am poles as he qualified ninth in his Lamborghini – ahead of the Audi of Christopher Mies.
After leaving it perhaps a fraction too late to go out on an early run, race one polesitters Jota will start 18th for the second race as Ollie Wilkinson couldn’t make any major gains up the field.
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