Team Abba Racing capitalised on a sudden rain shower and good timing to sail to pole for the Intelligent Money British GT Championship’s #DoningtonDecider, as the title contenders found themselves caught out by the conditions.
In GT4, a to-and-fro battle between Speedworks and Steller Motorsport went the way of the Toyota crew as they carried on the strong form they’ve displayed all day.
Dark clouds loomed overhead as the final qualifying session of 2022 got underway. For a time, it appeared as though Donington Park would be spared a deluge but a couple of minutes into the session and sudden shower soaked most of the first half of the lap.
As well as immediately catching out Mark Smith, who spun the Paddock Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 he’s sharing with Martin Plowman into the Redgate gravel trap, it caught seven teams who had elected to wait a few minutes at the start of the session, rather than go out straight away despite the dark clouds getting ever closer.
Missing out on setting a lap before the red flag to recover Smith, included title contenders Ian Loggie, James Cottingham, Morgan Tillbrook and Adam Balon, as well as Graham Davidson, Andrew Howard and Mia Flewitt.
By going out on the dry line, Darren Leung and Richard Neary put themselves in a great position for overall pole and come the second GT3 session for the Pro drivers, the battle was really on.
Initially, Michael O’Brien capitalised on a solid opening lap by Simon Orange to put their Orange Racing McLaren 720S GT3 onto provisional pole.
However, Richard Neary’s lap of 1m30.026sec gave son Sam great foundations to really challenge for the top spot. Despite the wet/dry conditions proving a challenge for all the field, Sam put in a 1m37.059sec – the fastest of the session – to go to the top almost a full second clear of the rest of the field.
After the session, he told GT REPORT: “The best session for me, got P1 on the last lap even despite having to overtake a car too so I could have gone a bit faster.
“Richard has been quick in every session so far, and faster than the two behind him as well so hopeful of a good race – a good start from Richard and then hopefully hand the car over in the lead and put us in a good position for the win.”
Behind the Nearys is O’Brien and Orange, with Spa winners Nick Halstead and Jamie Stanley capitalising on the former sneaking in a good dry lap early doors to stick themselves on the front-row of the grid.
Despite causing the first of two red flags in the session, Smith and Plowman have stuck their McLaren on the back of the 720S train in fourth.
A lack of experience of the M4 GT3 in the wet potentially hobbled Alexander Sims slightly as he couldn’t build on Leung’s fastest time in GT3 Am qualifying but fifth is still a good starting position for the Century Motorsport pair.
Greystone GT took sixth with Warren Hughes and Stewart Proctor, and eighth too despite Andrey Borodin causing the second red flag as he slithered into the gravel at the Old Hairpin. The meat in the Greystone sandwich is James Kell and Simon Watts in the Rocket Team RJN McLaren.
Ninth is where the real interest starts to come in, the positions where teams arguably made a bit of a strategic error by not getting out as soon as the pitlane opened.
Recovering best of all was Enduro Motorsport with Tillbrook and Marcus Clutton a full second clear of Balon and Sandy Mitchell – the latter making a late change to slicks but the track hadn’t dried enough for the gamble to pay off.
Championship leaders Loggie and Jules Gounon are 11th, but the RAM Racing pair will take some comfort in the fact that all their competition are around and about where they currently are. Indeed, closest points rivals 2 Seas Motorsport is 13th with James Cottingham and Lewis Williamson both struggling to get a real handle on the conditions.
With the track drying enough for slicks to be considered a real option for the GT4 field, the times see-sawed throughout as the track got drier with every lap through.
In reality, though, the second pair of ten-minute qualifying sessions quickly shaped up to be a straight-up fight between Tom Edgar and Jordan Collard in the Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Supra, and Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding in the Steller Motorsport Audi R8 LMS.
Edgar and Williams were first up and with the pair electing for slicks straight away on a Donington circuit which still had some damp patches, their times improved with each tour round.
Come the end of the first 10 minutes, and it looked like Williams held a slender advantage with his time of 1m38.031sec looking pretty unbeatable. That is, until Edgar launched a ferocious final lap to take two-tenths out of that effort as he dropped into the 1m37s.
Times continued to improve as the second drivers stepped in. Initially, it appeared as though Collard might have missed his chance to snatch pole as his first lap was deleted for a track limits penalty to give Fielding an opening to power his way through.
A 1m34.515sec – the fastest of the session – looked to be more than enough for Fielding, but Collard’s next lap through stuck and despite his 1m34.736sec being slower, on combined times he pushed the Supra to the top by 0.017sec.
Third went to the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4, as Chris Salkeld and Tom Rawlings put together two solid laps to out-qualify the R Racing duo of Josh Miller and Jamie Day by 0.072sec.
Will Burns and Jack Brown rounded out the top five for Century, to cap off a strong qualifying performance for the team.
Not quite enjoying the same sort of qualifying was Newbridge Motorsport. Matt Topham was only 12th in his session as he struggled to get to grips with the wet/drying conditions and despite Turner’s best efforts they’ll start tomorrow’s two-hour race in 12th.
They’ll have some comfort though, in having the pitstop time advantage in their favour, with no success penalty from Brands Hatch and no Silver Cup penalty for the Pro/Am crew.
The final round of the 2022 British GT Championship gets underway at 13.00 UK time (14.00 CEST) and GT REPORT will have live coverage!
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