Orange Racing with JMH started out their Intelligent Money British GT Championship debut weekend in the best possible fashion as Michael O’Brien shared the practice spoils with Barwell Motorsport as the #DoningtonDecider got down to business.
In the GT4 category, Speedworks’ Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Supra and Sennan Fielding in the Steller Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT4 shared the top spot in the secondary class in what was a nip and tuck battle between a number of teams.
Free Practice One
Overnight rain meant that even despite the sun shining – an odd experience for Britain in October – the track started out pretty damp and dried throughout – with times reflecting that as Michael O’Brien topped a jumbled order for the debuting Orange Racing with JMH.
One constant throughout the first hour of practice was Jules Gounon being the driver to beat in the RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 which is in prime position for the title with AM driver Ian Loggie.
He was the early pace-setter as drivers elected to feel their way round conditions the forecast suggests won’t be making a reappearance for the #DoningtonDecider.
Just before the halfway mark, Richard Neary chopped a couple of seconds off the best of the times with a 1m36.994sec as the track finally started to dry out and slicks became less of a pipe dream and more of a potential option for crews.
That was really highlighted with a phase of running about 20 minutes to go as Gounon and Alexander Sims – driving the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 – traded fastest times and dropped the benchmark down into the 1m28s.
Their teams elected to cut the fun short and give the AMs – Loggie and Darren Leung respectively – some dry(ish) running so the mantle was picked up by other teams.
Notably, that was Michael O’Brien. Coming out with just 12mins to go he quickly tapped into the same pace that won him and Simon Orange the GT Cup title last weekend to put in a 1m27.439sec to leap from bottom to top.
He was the only driver in the 1m27s as Lewis Williamson – another British GT title contender – powered the 2 Seas Mercedes to second with a 1m28.118sec – 0.012sec quicker than Euan Hankey in the 7TSix McLaren 720S GT3.
Leung and Sims took fifth – two-tenths behind the #6 RAM Mercedes-AMG – with Barwell Motorsport sixth and James Kell getting in some late laps to take seventh.
In GT4, the secondary class was on a stormer early on with Tom Edgar running as high as fifth overall at points as the Speedworks Toyota Supra GT4 took to the damp like a duck to water.
As it dried out, the GT3s did generally filter their way back up – but none of their class rivals could top the Supra’s best time of 1m35.218sec.
Indeed Seb Hopkins, who finished the session just behind Edgar, was seven-tenths down in the Team Parker Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS Clubsport.
Third went to Tom Rawlings as he really motored the BMW M4 GT4 in its last race before Century Motorsport replaces it with the newer version of the GT4.
Academy Motorsport was fourth with Marco Signoretti and Matt Cowley, while Sennan Fielding ended highest of the title challengers with fifth in the Steller Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT4.
Free Practice Two
With the wind picking up, and the sun still shining the track was fully dry for lunchtime’s second Free Practice and the times reflected that as teams prepped for qualifying. If that session goes the same way as FP2, qualifying will be a must-see.
Back to practice, and it was the British GT title contenders who put themselves towards the front of the field – with Orange and O’Brien once again mixing it at the front in their McLaren.
For most of the session, things were relatively calm with Marcus Clutton initially setting the pace in the Enduro Motorsport 720S GT3, before Hankey and then Sandy Mitchell improved on the fastest time of the session.
A brief red flag to recover Darren Leung’s broken down BMW allowed teams to take a slight breather. But it was in the final 10 minutes that the timing screens started to light up, with O’Brien powering to the fastest time.
Gounon was the first to topple O’Brien, with a time of 1m27. 470sec but that lasted just a minute as Mitchell went 0.004sec quicker. Lewis Williamson did look to go quicker, twice, but both times he had laps deleted for track limits penalties.
In any case, even if he had kept his laps Mitchell was always destined for the top as he set a 1m27.307sec in his Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo.
GT4 proved equally exciting with places changing throughout and no manufacturer having a particularly clear advantage.
It didn’t appear that way at the start, with the two Porsche Caymans – Valluga Racing and Team Parker – ruling the roost.
However, as teams really started to get going times started to drop and the ordered shuffled slightly.
That was mainly at the very front as Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding powered their Audi R8 LMS to the top with a 1m34.949sec to push Valluga’s Benji Hetherington down to second.
Third went to Marco Signoretti and Matt Cowley in the Ford Mustang – the latter setting the time, despite the lurid spin seen below – with the Team Parker Racing Porsche ultimately finishing in fourth – just ahead of championship leaders Newbridge Motorsport which had a better run of things in the second British GT session.
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