Jules Gounon gave the first indication that this weekend’s Intelligent Money British GT Championship round at Snetterton is going to be one for the record books as he set the fastest-ever GT3 lap at the Norfolk circuit in the opening practice session.
In a sign that things will be tight in qualifying, it was Sandy Mitchell who topped Free Practice Two – now called Pre-Qualifying – in the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.
GT4 had two different teams setting the benchmark, but neither of them were by a McLaren Artura – the car to beat so far this season – as Team Parker’s Porsche topped FP1, whilst Raceway’s Ginetta came out best in Pre-Qualifying.
Free Practice One
Rapid times set the order of the morning as the top six dropped below last year’s pole position time in GT3 as Jules Gounon stamped 2 Seas Motorsport’s dominance on the opening session after a Donington Park event last time out that didn’t display the pace the Mercedes-AMG GT3 normally showcases.
Early on, there was no time to really get into the groove as an 11-minute red flag came out after just three minutes of the session completed for an incident for the #36 DTO Motorsport McLaren Artura GT4 of Josh Rowledge. It wasn’t entirely clear what happened, but a penalty of £500 and two Behaviour Warning Points for Greystone GT’s Andrey Borodin for a collision with Rowledge gives a very strong suggestion of what might have occurred on the run to Brundle.
Once the green flag came back out, there was a spell in the middle of the session where the Pros were really lowering the benchmark – Ulysse de Pauw’s 1m45.858sec lap which secured him pole 12 months ago was quickly smashed. First it was Euan Hankey, in the Race Lab McLaren 720S GT3 Evo, setting a 1m45.675sec but that didn’t last as the marker for too long.
That’s because that man Gounon jumped in the #1 and blitzed it. First lowering the time to a 1m44.974sec, he then shaved another 0.004sec off the time to be comfortably the only car to drop into the 1m44secs.
Second was Marvin Kirchhöfer, who was 0.151sec down in the Garage 59 McLaren – belying his lack of experience around Snetterton, having had a career mainly based around racing in mainland Europe than some of the UK’s lesser-spotted tracks such as Snetterton. A man with slightly more experience of the Norfolk circuit – Rob Bell – added another McLaren to the mix as he finished third with a 1m45.279sec.
Raffaele Marciello, joining last year’s winner John Ferguson in the RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3, was fourth and just a fraction ahead of Hankey, who didn’t improve his early benchmark as Lucky Khera took over the car for the late session running.
Barwell Motorsport’s Shaun Balfe and Sandy Mitchell took sixth, a quarter of a second up on Enduro Motorsport’s Marcus Clutton, who’s joined this weekend by Matt Topham in place of Morgan Tillbrook.
Qualifying lap records were also smashed in GT4 as the top four went under the pole time from last year, setting up what should be an explosive qualifying later on.
Early on, it was Darren Burke in the Enduro McLaren Artura that was the fastest in the secondary class but the times also went through their own flurry of changes as first Josh Miller in the R Racing Aston Martin Vantage and then Dan Vaughan in the Team Parker Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS ClubSport lowered the fastest time in class.
Ultimately it was Vaughan, and team-mate Zac Meakin, who took the chequered flag with the best time of 1m55.175sec, with Miller and Seb Hopkins 0.195sec back.
Championship leaders Charles Clark and Jack Brown – in the #90 Optimum Motorsport Artura – were third, just a touch ahead of Michael Broadhurst and Ed McDermott who are really hitting their stride in the One Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4 who finished fourth in GT4 overall and fastest in the Pro-Am category, ahead of Raceway Motorsport’s Michael Crees and Tom Holland in the Ginetta G56 GT4.
Free Practice Two – Pre-Qualifying
Times proved to be slower in the second session, now officially labelled Pre-Qualifying to avoid the same confusion that prevailed at Silverstone back in May, but it made qualifying no easier to predict as the top nine was covered by just over a second.
From the start of the lunchtime session, times were up and down as Clutton set the early benchmark in his McLaren 720S GT3 Evo. Competition came from Orange Racing’s Michael O’Brien and FP1 pace-setter Gounon, but track limits were biting and both had quick laps deleted for straying ever-so-slightly too far, such are the strictness of the new rules governing British racing.
With long-runs predominantly in fashion in the opening half of the 60-minute session, and a desire to save new sets of Pirelli slicks are three productive test sessions on Friday, the action was pretty quiet if we’re being honest. It only really started to heat up in the final 20 or so minutes as drivers switched into qualifying mode and looked to fine-tune their set-ups ahead of the short and sharp sessions later on Saturday afternoon.
Making the biggest moves proved to be the pair of Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2s with first Will Tregurtha going top with a 1m46.500sec and then, having been knocked off the top by Rob Bell in the Optimum McLaren, Sandy Mitchell powered the #78 to the top with a 1m45.994sec – the only driver to dip beneath the 1m46 barrier all session.
At the chequered flag, Ross Gunn jumped up to second in the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage with a 1m46.158sec and Bell finished just 0.090sec back.
Fourth went to Tregurtha and co-driver Mark Sansom, whilst Garage 59 had another good session with Kirchhöfer heading a train of six McLaren 720S GT3 Evos which encompassed Paddock Motorsport, Orange Racing, Enduro, Sky Tempesta Racing, and Race Lab – the latter rounding out the top 10.
GT4 went through a similar cycle of quick opening laps, a middle-period lull and then another burst of frantic action at the end and prevailing proved to be Stuart Middleton in the Raceway Motorsport Ginetta G56 GT4.
He wasn’t always on top, and it proved to be the McLaren Arturas which really set the timing screens alight with the session topped for a significant time by Jack Brown and Darren Burke in the Optimum and Enduro entries respectively.
It was advantage Brown for most of the way, until that second-half flurry where DTO Motorsport really got going after spending most of the morning repairing the damage from being the innocent party in the FP1 collision with Borodin, but as the times got dropped down it proved to be the Ginetta which could pick up the pieces best with Middleton logging a 1m56.108sec to go ahead of Burke by 0.167sec with Aston Millar third for DTO – 0.001sec slower than Burke.
Lewis Plato powered the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 into fourth – first of the Pro-Ams – with Brown eventually ending up fifth as neither he nor co-driver Charles Clark could make any serious improvements.
Academy Motorsport added some variety to the top six as Matt Cowley put the Ford Mustang GT4 sixth – half-a-second off Middleton’s marker.
Qualifying gets underway at 4.10pm UK time, 5.10pm CEST.
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