Marvin Kirchhöfer and new Intelligent Money British GT Championship team-mate Miguel Ramos got their new partnership underway in the best possible fashion as they stormed to pole for Sunday’s three-hour race at Portimao.
In GT4, it wasn’t even a contest in the end as R Racing’s Seb Hopkins and Josh Miller continued their remarkable Saturday performance by taking pole in their Aston Martin Vantage by more than seven-tenths.
With plenty of testing completed so far over the course of British GT’s summer away-day to the Algarve, the action in qualifying was explosive from the off with everyone looking to attack right from the off and secure themselves the best possible starting position for the 180-minute enduro on Sunday afternoon.
In Q1 – for Am-rated GT3 drivers – it was hard to keep track of who was fastest such was the speed in which times were reducing. Initially, it was 2 Seas Motorsport’s James Cottingham who led the way in his Mercedes-AMG GT3 but also going well in his beautiful orange Aston Martin was Matt Topham who was the first to sneak under the 1m43sec barrier with a 1m42.895sec.
Come the closing laps and it proved to be a really tight affair. Having sat third for a time, reigning British GT champion Ian Loggie put down a marker of 1m42.881sec to move himself to the top, 0.014sec quicker than Topham’s previous best. Such was the competitive nature of the session, Ramos moved himself into second as the chequered flag was waved but was only 0.001sec faster than Topham.
Such was the tightness at the top, it was going to be one of those Qualifying periods where the Pros were going to make a real difference once times were combined and a grid started to take shape.
At first, Phil Keen – subbing for Jules Gounon this weekend – picked up where Loggie left off and powered the D2-liveried Mercedes-AMG GT3 to the top with a combined effort of 3m25.178sec.
That didn’t last too long though, as the Pros really got up to speed around the Portuguese circuit and at first it was Dan Harper who pushed the marker down into the 3m24secs in the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT3, but despite his effort the Northern Irishman wasn’t on provisional pole for too long.
In quick succession, Jonny Adam and then Marvin Kirchhöfer put in rapid laps to lock out the first two positions on the provisional grid. It was advantage to Kirchhöfer with a combined 3m24.471sec.
Initially, that was almost half-a-second clear than Adam – sharing with Cottingham – but the Scot improved his own time to a 1m41.710sec to move his combined time in the #4 down to 0.166sec.
A quarter of a second further back on the aggregate time was Keen and Loggie, the Mercedes-AMG racers only 0.026sec quicker than Barwell Motorsport’s Sandy Mitchell & Shaun Balfe – the pair going well all day so far in their Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 and hopefully of a strong performance in the race.
Fifth will be Topham and Marcus Clutton, the Enduro Motorsport duo doing a good job as they get to grips with a completely different car at a brand new circuit. But again, in a sign of how closely matched the teams are, Harper and Darren Leung can count themselves unlucky not to be slightly further up – just 0.002sec slower in the BMW.
That pairing were the last to be within half-a-second of Kirchhöfer and Ramos, with RAM Racing’s John Ferguson and Raffaele Marciello – the latter fastest in every session heading into qualifying – not able to transfer that speed into the session where it really matters despite Marciello setting the fastest time of the weekend so far. They’ll line up seventh, ahead of Beechdean AMR, Optimum Motorsport and the second Barwell Lamborghini of Will Tregurtha and Mark Sansom, which rounds out the top ten.
Any chance of a late improvement was denied by a red flag with 56 seconds left on the clock to recover Konsta Lappaleinen’s 7Tsix Mercedes-AMG GT3 which had a very odd spin coming out of Turn 4 with a potential mechanical issue.
The secondary class started out as an absolute nail-biter but then ended as a remarkable domination as Seb Hopkins and Josh Miller continued their domination of the weekend at Portimao.
In the first session, a mix of the Silvers and the Am element of the Pro-Am crews, there was a musical chairs feeling about who was going to finish on the top spot with Dan Vaughan – in the Team Parker Racing McLaren Artura – Freddie Tomlinson in the Raceway Ginetta, Jack Brown in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren and Josh Miller all swapping positions constantly as they continued to improve times and push as hard as they could.
Come the end of the first part of qualifying, and it was advantage Miller with half-a-tenth over Brown and Rowledge lurking in third in the DTO Motorsport Artura with a late improvement to be in the pole hunt once he handed over to Aston Millar.
Finely poised heading into Q4, the second of the GT4 sessions, it had the feeling that it was going to be nip and tuck, not quite certain who would be starting on pole until the chequered flag brought an end to proceedings.
That’s not what happened. At all. Right from the off Hopkins was on another level in the R Racing Aston and his first lap put in a combined time of 3.43.063sec. That in of itself would have been enough for pole, but as the session wore on Hopkins got faster. A 1m51.005sec late on in the 10-minute session was the fastest in the class all day and pushed the aggregate down to a 3.42.840sec.
Everyone else could only battle amongst themselves for what honour they could get. Charles Clark took over from Brown and ensured it was Optimum who started on the front-row but were a chasm-like 0.721sec behind the pole-sitters once it was all said and done. It was closer to the Team Parker crew, Zac Meakin taking over from Vaughan and getting quickly up-to-speed in the Artura – replacing the Porsche that has plagued them with issues this season – and finishing 0.144sec down on Clark and Brown.
That said, it was only 0.032sec ahead of the DTO Motorsport pairing, Millar just unable to unlock that final tenth or two which would have slingshotted them up a place or two. They were, though, the last drivers in the 3m43s with Stuart Middleton and Freddie Tomlinson putting in good laps but not having that top-end speed to really threaten. Fifth is still a good position to try and make something happen in those tight early laps in their Raceway Motorsport Ginetta G56.
Harry George and Darren Burke got used to their new surroundings quickly, having swapped a McLaren Artura for a Mercedes-AMG GT4 and qualified the Enduro Motorsport entry a comfortable sixth – half-a-second clear of Lewis Plato and Carl Cavers in the Pro-Am pole-sitting Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4.
Round 7 of the Intelligent Money British GT Championship – a three-hour enduro around Portimao – gets underway at 12.45 local time (and in the UK), 13.45 CEST. You can watch it all on GT REPORT here.
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