Andrew Howard and Ross Gunn mastered a damp-but-drying track to take a dominant pole position for the final round of the British GT Championship at the #DoningtonDecider.
In the championship battle, it’s first blood BMW as Dan Harper and Darren Leung out-qualified James Cottingham and Philip Ellis.
It was an Aston Martin double, as Seb Hopkins and Josh Miller fended off the threat of the McLarens behind to score pole for R Racing in GT4.
With sun shining, the field was presented with an issue – rely on the faint dry line to provide enough grip on slicks or stick with wets and play it safe.
For the opening session with the Am drivers it proved to be a real mix of slicks and wets. Initially, it was only John Seale – returning in the Fox Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2 – who elected to go on wets and it proved dividends for him as he started to set the timing screens alight. He was comfortably quick and keeping it on the asphalt, at times he was going two seconds faster than anyone else on slicks.
Those on slicks were having real issues, John Ferguson and Mike Price went for multiple spins in their Mercedes-AMG GT3s as they struggled to find grip.
With the Ams struggling, teams dived in for the pits to throw off the slicks and jump onto the wet Pirelli rubber. Benefitting massively was Andrew Howard in the Beechdean Vantage who bolted on wets and tore up the order.
He quickly jumped up to pole, just about deposing Seale but not by very much as the Ferrari Challenge racer kept himself up at the sharp-end. Ian Loggie was up to third and Darren Leung was fourth but no one in the field had chance to try and put in a last lap improvement.
That’s because a strange incident involving Iain Campbell and Mark Smith led to a red flag. Coming out of the Goddards Hairpin, Campbell was a touch too aggressive on the throttle and started to spin, his McLaren 720S GT3 Evo clipped Smith’s Paddock McLaren and sent Smith spinning into the wall at the pit entry. Smith was fine, but the car suffered significant damage.
The extra delay recovering the car allowed the track to dry out slightly more and allowed the second GT3 session – for the Pros – to be an obvious choice of going to Slicks, apart from Barwell’s pair of Lamborghinis which did an outlap on wets before electing to switch.
With everyone on slicks, it was a question of who could go fastest and with Howard and Seale setting such strong times in their sessions, Gunn and Abbie Eaton already had something of an advantage.
As Gunn kept getting heat in the slicks, he was involved in a great back-and-forth with Jules Gounon in the #1 2 Seas Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 as the pair swapped combined fastest times.
However, as the session wore on Howard’s fast lap from Q1 proved the decisive factor for Beechdean and combined with a handy lap from Gunn, the duo qualified 1.512sec ahead of the rest.
Speaking to GT REPORT, Gunn said: “Earlier in the year this was one of our strongest circuits so we were quite confident coming here this weekend. Andrew’s in the groove, I’m really happy with the car, and everything is just working really well. To be honest, I’m a bit surprised with how dominant the day has been. With mixed conditions it’s never an identifier of everything that’s going on but it’s amazing to be strong in all conditions.
“[Andrew’s quick lap] puts the pressure on a bit but then also because he had a gap to everyone else it took a bit of pressure off as well! I think the main pressure point was not knowing what tyres to go with, with the laps we did at the end we were really just discovering the conditions. I’m so happy, we’ve had a tough year where we’ve really shown promise most of the time but haven’t really been able to capitalise on the pace we’ve had.”
Behind, Darren Leung and Dan Harper have given their title chances no end of a boost as they took second on the grid in the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 – Harper’s late lap just squeezing them ahead of Ian Loggie and Jules Gounon by 0.067sec.
Fourth went to Seale and Eaton – a tenth down on the pair ahead – and fifth has gone the way of James Cottingham and Philip Ellis. Not quite the position the championship leader would have wanted, but a solid position to launch the 2 Seas Mercedes-AMG from.
Sixth was the fastest of the McLarens on a day where they struggled somewhat – Miguel Ramos and Jonny Edgar combining well to finish ahead of Sandy Mitchell, despite the Scot setting the fastest lap of the session in the Barwell Huracán he shares with Shaun Balfe.
In a day that had been dominated by Mike Simpson in the Pro-Am Toro Verde GT Ginetta, qualifying proved just how much Silver Cup crews have in hand over the Pro-Ams as the Silver class dominated.
That was mainly the R Racing Aston Martin Vantage of Josh Miller and Seb Hopkins. Quick right from the off, the pair had fractions ahead of their rivals – Miller notably pipping Josh Rowledge to fastest in the first session by just 0.003sec in a sign of just how compressed things have proved to be in the secondary class this season and this weekend.
In good news for the championship leaders, the great work by the Optimum Motorsport crew to replace the gearbox in the McLaren Artura was rewarded with Jack Brown going in third and only a couple of tenths down.
Come the second session when times were combined and things didn’t change too much by the end, but there was an interesting journey to get there. That’s mainly because Matt Nicoll-Jones started to try and interfere with proceedings in the Academy Ford Mustang but as the front-runners in Q1 started to log combined times, he slipped down the order.
The fight proved to be between Aston Millar in the DTO Artura and Hopkins in the Aston. The pair swapped pole a couple of times, but in the end the Aston proved to be able to dig deeper and pull out what proved to be a decisive 0.219sec advantage over Millar and Rowledge.
Charles Clark took over the Optimum entry and solidified third position for him and Brown, which will give their quest to claim the GT4 title no end of good.
Fourth is Dan Vaughan and Zac Meakin in the Team Parker Racing McLaren as they finished a tenth ahead of former Stig Ben Collins and Thomas Holland in the Raceway Ginetta G56.
Nicoll-Jones led a pair of Mustangs as Erik Evans and Matt Cowley qualified sixth and seventh – ahead of Mike Simpson who took Pro-Am pole alongside James Townsend in the Toro Verde GT Ginetta.
Of note at the back of the grid, 2022 BTCC champion Tom Ingram set the second-fastest lap of the session in the MKH Racing Aston Martin, but Ron Johnson’s inexperience proved decisive and they were stuck in 17th.
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