Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke secured pole position for the opening round of this season’s British GT Championship at Brands Hatch earlier today after a hard-fought scrap with PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport’s Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.
Century’s pace in second practice made them a likely candidate for pole, and so it proved during a red flag-interrupted session.
Walewska’s time in the Am session had been good enough for sixth in class before both the Stratton Motorsport Lotus and Simpson Motorsport Ginetta beached themselves in the gravel with six of the 10 minutes remaining.
Having failed to improve when the session resumed, it was down to team boss Freke - returning to the series as a driver this year - to replicate the pace he’d demonstrated en route to setting the fastest FP2 time. And he duly delivered thanks to a pair of consecutive fastest laps, the second of which - a 1m31.169s - was just over a second quicker than 2015’s class qualifying benchmark.
Pole was also just reward for the University of Bolton and its engineering students who are helping to prepare Century’s #73 entry this year.
It was a similar story at PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport whose Am driver, Johnson, ended his session fifth fastest and just under a second from provisional pole. Step forward Robinson who initially swapped positions with Freke before settling for a GT4 class front row grid slot. His and Johnson’s combined time was just 0.262s behind Freke and Walewska’s.
Third went to reigning champions Beechdean AMR who were on pole at ‘half-time’ courtesy of Jack Bartholomew before slipping 0.6s adrift during the Pro session. Nevertheless, Bartholomew and co-driver Jordan Albert were still fastest of the all-Silver driver pairings.
Jordan Stilp and William Phillips gave RCIB Insurance Racing fourth on their British GT4 debut, and Ginetta three cars in the top four positions, while another new team and young driver pairing - Generation AMR Macmillan Racing and Matty Graham/Jack Mitchell - are one place further back.
The second Century Motorsport Ginetta of Sean Byrne and Aleksander Schjerpen qualified sixth ahead of the new Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S GT4 piloted by teenagers Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell, who will become the youngest driver ever to start a British GT race tomorrow. The Scot will be 16 years and 41 days old.
Scott Malvern and Nick Jones recovered from the latter’s Am session spin to make the top-eight in their Simpson Motorsport Ginetta.
Wilson Thompson was excluded from qualifying after passing three sets of red lights. However, he and RCIB Insurance Racing co-driver Rob Barrable were already condemned to lining up last after Thompson crashed while attempting to avoid an on-track collision.
Tomorrow’s two-hour British GT season opener at Brands Hatch gets underway at 13.30 BST.
Anna Walewska, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “It’s been a long winter for us and we’ve worked very hard for this. We went out to do the Dubai 24 Hours, tested loads and worked a lot with Nathan [Freke]. Credit to him and the team who have both brought me on leaps and bounds from last year. But the pressure’s on for tomorrow, especially as it’s my first British GT pole. The Am qualifying session was tricky because of the red flag, which breaks up your four or five lap attack. But I’m just pleased to have had one in the bank that Nathan could do something with.”
Nathan Freke, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “It might have looked good from the outside but inside everything was a little bit frantic! I managed to find a gap at the start of the session, banked a decent lap but lost maybe four tenths trying to pass the Beechdean car. Then on my next lap I had a couple of fuel surges, so was getting all worked up when the team came on the radio to say it was good enough for pole! We were tight on fuel to get the most out of it but the car was sublime. The amount of grip from the Pirellis was just ridiculous, and the set-up was spot on, too.”
Mike Robinson, PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “I was losing a lot of time in sector one; I just couldn’t get it right through Druids. So with that in mind I’m pleased to be P2 and only a couple of tenths behind Nathan [Freke]. Graham [Johnson] didn’t get the clear laps he needed but, as a pairing, I think we’re in a good place for tomorrow’s race. He’s got more pace in him and the car feels good, so fingers crossed we can go one better than last year.”
Jack Bartholomew, Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4: “I was really lucky to get my fastest lap in before the red flags, which really affected our session. There was a bit of traffic but not too much. I couldn’t have asked for much more than setting the fastest time in my session on my British GT debut, living up to Beechdean’s reputation. Hopefully I can carry that into the race. The car’s well balanced and definitely geared towards the race, which is why we perhaps weren’t quite as high as you’d expect in practice. But I love British GT’s qualifying format; you go out and only have a couple of laps to deliver.”