Team Parker Racing’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris will line up on pole position for tomorrow’s opening round of this season’s British GT Championship after topping both the GT3 Am and Pro qualifying sessions earlier today at Brands Hatch, while Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke headed the GT4 contingent in their Century Motorsport Ginetta.
Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw’s Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 secured a front row grid slot for the car’s British GT debut while Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam should also be a threat from third aboard their TF Sport-run Aston Martin.
Walewska and Freke are unlikely to have an easy time of it either thanks to Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson’s PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport G55 GT4, and Beechdean AMR new boys Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew, who qualified second and third respectively.
After a relatively low-key showing in free practice Parfitt Jnr and Morris announced themselves as serious victory contenders over the course of this afternoon’s two 10-minute qualifying sessions.
Johnston and TF Sport’s practice pace had made them early favourites for the Am spoils, and the Geordie initially didn’t disappoint by occupying top spot for most of the session. Twice he set the benchmark time only for Parfitt Jnr to snatch provisional pole by just 0.033s in the dying moments.
So competitive is British GT3’s Am contingent that just 0.4s covered a top-six comprising five different manufacturers. Liam Griffin’s Barwell Lamborghini, the Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS of Will Moore, Lee Mowle’s AmDTuning.com BMW Z4 GT3 and Minshaw’s second Barwell Huracan completed the first half dozen, while Alasdair McCaig’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3 and the Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT3 driven by Ian Stinton added further variety just behind.
With such a slender advantage the smart money was perhaps on debutant Morris slipping behind more experienced fellow Pros like Keen and Adam. However, the Welshman nailed his opening lap to extend the difference further. Indeed, his individual best of 1m22.907s was 1.8s faster than last year’s pole time while his and Parfitt Jnr’s combined time was almost twice as quick again.
Keen’s best lap might have been 0.5s down on Morris’ but it still proved rapid enough to haul the Barwell Lamborghini he shares with Minshaw from sixth to second ahead of Adam and Johnston, who slipped one place to third.
Rob Bell performed a similar feat to Keen’s by moving his Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren up three spots to secure fourth on the grid ahead of Joe Osborne, who maintained fifth for AmDTuning.com. Fabio Babini, driving the Lamborghini he shares with Griffin, was sixth.
Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer will be disappointed with seventh after showing well in free practice aboard the second TF Sport Aston Martin, while Mike Simpson kept his and Stinton’s Ginetta in the top eight.
Ross Wylie and Phil Dryburgh’s Motorbase Performance V12 Vantage is ninth, one place clear of Team Abba with Rollcentre Racing’s all-Am pairing of Richard Neary and Martin Short.
Ryan Ratcliffe spun his Optimum Motorsport Audi into the gravel before setting a representative time, while Ross Gunn - who’d earlier topped FP2 - was guaranteed to line up last after co-driver and reigning champion Andrew Howard skipped qualifying to contest the ELMS round at Silverstone. The Beechdean AMR Vantage’s progress will be an interesting sub-plot during tomorrow’s race, especially after Gunn posted the second quickest Pro qualifying time.
Rick Parfitt Jnr, Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “It’s just amazing. Amazing! My first two laps were ok but a bit scrappy; maybe eight out of 10s. In fact, I apologised when I came in after the session because the team hadn’t told me we were provisionally on pole! I couldn’t believe it! I thought we had the pace to be top-six contenders, which was our aim. The Bentley’s not best suited to Brands, and that looked to be the case in practice, too. We didn’t fully show our hand this morning but, even so, we honestly didn’t expect to be on pole. What a way to start the season.”
Seb Morris, Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “I feel relief more than anything else! 2015 was a long year for me without results, plus you feel the pressure and expectation from all the Bentley fans, so it’s great to be on pole. When I saw Rick go quickest I thought ‘Okay, game on!’. I knew from my GP3 experience with Pirelli that if I could really nail the first lap we’d have a chance, and it paid off. There are very few laps I’ve driven in my career when I’ve thought ‘That was about as good as I can do’. But that was one of them!”
Jonny Adam, TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “I never got the lap together, really. Derek did a great job and continued the progression he’s made over the winter, but I could have got my time down a bit more. Probably not to Seb’s level but there was enough out there to put us on the front row. The pairings in front of us are quick but if we knuckle down I think a podium’s possible tomorrow. The car’s very consistent.”
Click here for complete British GT3 qualifying times.