Ross Gunn claimed the first honours of the #DoningtonDecider weekend by helping the Beechdean AMR crew to top spot in opening practice, with the Aston Martin Vantage just holding off a late charge from championship leaders James Cottingham and Philip Ellis.
In GT4, Mike Simpson put Ginetta on top late on, denying Aston Martin a double top by displacing the R Racing Vantage GT4 of Josh Miller and Seb Hopkins.
With heavy overnight rain leaving a wet but drying track first thing on Saturday, the 34-car field faced a tricky test to kick-start the #DoningtonDecider, with the times tumbling throughout the session as the surface gradually improved.
Callum Macleod was the first to set a benchmark in the Greystone GT Mercedes-AMG he shares with Mike Price, but his early effort was swiftly surpassed by Dan Harper in Century Motorsport’s championship-chasing BMW, before then both Philip Ellis and Jules Gounon (both in 2 Seas Motorsport Mercedes-AMGs) took a turn at the top before Ross Gunn put Beechdean AMR’s Aston Martin Vantage out front – his time being some 3.7s faster than anybody managed at the start of the session, showing the track’s rate of improvement.
Things calmed down from the midway point when the Pros handed across to their Am team-mates having endured the worst of the conditions, which largely brought an end to improvements until the final few minutes when a select few Pros went out for one final run.
While ultimately nobody could catch Gunn, both Macleod and Ellis were the big movers, with Macleod briefly snatching back P2 before Ellis bettered him on his last run to put the championship-leading #4 Mercedes-AMG he shares with James Cottingham this weekend second.
Johnny Edgar made an impressive start to life in British GT by helping the Garage 59 McLaren he shares with Miguel Ramos to fourth, with the returning Morgan Tillbrook and Marcus Clutton rounding out the top six in Enduro’s 720S GT3 Evo.
A notable moment involved the title-challenging Century BMW of Harper and Darren Leung, which briefly lost time after being black-flagged for straying beyond track limits too often. The crew wound up eighth overall.
For much of the session, it looked like Seb Hopkins had done enough to secure the fastest GT4 time for R Racing, until a late charge from Simpson put the Toro Verde GT G56 on top.
Much like GT3, GT4’s runners took turns to lead the way as the early times tumbled with Zac Meakin (Team Parker Racing McLaren Artura), Joe Wheeler (Toro Verde GT Ginetta) and Erik Evans (Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang) all rotating the top time before Hopkins struck with the first of two times that were good enough for fastest, his second effort putting the car 1.3s clear with half the session remaining.
With such a margin, it didn’t appear likely the Vantage would be caught, but Simpson got the gap down to 0.4s with his first late effort, before finally moving past with his second in the closing minutes.
The track improved again late on, with Aston Millar also sneaking past Hopkins to the DTO’s McLaren he shares with Josh Rowledge second. Meakin and Dan Vaughan were fourth, ahead of Wheeler and Ian Duggan’s Ginetta. A late run from Tom Gamble helped Paddock Motorsport’s new-look Artura into sixth.
Championship leaders Charles Clark and Jack Brown endured a difficult start, with their Optimum Motorsport McLaren suffering with a recurring gearbox glitch. They were just 10th.
Second free practice is at 12:45.