Rembert Berg claimed pole position for the first Snetterton Avon Tyres British GT Championship race, setting a 2:05.866 lap time in the #10 M-Sport Audi R8 LMS ultra he shares with Warren Hughes, at the very end of a busy first qualifying session. In qualifying two, Stephen Jelley was the man to beat, the Trackspeed driver secured pole for race two in the #32 Porsche with a rapid lap of 2:04.526, finishing a comfortable seventh tenths ahead of his nearest rival, in the second fifteen-minute session.
Just before qualifying got underway, the Norfolk sky turned grey and a heavy downpour was unleashed upon the Snetterton 300 circuit. Both sessions got quicker as the track dried out, and as such everyone set their quickest time on their final flying lap.
Initially it was Gregoire Demoustier in the Von Ryan Racing McLaren MP4-12c that led the way, the young Frenchman set the bar and Trackspeed’s Jon Minshaw raised it when he set what would be the first of several hot laps, a 2:09.320. The positions behind were exchanged in a frenzy and then it was Ecurie Ecosse’s Marco Attard who went quickest with a 2:08.684 before Minshaw snatched it back with a 2:08.566.
The 29 cars were regularly all on track together and rooster tails could be viewed across the circuit as cars battled for space as much as times. The lead changed hands four times in half a second as first Gregor Fisken (Trackspeed Porsche), then Andrew Howard (Beechdean AMR Aston Martin), Berg, and 888 Optimum’s Steve Tandy all took turns at the top of the timesheet in what proved to be a fascinating battle of skill.
Dutchman, Berg, took provisional pole for a second time and his time was enough to hold off valiant attempts by the Aston Martins of Howard and Barwell Motorsports’ Mark Poole and a late challenge by FF Corse’s Gary Eastwood in his Ferrari 458 Italia GT3.
That’s how they finished with Berg heading Tandy’s BMW on the front row, Poole and Howard ensured that row two was a strictly Aston Martin affair, but making it 2-1 to the Barwell crew in terms of qualifying performances against their Beechdean rivals. However in qualifying two this would change as Poole’s team-mate Richard Abra struggled to sixteenth with a fuel supply issue affecting his progress and Adam qualified ninth.
Eastwood’s final lap charge meant he starts from fifth, out-qualifying FF Corse team-mate Rob Barff who qualified sixth for the second race tomorrow. Jon Minshaw joins Eastwood on row three, winning the inter-sibling rivalry between himself and brother Jason, driving for Fortec Motorsports who finished ninth.
Fisken qualified seventh alongside fellow Porsche racer, Ahmad Al Harthy’s Oman Air Motorbase 997 GT3 R. Minshaw’s Mercedes AMG SLS was ninth as mentioned above, with 888 Optimum’s Lee Mowle content with tenth as he continues with aplomb his fast track education in the BMW Z4 GT3.
Outside of the top ten Jody Firth battled to eleventh in the #24 United Autosports McLaren, narrowly ahead of Team LNT’s Richard Sykes in the Ginetta G55.
Championship leader Marco Attard suffered with a brake issue that prevented him from going out at the end of the session, this means he will start tomorrow’s first race from twentieth place, with title rivals David Ashburn fourteenth, and Mark Patterson 21st in the United Autosports Audi.
After free practice it would’ve been easy to believe that the GT4 qualifying session would be a two-way affair between Optimum Motorsport’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and class Championship leader Zoe Wenham. However, the rain proved to be a great leveller and Complete Racing’s Steve Chaplin got it all right and took a comfortable second pole position this season with his Aston Martin Vantage GT4 producing a time of 2:19.374, one and a half seconds ahead of Parfitt Jnr, himself an easy 2.2 seconds clear of APO Sport’s James May and his Ginetta G50.
Wenham didn’t have an easy qualifying and struggled to produce a 2:25.046, some two seconds ahead of Redgate Lifetime Racing’s Matt Smith, also in a Ginetta G50.
After a short break to repair a damaged barrier on the outside of Williams, a result of contact from Zak Brown’s United Autosports McLaren MP4-12c, session two began. Two cars didn’t take part, Brown’s McLaren and the Rosso Verde Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 of Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen; Lester made a mistake at second corner Montreal and slid off backwards, eventually coming to a halt care of a barrier. Sadly the Rosso Verde Ferrari has been withdrawn from the weekend as the team don’t have the required parts to repair the 458.
Poleman Jelley left it late to claim pole position, the Leicester-based driver contending with some traffic before first laying down a 2:07.056 before improving two laps later with the pole time of 2:04.526; his final lap was also good enough to claim pole, a 2:04.697.
The Trackspeed mans closest rival for pole was in the same garage as him, in the shape of Nick Tandy. The Porsche factory driver rattled off two laps in treacherous conditions early on to lead the session before Jelley staked his first claim on pole.
Elsewhere a fascinating battle emerged between the 888 Optimum BMWs of Joe Osborne, and Dan Brown, and the United Autosports Audi of Matt Bell. The talented trio all came close to deposing Jelley’s Porsche and eventually got the better of Tandy at the end of the fifteen minutes. It was the Geordie, Bell, who led the trio until he was outdone by both 888 Optimum cars in the final minutes.
Tandy is joined by FF Corse racer Rob Barff on row three, while Michael Caine proved the ability of the Oman Air Motorbase Porsche with a strong seventh place on the grid, eleven thousandth of a second ahead of Gaw’s PGF-Kinfan AMR prepared Aston. As mentioned above, Adam was ninth, recovering well after a brief moment in the heavy rain early on.
Phil Keen in the third Trackspeed Porsche, Abra in the Barwell Aston, Ecurie Ecosse’s Bryant and Benji Hetherington’s Fortec Mercedes AMG SLS all figured highly early on too, but dropped out of the race for pole as the session dried out. Championship leader, Bryant finished tenth in the Barwell prepared Ecurie Ecosse Z4, a tenth ahead of Keen and a superb display by fellow Barwell BMW driver, Piers Johnson who’s 2:06.754 saw him finish within 2.2 seconds of pole.
Dan Eagling wrapped up the GT4 pole for race two with relative ease. The Redgate Lifetime Racing driver was determined to score a home pole position, and in doing so claimed him second class pole position in succession. His 2:19.766 was just a tenth ahead of GT4 leader Declan Jones’ time, but Eagling’s approach was confident and he only did five laps in total.
Third in class was Welshman Ryan Ratcliffe. The Optimum Motorsport driver was a tenth off pole with his lap of 2:19.878, but 1.5 seconds ahead of APO Sport’s Alex Osborne. APO Sport have worked hard already this weekend, a new engine was installed on the car on Friday night and team spent the majority of the day steadily progressing through setup options.
Sunday starts with an early warm-up session from 9 am, before race one begins at 10:45 am and race two at 3 pm.
Rembert Berg, #10 M-Sport Audi R8 LMS ultra (GT3 pole – race 1)
“My first pole and the first pole for M-Sport in GT racing, I’m very happy. We tried a lot this morning and it didn’t really work very well, so we went back to what we knew and it was great. There were one or two cars slowing people up, and my pole lap began with two yellow sectors so I was surprised when I saw I went quickest. I’m keen to see what my ideal lap would have been, but I believe we have more time to find in the car in the wet and dry. I’m very happy and a little surprised, but it all came together.”
Stephen Jelley, #32 Trackspeed Porsche (GT3 pole – race 2)
“It was a hard session. The track was like a mirror out there and it took several laps for the cars to clear a line, you couldn’t be too adventurous with your line and stick to where the cars in front had been. It was really tricky to do that while continuing to push and it is really satisfying considering some of the opposition we were up against today. The team had a good basic setup for Snetterton and the engineer made a good tweak for the wet weather and it just worked. Gregor did a great job in the first session and even though he has had some bad luck this season, he’s right up there with the points from his Rockingham win so if he has a mega weekend here he is right back in the hunt. We’ve got a good setup for the dry too, and I think we’ll be right there whatever the weather.”
Steve Chaplin, #53 Complete Racing AMR Aston Martin (GT4 pole – race 1)
“It was all a bit sketchy if I’m honest. We were fine on the straights, but the corners were difficult to get the power done with. We took it carefully and the team did a good job to give us a car capable of making the best of the conditions. The rain is a great leveller and if it is wet tomorrow it will make the race very interesting; it’s a shame we don’t get a few points for pole actually! We’ve done okay today and I think we’ve not lost anything in terms of pace compared to last year, which not everyone here can say. We’re looking forward to the races.”