Dan Brown and Steve Tandy will start tomorrow’s Avon Tyres British GT Championship race from pole-position after a thrilling qualifying session on the Brands Hatch GP circuit this afternoon. The 888Optimum BMW Z4 finished the 30-minute qualifying 0.3s ahead of the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage of Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard. A three-way fight for GT4 class pole was a highlight, and it was Optimum Motorsport who took their first pole of the 2013 season with Ryan Ratcliffe’s ballsy late effort ensuring they finished top.
A frantic start to the thirty-minute qualifying session set the tone at the Kent circuit today, and it was Dan Brown along with fellow 888Optimum driver Joe Osborne who, having put in highly competitive performances during the earlier free practice sessions, laid down the gauntlet for their rivals. The BMWs were soon joined by Championship leader, Nick Tandy in the #31 Trackspeed Porsche; Richard Abra in the Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin and Phil Keen in the #33 Trackspeed Porsche followed in quick succession.
After the initial excitement of the first ten minutes, cars began to pit to hand over to the gentlemen drivers as all pairings completed the three fast laps required by the regulations, but brothers Jon and Jason Minshaw in their Trackspeed Porsche and Fortec Mercedes, excelled amongst their peers putting in a strong showing. Cars quickly returned to their garage for one final chance at claiming pole-position, providing the watching fans with effectively a second qualifying session.
Beechdean AMR showed their pace with Adam at the wheel, the Aston Martin outgunning the rivals Vantages of Abra and Mark Poole, and Aston Martin Racing MD, John Gaw and Phil Dryburgh. It was now that Brown struck again, going quickest of anyone in the first and second sectors, and while Adam took pole, it was for a matter of seconds as the BMW driver took provisional pole, going only 0.04s slower on the lap after.
With just a handful of minutes on the clock Trackspeed released Tandy for a final attempt, the Porsche factory driver tried hard, but his two laps were not good enough to beat his earlier 1:25.288 best. This meant that Brown kept pole-position, giving him and team-mate Steve Tandy their second front-row start in as many races. Alongside the pair are the Beechdean AMR squad, with the Championship leaders Nick Tandy and David Ashburn third.
Strong performances from the sister 888Optimum BMW of Osborne and Mowle and Barwell engineered Ecurie Ecosse BMW and Abra and Poole Aston, meant there were three BMWs and a trio of Aston Martins in the first four rows of the grid. Rob Barff and Gary Eastwood were on the pace from the outset this weekend and were rewarded with a strong eighth place in the FF Corse prepared Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, the British team finishing ahead of crack Italian outfit AF Corse for the second time in as many races.
Keen and Minshaw’s Porsche will start ninth tomorrow, with series stalwarts Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron tenth in the first of the two AF Corse entered Ferraris. Jacques Duyver and Charlie Hollings were just 1.7s off the slowest GT3 car in their GTC entered Ferrari 458 Challenge car and will start from 26th overall.
Second in the Championship, Matt Bell and Mark Patterson narrowly missed a top-ten starting spot with the United Autosports Audi R8 LMS ultra and will start from row six in twelfth position.
Elsewhere the four McLarens had a tricky qualifying session but it was the Von Ryan Racing McLaren of Duncan Tappy and Gregoire Demoustier, a first-time visitor to Brands Hatch, that was quickest with a 1:26.513, good enough for nineteenth place.
GT4 saw a thrilling three-way battle between the Century, Optimum and Redgate Lifetime Racing Ginetta G50s. It was Optimum’s Ratcliffe and Parfitt Jnr who overcame their rivals though, a lap of 1:33.867 was enough to put Dan Eagling and Matt Smith in second (by 0.263s) and Declan Jones was third with a 1:34.219 after having led the session earlier on. The qualifying session sets up a fascinating race tomorrow as the Optimum boys seek to extend their lead over the Century drivers Jones and the impressive Wenham, who still is only in her second year of GT racing.
APO Sport won the battle for title of best of the rest, James May and Alex Osborne just 0.089s off the Century pair, but almost seven tenths ahead of Rory Bryant and Anthony Rodgers in the Blendini Motorsport engineered Ginetta G50. Popular Gloucestershire-based team Complete Racing drivers Steve Chaplin and Tom Wilson rounded out the class with a 1:36.213 some 2.3s off the class pole time.
Tomorrow will see a 60-second roar before the main race takes place as teams, drivers and championship officials remember the popular Danish driver, Allan Simonsen who lost his life earlier this summer. Following this mark of respect, race action will begin at 13:40 BST with a tantalising two-hour race in prospect. In addition, an autograph signing session and driver ‘meet & greet’ will take place at 12pm in the lower paddock area outside the SRO Hospitality unit. Raceday tickets for the race tomorrow are available on the gate from £22, with free entry for children aged 12 and under. For more information call 0843 453 9000.
Dan Brown #888 888Optimum BMW Z4 GT3 (GT3 Class Pole)
“I’m very happy. That was my first clear lap all day, and is still the only one I’ve managed. The team did a fantastic job all day, we were there or there abouts but were missing the speed in a couple of places. When I came in after my first go we reviewed the data and found a couple of places where I could push more and we saw we had a chance to get a clear track. I left the pits and had a good run, I think I came across one GT4 car, the Aston, and he got out of my way very quickly, credit to him. It’s great to be on pole and we just need to get on and get the result tomorrow.”
Rick Parfitt Jnr #44 Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G50 (GT4 Class Pole)
“That’s our first pole, I’m really happy. I was using the rubber from free practice, so to only go six tenths slower than Declan I was really happy with my pace. Ultimately I didn’t think I could’ve gone much quicker on those tyres. We made the right switch, giving Ryan the new tyres and he went out there and got the time we needed. As far as I’m concerned, now we’ve overcome the deficit from our DNFs, the season starts now and this is a three-round championship. You never know what is going to happen in the race, but we’ll stay out of trouble and see where we are at the end of the race.”
2013 Avon Tyres British GT Championship
Brands Hatch, Qualifying
GT3 Provisional Top-Ten:
1. Steve Tandy & Dan Brown, 888Optimum BMW Z4 GT3, GT3, 1:24.846s
2. Andrew Howard & Jonny Adam, Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3, GT3, +0.374s
3. David Ashburn & Nick Tandy, Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R, GT3, +0.442s
4. John Gaw & Phil Dryburgh, PGF – Kinfaun AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3, GT3, +0.643s
5. Marco Attard & Oliver Bryant, Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3, GT3, +0.771s
6. Mark Poole & Richard Abra, Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT3, GT3, +0.847s
7. Lee Mowle & Joe Osborne, 888 Optimum Racing BMW Z4 GT3, GT3, +0.876s
8. Gary Eastwood & Rob Barff, FF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, GT3, +1.099s
9. Jon Minshaw & Phil Keen, Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R, GT3, +1.105s
10. Duncan Cameron & Matt Griffin, AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia GT3, GT3, +1.113s
GT4 Provisional Top-Five:
1. Rick Parfitt Jnr & Ryan Ratcliffe, Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G50, GT4 1:33.867
2. Matt Smith & Dan Eagling, Redgate Lifetime Racing Ginetta G50, GT4 +0.263s
3. Zoe Wenham & Declan Jones, Century Motorsport Ginetta G50, GT4 +0.358s
4. James May & Alex Osborne, APO Sport Ginetta G50, GT4 +1.049s
5. Rory Bryant & Anthony Rodgers, Blendini Motorsport Ginetta G50, GT4 + 1.582s