Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam secured overall pole position for TF Sport and Aston Martin at Rockingham earlier today ahead of tomorrow’s second British GT round of the season, while PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport’s Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson led a Ginetta 1-2 in the GT4 class.
Both pole positions were fully deserved after three of the four drivers topped their respective Pro and Am sessions under sunny skies over Corby. But with both crews subject to the maximum 20-second pit-stop penalties during tomorrow’s two-hour race as ‘reward’ for winning at Brands Hatch, the result of each class remains wide open.
GT3: KEEN STARS AS JOHNSTON/ADAM PICK UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF AT BRANDS
Having topped FP2 the TF Sport duo were always likely to feature in the fight for GT3 pole. That they did owed much to Johnston who paced the first 10-minute Am session by 0.140s from Alasdair McCaig’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren, which had kept its powder dry during the day’s earlier practice sessions.
With Liam Griffin’s Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini a further half second back in third, the fight for pole boiled down to a straight fight between Adam and Rob Bell, who was fresh from winning last weekend’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup round at Monza.
Rockingham’s particularly abrasive track surface ensured each driver’s first flying lap would likely be their fastest, and so it proved. Adam initially went quickest of all to extend TF Sport’s advantage but was subsequently pegged back by Bell, who – despite being one of only two drivers to dip below the 1m16s barrier – ultimately fell 0.038s short in the combined classification.
Andrew Howard had set the fifth fastest Am time but starts tomorrow’s race third courtesy of Beechdean AMR co-driver Ross Gunn. He lapped just two tenths shy of the ultimate pace set by Barwell Motorsport’s Phil Keen, whose 1m15.871s effort was 2.5s quicker than the last time British GT qualified on Rockingham’s International Super Sportscar Circuit in 2011.
The Lamborghini Huracan GT3 he shares with Jon Minshaw starts fifth, one place behind Barwell team-mates Griffin and Adam Carroll, and just ahead of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne’s AmDTuning.com BMW Z4 GT3 in sixth.
Will Moore ended the Am session fourth aboard his Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS before he and co-driver Ryan Ratcliffe slipped to seventh in the final classification. Ian Stinton and Mike Simpson were next up in the first of the Tolman Motorsport Ginettas, while Phil Dryburgh and Ross Wylie were ninth ahead of Team Abba with Rollcentre Racing’s Richard Neary and Martin Short.
Two cars looking to make ground tomorrow will be the second TF Sport Aston Martin of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, which suffered an engine failure without completing a lap of free practice, and the Team Parker Racing Bentley that finished second at Brands Hatch but sustained heavy damage when Rick Parfitt Jnr spun on oil and hit the barriers during FP1.
Derek Johnston, TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “It’s just brilliant. We worked on it all day and I put my complete faith in the car and tyres. I can’t remember the lap, to be honest; I was totally in the zone. But then when I came across the line I forgot it was faster than the time I’d set this morning! It wasn’t until halfway around that I realised a 1m17.4s was six tenths quicker! Box the car, job done. Obviously tomorrow, with the success penalty, we’ll struggle to replicate our Brands win, but a top-five would feel like a victory. We’ll need a lot of luck to get on the podium.”
Alasdair McCaig, Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3: “Brands was a messy one for us but here everything ran smoothly and the car felt good. It was very close between Derek and I so we’re in a good position for tomorrow, even if it’s a very long race. On used tyres the general pace was good this morning, but we’ll need to look after them tomorrow because Rockingham’s track surface is very abrasive.”
Ross Gunn, Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “It’s not really a front-engine circuit but there was still a bit more time in the final sector that I couldn’t quite find. Other than that the lap was good, especially as we went from only running used tyres in practice straight to a new set in qualifying. Our long run pace looks good but the abrasive surface is a bit of an unknown in terms of who it will suit best. Another consistent top-five finish would be ideal. Andrew’s won here before and I did the same last year so we know what’s required, although I still have plenty to learn about the car in race trim.”
GT4: DOMINANT JOHNSON/ROBINSON SECURE FIRST BRITISH GT4 POLE
A perfect performance helped PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport dominate GT4 qualifying at Rockingham where both drivers topped their respective Am and Pro sessions. However, it might have been very different had a fuel issue not sidelined the practice pace-setting Century Motorsport Ginetta of Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke.
Johnson set the ball rolling by lapping 0.4s quicker than the next best in class, Sean Byrne’s second Century Motorsport G55 GT4, before Robinson finished the job by recording what would end up as the class benchmark: 1m22.878s. Nevertheless, they will do well to convert that into a second successive race victory tomorrow thanks to their 20-second pit-stop success penalty.
Byrne’s co-driver Aleksander Schjerpen was half a second further back in the Pro session but still quick enough to secure second in the combined times. It provided at least some consolation for the team whose #73 entry had looked like a strong contender for pole.
Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell continued to show strong pace aboard the all-new Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S GT4 to end up third in class, while Matthew George and 2015 Rockingham GT4 race winner Jamie Chadwick line up fourth for Generation AMR SuperRacing.
The 2015 class-winning Beechdean AMR Vantage is next up in the hands of Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew, ahead of RCIB Insurance Racing’s Jordan Stilp and William Phillips. Matty Graham and Jack Mitchell’s Generation AMR Vantage, rebuilt after its Brands Hatch shunt, starts seventh.
Scott Malvern set the second fastest time in the session – two tenths shy of Robinson’s – but starts eighth aboard the Simpson Motorsport Ginetta he shares with Nick Jones, while the JWBird Motorsport Aston of Kieran Griffin and Jake Giddings and Ebor GT Maserati driven by Abbie Eaton and Marcus Hoggarth complete the top-10.
Graham Johnson, PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “I was a bit surprised with the time, actually. We only got one lap out of the tyres and I made sure Mike knew that when we swapped. But on the first lap the car felt mega. It’s nice to have such a big advantage in qualifying but that won’t count for much with our success penalty against such a competitive grid tomorrow. There’s a lot of Silver pairings but hopefully our experience will help. Top-five is realistic.”
Mike Robinson, PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “It’s always nice to go quickest in your session but the fact both Graham and I were able to do that makes it all the sweeter. It was a little bit unexpected, if I’m honest after practice, but the Pirelli tyres were just so good. I tried to do a slower warming up lap but was also conscious of gaining track position and, in the end, just went for it. Thankfully I was able to put in a good, clear lap, although the delta on the dash wasn’t working so I had no idea if I was up or down. I knew I wouldn’t go any quicker after that.”
Sean Byrne, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “I was a bit off the pace first time out at Brands but the car felt great here and I really enjoyed it. Nathan’s [Freke] as quick as anyone in the Ginetta so it’s great to learn from his data; we’re all in the truck crowding around! For me, in only my second British GT race, I’m aiming to just get around and hand the car over to Aleksander in a good position. We’re not looking at the car ahead having a success penalty.”
Ciaran Haggerty, Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S GT4: “I think that’s the best the car’s felt throughout pre-season testing and at Brands Hatch, so we’re delighted. We’re running a bit heavier than some of the other GT4 cars but the long straights and high speed corners seem to suit the McLaren better. Plus we’re only going to get stronger when further developments become available and we visit faster circuits like Silverstone and Spa. Tomorrow we need to stay out of trouble and see where we end up, but today’s a good start.”
Tomorrow’s 10-minute warm-up gets underway at 09.25 before the two-hour race starts at 13.00.