Team Parker Racing claimed their fourth British GT Championship pole position of the season at Spa-Francorchamps earlier this afternoon after Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jnr triumphed in an incredibly tight GT3 session that featured as many manufacturers in the top-five positions.
Meanwhile, Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty claimed their second consecutive British GT4 Championship pole position after topping both Am and Pro sessions aboard their Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S.
GT3: BENTLEY BEATS McLAREN BY JUST 0.042s
The #31 Bentley Continental GT3 looked an unlikely pole position candidate following the initial 12-minute Am session but benefitted from a brief rain shower mid-way through the Pro segment to edge out Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S by just 0.042s.
McCaig’s banzai Am lap helped the McLaren head into the Pro session with a 0.761s advantage over Hunter Abbott’s GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, while Abdulaziz Al Faisal’s Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 was a further tenth back in third.
That ensured a substantial turnaround was required if the McLaren was to be budged from pole. Step forward Seb Morris who, for the fourth time this season, set the fastest Pro time aboard the Team Parker Bentley. His 2m18.782s was not only nearly a second quicker than the chasing pack but, crucially, also 1.5s faster than Bell’s best in the 650S.
In truth, Morris’ advantage owed something to the short, sharp rain shower that struck sector two just after the Bentley had passed through for a second time. Bell, who was further back at the time, had no choice but to take a steadier approach, which ultimately gave Team Parker the crucial extra time it required to secure pole.
A combined four tenths further back in third was the TF Sport Aston Martin of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes whose consistent approach helped them seal a career-best British GT qualifying result together. It will also be Barnes’ highest starting position since his title-winning 2008 campaign.
The first of Black Falcon’s guesting Mercedes-AMG GT3s start fourth in the hands of Oliver Morley and Dani Juncadella thanks to their similarly consistent performance, while Alexander Sims’ second-fastest Pro time helped the #6 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan he shares with Liam Griffin jump from ninth to fifth.
Andrew Howard and Ross Gunn line up sixth in the same Beechdean AMR Aston Martin that won last year’s British GT race at Spa, while 2015 victor Jonny Adam rewarded TF Sport’s hard work for rebuilding its V12 Vantage that sustained such heavy damage in the day’s first free practice session by setting the third fastest Pro time. He and his championship-leading co-driver Derek Johnston, who emerged from the accident unscathed, start seventh.
The AmDTuning.com BMW Z4 driven by Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne completed the top-eight ahead of the #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini, which ended the Am session second in the hands of Abbott but starts ninth after co-driver Rolf Ineichen span into the gravel.
Rick Parfitt Jnr, #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “I’d never driven the Bentley around Spa before today and we obviously lost a chunk of track time earlier so was learning a lot about where to find the limit during qualifying. The speed was coming every lap, but I also didn’t string my sectors together. Fortunately Seb produced another mega lap and we were a bit lucky with the weather, but we’ll take it!”
Seb Morris, #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “It’s a bit strange because no-one seemed to nail their laps first time around, so when I managed to improve on the second before the rain hit there wasn’t much chance for them to respond. I definitely wasn’t nine tenths quicker on raw pace. Rick’s not been entirely happy with the set-up today so we’ll spend some time tonight looking into it and hopefully find a good compromise. Pro-Am’s all about a happy balance.”
Rob Bell, #79 Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3: “We waited for two minutes in the pits to try and find a space, and managed that but spent the first lap bringing everything up to temperature. I was then well ahead over the first half of my next lap before hitting the rain in sector two. But I’m sure other people also missed out because of the weather; that’s racing, isn’t it? So I’m actually quite happy because we’re still on the front row and in a decent position to have a crack at it tomorrow.”
Jon Barnes, #11 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vanquish GT3: “To be third here, at a circuit everyone regards as a challenge, is awesome. To be blunt about it we haven’t collectively got our act together this year! Either Mark’s been good and I’ve made a mistake or vice versa. That was definitely the case at Brands and Silverstone where we should have started further forwards. So it’s satisfying to finally deliver, especially on a trying day for the team and the other car.”
GT4: HAGGERTY AND MITCHELL MAKE AMENDS FOR McLAREN
After seeing their GT3 counterparts miss out on pole by less than half a tenth, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell gave Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse something to shout about by topping GT4 qualifying at Spa.
However, they will face stiff opposition tomorrow from Ginetta whose G55s occupy positions two to five. Alex Reed and Joey Foster secured theirs and Lanan Racing’s best ever British GT qualifying result with second place ahead of Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke, fellow championship protagonists Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson (PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport), and Aaron Mason and Rob Barrable (RCIB Insurance Racing).
Localised but brief rain prior to the Am session meant sector two was especially wet for the start of GT4 qualifying. Times therefore improved throughout the 12 minutes of running, although Pirelli’s treaded tyres remained the only option.
Mitchell’s impressive pace at the front meant he ended up 0.5s faster than next best British GT driver and namesake (but no relation) Jack Mitchell in the Generation AMR Macmillan Racing Aston Martin, while Reed was another four tenths further back.
Wet weather tyres were still in use at the start of the Pro session before teams switched over to slicks. Haggerty was the first to really exploit the dry rubber’s potential en route to qualifying’s fastest time of 2m43.993s, enough to give he and Mitchell not only class pole but also the fastest British GT and GT4 European Series time of the day.
Foster’s more conservative approach and fifth quickest British GT lap paid off for he and Reed who ended up three seconds adrift of the McLaren but 0.103s ahead of Walewska and Freke’s combined average effort. Indeed, Freke’s late 2m44.948s lap was the second fastest individual time of the day, which helped move the Century Motorsport Ginetta up eight places after the initial Am runs.
Johnson and Robinson were less than three tenths further back thanks to the latter’s third fastest Pro time, while Silverstone race winner Barrable lapped fourth quickest of the British GT contingent to similarly claw back five positions in the drying conditions.
Mitchell and Matty Graham’s Aston Martin slipped from second to sixth in the final reckoning. Elsewhere, Ebor GT’s Maserati MC GranTurismo might have started higher than seventh had Abbie Eaton’s late flying lap not been deleted, although her and co-driver Marcus Hoggarth’s consistency still sees them line up one place ahead of the championship leading Beechdean AMR Aston Martin driven by Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert.
A brilliant lap from Scott Malvern in mixed conditions helped the far from GT4-spec Team Parker Racing Porsche Cayman set the sixth fastest British GT Pro session time en route to 10th behind RCIB Insurance Racing and Century’s second Ginetta entries.
Round six of this season’s British GT Championship from Spa-Francorchamps gets underway at 12:35 tomorrow.