With tyre wear for the new evolution of Avons being something of an unknown quantity at Rockingham in cold conditions, a leap of faith would be required from both Am and Pro drivers in their respective ten minute qualifying stints. The shape of Sunday’s two-hour race grid would be an aggregate of the crews’ best lap times.
Gary Eastwood’s FF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia was the first to set a flier, but his 1:26.797 wouldn’t top the timing screen for long, the Ferrari dropping way down the order as Eastwood had earlier alluded; “We didn’t do much running in Free Practice because we’re on Oulton rubber, which gives us no grip. We’re not terribly confident here as you need aero for the infield. Despite last year’s win, which was down to a bit of luck, the Ferrari isn’t at its best.”
The Ferrari’s marker was rapidly blitzed by Andrew Watson’s Von Ryan Racing McLaren. His 1:23.914 was quicker than last year’s GT3 pole time and would hold firm for the rest of the Am session.
Behind, the fight was hard between the Aston Martins of Derek Johnston’s TF Sport car and Mark Farmer’s 22GT entry. Rick Parfitt had stuck the nose of his Ginetta GT3 in briefly, but it became an Aston Martin party for second to fourth positions as Ahmad Al Harthy posted two strong laps to take second for the Oman Racing Team, his 1:23.964 just 50/1000ths slower than the McLaren. Third was held by Liam Griffin in the #6 sister Oman Racing car, with Andrew Howard’s Beechdean Aston ending up fourth at the end of the ten minute ‘Am’ period. BMW’s were fifth and sixth, Marco Attard looking comfortable in the #1 Barwell car, his stablemate Jon Minshaw sitting two tenths behind. 3.5 seconds covered the ‘Am’ grid.
Again, it was the FF Corse Ferrari that heralded the second half of proceedings, Adam Carroll this time leading the way for the Pro entry. There was a sense of déjà vu though as the #18 Ferrari bettered the Am ‘pole’ with a 1:23.773, before Jonny Adam’s Beechdean Aston Martin posted a solid 1:22.719 to go quickest.
Matt Bell’s #17 TF Sport Aston Martin then put in a spoiler to take the lead briefly with Daniel Lloyd’s Oman Racing Aston capitalising on Al Harthy’s earlier efforts to hold second.
But the story of qualifying was Alexander Sims, who stunned with a 1:22.280 to give the #1 Barwell / Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 pole position on aggregate: “I got a clear lap, which gave me the time – Ross Wylie was good enough to get out of my way while I was on a flyer, which I’m grateful for. Marco did a solid job – P3 of the bronze drivers – which is an achievement.”
Significantly, this was over two seconds quicker than the GT3 Pro pole time set here last year, testament to the improvements made with this year’s Avon tyres.
So it was Sims’ BMW, followed by Jonny Adam, Daniel Lloyd, Matt Bell and Rory Butcher in a block of Aston Martins making up the top five. Adam Carroll had pitted for new tyres for the FF Corse Ferrari but was unable to arrest his slip down the order. Phil Keen’s Demon Tweeks BMW completed the sixth row, looking comfortable.
The seventh row was the McLarens’. Ross Wylie had put in some solid laps to take seventh, but Euan Hankey had shown well in the #10 Von Ryan McLaren, his 1:23.169 showing great pace for the car over one lap; this being the third-quickest lap of the Pro session. Though unable to move its aggregate time to any position of threat, from eighth on the grid this could be one to watch at the start of the race.