GT3 Free Practice Report, Astons on top, as rivals close in
Aston Martins were the cars to beat in free practice in the GT3 class at Brands Hatch, with TF Sport leading the way in the first session and Beechdean-AMR in the second. Former Beechdean ace and reigning British GT Champion, Jonny Adam posted a 1:25.156 and in the second session, which did feature rain, his replacement Ross Gunn topped the time sheets with a 1:24.554.
Gunn showed little sign of being the new boy in GT3, shaking off any preconceived shackles by charging to the top of the time sheets with 13 minutes to go, on a 1:25.148, before bettering it with a 1:24.554. While Howard was away, Gunn did play, finding a setup that really got his liking, ending on top by 0.147s. As the session progressed it became clear that team-mate and reigning British GT Champion, Andrew Howard wouldn’t be able to qualify the car, meaning the #1 Aston Martin will start from the back of the grid. Howard was at the Kent circuit earlier today to complete the required three racing laps in free practice, but headed off for the snow-laden Silverstone for his ELMS race.
Despite the promising display, Gunn kept his expectations in check: “I suppose it’s a benefit Andrew isn’t here; I’ve had a lot of time in the car and even though Andrew can’t qualify the car, it’s been beneficial. This is a development year, and I need to get used to a lot of things in and out of the car, but I’m in a good environment to learn. Obviously there’s a lot more aero and the power is more significant, but it’s easier to drive than the GT4 because of the grip provided by the GT3.”
After finishing P2 in the first free practice session, Phil Keen posted a 1:24.701 in the second with ten minutes left on the clock. The Demon Tweeks sponsored Lamborghini was on an even quicker lap on its next run, but Keen aborted and the initial time was enough to ensure the former Stig finished second overall, and fastest of the two Barwell Lamborghini Huracan GT3s. Factory ace Fabio Babini finished P9 (1:26.190) in the #6 Barwell prepared Huracan he shares with Liam Griffin.
Keen’s team-mate Jon Minshaw was positive on the performance, adding: “It’s pretty good considering its the third time in the car for me. It started to rain on my new tyre run, so I’ve not had the best out of the car yet, but we’re looking good for qualifying. I struggled to come to terms with the BMW last year, but this is more similar to the Porsche from the year before, so I’m very happy. This is my fifth year in British GT, and it gets more difficult every year; I wish I’d capitalised earlier!”
Rob Bell gave the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren a good showing in FP2, a 1:25.541 from the 36-year-old McLaren factory ace placed the 650s GT3 third in class, and he bettered it towards the end of the second practice, closing with a 1:24.874 – ensuring the top three finished within 0.3s of each other.
Elsewhere TF Sport’s second Vantage, that of Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer was third quickest in FP1 and held the fastest time in the second session until Beechdean-AMR’s Gunn did his new tyre run, eventually finishing sixth ahead of the PFL Motorsport Aston Martin of Peter Littler and Jody Fannin, who concentrated on old rubber and feel they have more to give in qualifying.
Seb Morris had a small off at Stirlings midway through FP1, the 20-year-old single-seater convert got on the wet grass and turned around just before Clearways, and had a wait before marshals were able to give him a push back onto the tarmac. Morris put in a good early lap in FP2 (1:26.420) and then gave Parfitt Jnr an opportunity through the rest of the session.
Optimum Motorsport had a less than ideal start to their British GT campaign, Ryan Ratcliffe had a puncture as he began his first flying lap, and team-mate Will Moore went off at Druids on oil laid down by the JWB Bird Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4 of Jake Giddings. The Optimum car had minimal damage despite the off, and was a participant in FP2 right from the off. There were grumbles (not quite complaints…!) from several drivers that caution flags weren’t displayed quickly enough; ultimately this oil spill led to the session being red-flagged after one of the TF Sport GT3 Aston Martins almost came a cropper at the very end of the session too.
Subsequently, Moore also had an off-track excursion after 10 minutes in FP2, running wide at Westfield and getting stuck in the gravel trap. Team-mate Ratcliffe remarked, “Will is just trying to find the limits of the car and himself…” a suitable reflection on the situation as both drivers get up to speed with the new R8.
Lee Mowle had a touch of motion sickness in FP1, but your DSC writer was slightly cynical about this random bout of vomiting as it came just before the annual ‘weigh-in’ for drivers. We’re yet to ask Mr Mowle if this was a tactical move to offset the weight of his co-driver, Joe Osborne, but will report back duly when an answer has been achieved. Mowle and Osborne quietly got on with their work in free practice, finishing P7 and P6 across the two sessions, around 1.3s off the quickest GT3 in FP1, and under 0.8s off in FP2.
Tolman Motorsport’s #56 entry of David Pattison and Luke Davenport encountered a wiring issue that curtailed their running in the first practice session. Pattison ran the entire second practice, but electrical issues again preventedwith Davenport confident of being able to deliver on the new Pirelli rubber in qualifying, despite only running two laps in FP1. Michael Simpson and returnee Ian Stinton had two solid sessions, with Simpson laying down a 1:26.108 for fifth in FP1, making the duo confident of a top six qualifying result.
Richard Neary in the Team ABBA with Rollcentre Racing BMW Z4 GT3 had an off at Paddock Hill with under 15 mins to go in FP2, but no major damage was incurred and just a small dent to his pride. The earlier session saw both drivers take part, but Martin Short sat out FP2 to give Neary more track time on the GP circuit pre-qualifying.
GT4 Free Practice Report, Ginettas Strong, Aston Martin Threatens
Though the first Free Practice session was halted mid-way after Jake Giddings planted JW Bird Motorsport’s Aston Martin at Druids, it was reigning GT4 Drivers Champion Jamie Chadwick who posted fastest time in her recently acquired Generation AMR SuperRacing Aston Martin, shared with newcomer Matthew George. 1:33.152 showed the way around Brands Hatch in cold but dry conditions, from fastest Pro/Am Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson’s PMW Ginetta G55 GT4, three tenths away for second.
There was a promising look over the parapet from the two newest chassis on the GT4 grid, Sandy Mitchell posting fifth fastest for the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S and the Ebor GT Motorsport Maserati GT MC sitting sixth despite limited track time for Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton.
Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson’s #55 PMW/Optimum G55 led a cluster of Ginettas for most of the second session, until Nathan Freke’s 1:32.085 established his #73 Century Motorsport at the top of the order. The third placed Generation AMR Aston Martin interrupted what could have otherwise been a Ginetta lock-out.
Despite their car showing good pace, GPRM were in difficulty with their housekeeping. James Fletcher having arrived without the right license, the team was scrambling for a replacement before engaging Olly Chadwick from the Ginetta GT5 paddock, who will take the seat for qualifying (see separate story).