Mixed conditions played host to two thrilling qualifying sessions at the season opening round of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship. Charles Bateman, qualified on pole position for race one, and Richard Westbrook claimed pole for race two. Jody Fannin and Phil Glew were the qualifying victors for the GT4 class.
2009 Champion David Jones was initially quickest in his Mercedes AMG SLS, before Bateman went fastest. Jones found time and went quicker still and sat atop of the timesheets before 2010 Champion, David Ashburn, came wide out of the final corner, Lodge, drifting his Trackspeed Porsche as he put the power down, and produced a stunning lap of 1:39.236 to go fastest.
Cardiff youngster, Jan Mardenborough in the RJN Motorsports Nissan GT-R ran the pair close on several occasions and eventually went quicker than his Porsche rival; the current GT Academy Champion put together a string of consistently quick laps, finally revealing some of the potential the new GT-R GT3 has to offer. Ashburn pitted and was soon relegated further down the order by a lap of 1:38.537 from Duncan Cameron (MTECH Ferrari 458).
Elsewhere, Andrew Howard rallied hard in the first qualifying session; the Buckinghamshire-based Aston Martin driver left it late, going quickest by some margin in the first sector before completing a superb lap of 1:38.517 to join Bateman on the front row.
Ecurie Ecosse, making their debut in the series this weekend, had a promising first session with Alasdair McCaig taking third. Chevron gave its new car, the GT-3 its first competitive outing today too; the car, which is running in the Invitation Class, finished seventh overall, and will start with the Jones' Mercedes alongside them.
Also making their debut this weekend were JMH with their all-white Nissan GT-R. Freddie Hetherington ended up ninth; a solid result given they only received the car on Thursday. Motorbase's Danielle Perfetti had a promising first outing, regularly troubling the top-six in the Porsche 997 GT3 R before completing the top-ten.
An elated Bateman said: "I'm pretty pleased. We've been up against it on pace all day; the Porsche and the Aston are really quick here. It's always good to be P1. I'm going to try to get a clean start and find some rhythm early. I think we'll be okay on Monday; we're not the quickest car, but possibly the most consistent on pace. I love Oulton and it's great to race with such a varied grid of cars."
Westbrook's first time in the second session remained unchallenged for quite some time; eventually it was the free practice pace-setter, Matt Griffin that went quickest, then Jonny Adam replicated his team-mates efforts from the first qualifying session and topped the times.
Porsche star, Westbrook was having none of it though and posted a time of 1:35.400, which proved unbeatable. Danish sports car ace, Allan Simonsen (Rosso Verde) took fourth behind Adam and Griffin, ahead of fellow Trackspeed driver Tim Harvey, Motorbase's Michael Caine and Joe Osborne in the third Trackspeed Porsche.
Harvey and Caine were split by United Autosport's Matt Bell, however, Bell later lost his time due to an overtake under a yellow caution flag. Bell will line up at the back of the grid for Monday's second race.
Completing the top-ten were Oliver Bryant (Ecurie Ecosse), Aaron Scott (Scuderia Vittoria) and Alex Buncombe (RJN Motorsport).
A relaxed Westbrook commented: "We improved a lot from this morning. We saw how quick the Aston and Ferraris were and knew we had a massive task ahead of us in qualifying. It was a really good lap, full commitment, which is how you have to drive Oulton; it's one of the best tracks in the world. Dave did a good job too and we're unlucky to not be on the front row there; he got a bit carried away and pitted a bit early."
Meanwhile in the GT4 class, Fannin was mighty in the Team WFR Ginetta G50, qualifying some two seconds ahead of Zoe Wenham in the Century prepared G50. Wenham, in her first GT race meeting, qualified over 2.5 seconds ahead of Sailesh Bolisetti's Lotus.
In qualifying two, Bolisetti's team-mate, Phil Glew took the class pole late into the session after Wenham's team-mate, Mike Simpson, a late replacement for Dominic Evans, had gone quickest.
Fannin's team-mate, the experienced, Warren Hughes was third in class, 1.3 seconds ahead of Marco Attard's Lotus. APO Sport, who took part in the first practice have withdrawn following engine issues.
GT31. Charles Bateman/Matt Bell United Autosports Audi R8 LMS 1:37.0942. Andrew Howard/Jonny Adam Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage 1:37.9533. Alasdair McCaig/Oliver Bryant Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 1:38.1654. Jann Mardenborough/Alex Buncombe RJN Motorsports Nissan GT-R 1:38.5175. Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin MTECH Ferrari 458 1:38.5376. David Ashburn/Richard Westbrook Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R 1:39.2367. Anthony Reid/Jordan Witt Chevron Cars Chevron GT3 1:39.308 (INV)8. David Jones/Godfrey Jones Preci-Spark Mercedes AMG SLS 1:39.3259. Freddie Hetherington/Benji Hetherington JMH Automotive Nissan GT-R 1:39.55110. Danielle Perfetti/Michael Caine Motorbase Porsche 997 GT3 R 1:39.827
GT41. Jody Fannin/Warren Hughes Team WFR Ginetta G50 1:45.0762. Zoe Wenham/Mike Simpson Century Motorsport Ginetta G50 1:47.6383. Sailesh Bolisetti/Phil Glew Lotus Sport UK Lotus Evora GT4 1:52.1824. Marco Attard/Alistair Mackinnon Lotus Sport UK Lotus Evora GT4 1:52.778
GTC1. David Witt/Ray Grimes Chevron Cars Chevron GR 8 1:48.941
Round Two Top Ten Provisional Qualifying Times:
GT31. David Ashburn/Richard Westbrook Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R 1:35.4002. Andrew Howard/Jonny Adam Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage 1:35.7753. Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin MTECH Ferrari 458 1:35.7964. Hector Lester/Allan Simonsen Rosso Verde Ferrari 458 1:36.4545. Jon Minshaw/Tim Harvey Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R 1:36.6026. Danielle Perfetti/Michael Caine Motorbase Porsche 997 GT3 R 1:36.8247. Steve Tandy/Joe Osborne Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R 1:37.2448. Alasdair McCaig/Oliver Bryant Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 1:37.3729. John Dhillon/Aaron Scott Scuderia Vittoria Ferrari 458 1:37.60810. Jan Mardenborough/Alex Buncombe RJN Motorsport 1:37.661
GT41. Sailesh Bolisetti/Phil Glew Lotus Sport UK Lotus Evora GT4 1:44.5042. Zoe Wenham/Mike Simpson Century Motorsport Ginetta G50 1:44.5233. Jody Fannin/Warren Hughes Team WFR Ginetta G50 1:44.6494. Marco Attard/Alistair Mackinnon Lotus Sport UK Lotus Evora GT4 1:46.273
GTC1. David Witt/Ray Grimes Chevron Cars Chevron GR 8 1:44.884
INV1. Jordan Witt/Anthony Reid Chevron Cars Chevron GT-3 1:38.835