A thrilling pair of qualifying sessions for the Avon Tyres British GT Championship were played out today at the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire. Local driver Benji Hetherington provided Fortec Motorsports with a dream start to its GT3 programme by handing the team a pole-position for race one on Monday, and Ferrari ace, Allan Simonsen, so often a threat around the 2.69 mile track, drove a superb lap for race two in a field packed with talented teams and drivers.
In the first fifteen minute session, with minutes left on the clock, Trackspeed's Jon Minshaw looked like he had secured pole and pitted accordingly, however Ahmad Al Harthy had other ideas and the Oman Air - Motorbase Porsche driver went quicker with a lap of 1:37.338. That still wasn't good enough for pole as in the dying minutes Vita4One Team Italy's Jay Palmer went quicker still with a time of 1:37.265, and then it was down to former Porsche Carrera Cup driver Hetherington to snatch pole with a lap of 1:37.098.
Behind the top four, the new 2013 Mtech Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 was fifth quickest in the hands of reigning GT Cup Champion, Derek Johnston, while Jody Fannin's JRM prepared Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 (6th), David Jones' Preci-Spark McLaren MP4-12c (7th), Mark Patterson's United Autosports Audi R8 LMS ultra (8th) and Richard Sykes' Team LNT Ginetta G55 (10th) ensured there were seven different marques within the top ten; Zak Brown's United Autosports McLaren finished the session ninth.
2010 Driver Champion David Ashburn, fresh from a retirement spell of all of five months, finished just outside the top-ten in eleventh, while old foe Duncan Cameron was twelfth in the other Mtech Ferrari a tenth behind the Trackspeed boss.
United Autosports' Roger Wills and GT4 competitor Matt Smith (Redgate Lifetime) had separate incidents during the first qualifying period that resulted in neither car taking any further part in the qualifying sessions that day, and a subsequent thirty-minute delay to the start of the second fifteen-minute qualifying period.
The second session went the way of Rosso Verde after a stunning lap from Simonsen was good enough to put the #3 Ferrari into pole position. Four laps was all that were needed for the 34-year-old to take his spot at the front of the field with a lap of 1:34.589 putting him almost three tenths clear of Porsche factory driver, Nick Tandy.
Jonny Adam in the Spongebob Squarepants sponsored Beechdean Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 was Simonsen and Tandy's closest challenger, but his best time was some four-tenths of a second slower than the pole man.
Matt Griffin was fourth quickest in the Mtech Ferrari with a time of 1:35.015 and Richard Westbrook was fifth fastest in the #32 tartan-liveried Trackspeed Porsche. Sixth quickest was Vita4One Team Italy's Matteo Bobbi; the double FIA GT Champion was on the pace throughout both free practice sessions and was happy to be in the top-six during such a busy qualifying session.
United Autosports' Matt Bell set the seventh-quickest time in his Audi, Aston Martin Racing MD John Gaw put in an electric performance to produce a lap of 1:35.559 to finish eighth in the PGF-Kinfaun AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, and Olly Bryant's Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3 and Phil Keen's Trackspeed Porsche rounded out the top-ten a second off pole sitter Simonsen.
The 888Optimum BMWs of Joe Osborne and Dan Brown were eleventh and fourteenth respectively, sandwiching Rob Barff's FF Corse prepared-Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (12th) and Mike Simpson's Team LNT shod Ginetta G55 (13th).
In GT4, pole for the opening race went the way of the Complete Racing Aston Martin GT4 of Steve Chaplin, giving Aston Martin its first GT4 pole position. Chaplin clearly beat the APO Sport Ginetta of Alex Osborne by a clear second. Osborne's G50 GT4 had struggled throughout free practice with electrical, exhaust and fuel problems which continued to persist.
The Ginetta G50s of Zoe Wenham (Century Motorsport) and Rick Parfitt Jnr (Optimum Motorsport) were third and fourth quickest in the class, and a fuel delivery issue on Parfitt's car hindered the talented rocker from challenging further.
Fortunes were reversed in the second session and the Century Ginetta of Declan Jones comfortably took pole position by almost three seconds from Tom Wilson in the Complete Racing Aston. The seventeen year-old Liverpudlian showed a good turn of speed throughout the day and looks every inch a candidate for the GT4 honours in the future.
APO Sport's James May had a torrid time in the yellow and silver G50, the family team are set to work on the car over Easter Sunday and attempt to overcome the issues that have blighted them today. Likewise Welsh youngster Ryan Ratcliffe did the three mandatory laps required to qualify the Optimum Motorsport car, and pitted to enable his team to work on the car tomorrow.
Benji Hetherington - driver #15 Fortec Motorsports Mercedes AMG SLS GT3 (GT3 pole for Race 1)
"Everything has gone really well so far. It's a pleasure for me to join Fortec, they're a great team with a fun atmosphere. Given I've not driven the car on a circuit before today we've done well to find a drivable setup and I'm confident for the race."
Allan Simonsen - driver #3 Rosso Verde Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 (GT3 pole for Race 2)
"Racing with Hector and Rosso Verde is always fun. Last year I raced for eleven different Ferrari teams and the times I have with these guys are always up there with the most rewarding. The car hadn't turned a wheel since Donington last year when we raced there in British GT, but John is such a brilliant engineer that he does exactly what I ask and the car feels great to drive. I waited til everyone else had gone, gave myself a huge gap and I knew it would be cold, so I changed something and it paid off. This is really satisfying, and you can see it means a lot to the team."
Steve Chaplin - driver #53 Complete Racing Aston Martin Vantage GT4 (GT4 pole for Race 1)
"I'm very pleased with the result in qualifying today. We didn't really think we'd get pole but we improved and got better and better as the day went on. I was surprised to see the two cars lose it due to tyre temperatures, we had a lot of grip out there and it felt really good to drive. Tom did a fantastic job and I have to thank the boys in the crew for doing such a solid job today. I don't really want to talk tactics, but the championship is what were after, so we'll push hard and keep safe, we know we have to be smart."
Race one of the 2013 Avon Tyres British GT Championship will begin at 10:55 am tomorrow morning and the second race of the year will begin at 2:55 pm.
For all the times from Oulton Park, please click here: http://tinyurl.com/opsat2013
Avon Tyres British GT Championship Oulton Park
Oulton Park Circuit, 2.69-mile, 17-turn race circuit, Little Budworth, Cheshire
March 30 April 1, 2013
British GT Championship: Round #1 of 7
Race Duration(s): 2 x 60 minutes
British GT TV Broadcast:
Channel 4: Highlights, Saturday April 6th, 7:00 am 7:30 am
Motors TV: Highlights, Saturday April 6th, 6:30 pm 7:30 pm
More listings here: http://www.britishgt.com/television.php
British GT Online Race Coverage:
www.twitter.com/britishgt - for live text commentary
Schedule (All times GMT):
Saturday, March 30, 2013:
Free Practice 1: 9:00 am 10:15 am
Free Practice 2: 12:05 pm 1:20 pm
Qualifying: 4:30 pm 5:20 pm
Monday, April 1, 2013:
Warm up: 9:10 am - 9:35 am (All Classes)
Race 1: 10:55 am - 11:55 pm (1 hour)
Race 2: 2:55 pm - 3:55 pm (1 hour)
2013 British GT Calendar:
Media Day - TBC March Silverstone (GB)
1 Oulton Park (GB) - 30 March (Sat) 1 April (Mon) - Sprint Races
2 Rockingham (GB) - 5 & 6 May Refuelling Race
3 Silverstone GP (GB) 25 & 26-May - Refuelling Race
4 Snetterton 300 (GB) 15 & 16-Jun - Sprint Races
5 Brands Hatch GP (GB) 10 & 11-Aug - Refuelling Race
6 Zandvoort (NL) 6, 7, 8-Sep - Sprint Races
7 Donington Park (GB) - 56-Oct - Refuelling Race
For more information about WP Racing, official fuel supplier to the British GT Championship & British Formula 3 International Series and many other topline UK Motorsport series, please contact us today.
Photography courtesy of and copyright to Jakob Ebrey Photography.