British GT3 Brands Hatch: Balfe and Bell combine to secure maiden pole for new McLaren

British GT3 Brands Hatch: Balfe and Bell combine to secure maiden pole for new McLaren

03.08.2019: The foundations for the new McLaren's first British pole were laid by Balfe, whose excellent performance in the opening session netted the fourth-best time among hi

 
The foundations for the new McLaren's first British pole were laid by Balfe, whose excellent performance in the opening session netted the fourth-best time among his group. Crucially, Balfe emerged as the quickest bronze-graded driver, which handed team-mate Bell an excellent opportunity to make the final push for pole.



Wilkinson was fastest overall in Q1 – a feat he has now achieved at successive British GT events – having narrowly edged out impressive GT3 debutant Angus Fender (Century Motorsport BMW). The youngster hadn't sat in the squad's M6 until last week, but looked every bit at home as he contended with the class leaders. 


Ryan Ratcliffe showed no ill effects from his crash at last weekend's 24 Hours of Spa to lap within 0.064s of Wilkinson and complete a trio of Silver Cup runners at the head of the Q1 order. Balfe meanwhile was just 0.066s shy of the Welshman, leaving the top four runners covered by a mere 0.130s at the session's end.


With Balfe having given him the opportunity, Bell duly secured pole. The McLaren ace was only eighth quickest in a hotly-contested Q2 session, but it was enough to seal top spot by 0.133s on combined times.


 
Ellis bagged second on the grid for the car he shares with Wilkinson, though a 20-second Pitstop Success Penalty for Spa’s race winners leaves the #96 Aston Martin crew with a tough task in tomorrow's race. This will be music to the ears of third-placed Barwell Lamborghini duo De Haan and Cocker, who could seal the title should they clinch victory with other results going their way. They do not face any Success Penalty, though nor for that matter does the pole-sitting McLaren.



The #69 Lamborghini will share the second row with the #47 TF Sport Aston Martin of Jonny Adam and Graham Davidson, with the #9 Century BMW crewed by Fender and Jack Mitchell fifth. Callum Macleod was fastest overall in Q2 and took sixth on the grid for the RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG he shares with Ian Loggie.



From a championship perspective, the ninth-placed starter is particularly significant. Erstwhile points leaders Balon and Keen will roll away from the fifth row of the grid in tomorrow's race, which could become a case of damage limitation as they seek to keep pace with the sister #69 Lamborghini. Given De Haan and Cocker's lofty starting spot, this may not prove an easy task.




- Benjamin Franassovici - photo SRO

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03.08.2019 / MaP

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