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November 23, 2017

Tight at the Top: Thousandths Determine Pole at Donington

Tight at the Top: Thousandths Determine Pole at Donington

Ahmad Al-Harthy and Michael Caine will start the final British GT race of the season from pole position. The Oman Racing Team pair just edged Ecurie Ecosse pairing Marco Attard and Alexander Sims, meaning the front row holds the championship contenders for tomorrow’s showdown.

In the opening half of qualifying, it was Jonny Adam who starred. The Aston man was able to top the times with a 1:28.691, with Porsche’s Nick Tandy behind him. The Trackspeed ace had topped both free practice sessions but wasn’t quite able to complete the hat-trick, ending just over three tenths behind. Alexander Sims was third – four tenths from P1 – followed by Joe Osborne, Rory Butcher, Benny Simonsen, Steven Kane and Phil Keen. Michael Caine was ninth, 0.613 back, and Aaron Scott rounded out the top 10.

It was always going to shuffle in the second session, and the big mover was Al-Harthy. An astonishing effort from the Omani saw him leap the #4 Aston into the top spot with the combined time. Championship leader Marco Attard was just behind – just 0.003 seconds further back in his BMW. Andrew Howard’s pace was strong enough to be third, but he and Adam suffer a three place grid penalty for Howard’s clash with Derek Johnston and Brands. They’ll start sixth.

Ironically, Derek Johnston was one of the beneficiaries of the penalty, his sixth place – with Osborne – becoming fifth. Similarly, Liam Griffin and Mark Patterson each moved up a place, to become the second row of the grid.

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In GT4, the Lotus will start in pole position. Oz Yusuf was top in the first session, and Gavan Kershaw was able to maintain the advantage in the combined times –0.484 seconds ahead of championship leaders Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings’ Beechdean Aston, with rivals Devon Modell and Andrew Jarman – TF Sport Aston – just behind them in third place.

“It bodes well,” said Michael Caine. “Whether we can get the advantage we need, to have a 15 second [success penalty] pitstop, and still win the race, I don’t know. Ahmad is very good at running clear at the start, so hopefully he can extend the gap to 15 seconds. It’d be nice to have a few Astons around me. We don’t expect anything from them, but hopefully they won’t be too aggressive!”

“I feel very good, delighted,” mused Al-Harthy. “This is what we wanted. We wanted to come here and get pole. Did we think it was possible? You never know in British GT, the pace is amazing. Michael did an amazing job; it’s a combined time after all. I’m really happy that we developed over the weekend. This is an ideal place, where we want to start tomorrow. We just need to think about pushing. We’ve talked about doing our part, and we did that today. It’s still a huge task tomorrow, let’s be realistic.”

The championship is in the hands of Marco Attard and Ecurie Ecosse. If the blue car finishes in the top six, Attard is the champion. However, if they finish outside the top six and Al-Harthy and Caine win the race, the Oman Racing Team pairing will take the title home.

“It’s not a foregone conclusion,” smiled Attard after qualifying. “They’ve put some pressure on us by taking pole! Al-Harthy is a good driver, and he’ll do well. It’ll be a hard race, and we’ve just gotta do well. Anything could happen – it’s not by any means done. I’ll be nervous tomorrow, but I’m sure I’ll be able to sleep!”

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