Barnicoat starts 13th in Blancpain opener

Ben Barnicoat will make his McLaren debut in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series from 13th position, while Jake Dennis was unable to take to the track, in an entertaining opening qualifying session of the season at Misano in Italy.

Barnicoat, who this season teams up with the vastly experienced Portuguese racer Alvaro Parente, was the first to take to the wheel of the #58 Strakka Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 for the first part of the qualifying session.

Barnicoat performed well to set the ninth quickest time of the session, with a best time of 1m 33.541s, and was the second Strakka McLaren behind the sister #59 McLaren of Andrew Watson, the two cars separated by only 0.020 seconds.

Fellow Racing Steps Foundation-backed driver Dennis and team-mate Pieter Schothorst, however, continued to rue their luck. Having lost all running in the previous day’s free practice sessions due to a fire in the car, the Team WRT Audi R8 LMS completed just two corners on track before the fire re-ignited.

“It’s a difficult situation that we find ourselves in,” Dennis said. “It will be very tight to get the car turned around before this evening’s race, but the team are working hard to make sure we’re given the best chance.”

The team now faces a race against time to repair the car once again ahead of this evening’s qualifying race.

Parente took the #58 McLaren out for the second of the three scheduled qualifying sessions, narrowly edging into 17th and final position in order to qualify for Q3.

The car was late to appear on track for the final 10-minute shoot-out, with Parente only able to complete two flying laps.

However, with the final lap of the session, Parente managed to set a quickest time of 1m 32.861s which promoted the car up to 13th position on the grid.

“We made some changes to the car overnight which the other Strakka cars had believed was the right direction to go in,” Barnicoat said. “But for me the car felt tough to drive in Q1.

“Nevertheless to take the ninth quickest time I feel is a good opening attempt with McLaren.

“Alvaro gave the same feedback after Q2 and struggled but we just managed to scrape into Q3. But we decided to change the set-up which meant we lost time in the final session. So Alvaro did a great job to get us into 13th.

“If we can have a clean race and gain a couple of positions in tonight’s race, I believe we should be fine for tomorrow’s race.”

The #66 Attempto Racing Lambourghini Huracan GT3 of Giuvanni Venturini and Marco Mapelli will start this evening’s race from pole position having set a best time of 1m 32.319s.

It will be joined by the #84 HTP Motorsport-run Mercedes-AMG GT3 machine of Franck Perera and Maxi Buhk.