Raffaele Marciello led the way in the opening practice session of the 2023 Fanatec GT Europe Sprint Cup campaign at Brands Hatch.
The Mercedes-AMG factory ace put the #88 Akkodis ASP entry on top with a time of 1m22.511s, almost seven tenths faster than Chris Mies in the #27 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi. Marciello is no stranger to success at the British track: he bagged pole position 12 months ago, then combined with teammate Timur Boguslavskiy to secure race 2 victory.
Alex Aka was third overall and the quickest Silver Cup runner at the wheel of the #99 Tresor Attempto Audi. The impressive youngster lapped in 1m23.347s, 0.150s shy of fellow Audi man Mies and 0.090s ahead of class rival Frank Bird in the #77 HRT Mercedes-AMG.
Next came the best Gold Cup runner, the #9 Boutsen VDS Audi driven by Aurélien Panis, who set a 1m23.488s. With all three classes represented in the overall top-five, a remarkably close contest is in store this weekend.
There was a notable absentee from the leading pack, with reigning champions Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts only managing 12th in the #32 Team WRT BMW. This was the best of the Belgian squad's four-strong fleet, with Weerts lapping more than a second shy of Marciello.
The 60-minute session was punctuated by a pair of red flags during the final 20 minutes. The first was required when the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG driven by Jesse Salmenautio became beached in the gravel after contact with Yuki Nemoto (#163 VSR Lamborghini) at Paddock Hill Bend. The second followed a spin for the #71 AF Corse Ferrari of Nicola Marinangeli.
Cars will be back on-track at 12:45 BST for pre-qualifying. The main qualifying session takes place this afternoon (15:55), while the weekend's races run tomorrow at 11:05 and 16:10. All sessions will be streamed live on the GT World YouTube channel and the Fanatec GT Europe Facebook page.