British GT – 2017 Round 1 Review – Oulton Park

First blood to almost unstoppable Barwell

The first races of the British GT season have now been done and dusted, and with the Easter weekend now a firm memory, the championship battle has already had its first onslaughts.

With Oulton Park returning to its traditional season opening slot, it meant that the weather for raceday would almost be guaranteed to be a little bit on the inclement side, however, practice and qualifying on the Saturday was a largely dry affair.

Missing from the Saturday proceedings were Spirit of Race with their Ferrari 488, and Jonny Adam, who had foregone Cheshire to take part in the European Le Mans Series and World Endurance Championship races further down the road at Silverstone this weekend. This would result in both cars starting from the back of the GT3 grid, but with the driver calibre to make some movement in the order.

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Free practice 1 was brought to a halt with barely any relevant times completed as a collision between the #43 Century Ginetta and the #36 Team HARD/RCIB Ginetta at Druids sadly ruined both cars and a portion of the Armco barrier. Thankfully, neither Steve Fresle nor Mike Newbould were injured, but a precautionary trip to hospital was made for safety’s sake, and the cars were withdrawn from the weekend. The opening session was topped by Sam Tordoff in the Barwell Lamborghini, showing that he was more than ready for his new challenge this year.

The second free practice session went the way of the #33 Demon Tweeks Lamborghini piloted by Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who were looking to make an early kick in the championship challenge having fallen just short after an awesome closing run to the 2016 season. The leading GT4 car was the #100 McLaren of Haggerty/Sandy Mitchell, who like Minshaw and Keen were making continued progress from their late 2016 pushes.

However, when the qualifying sessions came around, the lead changed, and much to the happiness of the locals from Crewe when the #31 Bentley of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris claimed overall pole position for both of the weekend’s races. Team Parker Racing took their debut win at the circuit in 2016, and with an unchanged driver line up Parfitt and Morris held the advantage of confidence long enough in the two qualifying sessions to take the top spot, followed by Minshaw and Keen. For race one they would be tailed by Jack Mitchell/James Littlejohn in the #24 MacMillan Racing Aston and the #6 Lamborghini piloted by Liam Griffin/Sam Tordoff. Race 2 would see #6 starting third with the second Team Parker Racing Bentley #7 of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod taking a strong 4th spot. Hard luck fell on Derek Johnston in the qualifying session for race 1 as a collision with Lee Mowle’s AMD Tuning Mercedes saw the reigning champion knocked to the back of the grid.

GT4 qualifying saw the start of the anticipated battle between the McLaren 570S and the Ginetta G55, and the end results saw the #100 McLaren take pole for race 1 with a fine lap from Sandy Mitchell, whereas race 2 would see Ginetta factory ace Mike Simpson put the #111 Century Ginetta on pole, with Anna Walewska due to share the car in the race. It’s worth noting though, that the GT4 grid for race 2 saw a fine variation amongst manufacturers as the #53 UltraTek Nissan of Richard Taffinder/Martin Plowman and the #66 Team Parker Racing Porsche of Nick Jones/Scott Malvern made a push for a good starting position. This was encouraging to see, and would pan out to be one of the sights of the second race of the weekend as the varied pack hurtled round the circuit.

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Warm up on Easter Monday was regrettably more of a “cold up” as overnight rain became morning gloom and dampness, and Oulton Park had a layer of water on the asphalt that made teams unsure how to play things for the first race of the day. The only thing taken away from it was a sense of foreboding from the Team Parker garage, where there was concern over the ability of the Bentleys in wet conditions. The big cars certainly catch the eye, but in damp or wet conditions they struggle, and the hope was that things would improve as the day went on.

The first race hadn’t even gotten away from the dummy grid when the first drama occurred. The #24 MacMillan AMR Aston of Jack Mitchell was parked in its grid slot when with just over 30 seconds to go, steam began to pour out of the front end of the V12 Vantage leaving fans and mechanics concerned. Quick work from the marshalling team meant the race would get away without a hitch, however, a broken coolant hose had severely dented MacMillan’s hopes of a top end finish in GT3.

As the start was given, the Bentley slipped a little and Jon Minshaw put the power firmly down in the #33 Lamborghini. Save for a slight slip at the Hislop Chicane and a brief loss of time at the pit stop when Minshaw handed over to Keen the green and red machine was utterly relentless in its pursuit of the chequered flag and race win honours. As the track dried out, Keen also got faster and faster, making any attempt to catch the Barwell machine rather fruitless from the competitors point of view. Behind, Sam Tordoff in the sister #6 car did his best to make the most of the conditions and set a strong consistent pace in his first race in British GT. Behind the Lamborghinis, who should appear into view but the reigning champions in the #1 TF Sport Aston Martin. Freshly returned from Silverstone, Jonny Adam made the most of a steady climb up the order from Derek Johnston to capture a podium finish, and this was well deserved. Another excellent drive came from the other non-qualifiers Spirit of Race, and the British racing green and white Ferrari was being driven with vigour and excitement by Matt Griffin who looked like not having the bit between his teeth, but the whole bridle and most of the bumpers of the cars infront of him as the Maranello machine rose up the field passing the many competitors infront of him.

It’s not often in motorsport you get a big but pleasant shock, and GT4 in race 1 was just that. Sandy Mitchell had made the most of his pole position and was calmly shifting the #100 Garage 59 McLaren round Oulton, until the pit stop where a jammed wheel nut made life hellish for the two young Scots at the wheel. Cue another car to the front, and this time it was the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin piloted by Will Moore, who with Matt Nicoll-Jones had made progress through the field to lead. Then, as is custom in the championship, out came the stop-go penalties and Moore had to come in and serve time for a pit stop infringement. 18 seconds of time, to be precise, and the lead changed again. Cue the newcomers. Adam Balon and Adam Mackay are new to the championship this year. As is track-club who are running their #72 McLaren 570S. The two ex-Lotus Cup drivers looked to be rather comfortable in the Woking built machine, which falls very close to the mark of their former Lotus machinery. The car was not involved in any collisions, and just made the tortoise affair of the “tortoise vs hare” style racing look simple. Even when they were hit with a very brief 1.4 second stop go penalty, Mackay cruised in, and cruised out with time to spare over the #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 of young newcomers Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha. Water on asphalt is a great equaliser in racing, but nobody had expected two new teams to stand on the top steps of the race 1 rostrum. Taking a very creditable third were the 2016 GT4 champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson in their #501 Optimum Motorsport Ginetta. This was a welcome and well celebrated result.

Between races 1 and 2, the hammer of justice is once again swung by the Clerk of the Course, and penalties for racing indiscretions of all kinds are applied to the race 2 grid. For Academy Motorsport, the penalty for pushing the limits in race 1 was a disqualification for driving outside of the required safety levels expected of the drivers, and a back of grid start.

In addition to the Clerk of the Course making his decisions, fate had also claimed the engine of the #19 Ginetta G55 of Parker Chase and Charlie Robertson, and the new GT3 Ginetta would no longer take any part in the race weekend, leaving only its #69 counterpart driven by Harry Gottsacker (who incidentally looked quite feisty in the opening stages of the first race) and Nathan Freke remaining.

Race 2 was already looking a little brighter all round, but when the lights changed again the Bentley squirrelled and Phil Keen took the advantage on the first lap. The 10 second success penalty that affected the #33 car was obviously pinging around Keen’s mind, and before the halfway mark, his lead was up to 13 seconds, and quite frankly, at that point only a failure would have kept him and Minshaw from a second race win. Sadly, the failure of the Lamborghini fell solidly in the lap of Sam Tordoff, when the normally V10 Lamborghini began sounding more like a V8, and then dropping time before Tordoff parked up the car on Lakeside to rue a DNF.

In GT4 though, the red lights were like a red rag to a bull, as Mike Simpson and Ciaran Haggerty clashed off the line, causing Simpson’s car to lose its front left headlight, Haggerty’s McLaren to lose its ignition, and Joe Osborne’s #56 Tolman Motorsport McLaren to shear its bonnet fastenings, leaving Osborne with only clairvoyance to guide himself round more than half a lap of Oulton back to the pits, only for the tried and tested duct tape to fail 2 laps later, leaving him blind to all obstacles.

This didn’t stop Simpson though, as the battle for GT4 lead switched places between him, Martin Plowman and Scott Malvern, before the inevitable contact occurred once more between Malvern and Simpson at Cascades, putting both drivers into the grass, which at that point still being slippery regrettably made recovery a tough job for the eager racing driver. Both cars would go on to finish the race, but nowhere near where they aimed for. Plowman was in inspired form in the Nissan though, and he would charge on at the front until the pit stops.

By the pit stops, Haggerty had made progress from back to front and the McLaren now led, only for the Sword of Pit Stop Damocles to fall from its hair and grant the #100 car a 30 second post-race penalty. When you consider that the actual timing offense in pit lane was for the stop to be less than 2 seconds under the minimum limit, the punishment seems unduly harsh, and the Garage 59 team were left feeling rather philosophical about their weekend. The same time penalty would also be applied to Will Phillips and Jan Jonck in the #42 MacMillan AMR GT4 Aston.

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Then we come to a slightly more unsavoury moment. In the opening stages of the race, Seb Morris had punted his team-mate round at the Hislop Chicane, leaving a briefly dizzy Callum MacLeod, and Morris and Parfitt in arrears with the clerk of the course, who summoned Morris through for a drive through penalty. Their charge had been dampened by this, and eyes now fell on the progress of the #7 Team Parker car, although a trip down the road at Cascades suddenly blunted their efforts as MacLeod fell victim to the wet and ice-like grass. He handed over to Ian Loggie at the pit stop who tried to make best of the situation.

Loggie was making pursuit of Richard Neary, who had taken over from Martin Short in the #88 Abba Rollcentre Mercedes, as the cars came to pass Sam Webster in the #63 Team HARD RCIB Ginetta. Unfortunately, the narrow width of the circuit was not made for 3 cars to come in close proximity, and at Hill Top, just after the first chicane, contact was made between the Bentley and the Mercedes, destroying both cars and a large section of tyre wall, as well as putting the unfortunate Webster off the road through a series of disorientating spins. The safety car came out, and as there was little time left on the clock, the race finished in a neutralised state. Loggie and Neary however, were summoned to appear before the racing stewards. The eventual decision was to disqualify Loggie from the weekend, censuring his licence and fining him for his part in the incident and the immediate aftermath. The official wording says “driving in a manner incompatible with safety”, and Loggie will in addition take a 5 place grid penalty for this judgement at the next round.

The final order under the safety car was Minshaw and Keen again from the two TF Sport cars of Johnston/Adam and Mark Farmer/Jon Barnes taking their first podium of the season. In GT4 Lanan Racing’s David Pittard and Alex Reed took their first win of 2017, ahead of In2Racing’s Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham with the #501 Ginetta of Johnson/Robinson taking another third spot.

The gloom of the day eventually cleared, but with the incident in the second race, a much greyer metaphorical cloud had descended over the track, and the teams now look forward to the first 2 hour race of the year at Rockingham, where we hope bygones will be bygones and that the racing suffers little for events on track in Cheshire.

Otherwise at Oulton Park:

A number of teams this weekend fell afoul of pit stop regulations during the races on Monday. Academy, MacMillan, Garage 59, track-club all suffered penalties for short stops, in varying degrees, leaving a few drivers and team managers and owners rueing the minimum time regulations. In addition, there were penalties for unsafe driving for Scott Malvern and Academy, showing that there is no mercy from the stewards as has come to be the norm in this series.

The “Silver” class in British GT sees two non-amateur drivers share a car in exchange for a small penalty on the cars performance, notably ballast. This was the penalty applied to the Optimum Audi in GT3 last year, which hampered the car enough to render it regrettably uncompetitive. If the Silver class is to be successful, there would need to be a reduction in ballast to make the combination of car and driver successful, as the Gold rated drivers carry a much higher speed advantage in the Pro stages of the race.

It might just be my own personal opinion, but the opening round of the series feels much better for having taken place at Oulton Park this season as opposed to Brands Hatch, as the Easter weekend plays out in a more flexible fashion for drivers, teams and most critically spectators interested in the racing at both WEC/ELMS and British GT events. The crowd at Oulton was a good size, and the banks were packed with people keen to see the new season begin.  

 

Pete Richardson

British GT – 2017 Round 1 Preview – Oulton Park

It’s early Spring in the United Kingdom. Trees are in blossom, bumblebees are merrily buzzing their way around flowers, and most people are considering their first occasion to barbecue. Except of course, those involved with the British GT paddock who are heading for the North West of England and Cheshire, for Oulton Park which returns to its traditional opening slot on the calendar for the 2017 season.

For drivers the long wait is over, and competition restarts with the reigning champions in both classes back for more action. Last season, Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the TF Sport Aston Martin started with gusto and verve, and a fair slice of good fortune, by winning the first two races of the season. Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson in the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 are hoping to repeat their luck at Oulton in 2016, where they took the car to a double race win, and strengthened their title charge with it. In the #1 and #501 cars respectively these pairings have much expectation and hopes, and a lot of pressure to live up to.

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The levels of competition in each field have improved over the winter, most notably in the GT4 class. With the balance of the field weighted heavily towards the smaller class, the annual Oulton Park “traffic jam amongst the trees” could see the GT4 cars being a factor in both races over the weekend, with the faster GT3 machines requiring agility and space to weave their way around the narrow, treacherous Cheshire circuit.

Thankfully, last year there were relatively few incidents to speak of. A pit lane collision amongst several of the GT3 leaders left the path clear for Liam Griffin and Adam Carroll to win the first race in the #6 Barwell Lamborghini Huracan, the first ever for the Italian machine in the British GT championship. Also taking a popular victory in the second race was Team Parker Racing with the colossally sized Bentley of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris, with the race shortened after an unfortunate crash for Anna Walewska in the Century Ginetta whilst battling for GT4 podium honours.

The Bentley will be a strong favourite again for overall and GT3 honours on Monday, however the vast size of the British machine is not necessarily suited to the tight confines of Oulton when it comes to lapping the field, as it did last year. Parfitt and Morris will want a repeat of last season’s win, and having back up from the Ian Loggie & Callum McLeod car may yet prove useful for them.

TF Sport have the same foursome as last season, and Johnston and Adam’s #1 machine is joined by the #11 car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, who will hope to step up having won the Spa round last season. MacMillan Racing have taken on the role of being the third AMR backed GT3 Aston Martin this year, with Radical and historic expert driver James Littlejohn making a full return to the series alongside Jack Mitchell, a hot talent in almost any car he races.

Barwell’s Lamborghini squad comes back with 2 cars again, but with one massive change, as Sam Tordoff joins Liam Griffin in the #6 machine for this year. Tordoff will want to be at the front quickly having been at the sharp end of BTCC last year, although beating stablemates Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen in the brightly coloured #33 Demon Tweeks Lamborghini will probably go a long way into making him happy.

Anyone who watched the recent Blancpain Sprint series races at Misano will know that Mercedes are back in GT3 to show their muscle, and there are two AMG GT3s on the grid this season, and they replace the outgoing BMW Z4s run by the respective teams last season. AmD run with Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, who share a car in British GT for the first time since 2014. Rollcentre, and their vast knowledge of sports car racing come back with last year’s Am champions Richard Neary and Martin Short. The AMG GT3 has certainly proved itself as a hot bit of kit in Europe, but whether the short cut-and-thrust of British tracks will suit the long-nosed German car is to be seen. Testing results show promise already.

Ginetta’s GT3 season in 2016 was probably one the Yorkshire concern didn’t really want to write home about. The bigger version of the G55 was wheeled into the workshop over the winter, and came back with some new parts inside it, most notable is a big thumping Chevrolet engine which was once the base for their G57 prototype racer. They’ve also wheeled in two US bright sparks in Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker, who showed their paces in the Pirelli World Challenge last year. Chase will race alongside Ginetta superhero Charlie Robertson, and Gottsacker is sharing with Century boss Nathan Freke, who steps up from GT4.

One element we’ve not yet seen in the build up to 2017 is the Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 of Duncan Cameron and the globetrotting Matt Griffin. Griffin and Cameron have previous with the championship, but as with the Mercedes, the Ferrari remains relatively unproven on British soil. They may yet have to fight their way through the crowd to get near top honours this year.

Now we come to what is the bulk of the grid: GT4. Small in size the cars may be but there is no doubt they’ve captured the minds of many people, and the entry list reflects this.

There most popular new thing this season in the class is the McLaren 570S, which has 6 entries. There are two from Garage 59, who supported Ecurie Ecosse last year for Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty, and Akhil Rabindra and Dean MacDonald. Mitchell and Haggerty will be keen to get more from this year after 2 race wins in 2016. Tolman step back down to GT4 with David Pattinson and Joe Osborne who believes GT4 will be the future of GT racing on British shores at least, and must be in for the top steps. In2Racing have two cars due to race. Richard Marsh and Gareth Howell in one, and Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham making a late switch from the EborGT Maserati in the second. Track-club, the former Lotus Cup specialists now come to the British GT series with Adam Balon and Adam MacKay sharing the driving duties. It would not be a surprise to see a selection of these cars at the front of the GT4 pack and on podiums this season, although Oulton may not suit the car as well.

Ginetta’s GT4 presence remains this year and Optimum are joined by two cars for Century, who have given Britcar racers Steve Fresle and Jacob Mathiassen the chance to prove their mettle in the GT paddock with their G55. Anna Walewska returns, partnering Ginetta factory man Mike Simpson, who steps into the GT4 G55 for the first time. Team champions Team HARD with RCIB Racing are bringing back their talent pool and two cars for Mike Newbould and 2012 GT3 champion Michael Caine, who has lost none of his desire and attitude behind the wheel, with the second for youngsters Matt Chapman and Sam Webster. Add in the Lanan Racing car of David Pittard and Alex Reed, who are quietly confident of shaking up the order once more with their machine which won at Spa, and the HHC Motorsport squad with junior graduates Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton and you have a big contingent of challengers for GT4 podiums and wins.

Whilst McLaren and Ginetta’s interest has grown, Aston Martin’s has diminished, which is rather a surprise considering the popularity and prevalence of the V8 Vantage in the last few seasons. Only two teams remain flying the Aston GT4 flag – MacMillan Racing with Team HARD transferee Will Phillips and F4 graduate Jan Jonck, and Academy Motorsport returning with Matt Nicoll-Jones and Will Moore, who share their British efforts with a GT4 EuroSeries campaign.

Nissan have put their oar in this season as well, and UltraTek Racing partner RJN in providing two 370Z GT4 machines. Richard Taffinder and Tim Eakin, who ran with the team’s Lotuses last year are back and are partnered by Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher respectively. Nissan will have to prove a lot quickly, as they have not been a regular in GT4 competition, and Oulton may be a baptism of fire for the squad and their drivers.

Two further entries expand the manufacturer’s pool for 2017. EborGT ran some solid races last year with the Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4, and they return with ex-MacMillan racer Matty Graham, who impressed the Yorkshire team in testing enough to get a race seat and James Kellett. Team Parker Racing are also backing the only Porsche in the field, which this year comes with all the interesting pieces that Stuttgart can supply the team. Nick Jones returns to drive it, as does Scott Malvern, who impressed in his Ginetta, before the (sadly underprepared) 2016 Porsche arrived.

Furnished with this mighty entry, what can we actually expect on Easter Monday. It would be tough to rule out wins for the #31 Bentley of Parfitt/Morris or the #33 Lamborghini of Minshaw/Keen, with these consistent pairings pushing to improve against the TF Sport Astons, who will surely push to keep their two strong lineups at the sharp end, which the V12 Vantage is more than capable of. Don’t rule out the Griffin/Tordoff car though, and there could even be a podium shout for the #24 MacMillan Aston, if they are in the mood!

GT4 could be beyond prediction this year. Mitchell and Haggerty will want to begin at Oulton as they did at Donington last year – winning. Ginetta have improved their car, though and there are a number of good drivers out there who will be confident of stopping them, and of course, Johnson/Robinson will be favourites to do that having both the theoretical #1 plate and a double win in the Park last year. But, with competition being what it is, you should never rule out GT hotshots like Joe Osborne and Mike Simpson from making a big break when they climb onboard.

Two one-hour races await the field on Easter Monday. It will be hectic around the rolling Cheshire parkland from the first fall of the flag, to say the least. Drivers were warned last year to not make risky decisions in case the wrath of the Clerk of the Course be incurred. With a full season ahead of them, you cannot rule out the battle for an early advantage being hard fought from the first seconds of racing beginning. Expect the blue touchpaper to be lit with vigour.

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Parklife Perusals:

Design fans will want to keep a keen eye on the #56 Tolman McLaren this year in its striking grey and purple honeycomb livery, which looks sensational from almost any angle. Joe Osborne may be stepping down a class, but he’s picked a heck of a machine to “step down” into.

Both Ferrari and Porsche have full time entries this year, although sadly any hopes of a Steve McQueen Le Mans style battle between the two old rivals are dashed, as Porsche’s big car is yet to make an appearance in the GT3 class. We can but dream of battle being rejoined on British tracks in future.

This is the only race weekend this season where there is a full day’s gap between qualifying and race day. Easter Sunday is not a racing day, and so teams and drivers have 24 hours away from the cockpit. No bad thing, when you consider the pressures of the opening round of the season.

Dennis Strandberg In New STCC Venture With Lestrup Racing Team

 

img_3914 Dennis Strandberg, the 23 year old from Helsingborg, Skane is returning to Sweden to race in the STCC together with Lestrup Racing Team. Dennis with experience in TCR Germany and British GT will drive the team’s VW Golf GTI TCR in the premiere round  at Knutstorp with the aim of bringing together more races during the year.

“Right now we just competing at Knutstorp but the ambition is obviously to run more races this year”  confirms Dennis. “I look forward to it and it’s great that we began discussing this last autumn in Germany when I first met Fredrik and the team is now a reality. I got a good experience of the car in Germany last year and went very well so I hope to make a good clear start at Knutstorp”.

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Dennis has competed in several years abroad but now felt the time was right to showup at home.
“After several years abroad, I felt it was time to show what I can do at home and the time feels very right now with the STCC’s new focus. It’s a lot of fun and is a new project for the team, and I look forward to doing this with Lestrup Racing”.

 

Lestrup Racing Team’s coming together with Dennis Strandberg means it will run two cars in the opening race at Knutstorp. Previously it was arranged that this year they will take care of Experion Racing VW Golf driven by Albin Wärnelöv, and now a second car for Dennis Strandberg. Fredrik Lestrup confirm that the plan from the beginning has been to run two cars, and is happy to have put together a deal with Dennis Strandberg.

“Dennis and I got in contact at the final race of the TCR Germany last Autumn and have had many discussions since then”, says Fredrik. “He made a strong effort, this is the kind of drivers we need, so I’m very happy that we got together a deal to focus on Knutstorp. The aim is obviously to get together more races this year, but this is a good first step for us and we will benefit greatly from having two VW Golf to at the first race at Knutstorp”.img_3913

If You Don’t Ask, The Answer is Always No!

Time for my 2016 review (at last). While quite a lot of people have spent the last week or 2 moaning about how 2016 was the worst year going, personally I’ve had a fantastic year! Better than I ever could have imagined.

As most people who know me will have heard me go on about loads, I’ve spent a massive chunk of the year volunteering with Team-HARD Racing.

It all started with one random tweet from Tony Gilham (team boss) asking for any volunteers to help with a new hospitality unit being set up at Brands Hatch. As I was only working down the road I figured why not reply and go see what the set up days at a race meeting are like.

After that was all done it came to the weekends entertainment properly, and as usual it didn’t disappoint. But my mind, for most of Saturday, was taken up with thinking of ways I could get my foot in the door and get some experience working with a team. Thankfully it didn’t take long for an opportunity to show itself. When I spotted Tony again on the Sunday morning on pit walkabout, all I did was go and ask if he needed any volunteers for the rest of the season. That’s all it took! No fancy qualifications.

Now admittedly I don’t get to work on the cars much (fair enough really when they cost at least £250,000). But I’m always there to help when it’s needed and get everything set up and packed away on the big weekends. If I’m lucky, at the VW weekends (VAG Trophy or VW Cup) I’ll get to help one of the mechanics work on the of the Golf R’s that we run. On these days the amount I’ve learnt is incredible!

If you’re looking at getting into the motorsport life because you love to watch racing, don’t bother. One of the first things I learnt when I was away on my first proper weekend, is that you will probably see next to no actual racing, apart from maybe the timing screens. But if you want to work in motorsport for the adrenaline of it all then the pit lane is the place to be! The feeling being in a team’s garage when everything is going well and they’re having a good race is incredible.

 

Usually I’d go on and on about how amazing working in motorsport can be, but for a change I won’t. All I will say is, if you’re not sure if you want to work in the pit lane, go and ask a team. Chances are they’re after a few extra pairs of hands just to volunteer helping pack things away. If you’re thinking to yourself “they wouldn’t want me, I don’t have any experience” think again. There’s always room for some extra help, and who knows, if you prove to be of great value to the team and you’re not afraid of a bit of hard work you may end up with a job. At the very least you’ll make a bunch of new friends!

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To finish this off, I just want to say a HUGE thank you to Tony Gilham and all the crew at Team-HARD. Mainly for accepting me into the family in 2016 and giving me a chance to prove myself. Couldn’t have asked to work with a funnier, harder working group of motorsport enthusiasts! Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!

 

© Mark Eakin & Sandra Hebbourn

04/01/2017

Academy Motorsport, Moore & Strandberg reunite for European GT4 Finale

Dennis Strandberg comes full circle and back to a team and team mate he knows well from the 2015 season.
This weekend in Zandvoort, Dennis and Will Moore reunite and also with the team they drove together at, Academy Motorsport to take on the European GT4’s
The Aston Martin Vantage GT4 is a proven car and brought them together the team championship in British GT last year.
The pairing of Will and Dennis will please many of their fans who followed the 2015 season which brought them 5th in the driver championship and a nail biting finale, a season that saw them consistently qualify high in the GT4 order for the grid, unfortunately Lady Luck had other plans and the win that was owed eluded them. 
This also opens up a potential for the 2017 season, we await to see if this weekend may lead to more from the two men. 
Dennis Strandberg has been without a full season seat this year but this hasn’t stopped the “Slick Swede” from racing as a guest in many different series over the year.
He has shown his outstanding race craft in the VW cup and VW funcup at Spa in July, taking home trophies for both and most recently last weekend in Hockenheim for the Italian TCR outfit Target Competition, managing P2 in both his races.
2016 has been a great year for Dennis, he’s consistently shone in every race he’s competed in and shown he is a very versatile yet skilled racer.


Photo courtesy of Alex Denham Photography

Why Will Moore Is A Name That Won’t Just Disappear!

 

Will Moore is more than just a name on a tv screen, down the side of a car and much more than just a racing driver.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have been around Will for two seasons now, in the privileged position that allows me to see a driver at their highest highs and lowest lows on a race weekend, to be among the close group that get to give a good luck hug and a final few words of encouragement as he walks through to the garage to don his helmet and climb in the car

Of this I am certain, you will see him driving next season!

Due to being heavily hit with BOP as a silver/silver pairing Will and his teammate for 2016 Ryan Ratcliffe, the team Optimum Motorsport made the decision to pull the plug on the Audi for the final two rounds of the British GT Championship.

The BOP hits meant so much ballast weight had to be put on the car that she wasn’t capable of being in with a chance of the championship and therefore every race weekend was spent being pumped up to struggle but be able to walk away knowing everyone had tried their best apart from the SIlverstone 500!

I’ll go on about that forever I think, the Silverstone round was one hell of a race! The weather appalling, it was a deluge from the sky onto the black asphalt that day and a pretty dangerous place to be throwing a car around at high speed.

The visibility was atrocious, windscreen wipers struggled to keep up and the spray was such that heading into corners all drivers that day headed in blind.

Now let’s take this back a step, last season Will drove the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4 and grew throughout the season, ending it in my opinion as the best am or bronze graded driver out there, he took a big leap up after one single year in British GT to GT3, a silver grading and a brand new car the Audi R8 LMS and a team he knows well Optimum Motorsport, for those who don’t know the GT4 cars are based on the road car and have racing upgrades but the GT3’s are pure racing cars with a shell that looks like the road car, aero’d up to the eyeballs, this makes it a whole new driving experience and as such a new learning experience.

ok, so back to Silverstone now, Will was out there with others far, far more experienced drivers and he sent them all back to school. I’ve spoken to several drivers and one comment sticks out in my mind, the driver said he’s ” never been scared when racing till that day” because of the visibility, handling and weather conditions and bearing that in mind it’s truly unbelievable how Will managed to handle the Audi that day, to have her leading alot of the race, I truly don’t think he’s received as much credit or tv time as he should’ve that weekend.

So what is next for Will?

I wish I could give you some exclusive next season news right now but sadly i can’t, what I can say with certainty that he’ll be lined up somewhere next season, will it be British GT or another series, only he knows currently. Will I be there tweeting from the garage,  on periscope and facebook live and standing under a podium post race? I most definitely want to be because Will is also a man with the drive and determination to get to the top, a great all around guy, the type you want to go to a party with. He has a James Bond-esque air about him with his dark hair & smart well kept appearance, he is the perfect gentleman trackside, yet somewhat mysterious and private, far, far more than just a name on a screen, down the side on a car and another racing driver.

British GT Round 6 Review – Snetterton

With Spa complete and at the double following the Blancpain 24 Hour race shortly after, it was a return to British soil for the penultimate weekend in the British GT season. Regrettably though, we came with a distinct shortening of the GT3 field with the withdrawal of two of the most notable entries.

Beechdean’s #1 GT3 Aston was withdrawn from proceedings following serious accident damage at the previous race weekend at Spa. It has been some long time since a Beechdean sponsored machine was missing from the GT3 line up, with Andrew Howard not entering a race for the first time since the 2011 season. Not all doom and gloom for the ice cream magnate though as his GT4 entry increases by one for this round with Paul Hollywood taking a well earned break from his TV presenting duties to join Jamie Chadwick in the #408 Aston alongside the regular #407 which will be piloted by Jack Bartholomew and Ross Gunn, who replaces Jordan Albert in the car, as Albert leaves the team.

Also sadly missing is the Audi R8 of Optimum Motorsport, who made the unusual step of parting ways with both drivers – Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe – after the Silver pairing rules meant that the time were hampered with weight penalties and subsequently left uncompetitive amongst the other GT3 competition. The boxy German machine was sadly missed for this round, however the #50 Ginetta GT4 championship chasing entry stays put.

 

The GT4 field was in fact boosted by the return of Stratton Motorsport’s two entries – a Lotus Evora for Richard Taffinder and Martin Plowman as well as an Aston Martin for David Tinn and Andrew Jarman. It was a very welcome return for a Lotus to the GT paddock after last year saw a brace fighting for season honours.

Last season’s Snetterton race was akin to the opening scene of Noah’s flood, with the rain hammering down in torrents, and the race weekend in 2016 began on completely the opposite scale with the teams being greeted by bright sunshine. A very welcome sight for the championship contenders. And indeed the championships are as close as ever, with TF Sport and Barwell fighting it out for the teams championship with 6.5 points between them. The drivers’ table is still led by Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam however they are being caught by Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who are closing in with consistent performances. In GT4 the rookie team of the year, Team HARD with their two Ginettas are top of the team tree with a 23 point gap. Following the withdrawal of Jordan Albert, Jack Bartholomew is now left in sole pursuit of the Optimum driver pairing of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson both piling into a feast of points at the opening of the season.

Free practice in Norfolk was a hot affair (literally) with the pace eventually being set by the Barwell and TF Sport teams once more. The first non-Aston or Lamborghini was the BMW Z4 of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne with the McLaren of Ecurie Ecosse with Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell next up. In GT4, the Generation AMR squad were running on a high with both their cars 1st and 3rd in the standings, sandwiching the baby McLaren. Unfortunately, the 56 Tolman Motorsport Ginetta GT3 machine suffered a shunt and would need heavy repairs to make qualifying, which it duly did, earning Tolman an award for the team of the weekend.

As at Oulton, the qualifying sessions would set the grids for both races, with the Amateur drivers starting the first race and the Pros starting the second. Following on from his win at Spa, Mark Farmer put the TF Sport #11 Aston Martin on pole for race one with Jon Minshaw’s #33 Lamborghini alongside him. The Lamborghini then claimed pole for race two in the hands of Minshaw’s team mate Phil Keen, who this time headed title rival Jonny Adam in the #17 TF Sport Aston. In GT4, Alex Reed in the #51 Ginetta put in a beautiful lap to secure race one pole, with Ross Gunn taking a clear pole for race two in the #407 Aston on his return to the class after last year’s championship win. Things were not going so well for Team Parker Racing’s #31 Bentley, with Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris failing to make the impact on the timesheets that they had previously managed, however there was cheer for Mowle and Osborne, who pushed their BMW right up behind the Lamborghini/Aston battles to be in prime position for Sunday’s racing.

As Sunday dawned once again bright and sunny, the GT3 field was once more thinned down as the #88 Team Abba Rollcentre BMW of Richard Neary and Martin Short was withdrawn after a serious oil leak left the car irrepairable for the day’s events. A bitter end to the weekend for the BMW squad, who could only watch on whilst the others made their way round to the first race of the day. At the first change of the lights, Mark Farmer put his foot down and took Derek Johnston with him into the first corner at Riches. Alasdair McCaig’s McLaren appeared up behind Johnston on the infield and the pair collided on the exit to Agostini, causing both to slew across the grass and drop to the back of the GT3 field. Further back at the front of the GT4 pack, MacMillan Racing’s Jack Mitchell had a storming start and was past Reed in the Lanan Ginetta and Johnson in the Optimum Ginetta. Infact, this was a strong weekend for the GT4 Aston contingent, and before long Jack Bartholomew was charging up to the front in the Beechdean Aston Martin #407. The front of the race was becoming a real spectacle as the gaps never extended far enough for anyone of the top 4 to be out of contention for position, with Lee Mowle chasing after Minshaw and Farmer at the top of the tree. Behind them Johnston and McCaig had recovered from their blushworthy moment in the #17 Aston and #79 McLaren to push back up the order. As they went into traffic, Mark Farmer made hay while the sun shone to try and open a gap over Minshaw’s #33 Lamborghini, knowing that TF Sport’s time penalty for winning at Spa would push the #11 back down the pecking order at the driver change. In GT4, the #59 McLaren was slowly making its presence felt in the pack. As the pitstops came, the #79 McLaren pulled out without Rob Bell getting far, as the off across the grass earlier on had caused radiator damage. Phil Keen took over from Jon Minshaw and Jon Barnes took over from Mark Farmer in the #33 and #11 cars, but with the time penalty for Barnes to serve, it was Keen who stormed away, chased by Joe Osborne now in the #7 BMW, and Osborne was in no mood to finish second. Unfortunately, the BMW man went in in a slightly overzealous fashion on Keen at the Bomb Hole, and made contact, causing Keen to spin and lose position. As the race wore on, Osborne maintained his lead in GT3, however the stewards had finally caught up on the contact, and awarded a drive through penalty to the #7 car, with only minutes left in the race. A fine drive from Osborne to maintain first had been sadly ended by an incident on track, and although he took the flag first, the timekeepers levied a 30s time addition to the BMW in lieu of the drive through, leaving the Demon Tweeks #33 Lamborghini as the winner of the first race ahead of the #11 TF Sport Aston and the recovering #31 Bentley of Parfitt and Morris. In GT4, by virtue of pace and no time penalty, the #59 McLaren of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty held onto a lead from the charging Ross Gunn in #407, who had passed Matthew Graham in the #42 Aston on his way up through the pack. This result meant that a lead change in the title race for the GT3 teams, with Minshaw and Keen going ahead of Johnston and Adam as the second race opened up before the teams.

The second race was started of course, by the regular Pro drivers, and Keen and Adam on the front row of the grid blasted off from the rolling start knowing that the title hinged on this race and the next. Adam wanted desperately to get ahead of the red and green liveried Lamborghini, however with a 10 second penalty coming in the pits for the Lamborghini, Adam could afford to merely keep Keen’s tail in sight. Joe Osborne was back in the mix as well, this time fighting Alexander Sims in the second Barwell #6 Lamborghini. Behind the leaders, a race of attrition had begun. Jody Fannin in the returning #5 PFL Aston was plummeting down the order at a rapid pace, and Rob Bell was struggling in the #79 McLaren too. Before long, both cars would be out of the race with mechanical issues putting an end to their chances. This elevated Seb Morris further up the order from his lowly start position of 9th. GT4 was not absent of mechanical problems either, and while Ross Gunn was trying to keep SuperRacing’s Matthew George off his tail, the Lotus driven by Martin Plowman headed into the pits to retire in an unfortunate weekend for the Norfolk marque, following a retirement in the first race. Plowman had had a scary experience after noticing a fire in the Evora cockpit leading to his withdrawal from the race. Also out from GT4 went the podium finishing #42 Aston of MacMillan Racing, which went pop in a spectacular way on the infield, leaving oil and a rather saddened Matthew Graham behind it. Amongst all of this, Jonny Adam never once gave in on his pursuit of Phil Keen’s Lamborghini, as the teams headed up to the pit stop. And here, the race turned on its head, as Derek Johnston climbed into the #17 Aston Martin, only for his seatbelts to become tangled as the rival #33 car served it’s 10 second success penalty. The world stood still for TF Sport as Minshaw fired up and headed out into the distance. Mowle had taken over from Osborne in the BMW now and was ahead of Johnston, and Liam Griffin had made the most of Alexander Sims’ consistent driving and was fighting with Mowle for position, when the BMW and the #6 Lamborghini collided, sending Griffin onto the grass and sustaining irrepairable damage to the car. In GT4, Jack Bartholomew was out again in the #407 car and had maintained Ross Gunn’s hard work, as James Holder faded in the chasing #44 SuperRacing Aston. Graham Johnson was now chasing for a podium finish to peg back some points in the title battle in the #50 Optimum car, and he took Reed in the Lanan Ginetta with him. At the front though, another investigation hung over the #7 BMW which put a cloud over Mowle and Osborne’s drive, and with Johnston chasing hard to make up lost time and keep the gap down in the championship race to a minimum, it was only a matter of time for the #17 car to hit second. Behind them, Rick Parfitt had caught up and was attempting to get past Mowle, who defended his podium place with vigour, eventually triumphing over the Bentley boy to get something back from what had been a clouded weekend for the AmD team. But the story of the day was Minshaw and Keen taking the first British GT double sprint weekend win since 2010, which pushed open their title topping gap and made for yet another nailbiting final round at Donington in September. The Barwell squad have now taken 3 wins in the last 4 races in the championship, and will face a mountain to climb at Donington the next time out to beat the penalty they face in a pitstop and a track that traditionally favours the Aston.

And so it is to the Midlands we next go, for the traditional season finish to the championship with the title on a knifeedge once more. Minshaw and Keen lead Johnston and Adam by 11.5 points, and there has always been some drama at the final round of the season to make life complicated for the title fighters. The GT4 battle is also up for grabs and even tighter. Bartholomew is a mere 2.5 points behind Robinson and Johnson and needs only to finish ahead to win the title. The gloves will be off, and the stage is set for yet another final race decider…

Notices from Norfolk:

Tolman were not the only team with a big repair job needed ahead of Sunday’s races. In the second qualifying session, Matthew George suffered an off in the final qualifying session on Saturday, however the Generation AMR SuperRacing team rebuilt the entire front end for Sunday, including a fetching “eyepatch” where the headlight once was.

The McLaren pairing of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell broke the record for being the youngest pairing to ever win a British GT race. To give you a rough idea, Sandy was born in 2000. To most of us, even that seems really young…

Buy One Get Two Free!

It’s been a while since I last wrote anything so this entry is a bit of a bonus special (code words for long!)

First weekend to talk about is the British Touring Cars at Oulton Park. This was my 2nd weekend working with the family at Team-HARD Racing, also it was another track I had never been to before.

Myself and 3 of the other guys bundled into a car and started heading up to Cheshire late morning, so we arrived at the track a little after lunchtime to start setting up the garages. The truckies had been at the track since the morning so I think they were happy for something to do at last. Thankfully this time we had actual real garages to set up in rather than the awning we had to use at Thruxton so garage set up didn’t take too long. Once that was done, those of us not working on the cars went to make a start on the hospitality awning.

If we thought it was tough setting up on slightly uneven ground last time, we were in for a shock this time. The truck was parked up on a nice slope just on the inside of turn 1. Great spot to watch from, but not so great to set up a big awning that attaches to the side of the trailer. The main problem being, once the feet of the trailer go down it levels out, so the awning is coming from a level onto a slope. This provided us with some headaches.

Day 1 wasn’t so bad as we only put up the framework, but day 2 was a nightmare trying to get everything to fit properly, but they don’t call us Team-HARD for nothing, we managed to get it all set up eventually, maybe with a little help from some gaffer tape but ssshhhh no-one noticed 😉

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Then we get into the race weekend proper, practice and qualifying didn’t go too bad, could always be better but it set us up nicely for race day where we had some good and some bad races, the best being race 3 on Sunday afternoon when Jake Hill went from starting 26th to 9th place! We had some results with Michael Epps as well over the day which meant we took away from valuable points from the weekend.

Packing down wasn’t as hard as at Thruxton and we had everything done about an hour earlier than the last time, shame we had a longer drive home!

A couple of weeks later and it’s time to head out again, this time even further up to Croft in Yorkshire. Not a part of the world I’ve visited much and the rumours were true, it definitely had its own weather system up there, the forecast could change faster than I can snap my fingers, most of the weekend it worked in our favour.

This was to be another weekend where we had not only the hospitality awning to set up but the garage awning too. Thankfully we were able to have them parked right next to each other just beside the track at turn one, again some great viewing to be had from there all weekend, which our Team-HARD VIP’s can vouch for as most of them never left the hospitality all Sunday apart from to come on the gird walks!

It was this weekend that I had what some would class as a bit of a promotion, really the normal guy that takes care of the VIP’s couldn’t make it for this weekend so I was asked to stand in. A few years ago I would have hidden when asked to take on something like this, but 2016 seems to be a year for me throwing myself in at the deep end so why stop now! As well as looking after the VIP’s on Sunday, I was put in charge of the Team-HARD golf buggy, which was mainly being used to get drivers and mechanics where they needed to be (usually further up near the pit lane!).

Race day was absolutely crazy for me, I was running up and down the paddock in the buggy getting equipment/drivers/grid girls all where they needed to be most of the morning before race 1. At the same time as this I had to go and meet guests as they arrived at the gates to show their passes and get them into the circuit. This was fine for a while until it all started getting close to the start of the first race, then it was a rush to get things sorted so that I could get back and take my guests out onto the grid for their first (and mine) grid walk of the day.

Thankfully most of them knew what they were doing and I knew most of what needed to be done so between us we managed just fine and everyone had a good day for all the grids. The races could have gone better for us but we still came away from the weekend with more points in the bag (this is becoming a wonderful habit for Team-HARD!).

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Around the time race 3 was due to get underway the clouds came over, during the race the rain started falling, then when all was said and done, and the team needed to start packing up, that’s when the heavens opened! For a while it didn’t matter too much as we were packing away everything inside the awning. It got messy when it came to taking down the awning itself. A few of us, needless to say got a good soaking!

Eventually we got everything packed away, and by about 9:45 on Sunday evening we were leaving the track for the last time and starting the stupidly long drive back down to Kent. This took quite a while as between 3 of us in the van we had to swap drivers a couple of times before we started falling asleep behind the wheel. Thankfully we made it home safe and sound but about 1am!

I still have to pinch myself on these weekends to realise yes I am actually doing this, I am working with a real life race team, and I don’t think I could have picked a better bunch of guys to volunteer to help with this year. Team-HARD aren’t the biggest team on the BTCC grid by any stretch, but the amount of effort these guys put in to getting their cars out there and making everything run smoothly is incredible! I’m really proud to call myself one of the weekend warriors with these guys and girls.

But wait, there’s more!…..

Ok this was more of a recreational visit, but I was originally going to be working with the team. Last weekend myself and Sandra made the trip out to Spa-Francorchamps for the British GT weekend. If anyone reading this hasn’t been to Belgium before or has seen the Formula 1 races there on TV, you need to go. That’s it. It’s so much easier to get to than I realised, just a small 4 hour drive from the channel tunnel and you’re in the middle of the Ardennes Forrest driving around on road that used to be part of the original circuit!

The only thing I will say is, be prepared for lots of walking up hill if you want to get around and see a bit more of the track. The furthest away from the paddock we ventured was up to the top of Eau Rouge but that was plenty tiring enough for us thank you very much. But what a view you get from up there! The whole place is breath taking.

As it was a British GT weekend we had friends in various paddocks, also Team-HARD were running not only in the main British GT race but also had some of their cars out there for the VW Racing Cup.

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We didn’t see the podium we deserved but got a solid haul of points to keep the team at the top of the GT4 standings, not bad for a team running their first season in the British GT championship! We’ll have to see how the last 2 weekends play out, but fingers crossed for a class title in our 1st season!

I think I’ve rambled on enough for now, I hope everyone is enjoying the insight into what its like to “work” in motorsport. Next race weekend for me will be the British Touring Cars at Snetterton at the end of this month. If you’re there make sure you come over to our garage and say hello!

British GT Round 5 Preview – Spa Francorchamps

With Silverstone’s damp and dank 3 hour race completed, the teams in the British GT paddock rubbed their cold hands with anticipation in advance of the annual trip to Europe, and Spa Francorchamps is the venue for the 5th weekend of racing this season.

The championship’s annual run into Belgium has proved notably popular, not only with the regulars travelling from the typical grey summers of Britain to one of the world’s most famed circuits, but also with the wildcard entries preparing for the gruelling and notorious Spa 24 Hour race to take place shortly in the Blancpain Endurance Series.

So, we have an expanded GT3 field for the weekend’s racing, with Lamborghini team Grasser Racing and the mighty German Black Falcon squad arrive with a pair of Mercedes AMG GT3 machines.  Team Parker’s second Bentley also returns for the Belgian round.

GT4 also expands once more as the GT4 European Series returns to partner their British counterparts for the trip round the picturesque and torturous Ardennes circuit. The two classes are reinforced further by two additional Aston Martins from Beechdean and Stratton Racing.

Spa though, is a tricky prospect for any racing driver. It’s one of the longest and toughest tracks of the year, and the 2 hour race in prospect will no doubt put some of the drivers through the toughest conditions of the season, with the famous ever-changing weather of the South East of Belgium potentially separating the course into a wet half and a dry half. Add to this the tricky fast sections such as Eau Rouge and Raidillion and the underrated but equally daunting Blanchimont then you have a recipe for a grand test of driver skill.

Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen will arrive at Spa on a high following their excellent strategical victory at Silverstone last time out, and with Barwell chasing championship honours, another win at Spa would be welcome, provided they can overcome the inevitable ballast and pit stop penalties. Championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam endured a DNF at Silverstone and will hope to recover valuable points at Spa, and the loss of penalties will unleash Adam in the second half of the race for a big push for victory. Bentley’s weekend at Silverstone was equally torrid, but with testing for the Spa 24H putting Seb Morris fastest of everyone and everything they cannot be ruled out from being in a powerful position come Saturday afternoon’s action.

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Another happy chappy after Silverstone was Joe Osborne, who secured second place alongside Lee Mowle in their BMW Z4 in its swansong season. Lest we forget that at Spa 24 Hours last year, MarcVDS piloted a similar machine to victory, so it’s not a car to rule out at any stage, in spite of the pitstop penalty to be applied to the AmD team. Also riding high on many stages is Rob Bell, who switches back to Ecurie Ecosse having secured Blancpain Sprint victories at the Nurburgring last weekend in his almost now omnipresent McLaren, and will be looking to make the most of being unpenalised for this weekend.

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The GT4 class results will no doubt hang upon the performance of the very nearly peerless Optimum Motorsport Ginetta #50 of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson. The #75 TeamHARD/RCIB Racing Ginetta pairing of Stilp and Phillips took the win at Silverstone and now face their first test with a full time penalty. It was also pleasing to see Nathan Freke and Anna Walewska on the podium at Silverstone after many trials by fire in the #73 Century Ginetta. The Ginettas may have their work cut out at Spa, as another victory for the marque will no doubt see the heavy weights back on their machinery for Belgium. Aston Martin will hope for more, with Beechdean’s juniors being bolstered by the arrival of their sister car, piloted by Paul Hollywood and Jamie Chadwick, who returns to the squad where she won the 2015 title.

Whatever your point of view of the Spa circuit and the challenges it brings, this will be one of the most hotly anticipated races of the season. With only 2 rounds remaining once this weekend is complete, drivers will want to begin the steady downhill roll with points on the board to bring everything into contention for the showdown round at Donington in September. It’s an ideal place for the brave driver to showcase his championship credentials. The most commonly asked question will be “did you take Eau Rouge flat?” Any driver worth his salt will try it at least once, but it’s not about how fast you climb, but how strong you stay for the rest of the journey.

Echoes from an Ardennes forest:

Spa is unusual as it is the only Saturday race of the year. This is to make way for one of the “oddball” events of 2016 on the Sunday. The Spa 25 Hours for the VW Funcup, modified VW Beetles. Again, a very sharp contrast to the astounding line up of sports cars in the GT paddock.

Stratton Motorsport have brought back Andrew Jarman for their return to the GT4 scene. Jarman partnered Jody Fannin at TF Sport last year. Fannin, sadly, will not be racing at Spa, following a paddock incident for PFL Motorsport at Silverstone.

Yes, it is THAT Paul Hollywood in the second Beechdean Aston Martin GT4. He’s making the big step up to British GT racing having been a massive car aficionado for a long time. We’re quite a fan of the guy, if only because he owns some truly awesome cars in his garage.

©Pete Richardson / Cassandra Hebbourn

British GT Round 4 Review – Silverstone 500

In what is traditionally the longest and most unpredictable race of the British GT season, you can hardly expect the usual results from the field at Silverstone. And after last year’s victory for Von Ryan McLaren stand ins Gilles Vannelet and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, the 2016 race had a lot to live up to in terms of surprises.

As the 51-strong entry made their first steps out onto the Silverstone tarmac, it was clear there was going to be a lot of movement throughout the field. With the additional entries from the European GT4 Series thrown into the usual 30-odd British racers, both pit and paddock were heaving and teeming with activity, and varied opinions on the upcoming need to pass traffic.

Saturday had dawned well enough, and teams knew they had a hard day’s work ahead at the beginning of Free Practice, especially with the prospect of the weather changing for the worse on Sunday. The biggest leap forward in FP1 was made by the Barwell Lamborghini team, with their three entries for this weekend all completing the session in the top ten with Alexander Sims returning from BMW duty in Europe to post the fastest time of the session in the #6 car. The BMW of Mowle/Osborne put in a good show to go second behind the striking Italian machine in the session.

It was a theme of the two practice sessions that drivers exceeded the track limits on every lap. As previously pointed out to us by McLaren’s Rob Bell, the track limits on British circuits are monitored fiercely, and as the second session came to an end, the drivers were summoned to a mandatory briefing regarding exceeding the acceptable boundaries of racing. During the second session, cars were shown the black flag for excessive use of off-track areas, and it seemed that drivers were more or less learning their lesson from it.

The second free practice itself showed improvements from many drivers. Aston Martin teams were really looking strong after a rather hampered Oulton Park event, and eventually Jonny Adam finished top of the pile in his #17 TF Sport Aston he was to share with Derek Johnston. A surprise 2nd in this session was Callum MacLeod driving the #24 Team Parker Racing Bentley, which had made a wildcard entry for this race weekend. Also going well was the #2 FF Corse Ferrari driven by the returning 2014 champion Marco Attard, and the flying Irishman Adam Carroll, who was enjoying being reunited with a Ferrari once more. There were improvements as well for the Tolman Ginettas, which the team were hoping were free of mechanical gremlins from the trip northward.

In GT4, the signs of the BoP moving away from the favour of Ginetta seemed clear, after the Generation AMR team took top spot in both sessions with their two cars, #42 of Jack Mitchell and Matty Graham in the first and the #44 car of James Holder and Matthew George in the second. The Ecurie Ecosse McLaren was looking good too, as was the EborGT Maserati. Sadly, the Simpson Racing team couldn’t bring their new Porsche Clubsport GT4 further up the order in spite of the speedy Scott Malvern putting his all in to the German machine, which had been joined by its counterparts from the European series.

Qualifying arrived and the order changed once more. The standard practice of letting the Am drivers out first showed that it was more or less business as usual, as Rick Parfitt in the #31 Team Parker Bentley went top from Barwell’s Liam Griffin in the #6 Lamborghini. Third though, was Will Moore in the #14 Optimum Audi which was looking good round the fast Silverstone GP circuit. Behind Moore, the TF Sport Astons of Mark Farmer in #11 and Derek Johnston in #17 rounded out the top 5. As we headed into the pro session, it was clear that the Bentley would not be relinquishing its pole position, as Seb Morris thundered around in a stunning lap time of just over 2 minutes to fix the big machine at the head of the field. Alexander Sims fixed second on the grid for the #6 Barwell Lamborghini ahead of Jonny Adam in the #17 Aston, Ross Gunn in the #1 Beechdean Aston and Rob Bell in the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren.

The GT4 field had double the action and double the traffic for their sessions. The McLaren in the hands of Sandy Mitchell put in a stunning lap of 2:12 to take pole in the Am session ahead of the Beechdean #407 Aston driven by Jack Bartholomew, and the popular returning Swede Dennis Strandberg in the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston. The championship leading Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson couldn’t achieve its usual high position. The Pro session was almost looking like staying with the same top 3 as the Am session, with Haggerty in the McLaren posting an equivalent 2:12 lap time to his teammate, however as the session drew to an end, Nathan Freke in the #73 Century Ginetta found a few extra clicks in his car to move up to third ahead of Matt Nicoll-Jones in the #62 Aston. For the European teams, former Formula Ford start Ricardo van der Ende and his co-driver Bernhard van Oranje, powered their Ekris M4 (which to all intents and purposes is a brightly orange coloured BMW M4 GT4 machine and very striking for it) to fastest time in class.

As expected, race day dawned grey, cold, and exceedingly damp. The “warm up” session was more or less what it said on the tin, for Northamptonshire was bathed in unseasonable gloom, with cars kicking up huge rooster tails on the straights. The conditions threatened to catch out several drivers, and at one point Derek Johnston had a lurid looking rotation coming onto the Wellington Straight. Things were not well in Bentley though, as the #31 car returned to its garage after an off and the noises coming from the Team Parker pit box began to sound industrial – another body blow for the team’s luck this season. Fortunately, both cars would make the grid for the race in their correct starting positions.

As the race came, the temperature started to rise, but the rain was lingering, and persisting enough to force the grid to abandon its usual rolling start procedure and head out behind the safety car for the opening minutes of the race. And with the rain came the immediate change of strategy. There was barely time to move before teams went for broke and put in for their driver swaps. The Barwell team went for broke and switched out Jon Minshaw, Mark Poole and Liam Griffin for their respective Pros – Phil Keen, Richard Abra and Alexander Sims. Marco Attard also put the Ferrari in the hands of Adam Carroll, and Ian Stinton put the #32 Tolman Ginetta into Mike Simpson’s possession. This would hand the initiative to the Pro drivers as the green flag flew.

Derek Johnston stole the lead from Rick Parfitt on the fourth lap in, and Andrew Howard and Will Moore soon made their way past the #31 Bentley and up the order. The GT4 order was shuffled at the very first racing turn, with Jack Bartholomew passing the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren into Copse, and relegating the Scottish drivers backward into the clutches of the #51 Lanan Racing Ginetta of Alex Reed and the #42 MacMillan Racing Aston of Jack Mitchell, who had edged their way forward from the start.

It wouldn’t be long before the Safety Car would come out again for what felt a lengthy period, encouraging teams and drivers to check and change strategies. Derek Johnston’s race in the title leading Aston Martin had ended at Becketts with a shunt, putting the #17 car out of the race and in danger of losing out in the points standings.The length of the safety car period was not helped by the length of the Silverstone GP circuit, necessitating a long wait to “snatch” the race leader, nor by a suspension failure for the #666 Lamborghini which had to cruise round to the pit, holding up the field behind substantially while they could not pass.

As the caution period cleared, Alexander Sims had mounted to the lead of the race, followed by the #32 Ginetta which was making profit from its early pit stop. Not far behind in fourth was the other #56 Tolman Ginetta of Pattison/Davenport which was looking strong. The GT4 lead had passed back to the #59 McLaren now as well but the Ecurie Ecosse team were caught out by the green flag flying and found themselves well back down the order.

It wasn’t long though before the #32 Ginetta took the lead from Sims who pitted the Lamborghini. Behind the Stinton/Simpson car, the Beechdean Aston of Howard/Gunn had now moved up to second, and the #31 Bentley with Seb Morris at the wheel was chasing hard. Phil Dryburgh’s #8 Motorbase Aston Martin was also well up the order, and eventually only ceded position to the second Tolman Ginetta #56 of Pattison/Davenport.

But then, disaster struck Seb Morris in the Bentley, as the Welshman lost control of the big machine heading back down towards Brooklands, ripping apart the front end of the car, destroying the splitter and the radiator. 2 championship contenders had now fallen by the wayside in the race. Silverstone was once again proving its reputation as an unpredictable race, and a heartbreaker too, as Bentley had worked hard to repair their regular machine once more after a morning shunt.

The shuffling continued as the Beechdean Aston pitted leaving the way clear for something rarely seen in the British GT field – a Ginetta 1-2 as Simpson and Davenport pushed their way around the track in the Tolman cars having their day in the metaphorical sunshine.

The safety car came out once more, following shunts for both the #60 Maserati of Marcus Hoggarth (who earlier made good progress up the order along with co-driver Abbie Eaton) and the #5 PFL Aston of Pete Littler between Stowe and Vale, leaving both cars damaged, the Aston more so than the Maserati. The final shuffles of the deck took place. Both Ginettas pitted from their 1-2 to change drivers, and back in the Barwell pit, Phil Keen took his place back in the #33 Demon Tweeks liveried car and headed back out into the lead of the race. This was to be a lead he would not relinquish.

Behind the Lamborghini, Ryan Ratcliffe had climbed into the driving seat of the second placed #14 Audi, but was not able to keep up the pace of the chasing pack, particularly that of the tarmac ripping BMW of Joe Osborne, who set a late fastest lap as the track lost a little surface water, before taking advantage of the Audi battling with a feisty Ross Wylie in the #8 Aston. Behind Osborne and Ratcliffe, Adam Carroll and Rob Bell were having a cracking fight in the Ferrari and McLaren respectively, which was a pleasure to watch as the two aces fought out a battle of wits and speed, which the Irishman eventually won. Sadly for Ratcliffe, the pace of these two proved too much as they breezed past the Audi, who would eventually take fifth place as the flag fell.

The GT4 field behind them had a very active afternoon, but the biggest surprised came in the class winner, as the Team HARD/RCIB Racing #75 Ginetta posted itself top of the class with drivers Aaron Mason and Rob Barrable. Barrable’s off road ability shone through as he mastered the wet tarmac to glide up the order and maintain distance to the leaders, before Mason carried on the consistency and hard work as others fell by the wayside. Notable exits included the #50 Optimum Ginetta of Johnson/Robinson, who were involved in an incident with the #88 Rollcentre Racing BMW which saw the car of Neary/Short excluded from the results. Team HARD are a massive presence in the paddock but newcomers to the GT scene and so were overjoyed to take the big endurance win at Silverstone. Nathan Freke and Anna Walewska pulled their way up to second place with the Century Ginetta ahead of the Beechdean pair of Bartholomew and Albert. Sadly, the McLaren GT4 of Haggerty and Mitchell suffered a sad end as the car stopped out on track with barely a minute of the race remaining.

The European GT4 series had been a Porsche show for the most of the race. The German PROsport Performance team had brought out the big guns, and they secured a 1-2 finish with the cars driven by Jorg Viebahn/Peter Terting and Nicolaj Moller Madsen/Andreas Patzelt keeping a strong lead over the Ekris M4 of Simon Knap/Rob Severs. Sadly, the popular and radical looking SinR1 of Sofia Car Team lost its way early on, after a trip to the gravel left the car driven by BTCC racer Michael Epps out of the way of a points finish in their class.

The biggest smiles of the weekend belonged to Barwell though, and Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen had proven themselves and their team the best at the tactical challenge of the 3 hour race. The Lamborghini’s second race win of the season had arrived and it was a triumph of consistency and control in difficult conditions. There were beaming smiles for Mowle and Osborne too, who had secretly hoped for rain at Silverstone, and been rewarded with a superb podium. It was a welcome return to the champagne steps for Marco Attard too, following Adam Carroll’s heroics at the end of the race in the brand new Ferrari. Once again, the Silverstone 500 had its usual trials and tribulations and there were surprises, shocks, and rain and more rain. 2016 had remembered 2015, and delivered another belting race.

“500” other things:

As the chequered flag fell, the storm clouds loomed on the horizon, and Noah’s storm passed over Silverstone, dumping an absolute torrent on the teams in the paddock. Unfortunately, the Simpson Racing garage fell foul of a flash flood in pit lane, which caused their mechanics to work hurriedly to clear their pit. There was also a nasty incident with the PFL Motorsport trailer, where the tail lift failed and left a crew member injured, thankfully not seriously.

Seen at Silverstone: Rick Parfitt Jnr’s new toy of a one wheel hoverboard… We’re not sure we approve necessarily, but when you’re a man in a hurry it beats walking.

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