British GT – 2017 Round 4 Review – Silverstone 500

 

All’s well that ends well.

 

At the beginning of June, the British GT paddock descends upon the longest race weekend of its year. Granted that 3 hours may not seem much, but it’s the blue riband event of each season and every team involved wants to prove their worth round Silverstone’s Grand Prix layout.

Saturday arrived and for once the anticipation in the air was for genuine contest. There wasn’t a hint of elbows out bodywork bashing, more expectation of a race which promised to showcase driver talent and ability.

One team however who were not best pleased about the arrival of the race were Barwell, whose Huracans had taken a hit under the Balance of Performance adjustments applied by SRO ahead of the weekend to rein in the Lamborghinis after what has been more or less a runaway start to the year. Although only the #6 car of Tordoff and Griffin would take a success penalty of additional pit stop seconds on Sunday, the team faced a mountain to climb to defend their championship points lead.

Ginetta’s GT4 entries also felt the pressure at Silverstone. The nimble G55 is excellent in twisting corners, but on Silverstone’s vast and fast expanses, there is little to enjoy for the Yorkshire built machines. The change of Optimum to switch the #501 car of Johnson/Robinson to the McLaren 570S from this weekend onwards showed the shifting sands in the class, although there’s much to be said for the exuberance of youth, with Lanan, HHC and Garage 59 fighting out the top 3 points spots in the GT4 standings with 3 young driver crews proving that raw talent can be measured carefully.

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There was another factor that made the weekend a very pleasurable one for both driver and spectator alike. This time of year and this race is usually plagued by a unseasonable downpour, spoiling everything formbook wise even more so than usual, and turning Silverstone into an unpleasant quagmire. 2017 broke away from this though, and the entirety of Saturday and Sunday, Silverstone stayed dry, albeit a bit windy. Teams put on their sunglasses and stored the rain tyres safely so that the gods of motor racing could not be tempted to blow some adverse weather their way.

Practice threw up a new name to the top of the timesheets, as Adam Christodolou climbed into the familiar cockpit of the Mercedes AMG GT3 of ABBA Rollcentre Racing and put in a stonking lap around the circuit to lead the way by over a second. Christodolou’s British GT bow could hardly have been better for morale and for excitement. Rollcentre were saying a fond farewell to team boss Martin Short (as a driver, for now), and a top spot in any session is enough to put a smile on the face of any team principal.

GT4 had two interlopers to contend with this weekend in the Invitation class as Stuart Hall and Gavan Kershaw employed their talents in pedalling the Stratton Lotus Evora, whilst Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher did the same in the GPRM Toyota. Neither of these cars was there for show and the Evora fairly looked like trumping the entirety of the field as it wailed around the course, making light work of the bends in true Lotus fashion.

10 minutes of qualifying around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit isn’t a massive amount of time to get a good lap in, however needs must when there’s honour and points to be won. And each driver went around cleanly and admirably in each session. The pole position was eventually taken by the #24 MacMillan Racing Aston Martin of Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn, with two consistent times seeing them steal pole from the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt, who looked on course to make the most of a happily dry circuit.

Behind them, the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari driven by Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin just pipped the sister #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod from having Team Parker concerns in 2nd and 3rd on the grid. Christodolou once again topped the pro session times in the #88 Mercedes, but sadly the averages didn’t favour the team on this occasion.

HHC Motorsport didn’t let the balance of performance smother their GT4 drivers in qualifying as the young hotshots Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton put in a fine average timeset to get them to the top in their Ginetta. They were only pipped by the invitation class Lotus, as Hall and Kershaw put in times nearly a second faster than the rest of the field.

Sunday arrived bringing scores of spectators to the ticket gates, as the sunshine settled in for the day, allowing a sense of rude health and optimism to boost the support for this 3 hour race. A lot of teams sat out the warm up, not feeling the need to make adjustments or to seek any further improvement on their capabilities for the race.

The field duly formed up and rolled round to take the start, at which point, the two snarling Bentleys ganged up on the pole sitting Aston and pushed it backwards down the order. After last year’s disappointment it was time for Team Parker Racing to make up with a victory, and Rick Parfitt set off at an electric pace to try and establish the #31 at the head of the field. Behind him, Derek Johnston in the #1 Aston Martin suddenly found himself spinning off the road, but thankfully without damage to be able to rejoin the race, albeit dead last with work to do to catch up. In truth, TF Sport had a rather lacklustre weekend, and neither the #1 car of Johnston/Adam nor the #11 of Farmer/Barnes would make a heavy dent in the end results, although it would never be for the want of trying.

Richard Neary was having a good go in the #88 Mercedes from the start as well, and found himself making good pace up in the top 5 before he too dropped back after leaving the circuit, again, thankfully without damage to the car.

In GT4, the field had been joined by Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones in the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin, who were made to start from the back as their penalty for missing qualifying on Saturday in favour of going racing in the GT4 European Series at the Red Bull Ring. They would need a charge from the back of the field to have any effect on the final race results. There was no question that GT4 would be where the best battles would be fought this weekend, as the small cars revelled in the wide open spaces of Silverstone.

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Sure enough, as the race went on, there developed a fantastic battle for the lead of the class, which kept people on their toes. Academy had made the climb up the order, and was now dicing with the #29 In2Racing (Hoggarth/Graham) and #72 track-club (Balon/Mackay) McLarens, and the only other GT4 Aston, the #42 MacMillan car of Jonck/Phillips. These four conspired to swap places around the circuit, with the strongest looking like the #72 track-club car. Whilst the Silver class has hogged the limelight pointswise this season, the track-club team have arrived without pomp and ceremony and raced hard. Adam Balon and Adam Mackay were pushing the little white McLaren with the experience of two men who knew how to coax the most out of a lightweight rear engine sportscar.

Drama befell the HHC Motorsport team though, as a driveshaft in the #55 Ginetta decided to break under the strain of the high speed. Tregurtha and Middleton’s race was more or less over without affecting the scoresheets, but the team would rally, replace and repair parts, and send the car back out for a fine flourish towards the end.

Another strong performance came from Kelvin Fletcher in the #54 Nissan 370Z. Fletcher, to date had hardly set the world alight, but suddenly, he was making progress up the order in the baby Godzilla, and turning a few heads as he passed some well capable drivers (including Ciaran Haggerty in one of the title contending machines)! With Struan Moore stepping into the hotseat later, it would have been prime time to see how the car would fare, but unfortunately, a puncture halted their charge.

GT3 though was becoming the Parfitt and Morris show. Parfitt’s driving was cool, calm and calculated, and no matter how much Mitchell and Littlejohn pushed in the #24 Aston behind them, they couldn’t stop the #31 Bentley from going further into the distance. The big V8 powered beast barely missed a step or a beat at the front. Unfortunately, its stablemate #7 in the hands of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod suddenly ended up exiting the track at speed and shunting, ruining a solid race for the team.

The two teams who gambled with longer driving stints, Spirit of Race and Barwell, endured the waiting game to see if gambling on a true endurance stint would pay off. Barwell’s gamble was to be the biggest one as they would have the most to lose at this weekend. In truth, 4th place at the flag for the #33 Minshaw/Keen Lamborghini would be enough to keep their title challenge rolling, although a podium finish (which eventually fell the way of the #21 Ferrari of Cameron & Griffin) would have been a nice little addition to the weekend.

As the race drew towards its close, the lead Bentley tangled with the #11 TF Sport car of Farmer/Barnes, but was found not to have been guilty of any indiscretion in terms of conduct, despite a spin for the Aston. Team Parker Racing celebrated 2 victories in the 2 longer races of the season so far, and another collection of 37.5 points to their total for the season, propelling Parfitt and Morris closer to Minshaw and Keen at the top of the standings. Second for the #24 MacMillan Aston gave plenty for Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn to smile about, with another podium to add to their driving CVs. The Ferrari rounded out the podium, and pushed Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin up the order in the championship standings too, behind the Barwell & Team Parker pairings. Still plenty to play for in that respect.

Behind the GT3 field, the GT4 class tried its best to keep up the excitement. After having its battle with its rivals, the #72 track-club car kept the momentum to the flag, as Balon and Mackay revelled in having no pit stop penalties, a quick and nimble car, and reason to drive it as fast as possible. Although Matt Nicoll-Jones and Will Moore would try their hardest to keep chase, they would fall short of a charge from last to first, and would have to settle with second place ahead of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham, who were making gains on the #62 Aston in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, making both teams and fans sweat in anticipation of an exciting close finish. There was no appearance on the podium for any of the top 3 in the GT4 championship standings, and the closest finishers frm that group to the top were David Pittard and Alex Reed in the #51 Lanan Ginetta. Their lead was now shrinking to single digits, closed in heavily by Balon and Mackay, who were looking a very strong pairing in what is in truth, not a very large or heavily sponsored team. Talent will out in motor racing!

The Silverstone 500 had one extra piece of excitement in store for the winners this year, as Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris collected the RAC Trophy for winning the blue riband event of the year. If there were ever a gloss to put on a race weekend, this was it. Tradition is a rare thing in racing, a sport which doesn’t stand still, and it is nice to have a championship like this share in an old and respected piece of silverware for its latest winners. The champagne flowed faster and higher than usual. Perhaps it was relief at completion of 3 hours. Perhaps it was the sunshine. Perhaps though, it was just that the best job had been done by everyone to make this an excellent race.

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Surmises from Silverstone:

One of the features of the weekend from a non-racing point of view was the Supercar display on the Sunday, which included everything from a Chevrolet Camaro, to a Dodge Viper GTS, several McLaren 675LTs, almost every Ferrari possible, and even a Jaguar XJR-12, as seen at Le Mans in 1990. A very impressive companion to an exciting weekend for the spectator.

On track, one thing missed from the entire weekend in terms of British GT and that was the often expected and much lamented Safety Car. There was no cause for it! Although there were incidents that required marshal attention and car retrieval, no need for a full course caution period was required. This ruined the caution to the wind strategies of some teams, but there’s nothing like the spectacle of drivers being allowed to run flat out for the full duration of a race. And that’s perhaps something that was needed after the last couple of years of this race!

The weekend welcomed a new championship as a supporting series this weekend, and it was one of the best we’ve seen yet. The Caterham 420R Championship turned a wheel at Silverstone, and during the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday, people were treated to a fine spectacle of racing. Up to 14 cars were nose to tail at one point during the race on Sunday following the leader, with barely an incident to report, but plenty of shuffling for position. We’d quite like to see these racers return to the timetables in future – after all, there’s only so many Ginetta G40s that can race during one weekend!

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