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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nor Mike Newbould were injured, but a precautionary trip to hospital was made for safety’s sake, and the cars were withdrawn from the weekend.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 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…

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.

British GT Round 3 Review – Oulton Park

The 2016 British GT championship made its annual return to the North West of England and Oulton Park for the first of two sprint race meetings this season. Previously, this round would have opened the championship season for British GT racing, however the change in calendar gave ample opportunity for a dry and warm day of racing in Cheshire.

Saturday’s qualifying sessions had proved one thing if nothing else – the Balance of Performance had definitely held back the GT3 Astons which had dominated the top step of the rostrum in the first two rounds of the season. Step up to the plate, Seb Morris in the #31 Bentley and Jon Minshaw in the #33 Lamborghini to take pole position for their respective race starts. Both drivers were not only taking advantage of the increased competitiveness of their cars, but Oulton is the “home track” for both Morris and Minshaw, so the mental edge was there too.

In GT4, the Ginetta G55 parade seemed to be rolling on as always it had, with Optimum Motorsport’s #50 car driven by Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson parking itself on pole for both races. At the other end of the scale, the #66 Simpson Motorsport Ginetta returned to its pit box after coming back “in a thousand pieces and slightly burned” following an incident which ruled Nick Jones out of qualifying for his starting spot. The car would be rebuilt for Monday’s races.

By the time Monday arrived, the sun had too, and this had put the paddock in a cheerful mood ahead of the day’s races. The warm up yielded a small surprise as Jody Fannin put the #5 PFL Motorsport Aston top of the times for the day, although Littler and Fannin would be starting from the middle of the pack come the races later on in the day.

An important fact about Oulton Park is that the circuit is a British classic, and being set in park land, offers a challenge to drivers by the virtue of the lack of width throughout the vast majority of the length of the circuit. There is very little that can be done it seems, to widen the course, and most drivers felt that the current GT field had outgrown the circuit, with little room to pass for position, and sharp concentration required to pass slower cars when blue flags flew.

This was thrown into sharper relief during the morning’s driver briefing, where the race director and clerk of the course laid down the law in no uncertain terms about driver conduct during the opening laps and when passing slower cars, as well as warning teams to be mindful of each other whilst pit stops for driver changes took place, as there is a premium on pit space at Oulton as well. And, there would be penalties for any teams and drivers who would flout these rules. These stern words rang loudly in the ears of the drivers as they filed back to their garages in advance of the first race.

The grid for race 1 had an all-Lamborghini front row. The #33 Demon Tweeks liveried car of Minshaw/Keen was alongside the #6 Irish TV liveried car of Griffin/Carroll, and the two Italian machines paraded the field round for the pace lap, ahead of Parfitt in the Bentley and Johnston in the #17 championship leading Aston. The first race would see the “Am” drivers taking the start and handing over to the “Pro” drivers at just before half distance.

From the lights out, it was clear that the intention for Rick Parfitt in the Bentley was to make up ground, and he passed Liam Griffin in the #6 Lamborghini for second. However, the other Griffin in the race, Kieran, driving the #47 JWB Aston GT4 car started slowing with mechanical problems. With Minshaw leading the pack over the line at the end of lap one, he was followed in close quarter by Parfitt and stablemate Griffin, with Derek Johnston and Alasdair McCaig in the #17 Aston and the #79 McLaren fighting over 5th place. The GT4 battle had started all Ginetta, with Optimum’s Graham Johnson in #50 heading Will Phillips (RCIB Racing #45) and Alex Reed (Lanan Racing #51).

Another driver looking to push up the order was Will Moore, who was making the most of a 7th place start for the Audi R8, and he hustled 2015 champion Andrew Howard’s #1 Beechdean Aston out of the way and looked to chase up the McLaren of McCaig. Also pushing was Marcus Hoggarth in the GT4 Maserati, which although starting from dead last was making up positions in the GT4 order.

Order, however, was soon to be frozen, as Sean Byrne lost control of the #40 Ginetta of Century Motorsport at Knickerbrook, requiring the deployment of the Safety Car. This took up a long period of time, as the tyre barriers had been dislodged with some force and repairs would take a while. Impatience began to grow amongst the queued drivers, and when eventually the green flag was about to fly, it all boiled over amongst the GT4 field.

As the field came out of Deer Leap and up to the line, there were bits missing from the back end of Will Phillips’ #45 Ginetta, bits missing from the front of Sandy Mitchell’s #59 McLaren which had suddenly dropped down the order and a lot of damage to Alex Reed’s #51 Lanan Ginetta, which pulled into the pits and out of the race. The concertina effect in full flow, and left some of the top runners in GT4 with little to show.

With 10 minutes left before the pit window opened from the green flag flying again, Minshaw realised that a time penalty he would have to take in pits meant it was time to leave the Bentley behind a bit, and down went the hammer in #33. Unfortunately, Parfitt wasn’t having any of this and matched and beat Minshaw’s pace to keep close to the tail of the bright green and red Huracan and in with a shout of sending the big Bentley into the lead after the driver change.

Behind them, Will Moore’s challenge to the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren of Alasdair McCaig sadly came to an end as Moore lost control of the #14 Audi and spun at Old Hall, thankfully without lasting damage to the car but leaving Moore stewing over what might have been. Kieran Griffin’s afternoon went from recovery to wreck as he clipped a tyre stack at the Hizzy chicane and ended up off the road at Knickerbrook.

And as if the safety car drama wasn’t enough, the GT3 battle suddenly erupted as the pit window opened. The race director had previously instructed drivers to park infront of their garage at 45 degrees to effect the driver changes without taking up large amounts of already at a premium pit space at Oulton, and this was duly followed by all who came in.

What nobody had accounted for was what happened when it was time to leave the pit lane. Minshaw and Parfitt arrived in the pits and then Alasdair McCaig in the McLaren followed suit. McCaig hopped out, and in got Rob Bell in good time. Parfitt swapped with Seb Morris in good time too, but suddenly found his passage out of pit lane blocked by the McLaren being rotated to exit – and when it didn’t fire up properly, the Bentley was truly banjaxed. To make matters worse, Phil Keen had taken over the #33 Lamborghini from Minshaw, and shot down pit road having completed pitstop and time penalty, only to hit the Bentley as it waited to exit the pit lane. Those watching were riveted to this scene, all too aware of the inevitable penalties that would be coming.

All this delay and action meant that the top 3 for the race changed utterly. It was now the other #6 Lamborghini of Adam Carroll that took the lead, and comfortably ahead of the suddenly appearing Joe Osborne’s #7 AmD Tuning BMW and the #11 TF Sport Aston Martin in the hands of Jon Barnes. The GT4 class was still headed by the #50 Optimum Ginetta, which looked like it wasn’t going to miss a beat in this race, and was calm and comfortable infront of the #42 Generation AMR Aston of Jack Mitchell.

British GT Round 2 Race Review – Rockingham

DSC_0540The British GT championship rolled into Rockingham this weekend for round 2 of the 2016 season, and there was anticipation of a rejoining of battle following the shortened race at Brands Hatch. Or at least, signs that the teams in the championship were not prepared to give up the fighting spirit showed in Kent.

With the damage repaired from Brands Hatch and cars safely returned from Monza’s Blancpain Endurance race, as well as good weather to boot in Northamptonshire for the weekend, there was a buzz in the air as the drivers went out into free practice on Saturday morning.

The initiative was taken immediately by Barwell, who with Adam Carroll replacing Fabio Babini for the next two races, boasted the top two times with the #6 and #33 Huracans in the opening session. However there was bad news for the Bentley team. The unfortunate Rick Parfitt hit a fresh patch of oil and the big #31 revolved into the barriers, seriously damaging the car. Team Parker Racing immediately set about the task of repairing the machine, a task which would take until the Sunday morning to complete, ruling the car out of qualifying.

The second free practice was taken by the #17 TF Sport Aston Martin of Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam, who set a marginally faster time than the Huracans in FP1. The winners from Brands would face a time penalty during their pit stop in the race, and would need to open a huge gap to prevent challenges from other teams.

The GT4 pack had a very uniform top 3 in free practice. The #73 Century Motorsport Ginetta of Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke took top spot in both sessions ahead of the #50 Optimum and #66 Simpson Racing entries, giving a very resounding top 3 of Ginettas in the class. At this point it seemed that the British marque would have the weekend sewn up, not knowing what fate would intervene across the remainder of the weekend.

As qualifying arrived, the pendulum swung firmly toward the #17 Aston in GT3, with Derek Johnston’s time in the Am session giving enough cushion to allow Jonny Adam to comfortably seal pole position from the #79 Ecurie Ecosse McLaren of Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell. The times set in the Pro GT3 session were blistering however, with both Rob Bell and Phil Keen setting times below 1:16 – the fastest of the weekend in fact. The #1 Beechdean Aston and the #6 Barwell Lamborghini would follow up on the second row.

The good luck that Century Motorsport had in the free practice sessions ran out in the GT4 Am qualifying as Anna Walewska suffered mechanical gremlins that would see the car sit out the rest of the session and start dead last on the starting grid for Sunday. Pole fell to the #50 Optimum Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who carried on where they had left off with times within tenths of each other to set a scorching pole, ahead of the #40 Ginetta of Byrne and Schjerpen and the #59 McLaren of Mitchell and Haggerty (the first time a non-Ginetta had broken into the top 3 of the timesheets in the class!)

A point of note in qualifying was that 6 cars had their fastest individual lap times removed due to exceeding the track limits – perhaps not giving a true reflection of the speed of all the cars on the grid from the weekend. Both the #8 Motorbase Aston Martin and the #14 Optimum Audi found themselves being penalised in GT3, with both Team HARD Ginettas, the #66 Simpson Ginetta and the #407 Beechdean Aston V8 in GT4 suffering a similar fate.

Overnight, the industrious folk at Team Parker Racing rebuilt the Bentley from wreck to restoration triumph, giving Parfitt and Morris a shot at glory (and leaving the racing rockstar slightly lost for words with gratitude). The #11 TF Sport Aston, which had also missed Saturday was restored to the hands of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes for a racing effort, albeit from the back of the GT3 pack.

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The stage was set. Fast cars at either end of the grids and 2 hours of racing ahead of them could only mean drama was to come. And it did in bucketfuls, although not in the way it was expected. At the start, the field managed to avoid contact into the first tight double-left at Deene and set about trying to establish some order amongst chaos. The first major leap came when Liam Griffin set about passing Alasdair McCaig for second behind Derek Johnston, and starting a battle between the #6 and #33 Lamborghinis surrounding the #79 McLaren, with Minshaw in the #33 car eventually overcoming McCaig in the McLaren. Behind them, Parfitt’s Bentley began climbing the order, only to spin out following contact with Will Moore in the #14 Audi, who received a penalty for spinning the #31 car in the final chicane.

Neither Parfitt nor Moore let this hold them back though, and both drivers would make progress back up the order to put them in good stead as the halfway point neared. By contrast, the Tolman Ginetta of Ian Stinton had a rough time as a tyre shed its skin into the first corner, leaving the car with severe damage, and a visit to the pits that lasted most of the race. This was soon followed by its stable mate #56 suffering mechanical woes.

The Optimum Ginetta GT4 carried on in the race where it had left off before in qualifying, taking a lead in class. However, the hard work would not pay off, as shortly before the pit stops began, a collision on the straight behind the pits left the car unrecoverable, and out of the race. This in turn brought out the safety car to recover the vehicle before Mike Robinson could even push a pedal. This promoted the Ecurie Ecosse car of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty into a class lead.

Meanwhile, the sister Ecurie Ecosse GT3 McLaren was starting to get “hiccups” and suddenly losing time towards the end of McCaig’s stint. There was no particular explanation for the change in temperament, although it took a reboot of the car’s systems from Rob Bell after the pit stop to get everything back to full working order. The same issue went on to hit the GT4 car of Ecurie Ecosse, at one stage bringing out the safety car as Ciaran Haggerty brought the car to a halt on the exit of Turn 1, only to fire up at the first wave of the yellow flag from the race director.

Bentley’s weekend took another rollercoaster ride as Parfitt and Minshaw both ran wide fighting for position into Deene, sending both cars up the oval track rather than onto the infield, albeit with no damage to the cars, and allowing both #31 and #33 to continue. Then a stop go penalty for Parfitt ruined both the team’s pit strategy and progress up the field. As a penalty cannot be taken during a visit to the pit box, there was no alternative but to make 2 trips to pit lane, leaving the car a lap behind.

They were not the sole visitors to the penalty box either, as the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren #59 and the #60 EborGT Maserati of Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton faced 5 and 38 second stop and go penalties for pit stop infringements. More was to come later from the clerk of the course.

At the front of the race however, the #17 Aston barely missed a beat, even with the 20 second penalty in the pits for winning at Brands, and kept its lead from pole, only relinquishing it to Will Moore briefly, as the Audi stayed out for the full first hour, recovering well from its earlier misdemeanour thanks in no small part to Moore’s trademark aggressive speed. Once Adam replaced Johnston in the hot seat, there was no prising away the lead from them, and the chequered flag beckoned, whilst behind them confusion began.

On the deployment of the safety car for the short lived beaching of #59 McLaren in Turn 1