Tag Archives: motorsport

BTCC – Thruxton

 

This weekend saw the British Touring Car Championship roar into Thruxton Race Circuit, located in Hampshire. Halfords Yuasa Racing’s Matt Neal, Power Maxed TAG Racing’s Josh Cook and Mac Tools with Ciceley Motorsport’s Adam Morgan took a win apiece. This sees Morgan move into the lead of the championship standings as the championship heads to Oulton Park next.  

Neal dominated the opening race of the day, taking a lights-to-flag victory, keeping Team BMW’s Colin Turkington at bay for sixteen laps. The season so far had been largely in the favour of the young drivers but Neal showed that the experienced drivers are still more than capable when he fought back to take the first pole position in the new Type R. Turkington pulled alongside as the pair accelerated off the line before Neal managed to get ahead and stay there until the end of the race but was kept honest by the BMW driver every corner for the sixteen lap race.

Sam Tordoff chased down Neal’s teammate Dan Cammish aboard his Team GardX Racing with Motorbase run Ford Focus to catch the Honda man in an attempt to take the final podium position. Cammish fought back and took third place with Tordoff taking fourth. The latters stablemate Tom Chilton in one of the Shredded Wheat backed Focus RS’ rounded out the top five.

Josh Cook kept his winning form going as the Power Maxed TAG Racing driver took the victory in race two. Neal started on pole but was unable to hang on as they accelerated off the line, Turkington blasted ahead into the lead on the entrance into the Complex. Cammish bogged down as the race started which allowed Tordoff and BMW Pirtek Racing’s Andrew Jordan to fly past, fighting for third place. The Power Maxed TAG Racing duo of Josh Cook and Senna Proctor soon started to make progress as they slipped past Chilton. Proctor’s progress stopped there but his teammate Cook charged forward, quickly passing Tordoff and Jordan. He then went on to drive around the outside of Neal at the final chicane to take second. By the tenth lap of the race Cook was challenging Turkington for the lead of the race. His moment came at the end of lap eleven as he passed Turkington around the outside, which saw Cook move into the lead. Turkington finished the race in second ahead of Neal in third, Tordoff in fourth, Jordan in fifth and Proctor in sixth.

Mac Tools with Ciceley Motorsport’ Adam Morgan took his second victory of the season so far in the final race of the day at Thruxton. He led the race from the moment the lights went out until the flag flew at the start line at the wheel of his Mercedes Benz A-Class. Morgan got a blinding start off the line and defended well from a quick starting Senna Proctor. WIX Racing with Eurotech’s Jack Goff was crawling all over the bumper of Proctor’s Astra which allowed Morgan some breathing space. Goff made his move stick on the youngster towards the end of the race but he was unable to chase down or challenge Morgan for the lead. Tordoff enjoyed a strong weekend as he took his third top five result of the race weekend as he finished in fourth. Turkington finished the final race in fifth, which puts himself back into strong championship contention.

Morgan now leads the overall Drivers’ championship by just a single point ahead of Cook in second. Tom Ingram sits third in the championship with ten points splitting second and third after he suffered a rather challenging day, suffering a DNF in the opening race. However, the rapid Toyota driver went on to take a brand new lap record in the final race.

Yvan Muller’s Thruxton lap record was set in 2002 and had been the longest standing lap record on the BTCC calendar but was beaten multiple times during the weekend this year. Ingram now holds the lap record of 1:17.060s.

Vauxhall leave Thruxton in the lead of the Manufacturers’ standings. Power Maxed TAG Racing leave in the lead of the Team’s championship. Mac Tools with Ciceley Motorsport’s Adam Morgan leads both the Independents Teams’ and Drivers’ championship tables. A trio of top ten finishes sees BTC Norlin Racing’s Chris Smiley now at the head of the Jack Sears Trophy.

The Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship returns in three weeks’ time at Oulton Park.

At the end of racing at Thruxton some drivers were handed penalties, those being;

  • Michael Caine – received a verbal warning and two penalty points for an incident involving Tom Boardman during race one.
  • Josh Cook – received a verbal warning for gaining an unfair advantage in an incident involving Andrew Jordan in race two.
  • James Cole received a verbal warning for an incident involving Tom Oliphant in race two.

Adrian Flux Subaru Racing were deducted 10 points in the Manufacturers’ and Teams’ championship as they exceeded the engine allowance for this season.

© Fay Tilley  May 2018

 

British GT 2018 – Round 2 – Rockingham Motor Speedway

 

What A Difference A Day Makes

 

 

After the controversy of Oulton Park, what British GT needed was a race weekend that ran smoothly, without things suddenly being thrown into doubt and confusion. So as the teams emerged from their garages on Saturday morning, it was a case of “oh no, not this again” as the weather decided that it would be a wet beginning to the weekend. Wet, and bitterly, painfully cold. Rain and cold are the enemies of successful practice. That said, any track time is a good thing, especially at Rockingham where drivers must contend with a lap of two distinct halves.

 

The main feedback from drivers was the lack of adhesion during practice. It was visibly evident that even the top drivers were reluctant to pile into the fearsome banked Turn 1 with any particular gusto. It’s possibly down to this that the Free Practice sessions ran so relatively smoothly. Only the #88 Team HARD Ginetta of Joshua Jackson and Ben Wallace suffered any heavy calamity, as they met heavily with a barrier and severely dented their front end. Tony Gilham’s team is all “never say die” attitude though, and the car was fixed for the afternoon’s qualifying sessions, a feat worthy of recognition. On the whole, most teams came out without much concern, other than helping the car stick to the road in right places.

 

If there’s one wonderful thing about wet and cold practices it’s the one lap pace of the classes. In the first session, Yelmer Buurman showed his strength in the #116 ERC Sport Mercedes, with the fastest GT4 car being the #4 Tolman McLaren of Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien. There was only 5 seconds between them, with the GT4 car outpacing some of the GT3 runners. Let it be said on record once more, that perhaps this should not be a surprise as the Bentleys, for all their excitement are a real trouble in the wet conditions, and Parfitt/Ratcliffe and Loggie/McLeod in nos 1 and 7 respectively didn’t really put down scintillating times while the big cars scrabbled for traction. The second session went the way of Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam in the #75 Optimum Aston Martin, whilst Will Burns set down a laptime good enough to give him and Mike Newbould top spot in GT4 in the #50 HHC Ginetta.

 

As Saturday wore on, the cold remained, but the rain lessened, and became a steady nagging drizzle, which in part relieved the tarmac of some excess water, but didn’t exactly improve grip around the course. As if to prove this, during the GT3 Am qualifying session, Jon Minshaw in #33 Lamborghini and Lee Mowle in the #116 Mercedes both rotated their vehicles at Deene and Turn 4 of the oval within moments of each other. Embarrassment for Minshaw, but heartbreak for Mowle, as the Barwell man went on to set second fastest time, but the Mercedes was buried firmly in the tyres protecting the pit entry wall. The fastest GT3 Am was once again the mercurial Flick Haigh, who went nearly a second faster than Minshaw.

The GT3 Pro session flipped things about though, with Phil Keen taking over from Minshaw and going nearly a second faster than Jonny Adam, who’d taken over from Flick Haigh. There was enough in it to give the green and red Lamborghini pole, which was handy considering the 20 second success penalty the #33 had to take in the pit stop during the 2 hour race.

 

In GT4, qualifying was pride and joy of the Tolman team, as the #4 and #5 cars took positions one and two on the class grid, with Jordan Albert and Lewis Proctor backing up Fagg and O’Brien from their earlier morning exploits. As cars received penalties for yellow flag infringements, the third car on the grid made it a McLaren 1-2-3, as the Pro-Am track-club #72 car of Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat backed up the Tolman development drivers.

As Sunday dawned, the grey layers of cloud over Northamptonshire remained, as did the unpleasantly chilly winds which swirl round the quad-oval at Rockingham on a year-round basis. Thankfully though, the rain which had saturated Saturday, didn’t decide to trouble the circuit on Sunday, but the cold still gave a prevailing absence of grip to the tarmac. Warm-up was interrupted briefly by a clash between the #66 Team Parker Mercedes of Jones/Malvern and the #10 Equipe Verschuur McLaren of McKay/Hutchison, but the field went out for the full allotted 10 minutes and finally got some relatively dry track time in.

 

With the cars and drivers prepared, the only thing remaining now was for the race to begin. As the field got away, the Minshaw and Haigh battle began at the front of the pack in GT3. What neither of them figured on was the sudden awakening of Sam De Haan in the #69 Barwell Lamborghini. The pink and black machine looked a colourful missile chasing the pair, eventually passing Haigh to make it a Lamborghini 1-2 in the early stages. And then the first safety car came out when the #101 Balfe Motorsport McLaren of Shaun Balfe clattered the outside wall of the oval at Turn 4, leaving him stranded on the high line. With the field neutralised it was time to take stock of the early proceedings. Balfe had managed to claw himself up to 4th behind MInshaw, De Haan and Haigh, before his unfortunate crash. In GT4, Charlie Fagg was giving it everything in the #4 McLaren for Tolman, but was being reeled in by HHC Motorsport’s Patrik Matthiesen in the #55 GInetta, which was benefitting from a drier surface on race day.

 

As the race returned to green flag conditions, it was clear that things were very different from Saturday. Rick Parfitt now had the bit between his teeth in the #1 Bentley and started to go up the order, and Derek Johnston in the #17 TF Sport Aston also fancied a piece of the action. Flick Haigh however wasn’t enjoying the pursuit of the Barwell pairing and she speared off the track in the #75 Aston at Tarzan before rescuing and rejoining. Lee Mowle also took to the outskirts of Tarzan in the #116 car, but came out unscathed.

 

A second safety car period ensued when David Pattison beached the #56 Tolman Pro-Am McLaren in the gravel at Chapman Curve, and required a snatch to pull him from the depths. By this time, Graham Davidson in the #47 Jetstream Aston had taken an interest in the chase of the Barwell Lamborghinis. Davidson is no stranger to the front end of the field and before long he had overhauled De Haan, and taken second behind Minshaw. Flying Scotsmen are no strangers in British GT and Davidson is the latest to prove his mettle. His charge was helped by what sounded like the imminent demise of the #69 Lamborghini, which suddenly took on a melodic tone not dissimilar to a selection of nuts and bolts in a tin can.

 

Behind the lead battle, there was a squabble for space at Tarzan between Johnston and Parfitt, and with the Bentley seemingly occupying the space that the #17 Aston should have been in, Johnston decided to assist the #1 car out of its path, causing Parfitt a nervous spin and an even more nervous wait for the traffic to pass around him before he wellied the throttle to point the Bentley in the right direction. Another hard charge had been ended, and from that moment the #1 Bentley failed to make any further inroads into the race. During his stint, Ratcliffe even had the misfortune of the car suddenly requiring a “hard reset” as he cruised to a stop just past the Deene hairpin.

 

Pitstops in British GT are a thing requiring precision and good timing. Every team member must be ready to play their part properly for any incident that may arise. The Optimum Aston squad had a small fire to deal with, which hindered Jonny Adam from getting a clean getaway back out to chase after the pack in his stint. The Barwell squad welcomed both their cars in, the #33 for the regular stop plus 20 seconds penalty, and the #69 permanently with transmission issues stopping the car from rejoining the race. Unfortunately, Phil Keen did not have his helmet equipped at the right point, and breached safety laws, which required the team to serve a further stop go penalty, denting their hopes of remaining in the top 3. Graham Davidson swapped for Maxime Martin in the #47 car, and the Belgian got to work on showing his factory talents.

In GT4, things had been relatively calm. The #4 Tolman McLaren led the #55 HHC Ginetta, and those positions soon reversed as Callum Pointon took over from Matthiesen. Making ground since the pitstops though were Finn Jesse Anttila, who had taken over in the #54 Ultratek Nissan, and was looking very competitive and very fast suddenly in one of the oldest cars on the grid, and Ben Barnicoat in the #72 track-club McLaren, where Adam Balon had once again put in an underrated but competent drive. Sadly, the track-club challenge blunted when the car started spitting a huge jet of flame from its exhaust. This left the way clear for the chasing pack, and the Tolman team were finally losing their grip on the weekend. Eventually, it was the #62 Academy Aston Martin piloted by Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones that seized the initiative for 3rd place in class, despite a hairy moment into Turn 1 when Moore brushed sidepanels with the #11 TF Sport Aston of Mark Farmer, thankfully without major damage to either car.

 

GT3 though, was about to change utterly. Maxime Martin had set off from the pits in the hope that outright speed would put him on top of the pile come the chequered flag. A penalty coming for Keen would give him breathing space. What he didn’t anticipate was for the penalty that would apply to himself as the overran the track limits one too many times for the clerk of the course’s liking, and that turned hope into “what if” for the Jetstream Motorsport team. Cue the surprise package of the weekend.

 

At Monza the weekend before, the German Black Falcon squad took their car to 3rdplace overall in the Blancpain Endurance Series race. One of their drivers that day, Yelmer Buurman, was more than keen to show off his ability in the driving seat. A good series of fast laps let him up to the tailpipes of the #99 Beechdean Aston Martin, which was now driven by Darren Turner, who had inherited a podium spot following Andrew Howard’s usual gritty drive.

 

Buurman didn’t like the Aston being infront, but being a fair man he decided to give him a real show. Buurman showed the nose of the #116 Mercedes down Turner’s inside at Tarzan, knowing the British driver would give him short change for the cheek of an attempt. Buurman and Turner then went side-by-side along the following straight, where the left-right-left of the Brook chicane was located. With no regard for the average way of overtaking, Buurman launched the Mercedes round the outside of Turner into the first left hander in what was a superb passing manoeuvre with no comeback. From then on, it was top spot or bust for the Dutchman, and so it proved to be, with the Mercedes barely missing an apex or a cylinder blast to the chequered flag, whilst others behind him squabbled, struggled, slithered and slipped back. Lee Mowle had until this weekend never won a British GT race. It was high time after some near misses for him to achieve this goal. Behind them, Marco Sorensen had taken over from Derek Johnston in the #17 Aston and taken second on the road, only for this to be rescinded following an additional time penalty for the team for causing the spin for Rick Parfitt’s Bentley in the opening hour of the race.

 

Whilst the #1 Bentley suffered, Callum McLeod made up for Team Parker’s rather under-par start to the season by inheriting 2nd place after pushing the #7 Bentley up to 3rd on the road at the flag, whilst the #99 Beechdean car of Andrew Howard and Darren Turner took 3rd spot on the rostrum.

GT4 finished as it had been in most of the second hour. The major change being the rise of the #62 Aston to 3rd spot, although the performance of the Ultratek Nissans in 2nd and 4th was definitely something of a remarkable achievement. It was a definite reversal of fortune for the Tolman squad though, whose cars went from top of the world to off the rostrum in a 2 hour period on Sunday. HHC Motorsport were now back again, and Matthiesen and Pointon look no less effective than Middleton and Tregurtha did last year.

 

The most remarkable thing though was this – the race winner, who nobody expected, started from the very back of the GT3 pack, following Lee Mowle’s spin and prang during qualifying. It often shows how much a difference a race makes, and how much time can pass between being nowhere and being somewhere. Next time out, it’s two one hour long races at Snetterton, where there’s usually always something occurring to change the order of the field, and usually quite spectacularly.

 

© Pete Richardson May 2018

 

British GT 2018 – Round 2 Preview – Rockingham

 

We’re barely touching the opening half of the season in this year’s British GT Championship and as the juggernauts of the British sportscar scene arrive at the oval/road course at Rockingham Motor Speedway there’s already tension, confusion and a bit of head scratching going on.

Let’s roll back a few weeks to the leafy green setting of Oulton Park where the first two sprint races of the year took place. Or more appropriately where rain forced a stoppage to Race 2 with barely 15 minutes of 60 complete, and the field having barely lost sight of the safety car.

McLaren Safety Car/ Jakob Ebrey

A cancelled race is a thankfully rare occurrence in British GT. What has happened though is the application of full points to the field in the order they were in at the time the red flag flew. How is this controversial? Not a single open racing lap was completed. Time started ticking behind the safety car but as the weather worsened it was clear that nobody would benefit from starting full speed competition in the prevailing conditions. It was simply too dangerous.

The Championship rulebook stated that for a race to be a race, two laps of a closed circuit track must be run, otherwise it is not considered a race. Under the safety car, the field completed four laps. Therefore by the rules it is a race. But without an actual green flag lap turned it didn’t feel like one.  It was more a parade of cars than a race.

Full points were awarded as there is no obligation to resume or re-run a race, and any car which crossed the line at the end of lap three under its own power would be awarded championship points where their position covered it. This meant that Minshaw/Keen in #33 Lamborghini and Jones/Malvern in #66 Mercedes took home full points for first in GT3 and GT4 respectively.

Many drivers and spectators have called foul on this. We cannot disregard regulations though. The same regulations that make it possible to stop a race on the grounds of safety, also allow points to be awarded should a race become official and subsequently declared. Like it or lump it, rules are rules and everyone must adhere.

Rockingham then comes to everyone once more and the championship welcomes the chance to have its first endurance race of the season. 2 hours and one pit stop await the field, and Rockingham is a popular circuit which last year yielded both exciting racing and controversy itself following a mistake under the Safety Car which saw the win go to the Spirit of Race Ferrari before being sent back to the Team Parker Racing Bentley.

The field has slimmed by one car, as the #2 Lamborghini of Leo Matchitski and Patrick Kujala has moved to the Blancpain Series, with a return promised on a one off basis for the Spa round later in July. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. After a torrid wet weekend drivers will hope that the racing will be less about maintaining grip and more about maintaining a challenged. The Rockingham circuit has favoured the hard charger over the last few seasons and with a wealth of factory driver experience it’s a matter of “who can shout loudest” when crunch time comes.

In the break between rounds testing has taken place and there’s strong hope that the Bentley will be able to get back on form. The rain in Cheshire did not suit the big V8 machine, and a 2 hour race and no penalties will suit the drivers down to a T. Rockingham was the scene of the first endurance victory for Team Parker last year, and there’s hope lightning (but perhaps not rain) will strike twice.

Aston Martin are possibly the strongest challengers, with Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam keen to make headway after being stuck in the pits as the field rolled by in Race 2 at Oulton. A win and then no points is not the ideal position to start the season, but there is definite promise.

It’s also very tough to rule out perennial front runners Minshaw and Keen in the Barwell Lamborghini. A race win with no race (see the technicalities above) means that they’re up at the top of the tree again. Three times runners up won’t ring well.

Flick Haigh – Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage V12/ / Jakob Ebrey

The surprise package of GT4 last season, Track-club are leading the class going into this race and that in itself is a welcome sight, as it is not often in motorsport that a team without all the big pomp and circumstance heads up the list. Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat are no slouches, and a low position finish in Oulton race 2 will mean that there is no pit stop penalty to concern them in this race. The race win (again, see comments on rules above) for Jones and Malvern will be a big boost to them, and the Mercedes looks a decent weapon in GT4 terms, so they may yet show well here.

GT4 though has a brace of big Beemers which with two Silver drivers behind the wheel of each will put the pressure on Century Motorsport to have a strong weekend. Ricky Collard is back with the BMW factory once more so Aleksandr Schjerpen takes his permanent seat in the M4, and his 2018 season kicks off here. 2nd place in the title standings will be enough to motivate his team-mate Jack Mitchell to push for a good finish here too.

It’ll be a time for concentration and bravery round Rockingham. We hope that the differences in opinion shown after Oulton can be laid aside for a weekend of pure grit and quality racing. Bring on the Rock.

© Pete Richardson 26th April 2018

British GT 2018 – Round 1 – Oulton Park

Surprise, surprise, surprise

April has arrived once more and this means that the British GT season kicks off for 2018 with gusto and new fresh blood coursing through its veins. After an off season of brief uncertainty, the entire field has been lifted by new entries, new drivers and a really exciting mixture of fan favourites and promising combinations of car and driver.

Andrew Howard / Darren Turner Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage GT3. Jakob Ebrey.

In GT3 the big guns came rolling in. The pleasing sight of the #1 plate on the Bentley meant that Rick Parfitt Jnr would return with Team Parker Racing, with his former GT4 championship winning teammate Ryan Ratcliffe partnering him following Seb Morris’ departure to Blancpain GT duties. Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod retained the sister car. The challenge though was ramped up from every direction. Aston Martin is saying farewell to the Vantage V12 in 2018, and with a big shove from the factory to try and take the honours away from the boys at Crewe. Every Aston contains a factory driver. TF Sport retain Derek Johnston and Mark Farmer, who are partnered by the fabled Dane Train duo of Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim. Jonny Adam has switched to Aston newcomers Optimum Motorsport, who signed Flick Haigh who has been making progress in GT3 with their Audi around European circuits. Jetstream Motorsport have Graham Davidson partnered by speedy Belgian Maxime Martin, but the possibly most welcome addition was the return of the celebrated Beechdean Aston Martin, driven by Andrew Howard and Darren Turner. A truly formidable prospect.

Barwell Lamborghini are expanding for 2018 as well. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen return for another crack of the whip at a title push, and nothing less than victory will suffice after two years of runner’s up spots. They are joined by Leo Machitski, back in British GT after a period of racing in historic cars and Blancpain Endurance, partnered by Finnish hotshot Patrick Kujala. A third Lamborghini Huracan for Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker (another British GT stalwart and Barwell regular) is being run by the team to back up Minshaw and Keen. Add to those the Mercedes AMG GT3 of ERC Sport with Lee Mowle and flying Dutch factory driver Yelmer Buurman, and now full-time returnees Balfe Motorsport, fresh from International GT Open Pro-Am title triumph in their McLaren 650S with Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell sticking with their winning partnership. We also have a welcome return for Godzilla, as RJN bring back the Nissan piloted by the sole Silver GT3 entry for Devon Modell and Struan Moore. There was certainly no decline in GT3, as rather worryingly had been predicted.
GT4 was chop and change in every way. HHC Motorsport have sent their title winners Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha off to conquer Europe. In their place, Jacob Matthiesen and Callum Pointon take the #55 Silver class car, with Mike Newbould and Will Burns moving from Team HARD to the second HHC machine. McLaren have come to the party in force this year. Tolman Motorsport have the greatest responsibility, taking on the McLaren Junior squad of Charlie Fagg, Michael O’Brien, Lewis Proctor and Jordan Albert in 2 cars, as well as their tried and tested Pro-Am car of David Pattison and the ever enigmatic Joe Osborne. There are McLarens too for Equipe Verschuur with Scots drivers Finlay Hutchison and Daniel McKay, last season’s surprise package Track-Club with Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat, who like Joe Osborne represents the McLaren factory, and for Balfe Motorsport, who are running former champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.

The German manufacturers have a vested interest in GT4 now, and Century Motorsport have taken responsibility for the new BMW M4 GT4 in the UK. Ben Green and Ben Tuck hop out of their respective Ginetta G55s to join the team, while Jack Mitchell and Aleksandr Schjerpen pilot the second car, with Ricky Collard on loan for the first race of the year whilst Schjerpen is unavailable. Team Parker Racing have a Mercedes AMG GT4 for Nick Jones and Scott Malvern who are in their third year of competition, and their third make and model of GT4 car in that period! Fox Motorsport also come back with a Mercedes in place of a Ginetta, and Michael Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst (another familiar face to the historians in GT4) filling the driving seat.

There is also Japanese interest with the RJN Nissans of Kelvin Fletcher and Martin PLowman, and Stephen Johansen and Jesse Anttila, with the newly homologated Toyota GT86 in the hands of Steller Racing for young talents Tom Cannon, Sennen Fielding, Dean MacDonald and Alex Quinn.

The field is rounded out by the British manufacturers – Jaguar have arrived after months and years of hopes and speculation with the F-Type GT4, and Invictus Racing are supporting Am drivers who have suffered life changing injuries. The two cars are piloted by Ben Norfolk and Jason Wolfe, and Steve McCulley partnering the returning Matthew George. A very inspiring team line up.

Team HARD return with Ginetta G55s for Callum Hawkins-Row and Ginetta stalwart Anna Walewska, with Will Phillips returning to the team to partner Ben Wallace in their second car. GT4 isn’t Aston-free either, as Academy Motorsport have two cars for Tom Wood and race-winning Dane Jan Jonck, and Will Moore back to drive alongside Matt Nicoll-Jones.

Flick Haigh / Jonathan Adam Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage V12. Jakob Ebrey.

With the teams and drivers set and ready to race it was off to Oulton Park in Cheshire for the annual Easter Bank Holiday burn up. And with winter only having just passed the UK, it wouldn’t be Oulton Park without some dubious weather forecasts. At one point, a Yellow Warning for snow threatened to take the gloss off the entire weekend, but the truth was possibly a lot worse.

The Saturday qualifying sessions threw their usual surprises. The first came in the opening session for the Am drivers in GT3, where Flick Haigh put pedal to the metal and stuck her Optimum Aston on pole. The first outright pole for a woman in British GT, and it was a sensational lap to beat the competition behind her, as Rick Parfitt and Ian Loggie made the Bentleys hustle on a dry track. The Pro session was claimed by Phil Keen whose green and red Italian bull held up the Aston Martin matadors behind him to take a solid Race 2 pole. GT4 was wiped cleanly by the new Dutch squad, Equipe Verschuur, until it was pointed out that they had incorrectly sent the wrong drivers out to qualify in the wrong sessions. This left the way clear for Callum Pointon in the #55 HHC Ginetta and Scott Malvern in the #66 Team Parker Mercedes to take the respective poles, with Verschuur suffering the indignity of starting from the back for their indiscretion.

Sunday is a rest day in Cheshire, and teams prepared themselves for the coming Monday race day by practicing pit stops driver changes and musing over the potential change in the weather. Which inevitably came in the form of the nemesis of every good Bank Holiday: Rain, rain and more rain. A slippery Oulton Park greeted the teams for the warm-up, and Rick Parfitt’s Bentley found the scenery easier to get to than the track, rather setting back his charge after a good Saturday session. The race was then held up following several earlier incidents in other races with drivers struggling to come to terms with the slick tarmac. At midday though, behind the safety car, the drivers set off in grid order. Well, almost, as Nick Jones stalled his Mercedes in GT4, and suddenly found himself a lap down with not a racing lap complete.

Flick Haigh though knew exactly what to do as the race director called in the safety car after 4 laps of investigative touring – and she pressed on free of spray and other impediment in the #75 Optimum Aston Martin, whilst behind her in GT3, others came to grief. Mark Farmer was tipped into a spin at Old Hall Corner, whilst Derek Johnston took to the scenery (but thankfully not the barriers) at Hizzy’s chicane, rather spoiling TF Sport’s day. The Bentleys as usual, hated the rain, and Rick Parfitt and Ian Loggie soon found themselves losing touch with the top drivers, as Jon Minshaw found the Lamborghini’s boots stuck to the tarmac much more happily in the watery conditions. In GT4, the field settled down to eat the wall of spray left by the GT3 cars. And there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful for Callum Pointon, who held calmly onto his lead in the #55 HHC Ginetta. Behind him, a collision between Jack Mitchell and Will Moore sent the Yorkshireman’s Aston nose first into the wall at Lodge, sufficiently bending the radiator beyond repair and ending the #62 Academy car’s race early.

By the time the pitstop window opened for driver changes, Flick Haigh now had an ever decreasing amount of breathing space as Minshaw caught and passed and pushed onwards in the #33 Lamborghini, but she held on long enough that when the driver changes were made, Jonny Adam came out infront of Phil Keen. The driver changes in GT4 had also taken place, and Callum Pointon swapped out for Jacob Matthiasen. But then, the race lead battle changed in the blink of an eye.

Phil Keen got the bit between his teeth, and was now charging after Jonny Adam, keen to prove that being a factory driver doesn’t mean you can’t be put under pressure for a win, but as they lapped the traffic, they approached the tricky narrow run to Druids, and the GT4 leader Matthiasen. Past the leading two went, but on exiting Lodge, Keen slowed and dived for pit lane again. A brush with the left side of Matthiasen’s Ginetta left the Lamborghini with a broken wheel rim and a puncture, which ended his victory charge and Matthiasen’s. Jonny Adam now had only to maintain a good speed, and he would bring it home safe and sound ahead of fellow AMR factory team mate Darren Turner in the #99 Beechdean Aston, who now had Yelmer Buurman hounding him, as the Dutchman put his own factory talent behind the accelerator of the #116 Mercedes, turning some spectactular laptimes in chasing down Turner’s Aston. But Adam would not be caught.

In that moment, history was made again. Flick Haigh had become the first female winner in GT3 in British GT, and this was possibly one of the most popular victories of all time, with hardly anyone feeling that the race win was either a fluke, a fix or anything other than well deserved. The smile on Haigh’s face on the pit wall was matched by Adam’s and the entire Optimum team’s. Beechdean were happy with a solid second, and Lee Mowle mounted the podium alongside Yelmer Buurman in what was a very fine podium for the Pro-Am racing formula.

GT4 yielded another surprise result. Creeping steadily up the order once more was the often under-fancied track-club McLaren piloted by Balon and Barnicoat. Ben Barnicoat hadn’t raced in the UK save for his local kart track for some time, but looked so at home in the #72 car as he glided up to the top of the field, aided by a well timed pit stop. The Derbyshire driver pulled out enough time over the #42 BMW of Green/Tuck to ensure he could celebrate a comfortable victory by the flag. Unfortunately for the Century team, the BMW was penalised for a pit infringement, handing their 2nd place to the #4 Tolman McLaren of Fagg/O’Brien, who had had another solid drive in the pouring rain. Supersub Ricky Collard put the sister #43 BMW of Century into third, allowing he and Jack Mitchell to stand on the podium following the demotion of their teammates.

Flick Haigh – Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage V12.Jakob Ebrey.

Race 1 was complete, and the anticipation grew for the second race. Sadly, so did the rainfall. The decision was made once more to start the race behind the safety car, with the Pro drivers taking the opening stint this time. 10 minutes of circulation though was enough to convince the race director Peter Daly, that the weather was nowhere near ready to let up. After another long delay on the grid, and with the standing water encroaching on the track from the trackside, leaving puddles on both run off and road, there was nothing else to be done but to abandon the race.

Not a popular decision, but there is sense in it for so many reasons. A driver puts himself at risk with every moment in the seat of the car. And an aquaplaning car at high speed is little more than a metal cage preparing for a crash. Safety is paramount, and pleasingly, there is much more to takeaway with every car and driver in one piece at the end of the day rather than the near certainty of danger on a wet circuit however the thrill of a race.

We await to see what news comes on a rescheduling of a race. There are rumours points may be scored, but this would demean the point of a race, with only 10 minutes behind the safety car to show for any movement in Race 2. The weather was the true winner of the second outing at Oulton, but you couldn’t complain at all about the opening race of 2018. Roll on Rockingham Motor Speedway, where hopefully the weather will behave long enough for the enjoyment of all

 

© Pete Richardson 2018