Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes’ first win of the season couldn’t have come at a better place. At Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for British GT’s sole overseas race of the year, the TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 drivers managed to just keep it in front of the Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 of Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jr.
Situated only weeks before the 24 Hours of Spa, this British GT Championship event doesn’t only attract the usual teams from the UK. Joining the national series to get the edge on their competition in the twice around the clock are Germany’s Black Falcon and Austrlia’s Grasser Racing Team. Top contenders in Blancpain GT and anchor teams to their respective manufacturers, the Brits, however, refuse to be overshadowed by their guests. On Friday evening it’s Team Parker Racing’s Bentley Continental GT3 raced by Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jr. who claim pole position with the slightest of margins over the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3 of Rob Bell and Alasdair McCaig: Just 0.042 seconds is what separates the Bentley from the McLaren after both the Pro and Am drivers have done their fastest laps.
Having been rudely taken out by a back-marker last time out at Silverstone, Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 pilot Liam Griffin is eager to do well today. So eager, in fact, that he dives into the inside of the busy La Source hairpin from the third row an in attempt to go for the lead. In the hussle, Griffin misses his braking point, sending the Englishman into the back of Parfitt Jr.’s Bentley and pushing the big Continental into the side of McCaig’s McLaren. Sustaining a broken suspension, there’s nothing McCaig can do other than limp back to the pits.
With the Bentley and McLaren taken care off for him, Farmer in the TF Sport Aston Martin has a clear track up ahead as he accelerates down to Eau Rouge, followed by Hunter Abbott in the Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and Parfitt Jr., who has just managed to keep the Bentley straitened out albeit with some minor damage to the car’s bodywork. Abdulaziz Al Faisal and his Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 team-mate Oliver Morley in the team’s sister car, dive into Eau Rouge in respectively fourth and fifth position, having made big steps due to the mess in the first corner.
For a little while Farmer has the race under control. It doesn’t take very long, however, for Abbott to catch back up with the leading Aston Martin and move himself in front. Al Faisal right away follows past Farmer as well, having already found a way to overtake the Team Parker Bentley earlier.
With the opening of the pit window after 50 minutes of racing, TF Sport calls Farmer in without delay to make the driver change and put Jon Barnes in the car. Abbott follows suit, brining in the Grasser Lamborghini to make place for Rolf Ineichen. Al Faisal stays out longer than the direct competition, which proves to be the wrong decision: When Miguel Toril boards the Black Falcon AMG, the Spaniard finds himself behind the TF Sport Vantage, Grasser Huracán and Team Parker Bentley in fourth position, and a charging Daniel Juncadelli in the sister AMG behind him.
Now with the Pro drivers behind the wheel of the GTs, Ineichen has to defend from the rushing Barnes. The battle between the Lamborghini and Aston Martin is quickly settled in favour of the English brand, as Ineichen is unable to hold off Barnes.
Ineichen also can’t keep up with the other frontrunners. Seb Morris, in the Team Parker Bentley after having taken over from Parfitt at the pit stops, and Toril and Juncadella in their Black Falcon AMG GT3s, find their way past the Swiss as well, shuffling him out of podium contention. Morris, though, wants more and has set his sights on the win. A final dash for victory gets the Englishman within a second of Barnes. Although the distance is less than a second, Morris never gets into striking distance as the Aston Martin has been set-up for top speed, making it impossible to launch an attack in the short time remaining. After the passing of the two hours it’s Barnes who makes it to the finish flag first for his first British GT win in eight years and Farmer’s first-ever.
Coming in behind Barnes and Morris is Juncadella. Mercedes-Benz’ DTM racer picks up his first outright GT podium trophy, but the celebrations only last shortly: Race control has spotted Juncadella overtaking under yellow and penalized the Spaniard and his co-driver Oliver Morley with an additional 30 seconds, dropping them a second behind third place in the final results. The penalty means that Toril and Al Faisal are promoted onto the podium, leaving the third-place trophy in the hands of Black Falcon.
The race for the honours in GT4 is a bit more of a straight-forward affair, at least during the first part of the race when Sandy Mitchell in the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S GT4 is leading the field of smaller cars. Joined again by the GT4 European Series, whose participants this weekend are showing better on-track behaviour than when they guest-starred in Silverstone, Mitchell has no less than 42 GT4s to keep at bay. No problem for the young Scotsman, however, who is over twenty seconds ahead of his perusers as the 50 minute-mark approaches.
Getting ready to come into the pits and hand over to fellow Scotsman Ciaran Haggerty for the final stint, the McLaren grinds to a hold at Pouhon. A broken fuel pump has killed the engine. Retirement is all that remains for the Scottish team, who have already seen the big McLaren 650S GT3 taken out at the start.
Lanan Racing’s Alex Reed and Joey Foster pick up the lead in their Ginetta G55 GT4 and from there on take it to the finish without much opposition to record their first win of 2016.
With three races left to score points, the title fight has opened up again as the top three going into the Spa weekend failed to score big points. Meanwhile, Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jr. amassed 27 points each, climbing to third place, 10.5 points behind championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam. The TF Sport duo scored just nine points after finishing seventh, already having scored a non-finish in Silverstone. Two one-hour races at Snetterton and the two-hour season finale at Donington Park form the finals of the 2016 season, where anything is still possible.