TF Sport dominated the fourth and fifth rounds of the British GT season at Snetterton, with Aston Martin putting on such a dominant display that you’d be forgiven for thinking the Aston Martin Festival had been shifted from Le Mans to Norfolk.
From the very first practice session a Vantage was on top as the V12-powered car was enjoying the long straights and medium-slow corners that make up the Snetterton Circuit. A point emphasised by Nicki Thiim just before he went out and demolished his rivals in GT3 Pro qualifying — “The car just loves this circuit!”
Come the first 60-minute race and things had not really changed. After his own strong qualifying session, Thiim’s team-mate Mark Farmer in the number 11 TF Sport car led from the off and kept Jon Minshaw at bay in his Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 — despite Minshaw’s best efforts.
However, he didn’t count on a hard-charging Graham Davidson — who was the pace-setter in the opening half of the race — as the Jetstream Aston Martin racer executed an inch-perfect overtake to move up to second as Minshaw was relegated to fourth.
There wasn’t a chance for the order to change much further as the safety car was called for to recover the stranded McLaren 570S GT4 of Graham Johnson. The recovery of the stricken McLaren took so long that the pit window had opened during the caution period, with every GT3 car bar Andrew Howard in the Beechdean Aston crowding into the narrow Snetterton pits.
With space at such a premium, 29 cars going in for a driver change at the same time was always going to cause issues and this race was no different. Thanks to a clean stop and easy getaway Thiim inherited a commanding lead in the class while Maxime Martin — who had taken over from Davidson — fell down to second as a radio failure for the engineer in charge of the stopwatch meant the car was delayed getting pushed away from pit box.
With Thiim quickly pulling away, and with Martin successfully holding off Phil Keen in the Barwell Lamborghini all the way to the chequered flag, the action shifted to the GT4 class.
The lead was in the hands of Matt George in the Invictus Games Racing Jaguar F-Type, but a penalty for a pit stop infringement allowed Joe Osborne — in the Tolman McLaren — to inherit the lead from Martin Plowman in the UltraTek Racing Nissan 370Z and Charlie Fagg in the second Tolman entry.
However, when Plowman was penalised for a pit stop infringement of his own, Fagg was promoted to second but had Matt Nicoll-Jones breathing down his neck in the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Scott Malvern was also looking to get in on the action as he put in the best stint of the year for the Team Parker Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4.
With Osborne pulling out an 8.5s lead in no time at all, the attention was focussed on the battle for second, but Fagg put on a great display of defensive driving to keep Nicoll-Jones at bay with Malvern unable to make his mark on the podium positions.
The GT4 battle was the talk of race two as well, with Century Motorsport’s pair of BMW M4 GT4s in the thick of the action — especially the number 42 of Bens Green and Tuck.
Despite a safety car on the second lap to recover the stricken Track-Club McLaren of factory driver Ben Barnicoat, which took 10 minutes, the action didn’t lose its rhythm. Immediately after the restart Jack Mitchell — in the number 43 Century BMW — was on the back of Nicoll-Jones battling for the class lead.
Mitchell quickly claimed the position at the Wilson Hairpin. But while he was moving up, his team-mate was moving down as Green was spun out of fifth by Daniel McKay in the Equipe Verschuur McLaren, dropping him to the rear of the 22-car field.
Osborne, starting the number 56 Tolman 570S, was moving up as well, quickly establishing himself in second place — after starting fifth. However, after the pitstops — where Osborne and team-mate David Pattison initially had an advantage thanks to their Pro-Am status not giving them a time penalty like the Silver Cup entries — they fell down the order as the other manufacturers came to the fore.
After a great pitstop — and patient overtaking work from Ben Tuck — the number 42 BMW was back up into the top five with a quarter of the race remaining and with just two minutes to go he claimed the lead from Lewis Proctor in the third of Tolman’s McLarens after a great out-braking move at Bomb Hole.
Proctor — who had taken over from a fast starting Jordan Albert — did hold on from Will Moore who guided the Academy Aston to its second podium of the weekend.
In GT3, the lead battle lasted slightly longer than that of Tuck and Proctor as Andrew Howard — in the Beechdean Aston — and Derek Johnston – in the number 17 TF Sport Aston — duked it out for the last quarter of the race.
Johnston, who was leading thanks to Marco Sørensen expertly picking his way through the field in the opening stint, seemed likely to miss out on his first win of the year as Howard was looking to make a move wherever he could. However, the 2016 champion held off the 2015 champion for long enough to cross the line first, after an exemplary display of defensive driving — praised by Howard after the race, who bear-hugged Johnston and commented on how ‘awesome’ their battle was.
That gave Aston Martin a one-two-three-four, but they could have claimed fifth as well. However, Graham Davidson mis-judged a braking point while battling with Jon Minshaw and accidentally caught the rear of the Huracan – sending the Barwell driver into a spin. The Scot was penalised 30 seconds after the race, giving Minshaw fifth place.
The next round of the British GT Championship is the blue riband Silverstone 500 three-hour race on June 10.