Michael O’Brien perfectly dealt with a late-race safety car to take a remarkable victory for Jenson Team Rocket RJN in the opening Intelligent Money British GT Championship race at Oulton Park as TF Sport cruised to victory in the GT4 class.
At the start, pole sitter Lewis Proctor in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720S made a superb start to head a chain of four McLarens as the two 2 Seas Motorsport entries slotted into second and third with O’Brien’s team-mate James Baldwin fending off Rob Collard’s Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 in fourth.
The race tended to stay in that order for the first half of the 60-minute race as the four Silver Cup cars found themselves equally matched around the Cheshire circuit and the first major reshuffles in the GT3 order proved to be at the mandatory mid-race pitstops.
Proctor pitted early doors as Jordan Witt in the #10 2 Seas car started to gradually close-in on the lead with the latter electing to stay out longer into the pit window. Those extra laps proved effective as Jack Mitchell – who took over from Witt – managed to make the most of the overcut and came back out ahead of Proctor’s co-driver Ollie Wilkinson.
Mitchell proceeded to power away at the head of the field but his charge was quickly cut down as he was handed a 10sec stop/go penalty for a pitstop infringement which relegated him down to 10th. To add insult to injury, he was then given another stop/go – this time for 18sec – as he was caught speeding in the pitlane.
His misfortune was O’Brien’s delight as, having made a quick move to squeeze his way past Wilkinson for second, he found himself promoted to the lead.
Slowly building up a two-second advantage on the cars behind while weaving his way through GT4 traffic, the Jenson Team Rocket driver must have thought the racing gods were conspiring against him as a safety car was called for in the final 10 minutes in an attempt to clear away the stranded Academy Motorsport Mustang of Matt Cowley which found itself stranded on the grass at the outside of Island Bend.
While the car couldn’t be recovered with the time available, the safety car came in with enough time for O’Brien to have to manage two laps of pressure – which he did with aplomb as he took his and Baldwin’s first win in GT3 in their joint debut in the class.
Second went to Wilkinson, the late safety car denying Dean Macdonald in the #9 2 Seas Motorsport McLaren a handful of laps in which to try and snatch away the runner-up spot. Indeed, Macdonald must have been equally relieved to retain his spot on the podium as the late neutralisation period denied Sandy Mitchell – in the Huracán he took over from Collard – the opportunity to sneak his way onto the podium despite being under Macdonald’s rear-wing for much of the second half of the race.
Fifth went the way of Patrick Kujala in the first of the Ram Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3s with the sister car driven Yelmer Buurman coming home the best of the Pro-Am GT3s in sixth – neither Mercedes showing the pace to challenge at the front.
Phil Keen steered the second Barwell Lamborghini he shares with Adam Balon to seventh – he’ll be starting on pole for race two – with Sam Neary taking eighth for Team ABBA Racing.
Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron combined to take the flag ninth in their AF Corse-prepared Ferrari 488 GT3, with Scott Malvern and Nick Jones rounding out the top 10 in their Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3.
Compared to the action at the top of GT3, GT4 was a much quieter affair as Connor O’Brien and Patrick Kibble never slipped out of first for even a single lap as they dominated the class in their TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage.
Streaking away at the start, the only car that was still in the same league as O’Brien was Sam Smelt in the Speedworks Motorsport Toyota GR Supra but even then, the former British Touring Car Championship racer couldn’t match the same levels of performance as the Aston.
The real battle came for third as Patrik Matthiesen in the HHC Motorsport McLaren 570S found his third-place under constant threat from Dan Vaughan in the second TF car and Jordan Albert in the Academy Mustang. The trio were swapping places regularly with none of them able to make a decisive break heading into the pits.
Like in GT3, it was the pitstops that shook up the order. First to encounter trouble was the Speedworks car as a pitstop 0.3sec slower than the mandatory minimum time forced it into the pits for a 0.3sec stop/go penalty which dropped James Kell to fifth. Then as he was avoiding GT3 traffic, Cowley appeared to run slightly onto the grass at the high-speed Island Bend in the Mustang. He avoided hitting the barriers, but the car refused to re-fire and he was forced to retire from fourth.
That benefitted both Matthiesen’s co-driver Jordan Collard and Jamie Caroline – who took over the Aston from Vaughan – as their scrap for second suddenly had one less car. Caroline couldn’t make it a TF Sport 1-2 though as Collard – son of GT3 racer Rob – proved too stubborn after the safety car restart and took a hard-fought second.
Caroline took the final spot on the podium, with Kell recovering to fourth – just 1.458sec behind – in the Supra. Fifth went to the second HHC Motorsport McLaren of Chris Wesemael and Gus Bowers, with Ben Hurst and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke only a tenth behind in sixth in their Century Motorsport BMW M4.
Race two is set to get underway at 4.45pm UK time (5.45pm CET)