A masterful recovery drive after a first-lap spin secured RAM Racing’s Sam De Haan and Patrick Kujala their first Intelligent Money British GT Championship win of the season at the three-hour Donington Park enduro – the sixth different winner in as many races.
In GT4, a faultless drive from HHC Motorsport’s Jordan Collard and Patrik Matthiesen put them in the position to capitalise on pole-sitter Academy Motorsports’ success penalty to take their first win in the class.
Unlike the championship’s last appearance at Donington in August, the opening lap proved to be chaos up and down the GT3 field as De Haan spun coming out of Redgate and dropped down to the back of the field as the group squeezed up into a swarming bunch of metal.
Pointing in the wrong direction, De Haan quickly made it onto the back of the pack as a safety car was called for to recover Michael Igoe’s WPI Motorsport Lamborghini which was helped into the gravel by a 2 Seas Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3.
The safety car was out for just three minutes and as soon as the track went green De Haan set off like a man possessed as he utilised the front-engined grip of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 going down the Craner Curves – which benefits from a car that can carry speed – to scythe his way through the GT4 traffic and was quickly on the back of his GT3 rivals.
Faced initially with the Am drivers – who had to start the race – De Haan, a Silver-rated racer, powered his way into the top ten and handed the car over to Kujala just before the 60-minute mark.
Stopping again just 25 minutes later – just before halfway – and then again with just under an hour to go allowed De Haan to serve enough time for Kujala not to breach the maximum of 100 minutes of racing per driver and got all of their three mandatory stops over and done with.
Starting the final hour in tenth, the Finn got past Michael O’Brien in the pole-sitting Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren and then found himself shuffled increasingly further forward as the rest of the GT3 field served their final stops of the race.
Lying in third with 30 minutes to go, Kujala was moved into the lead as the squabbling pair ahead – Lewis Proctor in the Optimum McLaren and Adam Balon in the #72 Barwell Lamborghini Huracán GT3 – both pitted. With clear air ahead, Kujala built up a handy lead over the field behind.
He didn’t have a completely comfortable run to the flag as Phil Keen, who took over from Balon at the final stop, proceeded to show why his skills behind the wheel are so impressive as he sliced his way past 2 Seas Motorsport’s Jack Mitchell and then O’Brien to move from fourth to second with an 8.5-second deficit to Kujala.
Catching the traffic in better places allowed Keen to get closer, but ran out of time to really put pressure on the RAM Racing car with Kujala crossing the line first with 3.404s in hand.
Keen and Balon’s near win came from a clever strategy call from the Barwell team which called Balon into pit on the first lap and got the first stop and driver change out of the way while the race was neutralised under the safety car. Keen powering up through the order allowed the strategy to be viable, but Balon’s increased caution in passing GT4 traffic potentially denied them the valuable time Keen needed to make a move for the lead.
Also no doubt kicking themselves was the Jenson Team Rocket RJN pair of O’Brien and James Baldwin. A great start allowed Baldwin to lead a good chunk of the early running, but a decision to not switch tyres at the first stop meant O’Brien was fighting a losing battle against cars on fresher rubber. Added to the need to serve their 15-second success penalty for their Brands Hatch podium, and the duo were denied the chance of fighting for victory.
Indeed, a late charge from Jack Mitchell almost denied them a podium all together as the McLaren driver found pace late on and was rapidly closing onto the back of the 720S but needed another lap to move them from fourth to third – missing out on a podium by just half-a-second. Mitchell, and co-driver Jordan Witt, were in the top five for the majority of the race after slick stops and quick work during all of their stints, but a relative lack of pace compared to the cars ahead denied them a trophy.
Fifth went the way of Optimum Motorsport’s Ollie Wilkinson and Lewis Proctor. The team went bold on their strategy with Wilkinson serving almost all of his necessary time up-front, with the team only completing one pitstop in the first two hours of racing.
Pitting just inside the final hour, and then again with 30 minutes to go, meant they were a force to be reckoned with at the front but after the last stop, Wilkinson came out behind Keen – the undercut working wonders for Barwell – and last year’s Silver Cup champion faded towards the end.
A slow puncture through a spanner in the works of the sister Barwell Huracán of Sandy Mitchell and Rob Collard as what was meant to be a longer stint for Mitchell turned into a 20-minute sprint and the need to stop just before halfway to change tyres – and drivers. While the pair showed great pace, the difference in strategy between them and the cars around them denied them a chance of regaining their place in the top three, eventually finishing sixth.
A 16-second stop/go penalty for a short pitstop dropped the Steller Motorsport down the order after strong pace from both Sennan Fielding and Richard Williams marked them out as outside contenders for a podium. However, after their penalty they dropped down the order to seventh – just ahead of the Team ABBA Racing Mercedes which had a relatively quiet run to eighth.
Ninth went the way of the second RAM Racing Mercedes of Yelmer Buurman and Ian Loggie. A strong start by the latter had the car running in the podium places but with 17 minutes of the race gone, Loggie took too much kerb at the Old Hairpin and spun onto the grass. Dropping down the order, their day was made worse by a stop/go penalty for a stop that was just a fraction too short.
WPI Motorsport recovered from the gravel to round out the top ten, despite Marco Mapelli needing to serve a drive-through penalty for repeated track limits warnings for him and Igoe.
The GT4 class was relatively calm in comparison to its bigger brother as HHC Motorsport stormed to victory thanks to a perfect pit strategy for Patrik Matthiesen and Jordan Collard.
Running the majority of the race in the top four, a conventional strategy and strong pace for both of the drivers put the team in a great position to make the most of close rivals Academy Motorsport needing to sit in the pits for an extra 20 seconds after their Brands success last time out.
At the final round of stops, Collard did take the lead but a recovering Jordan Albert in the Academy Mustang wasn’t taking any prisoners and he cut down the deficit to the McLaren 570S and was a constant presence in Collard’s mirrors.
Despite strong pace in the first-half of the race that allowed Matt Cowley to stretch ahead out front, Albert couldn’t close in enough to retake what would have been a remarkable win, instead settling for second – 1.198s behind.
That said, the fact that either of them locked out the top two was down to their strong pace as what was initially a brave decision to pit both the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT4s on the opening lap under the safety car nearly paid off handsomely.
Falling a lap down after the cars came out, the two bright yellow machines quickly powered their way back up the order and went into the final hour first and second with Connor O’Brien leading Dan Vaughan. However, the team possibly needed another safety car to make the strategy work to its fullest – which never came – and when the pair pitted with just under 30 minutes to go both the Mclaren and the Ford got back through.
That said, it wasn’t a total bust for the team as O’Brien and co-driver Patrick Kibble secured more silverware to go with their two class wins with a third, with Vaughan and team-mate Jamie Caroline crossing the line in fourth.
Fifth went the way of the Pro-Am class winning Balfe Motorsport McLaren with Euan Hankey and Mia Flewitt putting on a great display to mix it with the Silver Cup entrants, taking fifth in GT4 by just over a second from the Speedworks Toyota Supra which recovered from a cracked brake disc in qualifying yesterday to push up the field in the hands of James Kell and Sam Smelt.
The next round of the British GT Championship takes the field to Norfolk and two one-hour races around the Snetterton Circuit on 3&4 October.
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