WPI Motorsport breezed to its second Intelligent Money British GT Championship victory as Michael Igoe and Phil Keen took a comprehensive victory at the Brands Hatch season-opener.
In GT4, there was late heartache for Assetto Motorsport as a puncture with just five minutes to go gave Century Motorsport a one-two finish in its first race with the newly-evo’d BMW M4 GT4.
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There was drama from the very start as the race was forced to start under the safety car after Morgan Tillbrook spun and hit the barriers in his Enduro Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 on the green flag lap.
When the race finally got underway, Andrew Howard in the pole-sitting Beechdean AMR Aston Martin, got a strong start and opened up a slender margin over Igoe’s Lamborghini Huracán GT3.
That didn’t last long, though, as Igoe found a gap on Howard’s inside heading into Druids and – with Howard giving him a slight gap to squeeze through – powered into the lead.
From there, Igoe continued to pull a bigger and bigger gap. Despite a second safety car just 15 minutes in – to recover John Ferguson’s Toyota Gazoo Racing UK Supra which was clipped into the gravel by Chris Salkeld’s Century BMW – Igoe made a great jump to leave his GT3 competition in his wake.
It was something he then repeated to even greater effect 40 minutes in. A thrilling battle between Adam Balon and James Cottingham for sixth ended in tears after Cottingham came from way back to try and lunge up the inside of Balon going into Paddock Hill, but contact put them both in the gravel and called for the safety car.
Utilising the back-marking Balfe McLaren of Ash Marshall as a buffer to Howard, Igoe absolutely launched out of the final corner and – with Howard unable to overtake until crossing the start/finish line – Igoe pulled more than two seconds over the Vantage racer.
Handing over to Keen in the pits, British GT’s most successful driver – having now taken his 18th series win – found himself uncharacteristically quiet as he found himself running clear of the rest of the pack to take victory by almost 10 seconds.
In addition to Igoe’s mega opening stint he was helped in no small way, by a thrilling battle for second.
It started in the opening hour of the race as Howard was relegated to third by Leo Machitski in the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 after the final safety car to recover Cottingham’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Balon’s sister Barwell Huracán.
Slowly pulling away from Howard, the positions were switched in the pitstop as a slower stop for Machitski as he handed across to Dennis Lind allowed Jonny Adam – taking over the Beechdean car – to sneak back into second and promoted Yelmer Buurman, swapping in for Ian Loggie in the RAM Racing Mercedes, into third.
Adam initially had some breathing space as Lind fought with Buurman to regain a podium position. Despite the speed advantage of the Lamborghini, Buurman’s AMG was stoutly defending.
The Dutchman’s defences were finally broken with just under 30 minutes to go as Lind made full advantage of the Mercedes being slightly blocked by GT4 traffic to get a better run on the inside going into Westfield and up into second.
From there, he set about after the Aston, carving more than a second per lap out of Adam’s advantage before – with five minutes to go – he was right under the Vantage’s rear-wing.
In the final three laps, it seemed almost certain that Lind would make a move to snatch second away, but the straight-line speed of the Aston helped Adam keep the Dane at bay – securing the runner’s up spot by just 0.335s.
Fourth went the way of Loggie and Buurman. They came under threat by Sam Neary in the Team Abba Mercedes towards the end of the race – after Loggie capitalised on a mistake by Neary’s father Richard in the opening stint to take fifth – but Sam couldn’t close up enough to make a serious attempt to take the place away.
Compared to the action happening ahead, Team Parker Racing proved that just keeping consistent and out of trouble can still be a successful race strategy as Scott Malvern and Nick Jones took a solid sixth place on their British GT debut in the beautiful Porsche 911 GT3 R.
Their quiet run was helped by an action-packed race for the JRM Bentley Continental GT3 of Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher. After a strong start for the latter – in which he was running in the top five and involved in some great battles with Machitski and Neary – the race started to unravel just before the halfway mark as Fletcher was hit with a drive-through penalty for overtaking under the safety car just before the start/finish line.
Then, in Plowman’s stint, he took the Bentley rallycrossing a couple of times to put the pair a rather lonely seventh.
Father-and-son duo Stewart and Lewis Proctor took advantage of some misbehaviour ahead of them to secure eighth for Balfe Motorsport. Running third in a great three-way battle also involving Ross Wylie in the Simon Green Motorsport Lamborghini and Greg Caton in the pretty brisk G-Cat Porsche, Lewis seemed stuck for a way past until the duo ahead started to shove into each other.
It started with a nudge from Caton on Wylie as the former got past at Druids, and then Wylie returned the favour a corner later – pushing Caton into a spin at Graham Hill Bend. The loss of momentum for Wylie allowed Lewis to pick up two positions.
Wylie ultimately finished ninth on-the-road alongside team-mate Lucky Khera, with Caton tenth after a solid opening stint from Shamus Jennings. However, Wylie was given a 30-second time penalty by the stewards for causing the collision, meaning the positions were switched around.
The Ultimate Speed Aston Martin took 11th, while the #1 Barwell Lamborghini of Balon and Sandy Mitchell managed to get back running after its excursion earlier to finish 12th.
Compared to the easy sailing for WPI Motorsport in GT3, the battle for GT4 victory proved slightly more convoluted for Will Burns and Gus Burton.
After a great start from pole, Burns found himself starting to come under pressure from Will Moore’s Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang, after he gained a place on the start to run second.
The numerous safety cars put them closer together, but before Moore could put in an attack his effort was halted by a rather odd incident. Heading into Druids, he appeared to rear-end the Balfe GT3 McLaren trying to pass it on the inside and then heading down to Graham Hill Bend, Moore seemed to chop across the nose of Stewart Proctor, possibly as a result of suspension damage after the first contact.
Whatever the reason, the benefit for Burns was suddenly a 6.6second gap to the Steller Performance Audi of Richard Williams, which had been promoted to second.
Pitting later than his rivals, Burns handed over to Burton but found themselves dropped to third because of the 26-second time penalty Silver Cup crews have to serve in pitstops.
That put him behind the now leading Assetto Motorsport Ginetta G56 of Charlie Robertson, who took over from a strong-performing Mark Sansom, and the sister #9 BMW of Chris Salkeld and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke. The two Pro-Am entries not having any success penalty.
Burton wasted no time trying to reclaim his lead. A cracking battle with Gordon-Colebrooke for second was resolved with a great move round the outside going into Paddock Hill Bend after the #9 had to yield to Malvern’s faster Porsche putting a lap on him.
Despite Burton now being in clear air, it seemed that Robertson was too far ahead to be caught with the remaining time. That all changed with just five minutes left on the clock.
Running far ahead of the chasing pack, Robertson was forced to pit to change a deflated rear left tyre and came back out fourth-in-class.
Burton found himself promoted back into the ultimate race victory, with the sister BMW more than 10 seconds down but with a question mark hanging over its head concerning the post-race investigation into contact between Salkeld and Ferguson.
The incident was at Hawthorn with Salkeld having a better run up the inside of Ferguson’s Supra but never getting all the way alongside before Ferguson turned in. The Toyota spun into the gravel and eventually had to retire with suspension damage.
Third, sitting between the #9 BMW and the Assetto Ginetta, was James Kell and Jordan Collard’s Team Rocket RJN McLaren 570S GT4. The pair were always front-runners throughout the race and took advantage of the late drama for Robertson to be in a great position to capitalise and push onto the podium.
Fifth went to the Audi R8 LMS of Williams and Sennan Fielding, despite the pair needing to serve a 10-second stop/go penalty for an unsafe release from the pits.
Nick Halstead and Jamie Stanley took sixth in their first race together in the Fox Motorsport McLaren 570S, as they headed a train of McLarens as Balfe Motorsport’s Ash Marshall and Jack Brown clinched seventh ahead of Katie Milner and Harry Hayek in the second Team Rocket RJN entry.
Ciceley Motorsport rounded out the GT4 results in the Mercedes-AMG GT4 driven by Dave Whitmore and Jake Giddings.
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