Sandy Mitchell and Adam Balon took victory in the Intelligent Money British GT Championship Silverstone 500 this weekend after starting from pole and holding off a late challenge from the Garage 52 McLaren of Alexander West and Marvin Kirchhöfer.
In GT4 Matt Topham and Darren Turner recovered from a difficult qualifying session to take victory and their second win of the season.
At the start it was Adam Balon starting from pole in the #72 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini who led into Copse corner and for half a lap the pack behaved itself as the 2Seas Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 of James Cottingham slipped into P2 followed by Richard Neary in the Team Abba Mercedes. Second place starter Alex Malkyin saw his Redline Racing Lamborghini drop to fourth place but he’d soon be back into second place.
Getting a good run out of Chapel, Neary was alongside Cottingham at Stowe and powered around the outside of the corner giving himself the inside line into Vale. The Team Abba Mercedes took the position into the chicane but Cottingham cut back and tried an optimistic move to retake the position on the exit.
The two Mercedes inevitably made contact and as Cottingham span out he collected innocent bystander Ian Loggie. The damage to Cottingham’s car left him stranded whilst Logie limped back to the pitlane. With his eyes set on the championship, Logie was keen to get the car back out on track and the RAM Racing team took a little over 20 minutes to make the necessary repairs and allow Logie and co-driver Callum MacLeod to chase after some precious points.
Things would get worse for the #8 Team Abba car which now found itself at the back of the field and was faced with a recovery drive to salvage something from the race. Starting from P4 following the team’s best joint qualifying effort and despite Richard Neary nursing a back injury which had forced the team’s withdrawal from the previous weekend’s GT Cup race. By the end the Richard and Sam Neary had driven through the field to finish in P5 overall.
The celebrations were short lived as the team were disqualified from the results after a team member removed one of the car’s doors in parc firme in violation of the regulations.
Other first lap victims included the #76 7TSix McLaren of Mia Flewitt which received a shunt from behind somewhere between Stowe and Vale which left the car’s rear wing hanging off. Flewitt continued but the lack of downforce saw her get sucked into the GT4 pack before a black and orange flag saw her recalled to the pits for repairs.
Nick Moss in the #30 Optimum Motorsport McLaren also found himself facing the wrong way at Stowe but with co-driver Joe Osborne staged an impressive comeback to take P3 overall at the flag.
Back at the front Balon and Malykhin were on their own with Malykhin appearing to be a little quicker than Balon. It didn’t take long for the lead to swap but it would be temporary. Once again the action was at Vale as on the third lap Malykhin made a late move up the inside of Balon which saw the Lamborghinis swap some paint but thankfully both got away. The stewards were less impressed and some 30 minutes later issued the Redline Racing Lamborghini with a stop and go penalty which dropped Malykhin to P8.
Behind the leaders Morgan Tillbrook in the Enduro Motorsport McLaren was scything through the field working his way up from P7 on the opening lap to be worrying leader Adam Balon. The Lamborghini pitted early giving the lead to Tllbrook who led up to the end of the first hour. At the final pit stop, 45 minutes to the end of the race and with the team sitting in a solid third place, the car failed to start and was wheeled back into the garage and out of the race.
The biggest winner from the first lap troubles was Alexander West in the #88 Garage 59 McLaren who started from tenth place but quickly found himself up to P3 on the road. The wildcard entry with Marvin Kirchhöfer co-piloting were mostly looking to finish the race but by the end would find themselves vying for the lead.
Elsewhere Oulton Park winners Balfe Motosport saw their hopes of a good result dashed with a puncture leaving Shaun Balfe to limp back to the pits. The damage to the wheel arch was more than could be resolved on the day and the car was retired approaching the halfway point of the race.
By the last hour the battle at the front was between Barwell and Garage 59. Sandy Mitchell in the #72 Barwell Lamborghini took the lead from Kirchhöfer in the #88 McLaren as the Garage 59 car left the pit lane. With traffic to contend with, Mitchell knew he had a fight on his hands to retain the lead.
“I think the McLarens had a slight pace advantage over us in the race, said Mitchell, but we did enough to come out of the pits ahead and that was the key factor really and I was able to just hold them off.
“We were definitely worried, they had really good pace throughout the race and it was all about managing the traffic as well as possible to stop him getting a run on me.
“We had a very similar pace, I felt I maybe slightly had the edge but as soon as we were in traffic that was kind of irrelevant so we were just battling all the way.
“They got pretty close at one point but we managed to stay ahead so yeah really chuffed.
Kirchhöfer was certainly looking for the win and with just tenths separating the pair right up to the chequered flag it seemed that Mitchell handled the traffic better.
“I tried to use every opportunity I got but he just managed the traffic well and I never really got a clear run on him.” Said Kirchhöfer after the race. Unfortunately it was just not possible but he’s done a good job and I think it’s fair to say that he deserved to win it.
Despite the result Kirchhöfer was clearly happy with his debut British GT race.
“If someone had told us yesterday that we would have finished second I would have signed that, obviously when you are close to winning it you’re not very happy. In the end as a team we made a good step forward and we really improved the car so credit to Garage 59, they’ve done an awesome job and also McLaren. Hopefully we come here next time and win it but all in all we can be quite happy with the result.”
Third place went to the Optimum Motorsport McLaren of Nick Moss and Joe Osbourne whilst the Redline Racing Lamborghini of Alex Malykhin and James Dorlin recovered from their earlier penalty to take P4.
The opening laps of GT4 unfolded in a similar fashion with pole sitter Richard Williams in the #42 Steller Motorsport Audi getting tagged at Maggotts by Will Burns in the #90 Century Motorsport BMW. The pole sitter was pushed down the field with a whole world of work to recover whilst Burns was able to continue in the lead of the race.
Second on the grid was the #61 Century Motorsport Mustang with Marco Signoretti starting but that was also involved in a first lap incident at Stowe which saw it drop down the field. Both cars would be back at the front at the end of the race but star honours would go to the #27 Newbridge Motorsport Aston Martin of Matt Topham and Darren Turner which despite a difficult qualifying session putting them well down the grid, fought back to take GT4 victory.
A difficult qualifying session saw the team starting from sixth place but a solid opening stint from Topham saw him deliver the Aston Martin to co-driver Darren Turner in P4. With the cars in front being Silver/Silver cars they were all subject to pit stop penalties which didn’t apply to the Pro-am Aston Martin team.
Turner was as surprised by the result as anyone.
“I don’t think we were expecting it this weekend,” said Turner. “Getting a podium would have been a great result for us and to come away with a win is fantastic. It looked like most other people had some issues along the way but we had a lovely clean race, good strategy, pit stops no problem.
Tyre problems in qualifying saw the team start from sixth place on the grid which with the experienced Turner to rely on for a quick lap showed there were serious issues for the team.
“In qualifying we just couldn’t get the front to work. Understeer is always a killer when you’re chasing lap time and it was just one of those things we couldn’t get the front hooked up.”
“It was probably our worst performance so far in terms of getting the best out of the car but a lot of it is we need to go testing with the new tyre. We’ve got to get our heads around it. We knew we had a car that would be ok on the race pace in terms of looking after the tyre, we know it’s going to be a quick car
Once into the race Turner was much happier.
“I had a bit of wheel to wheel racing with the Mustang and one of the BMW’s which is great fun and then I broke free and got my head down and away we went.
“The team did a great job with strategy, Matt was superb, he had a bit of a lively first lap, kept his head and didn’t lose it and made sure he was there or there about at the end of the first pit stop and his pace has been great.
His pace certainly was good but the Steller Motorsport Audi also showed incredible speed recovering from it’s first lap spin. By the final 10 minutes, with Sennan Fielding behind the wheel, the Audi was up with Matty Graham in the #51 Valuga Racing Porsche Cayman. Having led for a good portion of the race, the Porsche couldn’t hold off the fast charging Audi which had taken pole position the previous day with a combined lap time nearly 1.5 seconds faster than their nearest challenger.
Fielding took the position in the final minutes of the race despite a strong defence from Graham which gave the Audi team second place in GT4 overall and first in class. Ross Whylie and Matty Graham took third place with Matt Cowley bringing the Century Motorsport Mustang home in fourth.
The next round of the Intelligent Money British GT Championship will take place at Donington Park over the weekend of 28th-29th May.
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