Darren Leung and Dan Harper showcased the frightening speed of the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT3 as the latter charged down Sandy Mitchell in the closing minutes to take the win at the Intelligent Money British GT Championship’s blue-riband Silverstone 500.
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Charles Clark and Jack Brown took their first GT4 win of the season in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren Artura after a late disqualification for the Raceway Motorsport Ginetta G56.
The three-hour Silverstone 500 is always chaotic and so it proved to be from the very start. Starting on the outside of the front row, John Ferguson had a slow getaway in the RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and slipped to fifth by the end of the opening tour as the field battled for every inch of asphalt around the circuit. That allowed Richard Neary, in the pole-sitting Team Abba Racing Mercedes, to lead a pretty untroubled opening phase of the race as he transcended the squabbling pack behind.
While the opening laps were quiet, that quickly changed. A McLaren tipped Nick Jones – guesting this weekend alongside Scott Malvern – into a spin at Club, and as cars tried to avoid the Porsche Lucky Khera crashed into the back of Paddock Motorsport’s Mark Smith – the former conceding on circuit commentary that he wasn’t anticipating Smith’s sharp braking.
With debris scattered everywhere, the safety car was called for to clean up the shards of carbon fibre and proved the instigator of strategies going… everywhere.
While everyone pitted, bar Jones & Andrey Borodin in the Greystone GT McLaren, and the Pros all took their places behind the wheels, the factor that came into play was maximum driver time – use a lot of the Pro’s driver time now? Or do a shorter stint and save them for later?
What did shake out in that first round of stops, was a significant blow to Ian Loggie & Jules Gounon’s chances of victory. In a busy pitlane, Loggie slightly missed his marks in front of the 2 Seas garage meaning the team had to readjust equipment and move air lines. The subsequent delay dropped Gounon out in 20th and with a lot of work to do in the Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Back at the front, Borodin’s time in the sun didn’t last for long as Jonny Adam – taking over from James Cottingham in the second 2 Seas car – quickly dispatched of the blue and yellow 720S and opened a slender lead on Sam Neary, who was getting sucked into a fight through traffic with Ben Barnicoat in the Inception McLaren and Ross Gunn in the Beechdean Aston.
The biggest mover proved to be Barnicoat – returning to British GT for the first time in five years – who fought his way past Gunn and was then released into second with Neary electing to take his second stop early. Freed to chase down Adam, the Lexus factory driver took 2.3 seconds out of his lead on one lap and then on the next made an easy move on the Hangar Straight to sweep the McLaren into the lead.
Adam struggled with tyre degradation and found himself slipping down the order slightly before electing to pit and swap back to Cottingham.
With strategies dividing, Barnicoat found himself in the lead with Marcus Clutton in the Enduro Motorsport McLaren the driver providing some pressure for the lead. Both pitting roughly round the halfway mark, the pair continued to be the leaders until the last of a handful of safety cars with just under 50 minutes remaining.
That was for a nasty crash between Orange Racing’s Simon Orange and Bobby Trundley in the Team Brit McLaren 570S GT4. The latter had made a mistake and found himself in the gravel on the outside of Becketts. Pulling back on, he seemed to slow approaching the racing line which completely blindsided Orange, who crashed his McLaren 720S GT3 into the rear-left of Trundley’s machine, which was almost completely broadside across the track.
Most of the crews elected to make their final stops during that interruption, but with drive times coming into play, cars came in as a trickle during the 24-minute neutralisation. When that shook out, Sandy Mitchell found himself – surprising most even in the team – out front in the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 Evo2, just ahead of Jonny Adam – back in the #4.
Even that didn’t stay concrete for long. Adam was forced into a ten-second stop/go penalty – a legacy of Cottingham clipping David Holloway’s Century Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4 – which put him out of contention.
Also moving forward was Harper, benefiting from solid stints from Leung. Taking the green with 28 minutes to go in fourth, he was third after Adam served his penalty and then mugged Rob Bell – who stealthed his way to third alongside Mark Radcliffe – for second.
He found himself quickly on the back of Mitchell, who was defending like his life depended on it. It honestly didn’t seem as though Harper would find a through, but on the run down the Wellington Straight he finally did – in spectacular fashion.
Jinking hard to the left, he dived up Mitchell’s inside into the left-hander of Brooklands and remained with him as the left flowed into the long right of Luffield. Drag racing to the line, Harper had his nose ahead and held on round the outside at Copse to solidify his lead – the same move he’s done in both Ginetta Juniors and Porsche Carrera Cup GB with similar results.
Mitchell did try to fight back in the final minutes, but conceded to GT REPORT after the race that he knew the BMW would prove to be the biggest challenge. He said: “I thought we had the best of the Mercs, but I knew the BMW was going to be fast so as soon as I saw him clear the other cars and get into P2 I knew we were going to be in trouble. After that they were just too fast for us today.
“It was tough [battling with Harper], it’s a big car to have in your mirrors! Me and Dan have known each other well, we’ve come through the SuperStars programme together at the same time and stuff like that, so I knew it would be a clean fight. They just had a lot more pace than us on the straights today and especially when you’re wheel-to-wheel that makes a big difference.”
Rounding out the podium was Bell and Radcliffe in the Optimum Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3, utilising the safety cars to push themselves up the order and onto a podium they possibly wouldn’t have expected at the start.
Bell said: “It’s been a bit of a fraught weekend with one thing and another. We knew we had a good car underneath us, it was just circumstantial where we ended up but you can’t just come to this championship and expect to be at the front.
“We just hung on in there, qualifying was obviously cancelled and Mark had just a great race. With all the Pros it’s hard to do too much to be honest but Mark just had an absolute cracker, went forward and then the safety car helped us at the end. We knew we could pit, whereas some others couldn’t, so we took that which put us ahead.”
Fourth went to Gunn and Andrew Howard in the Beechdean Aston – a good return for the team after the latter’s minor off in one of the only laps of qualifying before it was abandoned. Gunn’s final stint was enough to hold off Raffaele Marciello – partnering with Ferguson – who was hampered partly by an odd incident as the cars were released to the grid. Ferguson was released into the path of a Ginetta, which struck a glancing blow to the Mercedes-AMG GT3 and took off the dive planes on the left of the car’s front bumper.
Barwell’s strategists were rewarded again with sixth for Mark Sansom and Will Tregurtha – that position also securing the Silver-Am class win – with Barnicoat taking seventh on the road with Brendan Iribe, the team being caught out on the other side of that safety car divide at the close.
However, that changed after the race with the team given a 30-second time penalty for exceeding the maximum driver stint length times. That’s dropped them to 10th, meaning Gounon and Loggie now take eighth, ahead of Greystone GT’s Callum Macleod and Mike Price.
Rounding out the top ten was Drivetac’s James Wallis and Chris Hart in ninth – a solid result for the team, as they make their debut in the top class with that result also a podium in Silver-Am.
The secondary class promised a lot, and it delivered a lot, with great overtaking, great strategy and a heavy heap of controversy. It almost makes you wonder how they managed to squeeze it in to just three hours…
Starting the Optimum Motorsport McLaren Artura from the outside of the front-row, a better first lap for Clark propelled him into the lead and electing to pit under the first safety car dropped him to third but in a prime position to inherit the lead when Stuart Middleton and Harry George eventually took their first stops, having been the only two in Class not to take advantage of the early neutralisation.
While George slipped down the order in the Enduro McLaren which had a full engine and gearbox change after a spectacular failure in the opening practice session, the battle boiled down to who had the better strategy.
Middleton and Raceway team-mate Freddie Tomlinson maintained a constant challenge to Brown & Clark in their Ginetta with the two crews swapping as the other made their stop. The Ginetta’s alternate strategy unravelled, though, towards the end of the second hour.
With the safety car on track, Tomlinson pitted from the class lead and handed over to Middleton who drove straight through a red light at pit exit which had been red for some time as the train of cars drove through the start/finish line.
Confusion reigned as the team was handed a 131-second stop/go (the equivalent of a full lap at GT4’s average lap times), which was then suspended pending post-race investigation, before being reinstated. It ultimately wasn’t served, with the #56 black flagged in the closing minutes to give Clark and Brown a maiden victory.
Not that it matters to Clark, who was ecstatic when GT REPORT caught up with him after the race. He added: “First GT4 win in British GT so I’m absolutely buzzing! Jack did a great job as well and so did Optimum. There were a lot of safety cars that race that we weren’t really expecting, but yeah managed to get out and get the win so I was really buzzing.
“[Strategy] is not really mine and Jack’s job, Optimum are a world-class team we just listen to them! We do our job on-track and they do their job with strategy and it worked out perfectly.”
The disqualification for the Ginetta gave One Motorsport a maiden British GT podium – a result made even more remarkable when you consider that Ed McDermott ended the first lap in last place after he was shunted into a spin at Club.
Picking their pitstops perfectly, McDermott and co-driver Michael Broadhurst catapulted themselves up the order and into second place, winning the Pro-Am category.
Broadhurst told GT REPORT: “Sam our engineer is mega, he went on the radio to Ed and said ‘Look, it’s a long race, head down, just focus on catching the cars in front’ and Ed’s pace has been really good. We’ve struggled a bit with pace this weekend in the car, we made quite a few big changes which we didn’t get to test until the race. We’re still on a bit of a learning curve trying to catch the Arturas and the Porsche.
“The race seemed to unfold in a really weird way with the safety cars, I thought we would have been a bit screwed over by the last one but somehow we seem to have been gifted a good result off of it. Got a good restart and try to keep the pace as level as possible just to keep it clean. Glad to see the chequered flag for that one!”
Despite having to drive himself out of the gravel, Erik Evans secured yet another trophy for Academy Motorsport as the Ford Mustang squad continues its good start to the season. A solid race, apart from the trip to the Club gravel trap, allowed Evans and Matt Cowley to enjoy a taste of silverware.
Fourth went to Century Motorsport’s David Holloway and Bradley Ellis – despite being shoved into the tyre barriers at the Loop by Cottingham.
DTO Motorsport rounded out the top five as Josh Rowledge and Aston Millar again fitted their strategy around the chaos to take fifth in the McLaren Artura.
British GT’s next race is the first two-hour race of the season as the field heads to Donington Park for the first visit to the East Midlands of the season, on 27 & 28 May.
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