The Avon Tyres British GT Championship is enjoying a surge in popularity right now. In the past few years the series, with its spectacular cars and highly competitive, yet clean, racing has captured the imagination of fans not just in the UK, but from around the globe. To reflect this, the 2013 season is boasting some of the biggest entry lists ever, with a mixture of British GT veteran campaigners, internationally renowned GT teams, and national racers rising up the ranks to GT stardom.
Entries from the likes of current teams’ champions, Trackspeed, United Autosports, Motorbase, Italian GT stalwarts AF Corse, highly successful single- seater team Fortec, Vita4one Team Italy, World Rally Championship team M-Sport, as well as British GT regulars Preci-Spark, Mtech, Rosso Verde, and just as importantly, smaller independent teams such as Redgate Lifetime Racing to name a few were all ready for action at Oulton Park over the Easter holiday weekend.
For the full lowdown on the 2013 teams and drivers, check out the season preview I prepared just before the opening round at Oulton Park by clicking here.
Saturday’s two part qualifying session got off to a dramatic start with the session being red flagged almost immediately, due to two separate incidents. The first incident involved United Autosports’ Roger Wills, who lost his McLaren MP4-12C and mounted the grass banking at Hilltop. The result was significant damage to the front and rear right hand side. Luckily, Rodger escaped injury. The second incident involved GT4 newcomers, Redgate Lifetime Racing. Driver Matt Smith had apparently lost the car at City Hall, and spun into the barriers. Fortunately Matt was ok but, as with the United Autosports McLaren, his Ginetta G50 was sadly out of action for the weekend.
With the damaged cars hauled away and barriers repaired, the first qualifying session, in increasingly low light conditions, could be restarted. At the top of the times it was Trackspeed’s Jon Minshaw setting the pace. That was until a final flurry of laps from Motorbase’s Ahmad Al Harthy, Vita4One’s Jay Palmer and Fortec’s Benji Hetherington. Benji took the top spot with a 1:37.098, 0.16 faster than Palmer in second, Al Harthy was third and Minshaw fourth. In GT4 it was Complete Racing’s Steve Chaplin leading the class, and giving Aston Martin its first GT4 pole position. With this first fifteen minute session completed the grid was decided for race one on Easter Monday.
After a short pause, the second fifteen minute session began to decide the grid order for Monday’s race two. Rosso Verde’s Allan Simonsen topped the times with a 1:34.589 in his Ferrari. Second was Trackspeed’s Porsche ace, Nick Tandy, just 0.27s behind. Third was Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Aston Martin. And rounding out the top four on the grid, the Mtech Ferrari of Matt Griffin. In GT4 it was Century Motorsport’s Declan Jones putting the Ginetta G50 on pole by almost three seconds to his nearest class rival.
Easter Monday, if Hallmark cards are to be believed, is a time for bunny rabbits to be bounding merrily across flourishing meadows, with spring very much in the air. Here at Oulton Park, as the cars rolled out of garages, snow, and an almost palpable tension was in the air. Fortunately the snow didn’t last long.
Despite the cold conditions an impressively large crowd gathered at Oulton for this first round of the series, and were greeted to a spectacular sight as the 31 car field rolled round to complete three laps behind the safety car before racing got underway.
As the green flag waved it was the No.15 Fortec Mercedes SLS of pole man, Benji Hetherington, which surged ahead of the chasing No.33 Trackspeed Porsche of Jon Minshaw and No.27 Vita4One Ferrari of Jay Palmer. Behind, there’s an incident as an overly ambitious Gregor Fisken in the No.32 Trackspeed Porsche attempts to pass the No.007 Beechdean Aston Martin of Andrew Howard on the inside of turn one, Old Hall. There’s simply not enough room, and Fisken’s Porsche puts a wheel on the grass, which breaks traction and spears him into the side of the Beechdean Aston. The resulting collision also takes out the second No.14 Fortec Mercedes SLS of Jason Minshaw. Both Howard and Minshaw are out with damage. The Mercedes manages to limp a few yards to a safe position, the Aston manages another few laps before calling it a race. The safety car is immediately deployed. The Fisken car is later disqualified from the results for his actions.
With debris cleaned it’s back to green flag racing, and Benji Hetherington is back out front, leading Jon Minshaw and British GT newcomer, Ahmad Al Harthy in the No.1 Motorbase Porsche. Behind them there’s a battle for fourth between the Ferraris of Via4One’s Jay Palmer and the No.41 of Mtech’s Derek Johnston. The two make contact, which results in Johnston spinning out of contention, and the safety car being deployed again whilst marshals work to remove the stricken Mtech Ferrari.
Once again on the restart it’s Benji Hetherington leading from Jon Minshaw and Ahmad Al Harthy. The Fortec Mercedes of Hetherington appearing to have the pace over the chasing pack.
In the midfield Trackspeed’s David Ashburn, United Autosports’ Zak Brown and JRM Nissan’s Mark Cole are all making their way to the front after relatively poor, by their standards, qualifying performances.
As the race reaches mid-distance the No.16 LNT Ginetta G55 of Richard Sykes suffers an oil leak, dropping oil on the track. The result is lost time for leader, Benji Hetherington, whose very cautious being the first of the leading pack to venture onto the treacherously slippery surface. As a result he loses most of his lead. Unfortunately the oil catches out Mark Cole in the No.320 JRM Nissan GT-R, who slides off into the barriers and out of the race at Druids. Richard Sykes’ Ginetta ultimately catches fire and retires from the race.
With the pit window open, driver changes come thick and fast, and it’s not long before most of the field has made their changes. Ollie Hancock takes over the lead in the No.15 Fortec Mercedes from Benji Hetherington. Upon joining the action he immediately has the No.33 Trackspeed Porsche, now with Phil Keen replacing Jon Minshaw behind the wheel, just 0.1s behind. Also closing in is the third place No.31 Trackspeed Porsche of Nick Tandy, who’s taken over from David Ashburn. Fourth is the No.23 United Autosports McLaren with the hard-charging Glynn Geddie at the wheel, and he’s closing in on the front runners fast.
On lap 18 Nick Tandy finds a way past Phil Keen for second, and sets his sights on leader Ollie Hancock. A lap later Tandy makes his move and takes the lead, in the process Hancock is slowed and Keen manages to take second too. Hancock now has his mirrors full of the McLaren of Geddie, and it’s not long before Geddie is through and into third, it’s an impressive performance, but sadly short lived. On lap 25 Geddie’s McLaren suffers a gearbox problem that would end the Scotsman’s race.
As the race moves into the final few laps, it’s Nick Tandy putting in a dominant display to lead Phil Keen by over six seconds. Third, and some 20 seconds behind, is the Fortec Mercedes of Ollie Hancock. That is until the final few laps when Tandy begins to slow, allowing the Trackspeed car of Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw to take the lead, and ultimately the race win, from Nick Tandy and David Ashburn now in second, and Ollie Hancock and Benji Hetherington third. It’s a disappointing finish. No one likes to see team orders, but it’s also understandable given Nick Tandy and David Ashburn are apparently only competing for this weekend, whilst the Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen are competing for the championship season.
In the GT4 class, pole position man, Steve Chaplin, lost the lead to APO Sport’s Alex Osborne in the opening lap. After pit stops APO’s James May was passed for the lead by Optimum Motorsport’s Ryan Ratcliffe and Century Motorsport’s Declan Jones. Jones went on to take the lead when Ryan Ratcliffe was forced to take a stop and go penalty for making a too short pit stop and driver change.
Century Motorsport’s Declan Jones and Zoe Wenham went on to take the win ahead of Optimum Motorsport’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Ryan Ratcliffe. Third was APO Sport’s James May and Alex Osborne.
Race two saw the No.3 Rosso Verde Ferrari of Allan Simonsen on pole from the No.31 Trackspeed Porsche of Nick Tandy, third the patched up Beechdean Aston Martin of Jonny Adam, and rounding out the top four on the grid, the No.21 Mtech Ferrari of Matt Griffin.
As the field exits Lodge Corner and makes their way through Deer Leap, the green flag waves and it’s the Rosso Verde Ferrari of Allan Simonsen holding the lead from Nick Tandy, Jonny Adam and Matt Griffin as they enter Old Hall Corner, this time, thankfully, without incident.
Allan Simonsen is on a charge, and quickly pulls out almost a one second gap to the chasing Trackspeed Porsche of Tandy. Behind, the Beechdean Aston cannot maintain the leaders’ pace, dropping almost three seconds behind by lap five. But Jonny Adam is in a relatively comfortable position, remaining unchallenged by the Mtech Ferrari of Griffin behind.
Up front positions remain unchanged until lap 11, when the Mtech Ferrari of Matt Griffin comes into the pits early for the team to check over a smoking engine. Sadly it was race over for Matt, as too the PGF-Kinfaun Aston Martin Vantage of AMR boss, John Gaw, whose car also retires on lap 11 with a smoky engine. The PGF-Kinfaun Aston Martin hadn’t been sounding good all weekend.
With the pit window soon open the top five contenders all come into the pits together on lap 21. Once pit stops are complete it’s the No.31 Trackspeed Porsche of David Ashburn leading the No.27 Vita4One Ferrari of Jay Palmer. The Beechdean Aston Martin, now with Andrew Howard at the wheel, is in third. Long-time leaders, Rosso Verde, had a disastrous pit stop, re-joining the action down in fifth, and some 15 seconds behind the leader.
Jay Palmer in the Vita4One Ferrari is putting all his effort into harassing leader Ashburn into a mistake. Unfortunately, Palmer puts too much effort into it, and promptly spins himself out of contention. He re-joins the track after his off in fifth, reflecting on what could have been.
On lap 26 the No.41 Mtech Ferrari runs wide on the entrance to Britten’s chicane, the Ferrari takes to the grass, slides across the entrance to the chicane and T-bones the side of the APO Ginetta as it passes through the corner, taking them both out of the race on the spot. Another causality of the incident, and getting quite fed up with being involved in everyone else’s crashes, is the Beechdean Aston Martin of Andrew Howard, who promptly spins off on the fluids dropped from the Ferrari in the full frontal impact. Fortunately, Howard doesn’t hit anything, but he does lose his second place position in the spin. The fluids dropped in the crash also see the No.8 888 Optimum Racing BMW Z4 and No.10 M-Sport Audi R8 both spin backwards into the tyre wall, fortunately both without damage.
On the next lap, Beechdean’s Andrew Howard becomes the victim of the third crash this weekend that was not his fault. Jon Minshaw in the Trackspeed Porsche loses control of his car and spins across the grass entering Hislop’s, smashing into the curbs and into the side of the Aston Martin. The Trackspeed Porsche is out on the spot. The damaged Beechdean Aston of Howard manages to struggle back to the pits and retire, perhaps happy to end the race before the car’s hit by something else, like say, a meteor given their luck.
Speaking of blazing meteors, there’s one on the back straight. The glowing CWS Ginetta of Colin White catches my eye heading under Warwick Bridge, and then passing me thoroughly ablaze at Lodge Corner. Colin quickly pulls the car off the track as close as he can to where he thinks the fire tenders will be. Fortunately, Colin gets out unscathed, but it takes marshals over five minutes to get control of the blazing car as the fuel tank has ignited. Once the fire is out the marshals receive a large and highly deserving round of applause from the spectators. Sadly for the CWS team, it looks like a new car may be needed.
With just a couple of minutes remaining the safety car pulls into pit lane. It’s back to green flag racing and a chase to the chequered flag. David Ashburn wastes no time getting back up to speed, but he’s hounded all the way to the flag by the No.25 United Autosports Audi R8 of Mark Patterson. As they take the chequered flag it’s David Ashburn victorious in the No.31 Trackspeed Porsche, just 0.28s ahead of Mark Patterson in the No.25 United Autosports Audi R8, and third the No.79 Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 of Marco Attard.
In the GT4 class it’s another win for the Century Motorsport pairing of Zoe Wenham and Declan Jones. They cross the line just 0.29s ahead of Optimum Motorsport’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Ryan Ratcliffe. Third, despite retiring, is APO Sport’s James May and Alex Osborne. The team have a lot of work to do before the next round as, unfortunately, their Ginetta’s chassis has cracks in five separate places as a result of the accident with the Mtech Ferrari.
The teams now leave Oulton Park with much work for many of them to do before the first two hour race of the season at the high speed Rockingham circuit in Northamptonshire on the weekend of the 4th and 5th of May.