Tag Archives: GT3

Astons Star in Oulton Opener

Beechdean AMR pairing Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard ensured Aston Martin claimed both British GT opening round victories at Oulton Park following the success of Oman Racing Team duo Rory Butcher and Liam Griffin earlier in the day.

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As is tradition, the 2015 British GT Championship kicked off on Easter weekend with the opening two rounds of the championship taking place at Oulton Park; free practice and qualifying taking place on Saturday with the races following on Easter Monday.

After 6 months away from the race circuits, the years first sound of a Grand Touring car never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.  Witnessing the 34 car cast of the 2015 rendition of the series thunder up Deer Leap during the opening moments of free practice 1 brought a smile to my face; it is difficult to argue against the view that this is the best national GT series on the planet.

Whilst missing some of the GT3 variety of previous seasons, there being no Porsche, Audi, Bentley or Nissan presence on the grid, a much bigger GT4 field more than fills the void.  Two fully competitive classes is exactly what the doctor ordered which should both be ultra competitive following some changes in the regulations for 2015.  Reiterating that Amateur drivers have a key part to play was made clear by the banning of gold/silver crews and, similar to the Blancpain series, ensuring Bronze drivers enjoy more track time in free practice sessions.  British GT is now a strictly Gold/Bronze, Silver/Silver driver combination series.

Free Practice / Qualifying

Friday rain had left the crews facing a damp track for the first free practice session where Jon Minshaw made the most of the drying conditions to go quickest with his final lap of the session.  The Demon Tweeks man, once again paired with the rapid Phil Keen and this year in a Barwell Motorsport BMW, will be many peoples favourites for the title; the duo quickest again in the fully dry 2nd session to reiterate this view.

As is often the case though, qualifying did not follow suit with the ten minute sessions giving little time to string together the perfect lap.  While Minshaw was only able to register 9th quickest time, Liam Griffin in the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin claimed pole for race 1 with a scintillating 1:35:858.  Dave Bartrum appearing to have pulled off another master stroke of a driver signing following the loss of Michael Caine as a result of the driver grading regulation changes.

Race 2 qualifying saw the Pros take to the wheel for what promised to be a classic 10 minute showdown starring the likes of A1 GP winner Adam Carroll in the FF Corse Ferrari and BMW works driver Alexander Sims in the Ecurie Ecosse Z4.   It was Jonny Adam however who starred, claiming pole with a stonking time of 1:33:877 on his first flying lap and showing exactly why he is a works Aston Martin employee.  The FF Corse Ferrari would join the Scotsman on the front row to match the efforts of team-mate Gary Eastwood in the earlier AM session with the BMWs of Phil Keen and Alexander Sims filling row 2.

Just like the predicted weather forecast race day was set to be a cracker with the remainder of the top ten separated by less than a second!

SATURDAY PICS

RACE 1

In what is becoming a more and more popular series with the fans, large crowds had gathered to take in the race-day action.  And with the sun yet to burn through, it was pole sitter, Liam Griffin, who maintained his advantage after an early safety car period with Gary Eastwood, Andrew Howard and Andrew Watson in hot pursuit.

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From fifth position on the grid, Watson in the #10 Von Ryan Mclaren had made an excellent start, getting as high as second before going off the road at Island bend following an over enthusiastic attempt for the lead on lap 7;  An unfortunate end to what could have been a race winning car.

Griffin was not able to break away however and the top ten were covered by Just a handful of seconds before carnage broke out.  The delayed #12 Von Ryan McLaren seemed determined to have a say in the outcome of the meeting, causing the leading group to bunch up as they tried to put another lap on the 650s.  And just as Andrew Howard thought he was getting passed at Hislops chicane Salih Yoluc turned in on the Wycombe Wanderers Chairman sending the Aston into the tyre wall, with Ahmad Al Harthy also becoming caught up in the incident.  Both were out of the race and the safety car was deployed for the second time.

Meanwhile a big accident had occurred on the run down to Cascades.  Alistair McKinnon in the RAM Racing Mercedes tagged the Derek Johnston piloted TF Sport Aston in an attempted passing manoeuvre causing both cars to head to for the crash barriers at high speed; the Aston Martin bouncing back across the track and left stranded in the middle of the road.  The two following Barwell BMW’s had nowhere to go; Minshaw running into the back of Attard as he braked hard in an attempt to avoid the stricken TF Sport machine.  Somehow Attard was able to get the Ecurie Ecosse machine back to the pits, however Minshaw, Johnston and McKinnon were all additions to the retirements list!

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With the pit window now open several crews took the opportunity to get their Pro drivers behind the wheel under saferty car conditions and remarkably Adam Carroll, now in the FF Corse Ferrari, managed to steel a march on the Oman Racing Aston of Rory Butcher to emerge from the pitlane in the lead of the race, with Joe Osborne in the Triple Eight Racing BMW now in third.

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Indeed it was the white BMW who looked most likely to challenge for victory when the track returned to green with just 16 minutes remaining.  In fact Osborne was soon passed Butcher and in pursuit of the 458, however GT4 traffic would soon catch out the BMW pilot allowing Butcher back into second.  And with the order remaining the same at the chequered flag it seemed the Italian Marque had taken victory.

However several hours after the race, Carroll and Eastwood were demoted to second following a successful appeal by the Oman Racing Team squad;  the FF Corse Ferrari penalised for blocking the #6 Aston as it exited the pits, leaving Butcher and Griffin to take maximum opening round points.

Meanwhile in GT4 it was the #50 Optimum Racing Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson who emerged victorious following a battle with the #407 Beechdean Aston and the similar car of Terry Langley and Mike Hart.  Alongside Ross Gunn, second place represented a great result for 16 year old Jamie Chadwick on her British GT debut.

RACE 2

With Oulton Park now basking in glorious afternoon sunshine it was pole man Jonny Adam who lead the field away, with FF Corse Ferrari pilot Adam Carroll heading the chase from the Demon Tweeks BMW of Phil Keen and the LNT Ginetta of Mike Simpson.

Carroll was on a charge, and perhaps keen to make up for his race one penalty managed to pass the Beechdean Aston early on in the stint at Old Hall.  Adam would not have been too concerned however, knowing the Italian car faced a 15 second longer pitstop courtesy of their race one ‘victory’; the Scotsman managing to keep the Northern Irishman in sight throughout the remainder of his stint.

The Demon Tweeks BMW had been holding a strong third place, but would find itself in the wrong place at the wrong time again on lap 14; this time taken out by the Preci Spark Mercedes of Godfrey Jones and ending race 2 in the Cascades gravel trap.  Things can only get better for the Barwell prepared machine.

Following the lead team pitstops it was, as anticipated, the Beechdean Aston, now in the hands of Andrew Howard who assumed the lead of the race, with Lee Mowle in the Triple Eight BMW, Liam Griffin’s Oman Racing Aston and Steve Tandy’s LNT Ginetta just behind; the FF Corse Ferrari dropping to sixth as a result of the success penalty.

But just as it looked like being a close fight to the finish, Howard, Mowle and Griffin were all judged guilty of short pit stops and given drive through penalties as a result.  This appeared to put Tandy in the driving seat for victory, however, such was Andrew Howard’s pace in the afternoon sunshine that he managed to maintain the lead!

And so while Howard cruised to victory, Tandy was left left to fight a rear guard action against the fast approaching Ecurie Ecosse BMW of 2014 champion Marco Attard and the recovering Liam Griffin.  But try as Attard and Griffin might there was no way through leaving the LNT Ginetta to take a fine 2nd place.

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Further back the Issy Racing Lotus Evora made up for being caught out by the safety car in race 1 by utterly dominating the GT4 class in race 2.  Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw finished the race in 12th place overall with a class winning margin of 26 seconds over round 1 winners Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.

RACE-DAY PICS

And so after 2 rounds it is the new Oman Racing Team pairing of Rory Butcher and Liam Griffin that lead the championship courtesy of a win and a fourth place.  I am not sure many would have predicted this outcome at the start of the weekend but on this evidence they are likely to be title contenders.  As expected the racing around the tight Cheshire track was close, with driving standards at times dubious and on occasion shocking.  It was good to see the #12 Von Ryan Racing McLaren excluded from the meeting for blatant ignorance of the blue flags and generally causing chaos.  This is Sportscar racing Mr Yoluc, the Touring cars were at Brands Hatch!

Next up for the British GT teams is a trip to Rockingham for a 2 hour mini endurance race around the Northamptonshire track.  I however will most likely catch them at Silverstone for round 4 in late May where I will be hoping the wider track will create racing more akin to round 2 than round 1.

FULL RESULTS

For JPEGS or any other enquiries please get in touch via paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

Race Win and Titles for WRT at Nürburgring

Laurens Vanthoor and Belgian Audi Club Team WRT took the Blancpain Endurance PRO drivers and Teams championships respectively following a comfortable victory for the #1 car at the very wet Nürburgring finale.

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With a six hour race in prospect and so many teams and drivers still in contention for all of the Blancpain Endurance championship accolades it was with great anticipation that we made the long drive to the Eifel region of Germany.

Staying at the Hotel Zur Burg in ‘motorsport mad’ Nürburg itself allowed a short walk to the GP Circuit to catch the friday ‘bronze driver test’ shortly after arrival.  You always remember the first sight of a new track and the heavy braking zone into turn 1 was as good as any; offering great viewing of the first 4 corners of the circuit.  After a couple of Bitburgers, an awesome Argentinian steak at the Pistenklause restaurant and a brief watch of the German translation of Indiana Jones we were primed and ready for 2 full days of action at the track.

QUALIFYING

Weather wise, Saturday morning was a stunner, with the 90 minute free practice session starting in near perfect conditions.  Soon however, in true Nürburgring style, the fog would come in, followed by a heavy downpour later in the day.  With a 90 minute Pre Qualifying session as well as a 1 hour session to set the grid, the drivers managed to witness nearly all possible weather conditions in one day.  The 240 minutes of track time to go with the 6 hour race and good quality support events also making the €30 weekend admission fee very good value for money.

While the #7 Bentley in the hands of Steven Kane went quickest in the first session, Andy Meyrick was not able to better this before the rain came down in the second.

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The two PRO WRT Audi’s on the other hand managed to put in great times early on, with Christopher Mies in the #1 R8 setting a 1:55.708 to take provisional pole.

And although the cars still came out for the very wet third session there was no chance of improvements being made leaving the #52 Ferrari of Marco Seefried, Francesco Castellachi and Johnny Laursen to take the PRO-AM pole with third on the grid and Kane’s session 1 time in the M-Sport Bentley being quick enough to complete the second row.

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Alexander Mattschull meanwhile was the quickest gentleman trophy runner in the #458 Ferrari with a 1:58.994.

PRACTICE & QUALIFYING DAY PICS

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RACE DAY

“Kein gutes wetter” was how we were greeted at breakfast.  The thick fog, which would cause the cancellation of the Formula Renault race, easing after the emergence of heavy rain; heavy enough to question whether the race may be delayed as a result.  Treacherous conditions are common place  in this part of the world however and pleasingly, although behind the safety car, the race got under-way at the scheduled 11.45am start time.

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And even more pleasingly the safety car was in the pit lane 20 minutes later.  The field managed to tip-toe around turn one, but by the time the cars reached the exit of the Mercedes Arena, the championship contending #98 ART Mclaren and #26 Santeloc Audi had already clashed, with each losing several laps in the pits and effectively ending their title hopes.  This left just the #7 Bentley, #1 WRT Audi and #84 HTP Mercedes to battle it out for the PRO cup honours.

Up front, the lead WRT Audi of pole sitter Christopher Mies had a real battle on his hands in trying to keep the #99 ART Mclaren of Kevin Estre behind.  After several laps of trying the Frenchman finally getting passed with a brilliantly brave move down the inside of turn 1.  Estre was not able to pull away though with the gap remaining at roughly 1 second throughout the entirety of the first stint.  The big Bentley on the other hand was struggling in the conditions, falling back and losing touch with the lead pair.

Conversely Alex Buncombe in the PRO-AM RJN Nissan was flying, passing several cars including the #52 Ferrari of Seefried to take the class lead.  And after the first round of pit stops, an inspired decision to leave take fuel only meant the red and white machine would emerge from pit lane in the lead of the race with the 2 HTP Mercedes also managing to make up ground.  Cesar Ramos now in the #1 Audi meanwhile was unable to match the pace of Mies and was falling back along with the #99 Mclaren of Kevin Korjus.

The only other safety car period, roughly half way through the race proved to be controversial to say the least, somehow picking up the second place car in error, allowing the #19 Black Falcon Mercedes (leading as a result of a late pit stop) to blast around to the pits and still emerge in the lead.  This break in proceedings also brought the #1 Audi back into contention with Mies reinstated at the wheel.

Others were not so lucky.  Alex Buncombe’s hard work in building a healthy race lead came to nothing as his PlayStation academy team mates were unable to keep pace, quickly falling foul of the very rapid Nick Catsburg in the #12 TDS BMW who was now leading PRO-AM.

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Meanwhile the championship contending Bentley was not only struggling in the wet, but also suffering drive through penalties as a result of pit lane speeding and pit-stop infringements meaning their only hope lay with a WRT retirement.

As the race settled back down it wasn’t long before Mies was on the tail of Hubert Haupt’s Black Falcon Mercedes and taking the lead of the race.  And by the time Laurens Vanthoor took over the car, the PRO Cup title was firmly in his grasp as the #84 HTP Mercedes, piloted by Harold Primat, lost several minutes in the gravel at the final corner.

While the Belgian was able to cruise to victory, a drying track presented the opportunity for the slick shod #85 Mercedes, with Step Dussledorp at the wheel, to rapidly close on Abdul Al Faisal (now in #19), taking second place from the similar machine with just half an hour left on the clock.

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Further back, Alexander Sims in the Triple 888 Racing BMW and Steven Kane in the #7 Bentley were setting the track alight.  And for once the works BMW pilot was ‘out foxed’ by Kane heading into turn 1 as they both came through the field, with Kane eventually finishing 8th, and Sims just one place further back.

In PRO-AM no one was able to get near Catsburg’s BMW as he and Henry Hassid finished a very credible 4th overall to take the class victory.  While Castellachi’s championship hopes were ended with a trip to the gravel, second in PRO-AM went to the Black Falcon Mercedes of Devon Modell, Anders Fjordbach and Vladimir Lunkin, with championship victors Thomas Kemenater, Stefano Gai and Andrea Rizzoli taking third in the Scuderia Villorba Corse Ferrari.

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Ian Loggie and Julian Westwood put in a solid performance to take the Gentleman Trophy honours with 17th overall in their Audi R8 while 7th in class was enough for Peter Mann, Filipe Barreiros and Francisco Guedes to take the crown in their Ferrari 458.

GTR Victory

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In many respects I am glad that we saw the Nürburgring in typical wet conditions as anything else just would not have seemed right.  It is amazing how well the circuit coped with such a continual downpour and proved that in a health and safety mad world very wet races can still take place on well drained tracks.

The viewing at this famous German track was second to none with half the circuit visible from the BMW and Mercedes grandstands and whilst I wasn’t able to understand much of the circuit commentary, replacing the battery in my Iphone before travelling had enabled the excellent Blancpain timing app to keep me updated throughout the race.  My only real gripe being that half of the circuit was not open to the public meaning the usual anti-clockwise loop to take in an endurance event was not possible.

Whilst my quest to visit more European circuits will almost certainly mean we won’t return next year the 2014 running of the Nurburgring 1000 will definitely go down as one of my favourite motorsport weekends.  I do hope that the Blancpain series stays as competitive next year with Paul Ricard and Monza being possible trips.  Roll on 2015 …

Full Results

RACE DAY PICS

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For digital images, professional prints or any other requirements please email me at paul.commons@yahoo.co.uk.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)

 

Maiden Win on home soil for M-Sport Bentley

The #7 M-Sport Bentley of Guy Smith, Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane claimed a sensational debut win at Silverstone; round 2 of the Blancpain Endurance Series.  This being the first time in 84 years that the ‘Works’ Bentley Motorsport team had raced in the UK.

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Although having only arrived back in the UK hours earlier I was determined to make it to Silverstone to see the ‘Works’ Bentley’s take on some of Europe’s best GT teams and drivers.  A prospect made even more attractive by the 1 hour qualifying session scheduled for the morning of the race.

Following Saturday’s downpours and more overnight rain, a damp track faced the competitors as the clock struck 9am.  With the qualifying hour being split into 3 fifteen minute blocks, it looked like the final of these sessions would yield the pole time with the track becoming dryer and dryer.

With this in mind there was always the potential for a mixed up grid but I can’t imagine the #93 Pro GT by Almeras Porsche would have been anyone’s tip for pole.  Although aided by a slightly curtailed session due to a red flag, Franck Perera still put in a stunning lap of 2:00.912 to claim the top spot by 0.151 seconds.  The #98 ART McLaren in the hands of Alvaro Parente would take second spot with great laps from Alex Buncombe in the RJN Nissan and Steven Kane in the #7 Bentley being rewarded with a starting position on row 2.

Qualifying pics

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Caffeine was definitely required as the cars returned to their garages followed by a much needed sit down to watch the Lamborghini Super Trofeo race at Becketts.  After many years of visiting Silverstone it still amazes me how much speed the Pro drivers manage to carry through this section of track.

The lunch time pit walk was stress-free as very few spectators seem to be attracted to watch the Blancpain GT races.  I still can’t understand why people want to pay much more to watch touring cars drive each other off the track when you can come and watch Europe’s elite GT drivers battle it out fairly (generally anyway) in a proper tactical endurance race!  Having never been a massive fan of the new Wing complex it was also refreshing to be back in the ‘National’ Pit lane.

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40+ GT cars forming up to take the rolling start at 2.55pm was an awesome sight.  Inevitably as the Bronze graded driver, Eric Dermont, was starting the #93 Porsche it wasn’t long before the Pro GT By Almeras entry dropped back down the field.  In fact Alvaro Parente in the #98 ART Grand Prix McLaren had taken the lead before the cars had even made it through Copse corner with the #7 Bentley of Guy Smith and the #99 McLaren of Kevin Estre following suit.

And by the end of the first lap my prediction of a McLaren victory looked very likely as Parente had built up a healthy lead.  However 2003 Le Mans winner Smith was able to peg the gap at roughly 3 seconds with Estre close behind in the Sister McLaren.

Traffic however caused issues for the Bentley and the more nimble McLaren in the hands of Estre was able to sneak by to make it an ART Grand Prix one two.  Things would soon get worse for the lead Bentley as Smith was given a drive-through penalty for overtaking under yellow flags.  To all intents and purposes it looked like the infamous British Marque’s challenge was over.

With the first hour up, the pit stops started to take place with Andy Meyrick taking over the #7, Gregoire Demoustier the #98 and Kevin Korjus climbing aboard the #99.  For some reason the #98 seemed to fall off the pace and was quickly swallowed up by the sister #99 car of Korjus.

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Meanwhile Meyrick had the bit between his teeth and was soon back up to third.  And with a succession of qualifying like laps it wasn’t long before he had caught and passed the struggling #98 McLaren.

In Pro-AM, British GT regular, Joe Osborne was putting in a great drive to not only lead the class but to also lead the race as the MP Motorsport Aston chose to stay out longer to minimise Bronze driver Mark Poole’s time in the car.  It looked like a great tactic with several faster drivers due to take over the other AM cars for the final stint.   Unfortunately a safety car period shortly after Poole had taken over blew their tactics right out of the water with their healthy lead being completely wiped out.

Up front however the safety car had played into Bentley’s hands as the 16 second lead between the top two had been dramatically shortened.  With the track back to green flag conditions the race was most definitely back on.  Steven Kane, now in the #7, seemed to have the pace to catch former Formula 2 champ and Williams test driver, Andy Soucek in the #99 McLaren.  And to the delight of the home crowd Kane managed to take the lead with a move down the inside at copse with only twenty minutes of the race remaining.

With the #98 McLaren continuing to struggle in the hands of Alexandre Premat, the battle for the final step on the Pro podium was an all Audi affair.  Gregory Guilvert in the #26 Audi was driving the wheels off the Sainteloc machine but the experience of Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 WRT Audi finally paid off as he was able to snatch third place on the very last lap.

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As anticipated Poole was not able to maintain the Pro-AM lead; however he did manage to bring the MP Motorsport Aston home in a very respectable second place behind the very quick RJN Nissan of Alex Buncombe and the GT Academy boys.

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The Roal Motorsport BMW Z4 was just able to hold onto third in class with the very rapid Nicholas Armindo’s similar machine less than a second further back as the chequered flag was dropped.

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Further-back, the Gentleman trophy honours went the way of Alexander Mattschull and Frank Schmickler in the aptly numbered 458 GT Corse By Rinaldi Ferrari.

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The similar machine of AF Corse crew, Filipe Barreiros, Peter Mann and Francisco Guedes claimed second in class, with the #22 Team Parker Racing Audi R8 of Ian Loggie, Chris Jones and Julian Westwood rounding out the podium.

The relatively small crowd gave the ‘Bentley Boys’ a well deserved cheer as they took to the podium.  It was great to see an all British team and crew win a major International motor race on home soil.  I for one genuinely can’t remember seeing this happen before; The 2010 Nissan GT-R Tourist Trophy Victory for Jamie Campbell-Walter and Warren Hughes only being awarded after a respective exclusion and penalty for the two cars that finished ahead of it on the road.

Although a little fortunate with the safety car, it really was a great drive from the all British Bentley crew.  Andy Meyrick and Steven Kane put in some phenomenal lap times to drag themselves back into contention and take what, at one point, seemed an unlikely victory.

A few more pics from the race

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Full Results are available on the Blancpain Website – Link

Some of the drivers on display last weekend will be taking part in my next racing fix; The 24 hours of Le Mans; THE major highlight in my Motorsport year.  But before then it is back to rallying with the Dukeries Rally in nearby Robin Hood Country.

All images © Paul Commons (Paul Commons Motorsport Photography)