in a three-hour race that saw all of the top four in the points standings prior to the event, finish outside of the points scoring positions, opening up the seven round championship with four rounds still to go. The GT4 class saw a titanic race-long battle between the Pro Sport Performance Porsche Cup car of Adam Christodoulou and Joerg Viebahn, and the pole-sitter, the Ekris BMW M3 GT4 of Ricardo van der Ende and Pieter Christiaan van Oranje. The two cars crossed the line separated by just two tenths of a second.
The early stages of the race were furious, the opening lap saw lots of overtaking throughout the field and the lead change twice, with Trackspeed’s David Ashburn getting the jump on the BMW Z4 GT3 of pole-man Attard, only for the Ecurie Ecosse driver to get back on top a couple of corners later. Behind him Jon Minshaw and Gregor Fisken’s Trackspeed Porsches were playing rear gunner to an advancing Benji Hetherington in the #14 Fortec Mercedes AMG SLS GT3. Tom Sharp was sixth in an improving Ginetta G55, Hector Lester seventh with his Rosso Verde Ferrari and Steve Tandy eighth in the 888Optimum BMW. Making a lightning start once more was Aston Martin Racing boss, John Gaw, up ten places from nineteenth on the grid and Von Ryan Racing’s Gregoire Demoustier who had recovered from a spin at Copse.
Fortec’s Hetherington drove several exceptional stints along with co-driver Jason Minshaw. The early stages of the race saw the 21-year-old make light work of the drivers ahead of him and he was soon past Attard and into the lead.
Meanwhile, further down the order a big incident between the #24 United Autosports McLaren MP4-12c of ex-Formula 1 racer Mark Blundell, the #16 Ginetta G55 of Team LNT’s Richard Sykes and the #41 Mtech Ferrari 458 Italia of Derek Johnston brought out the first of several safety cars as debris was cleared from the loop section of the 3.66 mile Arena circuit. All three cars would feature no further in the race, Blundell’s McLaren not even making it back to the pits.
Some twenty minutes later the safety car returned to the pits, but a number of teams had seized the opportunity to make an early stop. The #80 Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage was one of the cars to do so, and a flash fire when refuelling sparked the Barwell mechanics into quickly putting out the fire, but covering the Aston in white extinguisher foam too. Despite this incident Richard Abra took the black and red machine out and progressed through the field.
On the restart Hetherington defended his lead hard from a pressing PGF-Kinfaun AMR Aston Martin with John Gaw at the wheel, the pair were soon joined by the CWS 4 x 4 Spares Ginetta of Tom Sharp. Gaw got past Hetherington and pulled out a lead that stayed at roughly a second.
Another incident saw the Trackspeed Porsches of Fisken and Phil Keen, who had recently joined the race in place of Minshaw, collide in a huge impact. Fisken was struggling with a puncture, Keen and the FF Corse Ferrari 458 of Rob Barff arrived at a rapid rate behind the Scot, before Keen tried to overtake the Ferrari up the inside, unwittingly hitting his team-mate on the left hand side, blinded by the 458 on his right. Both Trackspeed cars were out at the scene of the accident, the FF Corse Ferrari somehow avoiding the incident. Cue a second safety car.
With the safety car out once more, other teams yet to pit during the first caution period took advantage of the situation. One of those drivers was the now lone Trackspeed driver, Ashburn, also the championship leader. Not two minutes had past since the accident involving Fisken and Keen, and the Serbian smashed into the armco in the pit lane while trying to find the pit limiter button. The crash was ferocious and saw Ashburn ricochet off the barriers, tearing the left rear off the Porsche and serious damaging the front left; needless to say the #31 Trackspeed car would not take any further part in the race, ending the dominant run that has seen the Surrey-based team win all three of the 2013 races.
John Dhillon found himself a race leader after Hetherington pitted under the second safety car period and the AF Corse driver enjoyed his first experiences of leading a British GT race, but was eventually overcome by fellow Ferrari drivers Matteo Bobbi (Vita4One Team Italy) and Allan Simonsen (Rosso Verde) who tussled for the lead cleanly and fairly, swapping places four times in sixteen laps before Simonsen pitted.
The emergence of Bryant and Attard had been slow and steady, but with Jay Palmer now in for Bobbi, Bryant began to cut into the Ferrari driver’s lead at a rate of two-three seconds per lap, reeling in Tom Sharp and Minshaw in the #14 Fortec machine ahead of him first. Catching Bryant though was the newly appointed Aston Martin Racing factory driver, Jonny Adam, in the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage. A spin for Palmer soon meant his lead was all but gone and two subsequent punctures meant the #27 Ferrari dropped out of contention, with the #79 BMW taking the lead on lap 66. Palmer later retired due to damage caused by the second puncture.
Bryant held off the attentions of Adam until the end, keeping the gap between fourteen and seventeen seconds. Dan Brown ended up a comfortable third, over 25 seconds ahead of M-Sport’s Rembert Berg and Warren Hughes.
Fifth were Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin in their AF Corse prepared Ferrari 458, the pair having made a switch a fortnight ago from Mtech. Griffin and Cameron were dogged with bad luck today, getting stuck behind the safety car at the wrong time and the Ferrari stalwarts were one of several cars to receive a drive through penalty for failing to obey the track limits.
AF Corse can take some positives from the fact they got all three cars home, in the top eight, and that they were the first Ferrari across the line (in fifth), just ahead of the Aston Martin of Abra and Poole, who once again excelled and enjoyed some good fortune on a circuit both drivers have fond memories of following a success at the circuit last year in another series. For his strong efforts in his stints, Poole was awarded the Blancpain Gentleman Drivers Trophy.
The #28 Ferrari of Michele Rugolo and Australian Steve Wyatt would undoubtedly have finished higher on its debut had it not been for it getting stuck behind the safety car, in a similar vein to team-mates, Griffin and Cameron. Rugolo was a revelation in the mid-part of the race and pushed hard to keep the #28 car in contention, albeit finishing in seventh.
Dhillon and Aaron Scott finished the race in a solid eighth place, getting a healthy points haul for themselves and the added experience of leading a British GT race this year. Behind, was the Oman Air Motorbase Porsche of reigning champion Michael Caine and Ahmad Al Harthy, continuing their points winning streak with a fourth points finish in as many races, despite drive through penalty for having too short a pit stop. Rounding out the top ten on their debut in the top national GT series were Americans Charles Putman and Charles Espenlaub in the stylishly liveried ProSpeed Competition Porsche.
Finishing just outside the points in eleventh was another sometime leader, Simonsen. The Danish sportscar star was in sensational form today as he battled through the lower order in his Rosso Verde Ferrari 458 to take the lead, keeping the crowd entertained with his battle with fellow Ferrari racer, Bobbi.
FF Corse’s Barff and Eastwood were twelfth, ahead of the two Fortec Mercedes which lost out in the pits. Hetherington and Minshaw can take pride in their performance, which also saw them post the fastest lap of the race, a 2:05.527. The #15 Mercedes SLS of Steve Jans and Klaas Hummel was in the mix throughout the race, riding in the top ten after the second round of pitstops. Behind them was the CWS 4X4 Spares G55 of Sharp and Colin White, which had been looking set for a top six finish until an issue with a fuel pump halted their charge.
The GTC and GT3B entrants from FF Corse, Jacques Duyver and Charlie Hollings, and Paul McNeilly and Jamie Stanley, enjoyed strong clean races, and despite the different specifications of their respective Ferraris, a 458 challenge car and a 2008 430 GT3, the pair of cars found themselves with similar pace and had a race within a race. At the flag it was the GTC Ferrari of Duyver and Hollings that sneaked it, seventeen seconds ahead of McNeily and Stanley’s 430 GT3. Both sets of drivers will hopefully return to the series later in the year.
With the arrival of a number of cars from the Avon Tyres GT4 Trophy, the GT4 class was always going to be a closely run race. Not too many would have predicted quite the margin come the end of the three-hour race though.
The V8Racing8V Chevrolet Camaro SS of Duncan Huisman and Luc Braams was an early class leader, the sister car, #405 had made appearances through the weekend, but was retired after warm-up with an unknown issue.
Polesitters in GT4 the lead Ekris BMW M3 of Ricardo van der Ende and Bernhard van Oranje fought hard to keep the gap to the leaders within half a second at any particular time, but a slow stop brought the BMW and the Porsche Cup Car of Adam Christodoulou and Joerg Viebahn into contention as the race progressed.
The British GT4 entrants coped well against some big names racing in GT4 from the continent, and the Ginettas of Redgate Lifetime Racing (Dan Eagling and Matt Smith), Optimum Motorsport (Ryan Ratcliffe and Rick Parfitt Jnr) and APO Sport (James May and Alex Osborne) ran their European counterparts closest.
Cor Euser’s Lotus Evora GT4 was a late entry after damage at last Monday’s Nürburgring 24 Hours race. The Dutchman and his younger team-mate Rob Severs didn’t relent and after the first hour led the class having pitted during a safety car period.
The battle between the lead Ekris BMW and the Pro Sport Porsche didn’t relent and after the second hour of racing the two European entries had driven away from third place. However, the fight for the final podium spot was now five cars strong. May and Osborne’s Ginetta sharing third for a significant period of the race along with the recent British GT winner, the Aston Martin Vantage V8 GT4 of Complete Racing, the Cor Euser Racing Lotus, the Redgate Lifetime Ginetta of Smith and Eagling, and the Optimum Motorsport of Parfitt Jnr and Ratcliffe who had got back into contention having lost a lap behind the safety car.
Elsewhere in GT4 it was a tough day for British GT4 Championship leaders Declan Jones and Zoe Wenham. Having fought up to fourth place their Century Motorsport Ginetta G50 developed a gearbox issue, which saw them stop at Copse corner before making their way back to the pits for the team to work some magic. Unfortunately, the issue persisted and while the car did return on track, it wasn’t able to challenge properly for position. The pair finished the day tenth, claiming a vital point and a half to ensure they go to the next round at Snetterton still in the lead of the series.
Another car which failed to make the full distance but did enough to remain classified was the fantastic Chevrolet Camaro of V8Racing8V with Huisman and Braams at the wheel. Despite leading the class during the first hour or racing, the pair retired just before Stowe corner which an unreported issue, but finished ninth in GT4 claiming three points towards the Avon Tyres GT4 Trophy.
Motorground’s Henry Taylor and Nigel Farmer had a tough race in their Ginetta G50, eventually taking eighth in class behind the Redgate Lifetime Ginetta, which finished seventh, and the Complete Racing Aston which finished sixth.
Cor Euser’s effort earlier in the race was enough to ensure he and Rob Severs finished fourth in GT4 a lap ahead of the APO Sport Ginetta, but it was Parfitt Jnr and Ratcliffe that claimed the final step of the podium with a magnificent drive by the two young British drivers.
Having seen the gap between the leading GT4 Porsche of Viebahn and the chasing BMW of van Oranje drop to eight tenths of a second, as the pair took the chequered flag, the gap was a sensationally close two tenths of a second after three hours of racing.
After the eventful Silverstone 500, British GT teams will come together in three weeks time for the next meeting of the 2013 season, round four at Snetterton in Norfolk (15/16 June). With two 60-minute ‘sprint’ races to be played out, more teams and drivers will have an opportunity to show their worth and get points in one of the toughest seasons of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.