Team Parker Racing’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris claimed a dominant victory in British GT’s blue riband, three-hour race - the Silverstone 500 - earlier today to blow this season’s GT3 Drivers’ title wide open.
The Bentley pair finished a minute and three seconds ahead of Macmillan AMR’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage driven by James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell, while Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin’s Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 completed the podium. Together they represented three of the five manufacturers that finished in the top-five places.
GT4 produced a nail-biter, with less than four seconds covering the podium finishers. Ultimately it was track-club’s Adam Balon and Adam Mackay who produced a fault-free performance aboard their McLaren 570S to claim the class and Pro/Am spoils ahead of Academy Motorsport’s Silver Cup pairing Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones, while In2Racing’s Marcus Hoggarth and Matthew Graham completed the class rostrum.
Fans flocked to Silverstone for today’s Supercar Sunday showpiece and were rewarded with sunny skies and an action-packed British GT race.
The #31 Bentley might have missed out on pole by just 0.092s but Parfitt Jnr immediately made amends by jumping fellow front row starter Mitchell as the cars turned into Copse for the first time. His Continental GT3 was soon five seconds up the road before the gap stabilised to the chasing Aston Martin V12 Vantage.
The order also shuffled further back when Cameron’s poor start dropped his Ferrari from third to seventh behind Barwell’s Jon Minshaw, Team ABBA with Rollcentre Racing’s Richard Neary, Ian Loggie in the second Team Parker Bentley, and TF Sport’s Mark Farmer. But that was nothing compared to reigning champion Derek Johnston whose race began with a half-spin exiting The Loop before a power steering failure rendered his and Jonny Adam’s Aston Martin almost undriveable.
While the top-two pulled clear, and Neary harmlessly spun his Mercedes-AMG out of fourth, eyes were soon fixed on the battle for third between Minshaw, Loggie, Farmer, Cameron and Liam Griffin. All five swapped positions on one particularly action-packed lap, but it was Loggie who eventually prevailed while Minshaw did all he could to keep his squabbling pursuers at bay.
The Silverstone 500 is British GT’s only three-hour race of the season, which allows teams to experiment with pitstop strategy. A minimum of three driver changes are required, and Team Parker were the first front-runners to make one when Parfitt Jnr handed over to Morris after just shy of 40 minutes. It would be another 20 before Macmillan AMR followed suit, and by the time James Littlejohn was aboard his V12 Vantage the Bentley had extended its initial lead from seven to 29 seconds.
Those split strategies would set the tone for the rest of the afternoon, Parfitt Jnr and Morris’ speed and early pitstop keeping them one step ahead of their rivals despite often appearing further down the timing screens. Their only scare came in the final hour when Parfitt Jnr and Farmer made contact at Stowe, which sent the Aston Martin into a spin. But when Race Control deemed it a racing incident, the Bentley was free to continue its march towards a commanding victory.
Littlejohn and Mitchell also executed a flawless afternoon but never had the pace to worry the leading Bentley. They finished over a minute behind but still picked up their best ever GT3 result and third rostrum in four races.
The final podium position remained wide open for much of the afternoon. Spirit of Race and Barwell’s decision to initially run long - their opening stints both lasted almost 70 minutes - would have seen them benefit from any subsequent Safety Car period. But with none forthcoming both were left to fight for the final podium place, which Griffin and Cameron claimed by 7.8s over Minshaw and Keen.
Team Parker’s second Bentley was also in the mix before Loggie crashed out in the final hour. However, his co-driver Callum Macleod underlined the Continental GT3’s pace by claiming the Sunoco Fastest Driver of the Weekend Award with a new British GT3 lap record - 2m02.376s - after also treating the crowd to a memorable scrap with Adam Christodoulou.
Indeed, that left the Rollcentre Racing driver, as well as team-mates Neary and Martin Short, to claim fifth on the latter’s final British GT appearance despite a late drive-through penalty, while Griffin and Sam Tordoff’s Barwell Lamborghini completed the first half-dozen home.
Farmer and co-driver Jon Barnes also looked like top-six contenders but lost time after their racing incident with Parfitt Jnr before coming home seventh, one place clear of AMDTuning.com’s Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe - who survived a late-race spin - and the compromised Aston Martin driven by Johnston and Adam. Century Motorsport’s return to the GT3 ranks resulted in a top-10 finish despite picking up a stop-go penalty for a faster-than-permitted pitstop.
Today’s results see Minshaw and Keen retain their championship lead, but only by four points from Morris and Parfitt Jnr, who also claimed Silverstone’s Blancpain Gentleman Driver Award.
Cameron and Griffin move up to third in the GT3 standings.
On an afternoon when this season’s championship contenders fell by the wayside it was left to track-club’s Adam Balon and Adam Mackay to prevail in a closely-fought encounter.
The HHC Motorsport Ginetta that began the day at the top of the standings also lined up on pole, and with no pitstop penalty to serve was widely expected to dominate. Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha’s hopes were soon dashed though when the latter immediately dropped to fourth and then pulled off with a driveshaft failure on lap three.
Ordinarily that would have left Black Bull Garage 59’s Silver Cup duo Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell in the box seat. But having initially benefitted from Tregurtha’s issues, Haggerty simply didn’t have the pace to live with Macmillan AMR’s William Phillips and UltraTek/RJN’s Kelvin Fletcher, who’d shared the second row. Indeed, there was little to choose between them over the opening stint while the pair ran nose-to-tail at the front.
Further back Will Moore’s rapid opening laps quickly brought Academy Motorsport into play. The Aston Martin he shares with Matt Nicoll-Jones started dead last as a result of spending Saturday racing with the GT4 European Series in Austria, but he was up to P4 by the first round of stops after passing Balon towards the end of their opening stint.
The race really came to life in the second hour. While UltraTek/RJN’s Nissan dropped back and then suffered a puncture, Jan Jonck maintained Macmillan AMR’s lead, albeit by a slender margin from Mackay, Matthew Graham - who’d replaced In2Racing co-driver Marcus Hoggarth - and Nicoll-Jones. All four circulated together before Mackay first grabbed the lead with an opportunistic move on Jonck, which also shuffled the Aston down to fourth. However, the track-club McLaren’s lead was barely a lap old when Graham forced his way to the front.
It remained that way until the second round of stops, but with the gaps so close there was little surprise when Balon emerged with the lead ahead of Moore, Phillips and Hoggarth. It was a lead track-club wouldn’t surrender, Mackay reeling off the final stint despite late pressure from Nicoll-Jones’ rapidly advancing Academy Aston Martin, which finished just 2.8s behind.
In2Racing’s Graham got the better of Macmillan’s Jonck to come home 0.4s shy of Nicoll-Jones, while another of this season’s title protagonists - Lanan Racing’s David Pittard and Alex Reed - overcame their 15-second pitstop success penalty to take the championship lead with fifth.
Reigning champions Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson endured a torrid qualifying session but enjoyed a much better race to finish sixth aboard their new-for-Silverstone McLaren.
Optimum team-mates Bradley Ellis and Ade Barwick, making a one-off appearance this weekend, were next up, while Mitchell and Haggerty dropped to eighth in the final reckoning as a result of their 20-second success penalty and late-race drive-through penalty.
Black Bull Garage 59’s second McLaren, driven by Akhil Rabindra and Dean Macdonald, and Nick Jones and Scott Malvern’s Team Parker Porsche rounded out the points-paying positions.
Tolman Motorsport had a tough day at the office but their Pro driver, Joe Osborne, can at least be proud of his Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Race - 2m14.031s - which was also a new British GT4 benchmark.
Elsewhere, HHC Motorsport won the PMW Expo Team of the Weekend Award. After their Ginetta retuned to the pits on a flatbed truck the squad set about replacing its broken driveshaft so that Middleton and Tregurtha could return to the fray.
Today’s results mean the battle for this year’s GT4 title is incredibly close. Reed and Pittard now lead the standings, but only by 3.5 points from today’s winners Balon ad Mackay, while HHC’s problems have dropped erstwhile leaders Tregurtha and Middleton a further two points behind.
The 2017 British GT Championship continues at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on July 7/8.