taking their first victory of the season, and Trackspeed's third in as many races with the new 2013 997 GT3 R. They beat the Warren Hughes/Rembert Berg M-Sport Audi R8 LMS ultra to the chequered flag by 16.611 seconds, with fellow Audi drivers Matt Bell and Mark Patterson third for the United Autosports team. In GT4, Steve Chaplin and Tom Wilson claimed their first class win of the season, and a maiden victory for the Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4 in British GT.
It was Westbrook and Fisken's Trackspeed team-mates, Nick Tandy and David Ashburn, and Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw that started from the front row. Ashburn led from pole into Deene hairpin for the first time but Zak Brown in the #23 United Autosports McLaren was alongside him on exit and as Brown ran wide into Yentwood he made contact with the M-Sport Audi and spun out, allowing Fisken and Minshaw through. A safety car was soon deployed to allow Brown's stricken McLaren to be collected, game over for the United Autosports boss this weekend. Elsewhere on the first lap, Ahmad Al Harthy span his Motorbase Porsche and Lee Mowle picked up a puncture on the #8 888 Optimum prepared BMW Z4 GT3 after contact from behind.
On the restart, Minshaw leapfrogged Ashburn and drove off into a comfortable lead, building a two second gap by the end of the lap, fellow Trackspeed racer, Fisken was seemingly struggling for grip and had backed up a train of cars including Patterson's Audi, the Vita4One Team Italy Ferrari 458 of Jay Palmer, and Berg in the 2013 Audi.
An early leader in GT4 was the APO Sport Ginetta of James May. A move to the inside at Deene on lap one turned out to be the right move and he jumped up four places before Yentwood. May's lead wouldn't last though as Optimum Motorsport's Rick Parfitt Jnr reeled in his Ginetta rival and overtook him at the Brook chicane laps later. Tom Wilson, the Aston Martin GT4 driver, was now a surprise third. The Complete Racing AMR team had a tough time in practice and qualifying with limited track time due to an oil leak, but showed little sign of it when it mattered in the race.
Overtaking was not an issue for the British GT cars at the 2.05 mile Rockingham International Long circuit; Berg, Von Ryan Racing's Duncan Tappy and John Gaw in the PGF-Kinfaun AMR Aston Martin GT3 were all big winners from the opening laps.
Second-place Ashburn, the 2010 Drivers Champion, soon conceded his place to a determined Fisken, who had his tail up. Gaw ushered his way past Patterson for fourth, then a declining Ashburn, for third. The Serbian held station for a number of laps but succumbed to the pressure of Patterson, Palmer and Fortec Motorsports' single-seater hot-shot, Oli Webb.
Starting the #15 Fortec Mercedes AMG SLS with Webb against a field of 'gentleman' drivers reaped reward as the Cheshire-youngster moved up six places in the opening laps; a strong move up the inside of Palmer on the start finish straight looked like it would stick, only for Palmer to fight back and to attempt to out brake the Mercedes driver at the Deene hairpin. However, Palmer out braked himself and overshot the turn, the Vita4One driver soon retired after this following an off on the exit of Tarzan.
While the GT4 field had spaced out, Wilson in the Aston overcame May's Ginetta which now had a loose bonnet after a brief nudge of Parfitt Jnr some laps before. The Optimum driver had now built a lead over over 15 seconds and was looking invincible on the Corby track that is half speedway/half technical infield.
With yellow flags out on track, an incident occurred which would change the final results. Andrew Howard in the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 accidentally passed Ashburn on lap 21 at the long swooping left hander, Gracelands, and despite the Beechdean car later finishing the race third, a Stewards enquiry awarded the #007 car a 60-second penalty which would see it finish seventh. Marco Attard tried to follow Howard through past Ashburn, but instead collided heavily with the Trackspeed Porsche, resulting in damage which would end the pole-sitting car's race later on. After the race, Stewards excluded Attard's Ecurie Ecosse BMW from results for overtaking under a yellow flag and for the avoidable collision with Ashburn.
In the final twenty minutes of the first hour it was all about Webb and Gaw, the pair fought tooth and nail to reel in Minshaw and Fisken, getting to within 1.4s of the tartan-liveried Trackspeed Porsche. When the pit window open, Webb and Gaw stayed out latest amongst the lead group and the Mercedes driver almost got the better of the Aston Martin MD before he pitted. Gaw and team-mate Dryburgh would finish up thirteenth at the flag after a stop/go penalty for the car having overtaken under a caution. Gaw described his race as 'great fun'.
The pitstops brought the pace of the 'Pro' drivers and Westbrook wasted little time in setting a marker, 1:25.392 - two tenths shy of the lap record set by Keen last season. This would later be beaten by Mowle's 888Optimum team-mate Joe Osborne, the 2012 victor of the race.
Our GT4 leader, Parfitt Jnr, now had a lead of over 24 seconds to Wilson's Aston, but disaster struck just before the pitstops when the car ground to a halt in the gravel on the exit of the Tarzan hairpin. This mean't Wilson inherited the lead for Complete Racing AMR.
A brief safety car period to collect the stranded Optimum Ginetta G50 backed the field up and it was here we first saw the issue that would prevent Keen from winning the race. A broken throttle body of the Porsche 997 GT3 R left the Henley-based driver with no acceleration out of the Deene hairpin and Westbrook galloped past at a rate of knots. From here on in it was damage limitation for Keen, and a case of building a healthy lead for Westbrook.
APO Sport's Ginetta was in trouble after the pitstop to handover to Alex Osborne. The car was deemed to have its engine running while on jacks in the pits, and the Race Director gave the Silverstone-based team a ten second stop go penalty, which enabled GT4 championship leader, Declan Jones to jump ahead. Osborne would soon retire the Ginetta with a broken driveshaft. Dan Eagling, now in the Redgate Lifetime Racing G50 was relishing his first British GT race in almost ten years, and was a certain third after APO's demise.
Elsewhere there was contact between Danny Candia (in for Webb) and Jody Firth in the #24 United Autosports McLaren, Candia came off worst here and would later retire with broken front suspension, Firth would later be excluded from the race by the Stewards for his part in the collision. Another retirement came in the shape of the #31 Trackspeed Porsche, when Porsche factory driver Nick Tandy pitted and the team declared it was game over.
Warren Hughes, had a strong stint in the M-Sport car and soon was past Keen for second; Keen would later retire with the throttle body complaint. In all it was a superb day for the WRC team from Cumbria, especially after the frustrations of Oulton Park, and Berg's handy work earlier in the race earnt the Dutch driver the Blancpain Gentleman driver award.
United Autosports' Patterson and Bell drove a solid race, Patterson again proved himself to be more than capable in GT3 and moved up to fourth in the opening lap; a spin would later drop the South African to ninth place. Bell took over in fourteenth place and made light work of those ahead before a brake bias issue returned, having initially appeared in qualifying. The exclusion of the Beechdean AMR car after the race promoted the pair to third, giving them a second podium in as many races.
Taking over fourth after the Stewards made their decisions on appeals was the #14 Fortec Mercedes of Jason Minshaw and Benji Hetherington. Starting from sixteenth on the grid, Minshaw avoided the spinning Al Harthy but pitted on lap four with an issue before joining dead last and beginning a march through the field that would see Minshaw hand over the SLS to Hetherington in fifteenth place. 21-year-old Hetherington pushed on through the field and kept a clean race to finish a place shy of the podium.
The FF Corse Ferrari 458 of Gary Eastwood and Rob Barff again put in a standout performance. At the pitstop changeover Barff was 22nd after Eastwood wrangled all he could from a car that isn't best suited to Rockingham's infield to keep in in touch of the midfield, but his team-mates fightback was immense, resulting in a fifth place finish at the flag. Eastwood's relentless efforts across the weekend were rewarded with the Mobil Service Centre Master prize.
Another superb drive from Ahmad Al Harthy and Michael Caine ensured the Oman Air Motorbase Porsche figured highly in the points, taking sixth, after Caine nicked the position from Mtech's Jake Rattenbury at Kirby on the final lap. Rattenbury and team-mate Derek Johnston were consistent throughout the race and it paid off at the flag.
New teams at Rockingham, Von Ryan Racing and Balfe Motorsport overcame their qualifying woes by finishing ninth and tenth respectively. British racer, Tappy, started the race for Von Ryan and made light work of picking off rivals until a steering issue slowed his charge, team-mate Demoustier coped admirably given his lack of track time at a circuit he hadn't heard of until just a few weeks ago. The team will see out the season in British GT, bar the overseas round at Zandvoort due to a calendar clash.
Unfortunate not to finish in the points were Richard Abra and Mark Poole in the Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin GT3. Poole ran as high as eleventh before pitting to hand over to Abra, and the 24-year-old from Milton Keynes was fired up for his British GT debut weekend. Abra, who ran in the top five in his stint, said post race that he felt a podium could've been in their grasp today had it not been for a brake issue which caused their retirement.
At the flag, Westbrook's win margin was vast, but not as huge as Chaplin's in GT4. The Aston driver inherited the car in a strong position and built on it steadily, finishing a lap ahead of Declan Jones, despite spinning and then not being able to engage gears in the middle of his stint.
Next up for British GT is the blue-riband event, the Silverstone 500 at the home of British motorsport, the Silverstone circuit in Towcester. Ashburn and Tandy still lead the championship, but their lead has been cut to half a point and it remains to be seen whether the Trackspeed duo will contest the 3-hour endurance event in three weeks (25/26 May) time. Action from Rockingham will be available to view on Channel 4 at 7am and Motors TV at 5:25pm on Saturday 11th May.
Richard Westbrook, driver #32 Trackspeed Porsche (GT3 race winner)
"It was an interesting race. Gregor put us in a great position with his stint, but the pitstop cost us fifteen seconds extra for some reason, so it was not straightforwards by any means. I overtook a lot of guys out there and then the safety car bunched us up and I got the jump on Phil. I don't know what happened to him, but I didn't have to fight him. I've had a bit of a bad run in British GT, Oulton was disastrous, so its just great to get a win, and when I look at the points table tomorrow I'll be far happier."
Gregor Fisken, driver #32 Trackspeed Porsche (GT3 race winner)
"After Oulton, I was very cautious to begin with. I enjoyed watching David and Jon having a good ding-dong and then I picked David off and then it was a case of getting the gap down to Jon, but Jon was driving really well. Trackspeed had a really good car this weekend; my biggest issue was my drinks bottle slipped and I was without a drink for the majority of my stint. It's a great result for us and the team, the third win for Trackspeed now in three races and we're in good shape for Silverstone."
Warren Hughes, driver #10 M-Sport Audi (GT3 - 2nd)
"It was a thinking race. Tyre wear round here is difficult, especially in the warm conditions. We've worked hard to get a good balance with the car and we've got that in the race now, it was then a case of just managing the gap to those behind and I felt comfortable with it, although I did manage to knock the car into neutral at one point which meant I had to push harder for a few laps to restore the gap. I'm particularly pleased for Rem as he was the foundation of the success today, and the calbre of people at M-Sport is just unbelievable and the organisation is first class."
Rembert Berg, driver #10 M-Sport Audi (GT3 - 2nd)
"I stuck to the inside line and then an Aston braked in front of me so I had to dive to the outside and I picked up about five places. The McLaren rejoined in front of me and we hit, but I was okay and up to sixth. The safety car helped me, it was then difficult to work out what pace I should be doing. I didn't really lose time to the people in front of me, but I couldn't really hold those behind me, and I pitted about thirty seconds off the lead. Then Warren did his stuff."
Matt Bell, driver #25 United Autosports Audi (GT3 - 3rd)
"The car felt really good when I jumped in and I was able to push hard enough to be only half a tenth off the fastest lap time. Tyre degradation is a real problem at Rockingham and coupled with the warm weather I had to work hard to try to preserve the tyres. We had our share of problems this weekend but perfect race weekends are one in a million. Once we get this brake issue sorted we will be fully on it. Thank you to Audi for helping us with that; we had an Audi engineer with us this weekend. All things considered we leave Rockingham with a good haul of points and we will go to Silverstone looking to improve again. We’ve had a second and a third place so now we want the win!”
Steve Chaplin, driver #53 Complete Racing AMR Aston (GT4 race winner)
"We knew being a two hour race that it would be more of a war of attrition than a sprint. Tom did a cracking job and all I had to do was bring it home really. I out braked myself at Deene, but I couldn't see because of all the gravel and dust and didn't know which way to go, then I couldn't engage gear, so I ran out of talent briefly, but got it together and the points and a half here make up for lost efforts at Oulton. We're here for the championship, the long haul, and hopefully we've had our bad luck now."
Declan Jones, driver #43 Century Motorsport Ginetta (GT4 - 2nd)
"It was eventful. Zoe left me with quite a bit to do today. I got in and put in second, then the safety car came behind me and I lost time there. I kept pushing though and started to eat into the lead, but I had a lot of GT3 cars cutting past me and sustained some damage from one of them, so like I say it was eventful, but it was good fun. We got second, we're still in the lead of GT4, so we're happy with that."
Dan Eagling, driver #50 Redgate Lifetime Racing Ginetta (GT4 - 3rd)
"That was great fun, it was a bit chaotic for Matt at the start, but we did well and we got a good result. The guys did a great job today too, I'd like to thank them, that was the first pitstop they've had to do and it gave us an opportunity to get on the podium today."