Lamborghini drivers Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw took their first win of the 2016 British GT Championship together in a race that was heavily affected by poor weather and contact amongst the front runners.
Keen took the flag aboard the #33 Demon Tweeks liveried Huracan 41s clear of the AMDtuning.com BMW Z4 shared by Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle, which emerged as the runner-up after an incredible drive by Osborne from eleventh in the final 25 laps of the 70 lap race.
The winning Lamborghini moved into the lead on lap 56 after the Tolman Motorsport Ginettas of Luke Davenport and David Pattison, and the sister car of Michael Simpson and Ian Stinton had led for twelve laps, after running out of sync with the rest of the field, making two of their three mandatory stops in the final twenty minutes of the three-hour race.
Pit strategy, along with the weather and traffic management were key in dictating the outcome of this year’s Silverstone 500. Due to the conditions being different from qualifying (dry) to the race (monsoon rain) the race began behind a safety car.
Barwell saw the opportunity and pitted all three of its Huracan GT3s under the safety car, removing one of the three mandated pit stops within the opening lap of the race. Notably, they were joined by Barwell regular, Marco Attard, this weekend racing with FF Corse and giving the new Ferrari 488 GT3 its debut in the British series.
Out front the title protagonists remained on track and did battle for the lead. Rick Parfitt Jnr, who normally excels in the changeable conditions was looking unhappy behind the wheel of the Team Parker Racing Bentley. Having spun and hit a wall in morning warm-up, then spun on the way to grid too, his caution was justified.
It took less than one lap of green flag running for Parfitt Jnr to be overcome by the championship leader, the fearless Derek Johnston. The Geordie, who’s TF Sport Aston Martin led the series by 21.5 points going into this, the fourth weekend of the seven weekend series, was at home in the weather, and in six laps built up a 13s lead.
It wasn’t to last though and the TF Sport Aston wouldn’t make lap 13 after hitting standing water while going off the racing line to pass one of the European GT4s, and proceeding to clip the wall at the Maggots-Becketts complex. As he pitted the damage looked innocuous enough, but the slight damage to the front left belied the scale of the contact, and the garage door was closed.
This allowed Alexander Sims, back with Barwell now for the rest of the season, to take his turn at the head of the field. However, his lead was short-lived as the safety car was deployed to allow a European GT4 to be removed from the trackside, and some bodywork to be picked up too.
Sims pitted to hand over to Liam Griffin, which in turn caused chaos for SRO. The deployed safety car spent five laps driving around the Silverstone circuit blocking, then releasing a high number of the 51-car field having missed the Lamborghini as it pitted.
Griffin resumed his position at the head of the field after his second stops but now had a splattering of one-stoppers behind him, namely; Simpson’s Ginetta, the Motorbase Aston Martin of Ross Wylie, Ryan Ratcliffe’s Optimum Audi, and Luke Davenport’s Ginetta.
The Ferrari of Attard was now sixth after Adam Carroll’s exceptional opening first stint got the 488 up to third overall, just behind Ratcliffe’s Audi which had been running in second after a sublime stint from his team-mate, Will Moore. Osborne was seventh just ahead of fellow one-stoppers Rob Bell in the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650s and Seb Morris now in for Parfitt Jnr in the Bentley.
A further five laps behind the safety car were called by SRO to allow the race to neutralise as the poor weather increased. Not only were team garages flooding, but so did the media centre – a disaster for us soft journalistic types.
Ross Gunn, in the #1 Beechdean-AMR Aston Martin Vantage showed he’s not just a fine weather driver and rallied to the front of the field, helped in part by the cars of Ratcliffe, Osborne and Bell pitting for their second stops. His charge to the head of the pack should be given credit though as he did so quicker than fellow young-gun Morris.
The move made by Gunn to take second place is worth a watch on the highlights reel too. With Griffin now overcome by Wylie’s Aston, the pair approach one of the Ekris M4 GT4s; Gunn comes up the inside in Stowe and blocks them behind the GT4 to nip through and get the race lead in a move reminiscent of Hakkinen and Schumacher from Spa in 2000. Fantastic stuff a seasoned professional would be happy with let alone a 19-year-old in his first year of GT3.
This left Michael Simpson at the head of the field, with the Ginetta G55 GT3 underlining its wet weather credentials. Tolman took the move to give the factory ace a long time behind the wheel of the #32 Ginetta, but this meant Ian Stinton had at least an hour of continuous driving behind the wheel and would rule out the Tolman cars claiming a maiden win, as the experienced amateur didn’t have the pace to handle the Pros rising up the order.
Morris had now made his way up the order to third and was just 2.7s off of Gunn’s Aston in amongst a gaggle of European GT4s. However that’s as a close as the 20-year-old would get to the head of the field on this occasion. As he got on the power at Aintree, he got an armful of oversteer, drifted out wide and hit what can only be described as a pothole, that launched the Bentley into the air, ripping the front splitter from the underside of the car. Team Parker, never afraid fo rolling up its sleeves to fix a car, retired the Bentley as soon as it got back to the pits.
It was an unfortunate incident brought about by the vast number of GT4s on track, but yet again represented another golden opportunity for the Bentley Boys to take the lead of the championship that had gone awry. If Parfitt Jnr and Morris are to win the 2016 British GT title, they need to make the most of these situations, especially given Johnston and Adam’s earlier misfortune.
A lap later, Griffin’s Lamborghini, also a title contender was driven into for the third time during this race weekend by a European GT4 driver. The damage was significant to the front-left suspension, with Grffin admirably crabbing back to the pits, only for Mark Lemmer’s squad to retire the car with a broken lower left wishbone.
In what was fast becoming the race nobody wanted to win, Simpson pitted on lap 35 and handed the lead to Gunn, but behind him Minshaw had produced an exceptional hour behind the wheel and was up to third, passing the other fellow two-stoppers, Will Moore, Jody Fannin, Alasdair McCaig and importantly, Marco Attard.
Conditions were improving at Silverstone and this gave teams a coin toss decision on what tyre to use. The Northamptonshire circuit is famed for being slippery when wet, but for the brave, significant timesavings can be made with an audacious tyre decision.
Shortly later on lap 44 Gunn made Beechdean-AMR’s second stop of the weekend and handed over to Andrew Howard, who was joined in the pits by Joe Osborne, making a non-mandatory stop for slick tyres after his call a lap earlier was overruled by the team in favour of wets.
This is really where AMDtuning.com’s challenge for the lead began and ended. Osborne, now eleventh, immediately delivered, rattling off a series of fastest sectors, but he had to wait as a seven-lap safety car period was brought on to collect Pete Littler’s Aston Martin GT3 from the gravel.
With the caution period out of the way, Osborne continued to excel at his home circuit, with a 2:05.182 lap a particularly ballsy tour of the 5.8 km track given the conditions.
At the head of the field on lap 53, Keen passed Ratcliffe for third for what would ultimately become the race lead, as the Ginettas of Pattison and Stinton continued their run at the front of the field, giving Ginetta boss Lawrence Tomlinson a chance to take a photo of a TSL timing screen that will likely feature on the Yorkshire firm’s Christmas cards this year.
Behind the top four, an outstanding battle of wits and ballsy driving was taking place. Osborne was now seventh, and embroiled in a titanic scrap with Carroll, now back in the Ferrari, and Rob Bell in the McLaren 650S.
With the Ginettas now having pitted the top five consisted of Keen, Ratcliffe, Bell, Carroll, and Osborne. These final thirteen laps of the race were a joy to watch.
Carroll jumped Bell for third with a typically courageous move from the Northern Irishman, and Osborne compounded Bell’s misery when he passed him for fourth on lap 58 at Becketts. En-route to pursuing Carroll, the BMW driver posted a 2:04.374 lap that would remain as the fastest of the race.
On lap 61, Osborne overcome Carroll with a calm move up the inside at Vale as a GT4 baulked his rival. The Ferrari driver would finish the race third, not without becoming involved with a fantastic battle with Bell that saw the pair finish just 1s apart at the flag.
Ratcliffe was struggling in the Audi on older tyres than Osborne and while he had a 27s lead, the BMW overcame his former Blancpain team-mate within six laps. Ratcliffe pitted for the final time in the remaining laps and his co-driver Moore finished fifth 1.2s adrift of Bell.
Osborne did manage to take 8s out of Keen in the remaining laps, but with a 49s cushion, the Barwell ace didn’t have too much concern about his lead being eroded in three laps.
Behind the top five, Wylie came home sixth for Motorbase, in part due to some fantastic driving by team-mate Phil Dryburgh. Simpson was seventh in the first of the Ginettas, with Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer eighth following Barnes’ late race fightback, Gunn and Howard were ninth after a long final stint by the latter put them out of contention, and Davenport and Pattison were tenth to give Tolman a double-points finish.
Despite their early exit, TF Sport’s Johnston and Jonny Adam retain their lead at the top of the GT3 standings, although the gap has now been halved to just 11.5 points, with Minshaw and Keen second, and Griffin a further ten points back in third.
Jon Minshaw: #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini (First): “I can’t remember the last time I was on the top of the podium! We knew if we could get in and out of the pits and rejoin the Safety Car crocodile without being lapped that we’d be ok. Race Control made the right call with the middle Safety Car because it was pretty treacherous. Without slowing the race down and clearing the track could have resulted in carnage.”
Phil Keen: #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini (First): “Jon did all the hard work in the middle stints; I just had to cruise around and make sure the rest didn’t get too close. Liam [Griffin] going out with contact really helped because he and Alex [Sims] would have been our main competitors.”
Joe Osborne: #7 AmDTuning.com BMW Z4 (Second): “We probably lost a minute with the extra stop but I’ve always liked racing in wet conditions, right back to my time in karting. The track seemed to be changing on every lap and I could see the gap to Adam [Carroll], Rob [Bell] and Ryan [Ratcliffe] was diminishing. In those circumstances you just have to go for it. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Race Control got their Safety Car decisions spot on today. The conditions were dreadful at times.”
Lee Mowle: #7 AmDTuning.com BMW Z4 (Second): “We wanted to pit at the same time as the Lamborghinis, but when the call came in I’d just passed the pit entrance, so we had to stay out. Those were without doubt the hardest conditions I’ve ever driven in, and after a spin on the run to Stowe, I was glad to get out and get Joe in. I’ve never seen him drive that well before, that was the drive of the day by a country mile!”
Marco Attard: #2 FF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 (Third): “It was great to be out there in the Ferrari. Adam drove a great race while I focused on staying safe in the tricky conditions. It’s been a great weekend with a great team and co-driver, so I’m really happy. But Adam was the star today!”
The fifth weekend of this year’s championship will take place on a Friday and Saturday, as British GT crosses the channel for its annual jaunt to Spa Francorchamps in support of the Fun Cup 25 Hour event on July 8th and 9th. It’s the first time the format of the race will be a two-hour format, having previously always been a pair of 60-minute sprints.