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Rockingham: Saturday Paddock Notes

DSC chats to various members of the paddock before race day

We caught up with a good cross-section of the healthy field during and following Free Practice 1 and the unanimous verdict was that the circuit was almost unbelievably slippery this morning due to a perfect storm of low temperatures, constant (if mainly fairly light) rain and a surface that is known to be low of grip.

In fact, everyone was scratching their heads to an extent and, if the two hour race tomorrow is to be dry as some forecasts suggest, working too hard into a wet set-up might ultimately prove irrelevant. We also caught up with a few on their views of Round 1 at Oulton Park.

Rob Bell, #101 Balfe Motorsport McLaren GT3

“Free Practice 1 was the slippiest surface I have ever driven on, it was like ice with oil on top! There is a huge variance in the times across the field. Set-up changes could be really critical in those sort of conditions because normally a set-up change could make 1/10th of a second, whereas here it could make a second. Fitting tyres straight out of the warmers could do more than that. It is a low-grip surface anyway but with the low temperatures and the rain it really is difficult.”

Marco Sorensen, #17 TF Sport Aston Martin GT3

“It is so, so horrible that it actually makes it fun! It is so slippery that you have to try really hard to find some alternative lines because the racing line is even more slippy. But that is fun, trying to figure out what to do. Getting the tyres to work is the key but it is a weird window we have here and so we are just fighting the car to make it stick. Every lap you make some kind of mistake and it is just how you then compensate for it for the rest of the lap that makes the difference. I think qualifying will be very interesting because it will need a few laps to get the confidence in the conditions, but the sessions are not long.”

Phil Keen, #33 Barwell Lamborghini GT3

“I don’t think the track is going to change much today, it was damp at the start of the first session and the rain just comes on and off so the conditions are likely to stay the same. It is just miserable really but hopefully it will stay like this as the car is going really well. The coming-together at Oulton Park [race 1] was a racing incident for me. I can’t blame the Ginetta, he hadn’t seen me. But I’m racing and if someone leaves a gap, I’m going to put my car in it. With hindsight I could have been more patient, we had the pace anyway, but I always try so in all honesty I would do exactly the same again tomorrow.”

Mark Farmer, #11 TF Sport Aston Martin GT3

“It is treacherous, I was just searching for grip in the way into corners and on the way out of them. I was wheel spinning all the way up the straight. We have tried all sorts: bars on, bars off; tyre pressures up, tyre pressures down. I think [in Free Practice 1] Nicki got the best time he could out of the car but we were still about 7/10ths down on the Mercedes and Lamborghini. The conditions did change [during Free Practice 1] so when it rained harder, the changes were almost imperceptible but the car just behaved very differently. I am used to trying different lines from my time in Caterhams, but not so much as these pros who did so much karting!

“You have to have so much trust if you want to use the outside of the corners because you have to leave the braking really late, then you understeer towards the outside of the track, then suddenly you get the turn-in. Sometimes the turn-in comes so suddenly that you then lose the rear, and we had a bit of that this morning, so had to dampen that out a little bit. The pace of the GT4 cars is a factor here too in these conditions, one time I was controlling the wheelspin in second and third out of the hairpin and a GT4 McLaren just came sweeping past me and disappeared up the road!”

Ben Barnicoat, #72 Track-Club McLaren GT4

“I did my very first race in cars here at Rockingham in 2013 and it went really well. I think there were four races that weekend and I won three of them so it is a good track for me. If it stays wet for the race that would be good I think, we want to keep pushing for the championship lead. Oulton Park was a challenge, we had an issue with the car so we had to swap to another car for the final practice and qualifying. That added a lot of difficulties, particularly for Adam [Balon] as an amateur driver, but he did a great job and adapted really well. In the race he was the fastest Am driver by quite a chunk and that is what allowed us to battle for the win.”

Matthew George, #44 Invictus Racing Jaguar GT4

“Oulton Park was a solid start for us, we still have lots to do but in terms of the people’s response to the team it has been better than we could ever have expected, it has been crazy in fact! We have been hit hard by the balance of performance applied to the Jaguar and we could do with some dry running so that we are able to show that we need some help there, but today is not the day for that. I don’t have high expectations here, the car is too big and heavy and it will kill its tyres on all the left-handers out the back. We will just use this weekend for more development of the car. There is another series of the F-Type GT4 in build now, for the new over-50’s championship, which I think is a great idea, but there is no reason why all the cars would have to go there.”

Ben Tuck, #42 Century Motorsport BMW GT4

“Unlike a lot of the other teams, we haven’t tested here, so we are just going to carry on our development and learn the car. Rockingham is an unusual circuit, so it is really hard to know how a new car will suit it. I have sometimes thought a car would really suit somewhere only to find you are nowhere and sometimes you think you will struggle and find yourself off down the road! So I don’t really have any expectations other than that we should get better and better as the year goes on.”

Finlay Hutchinson, #10 Equipe Verschuur McLaren GT4

“It is very slippy out there but we learnt a lot in the first practice session. There are lots of things we need to change but we know what to do. Oulton Park was a shame, we made a mistake [in sending the wrong driver each for the qualifying sessions] but we were both quickest in our sessions so the penalty on grid position was pretty harsh. We are a Dutch team with Scottish drivers though, so we were never going to have things easy! We had the pace for a win but just couldn’t get up to the front, we have the rest of the season though to show what we’ve got.”

Tom Canning, #68 Steller Motorsport GT4

“It is very greasy today, not wet or dry but it is looking positive for us. We have made a big step from Oulton Park. We have developed certain parts of the car but also I am completely new to this so getting that first race weekend under my belt was really important. I know what to expect and what is going to happen now so I can concentrate on getting on with it!”

Will Moore, #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin

“Free Practice 1 was the worst conditions I have ever driven in. Not only is there a low grip track here, but there was a lot of fuel down and there was greasy surface water making it really inconsistent. It was not confidence inspiring! It would be good if it stays wet as it will bring the rest of the GT4 field down to us. The Aston Martin has never gone well here so if it rains, we will be aiming for top 5, if it doesn’t it will be top 10. Oulton Park was a shame for us, yes I put the car on the outside [of the BMW] and we made contact and I went off, but it was a racing incident, if he was in the same place as me I would probably have done the same to him. As long as you are a racing driver, you always have to race!”

Keith Cheatham, Team Manager ERC Sport

“We have been quick out of the box today, having a Pro driver like Yelmer [Buurman] makes such a difference. I was really nervous going into that first meeting as a small team, with the only GT3 Mercedes and not knowing where we would be but I have some really good guys and we all beavered away in our awning, getting soaked [such was the size of the entry at Oulton Park that ERC didn’t have a garage]. We actually had a lot of fun and I was really pleased with our first outing. We were in the top two in every session and we had good pace in the race.

“The team is named after my daughter, Esme Rose so that is a nice personal touch. I started in motorsport at 18, when I was at college, helping out and running around doing tyres in historic racing. Then I was #2 mechanic, then #1 mechanic, then chief and now managing. I have come from historics, then Trackspeed from 2011 to 2015, then a year with 888 in 2016, which is where I met Lee [Mowle]. I contracted last year but this year I have taken the plunge and Lee has put his faith in me to run it all. It has been a fantastic time already and whilst there has been some ‘being in the right place at the right time’ I think if anyone in the pitlane really wants to move up to managing a team then it can be done and I always think that sort of thing is a nice thing to see.”