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Optimum’s Wilkinson & Ellis Triumph At Spa

TF Aston Martin wins GT4 after more late drama for Tolman McLaren

Silver Cup duo Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis turned pole position into GT3 victory in the two-hour British GT race at Spa on Sunday – Wilkinson’s maiden British GT win and Ellis’ first in the series for 11 years.

On a day when all three GT3 championship contenders suffered various dramas, a textbook performance out front from both drivers in the #96 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin sealed the win, but there was no shortage of action and incidents behind them.

In GT4, victory went to the #97 TF Sport Aston Martin crew of Ash Hand and Tom Canning, following a close race-long battle with the #4 Tolman McLaren duo of James Dorlin and Josh Smith that was concluded in dramatic fashion with contact and race-ending damage for the latter as they rounded the Bus Stop chicane for the penultimate time.

GT3: As it happened

The field rounded the Bus Stop after the formation lap in something less than perfect two-by-two formation, but the race director elected not to abort the start, which saw Wilkinson retain his lead and Ian Loggie vault into third in the Ram Racing Mercedes, getting ahead of second-place starter Ryan Ratcliffe in the Team Parker Bentley.

The first incident occurred not long after, on the first run through Les Combes, when Rick Pariftt Jr in the JRM Bentley turned around championship contender Sam de Haan in the #69 Barwell Lamborghini.

Pariftt subsequently received a 10-second stop-go penalty for causing the incident, while de Haan’s team-mate (and championship leader) Adam Balon was then hit with 10-second stop-go himself, in this instance for a violation of the starting procedure.

Having started on the front row, Michael Igoe in the WPI Lamborghini found himself down in fifth by the end of lap one, with Graham Davidson in the #47 TF Aston finding a way past into the Bus Stop to take fourth. Igoe then came under pressure from a feisty Shaun Balfe in the #22 McLaren, who’d had a very strong opening few laps to make his way up from 11th on the grid to sixth by the end of lap five.

It wasn’t long before there was further drama at Les Combes, with Mark Farmer in the #2 TF Sport Aston spinning while trying to go around the outside of Richard Neary in the Abba Mercedes. Balon’s day then turned from bad to worse when he suffered a scary spin on the way out of Blanchimont, the car snapping around on him very suddenly and clipping the wall as it pirouetted at high speed.

Although Balon was able to recover the pits, the damage was too bad to continue, so it was zero points and a loss of the championship lead for him and #72 Lamborghini co-driver Phil Keen, who didn’t get to turn a wheel in the race.

The GT3 battle then settled down somewhat, with Wilkinson having pulled out a gap of nearly four seconds on Loggie after the first 10 laps. The next notable move came after 40 minutes of racing, when Ratcliffe slipped past Loggie for second. Loggie was then tagged by Shamus Jennings’ G-Cat Porsche at La Source, spinning and losing time in an incident Jennings later received a 10-second stop-go penalty for causing.

Further back, de Haan was on an absolute charge following the lap-one contact with Parfitt that had left him running dead last. He got past Neary after an aggressive jink on the way down to Eau Rouge, and then despatched with Farmer later on the same lap to sit eighth at the end of lap 21.

Davidson then became the third of the championship contenders to hit a setback, when he tapped the rear of Jennings’ Porsche while lapping it at Les Combes. This led to eventual retirement for the already-damaged 911 and a stop-go penalty for Davidson, which had to be served by his co-driver Johnny Adam after he’d got on board the car for the second stint.

Having taken over from Wilkinson, Ellis rejoined with a lead of around 15 seconds over Ratcliffe’s co-driver Glynn Geddie, while Rob Bell moved into third in the Balfe McLaren once Adam pitted again to serve the #47’s penalty.

Calum Macleod (Ram Mercedes), Ben Green (Century BMW) and Adam Christodoulou (Abba Mercedes) were running fifth, sixth and seventh after the stops, with Jonny Cocker eighth after de Haan’s first-stint heroics and Seb Morris ninth, ahead of Nicki Thiim, who once again found himself charging up from the back in his stint.

Morris’ car was removed from contention by the double blow of a one-second stop-go penalty for a pitstop infringement and a subsequent puncture, ending a thoroughly miserable day for the #31 JRM duo.

Up front, Bell was reeling off quick lap after quick lap, and as the clock ticked down began to threaten Geddie for second place. He chased for several laps, keeping the pressure up, but the Bentley seemed to be enjoying a slight straight-line speed advantage that frustrated Bell’s efforts to get past.

Behind them, MacLeod kept in touch in fourth, while Christodoulou and Thiim both got past Adam’s Aston, which was later revealed to be suffering with brake problems (Cocker would also pass Adam before the flag).

There was more action in store ahead of the chequered flag, though, as Bell’s efforts to pass Geddie had allowed Macleod to close right up to their battle. With only a few minutes to go, all three cars descended the hill to Eau Rouge three-abreast. A collective intake of breath followed as they somehow managed to pass through the corner and up Raidillon without any contact (above).

Macleod masterfully moved into second in process, dropping Geddie to third and Bell to fourth. The final piece of drama came on the very last corner, when radiator fluid dropped by a damaged GT4 car (see below) caused Bell’s car to spin as he rounded the exit of the Bus Stop, but he held on to fourth after executing a perfect 360.

Fifth at the flag went to Thiim, ahead of Christodoulou in sixth, Cocker in seventh, Adam in eight and Igoe’s co-driver Dennis Lind in ninth – the Lamborghini factory man spending most of his stint engaged in a furious battle with the Century BMWs, which came home 10th and 11th in the end.

The result means Cocker and de Haan now lead the GT3 standings by half a point from their Barwell Lamborghini team-mates Keen and Balon.

GT4: As it happened

While polesitter Jacob Mathiassen had a poor getaway in the #42 Century BMW and lost five places off the grid, James Dorlin made a great start in the #4 Tolman McLaren to jump from third to the lead on the first lap.

He would end up ahead of the TF Sport Aston Martin duo of Ash Hand in #97 and Patrick Kibble in the #95, who slotted into second and third in the opening stages, ahead of Scott Maxwell in the #15 Multimatic Mustang.

Maxwell was soon overhauled by Jordan Collard in the other Tolman McLaren and had dropped to fifth in class by the end of lap five, ahead of Mathiassen in the #42 in sixth and his near-namesake Patrik Matthiessen in the #75 Optimum Aston in seventh.

Collard continued his strong run by moving from fourth to third past Kibble at the exit of Les Combes on lap eight, while further back, Kelvin Fletcher was holding eighth overall and the lead of the Pro-Am class, getting involved in some scraps with Silver-class runners as usual in the process.

By lap 17, Collard had made it Tolman 1-2, then TF Sport 3-4, at the front by overhauling Hand for second. The order then remained static for much of the opening stint, and with just three seconds separating the leading foursome of Dorlin, Collard, Hand and Kibble after 23 laps of racing, it was time for the stops.

Battle resumed with each car’s second driver, although with the Collard/Proctor car having to spend 10 seconds longer in the pits due to its podium finish last time out, the order was shuffled slightly: Josh Price now led in the #95 Aston, ahead of Josh Smith in the #4 McLaren, Tom Canning in the #97 Aston and Lewis Proctor in the #5 McLaren.

Behind them, Michael O’Brien had emerged from the stops in fifth overall and in the lead of Pro-Am in the #20 Balfe McLaren, which had been started by Graham Johnson; the championship-leading Fletcher and co-driver Martin Plowman’s challenge had been undone by a slow pitstop.

Another 10 or so laps later and the picture had changed again: Smith ahead of Canning in first and second, and Proctor and Price running third and fourth. That looked like how it would finish, until drama struck at the end of the penultimate lap.

Canning was on the inside of Smith as the latter turned onto the start-finish straight, and his right front corner contacted with the left flank of Smith’s car, holing the radiator and sending fluid all over the track. That led to separate dramas for the rest of the field as they came around the next lap to take the flag (see above), but also to a heartbreaking last-lap retirement for the Dorlin/Smith car.

The final order, then, saw Canning and Hand take the win in the #97, with Collard and Proctor softening the blow for Tolman somewhat by finishing second. Price and Kibble made it a double podium finish for TF Sport in the #95, ahead of O’Brien, who’d held on to take the Pro-Am win and fourth overall in the #20 Balfe car.

Mike Robinson brought the #75 Optimum Aston across the line in fifth after a very solid showing for him and co-driver Mathiessen, while in sixth place the overall class championship leaders Seb Priaulx and Scott Maxwell banked another haul of points to add to the #15’s total.

The #44 Invictus Games Racing Jaguar and the #66 Team Parker Racing Mercedes completed the Pro-Am podium in eighth and ninth overall.