The Easter weekend saw the return of the GT’s. Not just the British GT Championships at Oulton Park, but also the World FIA GT1 championship and the European GT3 series at Nogaro in France.
Unfortunately, do to work commitments, I couldn’t be at Oulton Park for found one of the British GT Championship. Although I was somewhat glad I wasn’t standing out in the dreadful weather they were experiencing, I was bitterly disappointed to be missing out on some great racing. New teams and cars have improved the field even more from last year, with BMW and Nissan joining the manufacturers and rather being there to see them in action, I was glued to the online timing screen, a race ticker and twitter to keep up to date on what was happening during both one hour races.
It was the United Autosports Audi of Matt Bell and Charles Bateman who took pole for the first race. They were to lead for all but one of the 32 laps. Unfortunately, the lap they didn’t lead for was the final one. The Audi had ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted to a stop, gifting the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 of Alasdair McCaig and Oliver Bryant victory in their maiden British GT race. Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen’s took second in their Ferrari 458 ahead of another Ferrari, that of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin. GT4 Honours went the way of the impressive pairing of Warren Hughes and Jody Fannin in their Ginetta G50. At one point in this race, the top six was represented by six different manufacturers, show what a diverse field the series now boasts.
Experienced GT racer Richard Westbrook will partner current champion David Ashburn for as many British GT Races as his busy schedule will allow this season, and this was the pairing that were to start on pole position for Trackspeed in the Porsche 997. The pair also went on to take a flawless victory in the days second race ahead of Griffin and Cameron who performed well in the adverse weather conditions. Third place went the way of British GT New boys Jon Minshaw and Tim Harvey. It was Hughes and Fannin on the top step in the GT4 class, ahead of the Lotus pairing of Phil Glew and Sailesh Bolisetti. An honourable mention must be made to Zoe Wenham. This was her first BGT race weekend and a mature drive in race two saw the 17 year old take third place in GT4 along with Mike Simpson.
Round two of the Championship see’s a trip to the Nurburgring in support of the 24hour race. My media application has been sent so hopefully I will be in attendance to see them battle it out on the iconic German Circuit.
Whilst the Brits were experiencing miserable weather in Cheshire, the FIA GT1’s were fairing slightly better in rural France at Nogaro. Victory in both the wet Sunday race and the dry Monday race, went to the Belgium WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor. It was a good weekend for the team as their second car of Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis took both second places as well completing a perfect start to the season.
The GT3 race was to feature ex British GT driver (and karting buddy) Michael Lyons who has made the step up to join Stefano Gai in the AF Corse Ferrari 458. Race one victory went to the Audi R8 LMS of Marc Sourd and Gregory Guilvert, but disqualification for Lamborghini pair Filip Sladecka and Gerhard Tweraser for ignoring a drive through penalty saw Lyons and Gai promoted to second place after taking the chequered flag in third behind them. Race two saw Maximilian Buhk and Dominik Baumann in the Mecedes-Benz SLS AMG victorious, but Lyons crossed the white line on pit exit after taking over from Gai and was handed a drive through penalty.
Hopes of a solid finish looked diminished for the young Brit, but an incredible drive saw Lyons haul the Ferrari into third place and a battle for second place with the other AF Corse Ferrari during the closing laps. It was just a little too much as Gaetano Ardagna Perez defended his position desperately to keep Michael behind, leaving him to settle for third and not break team rule number 1: Do not take out your team mate.
It was a superb debut for Michael and with two podiums finishes, takes a healthy points haul to the next round. Thankfully both the GT1 and GT3 races were streamed live on the internet so I was able to watch the superb GT racing. Some consolation for not being at Oulton Park.
This week I went karting once again with Nick from Tin Tops UK as we had entered into a 2 hour endurance race at Lakeside kart track. Unlike last time in Brentwood, it was just the two of us to the Kart, but we went along with a couple of others who had entered into the race as well. Twitter friend Juliette Kilbey’s son Stephen was to drive along side Michael Lyons in the second Kart. To some of you that name may ring a bell. I am of course referring to the British GT and Historic racing driver. Having spent a lot of time photographing Michael in action at various race circuits this year it was nice to actually get to meet him properly.
Having signed in and been kitted with overalls, it wasn’t until everyone was in the drivers briefing that it was clear there were a lot of drivers there. 24 karts in total with team numbers varying from one to four drivers per kart and all of differing abilities. With 20 minutes practice before the race I took the opportunity to get used to the track. I’d never been on it before and it was considerably longer and more complex than the one at Brentwood. Also, conditions were not easy. It was cold and the air was damp, leaving the surface slippery. It didn’t take me long to push the limit of the kart two far and a couple of spins, although annoying, taught me where I could push and where I couldn’t. I wasn’t the only one having to learn the hard way though and on handing over to Nick was informed at the time had set the 12th fastest lap. Not too shabby for someone who rarely goes Karting amongst many who clearly do it often and were highly competitive. Although all unaware of the Professional GT racer in their midst.
The race was to start straight from the end of the practice signalled by a waved Union Jack, so no grid start or no rolling start. So if you were to cross the line just after the 20 minutes practice was up, you were leading the race. Unfortunate for some, crossing the line just before the race start meant you were going to be almost a lap down from the start. Needless to say neither of our karts were near the front at the start. The timing screen only showed the top 13 karts and with mine and Nicks kart number 8 nowhere to be seen on screen, Michael and Stephen’s number 24 kart had appeared in 12th place. As the first half hour passed, Michael was visibly quick and was making his way through the field up to 5th place on hand over. Nick was doing a great job too, but had not made an appearance on the time screens and with handover to me imminent, that was going to be unlikely.
There had already been a red flag during the first half hour due to too many people ignoring yellow flags. It was obvious there were some guys out there who were happy to get past at all costs. As I took over I was keen not to disgrace myself and put in two steady laps before being shown a black flag. Not know what I had done wrong, I headed to the pit lane to receive my punishment. I was told that I had been cutting kerbs too much and was handed a 15 second stop go penalty. I was pretty miffed by this as I could only think of one kerb I cut a bit too much after running a bit wide on the previous corner. I also noticed that other drivers were getting warning boards about kerb cutting and I hadn’t. It was only after the race I found out that Nick had received the warning before swapping and having spotted my one mistake, I suffered the punishment. At the time I hadn’t known this and spent the rest of my stint being extra cautious not to cut too much. I kept my head down and tried to stay out of too much trouble, staying aware of the other drivers, especially those who were keen to barge you out of the way, giving room to those who were visibly quicker and battling with those who were slower or of similar pace.
There were many spins and yellow flags out all night and I did have a couple of spins after taking avoiding action of those who span in front. This was not uncommon as a number of multiple spinners could be seen together throughout the race as one person span and everyone behind took avoiding action. I was to be involved in quite a large accident about two thirds of the way through my first stint as on exiting the long double apex corner at the bottom of the circuit I was a bit too keen on the accelerator on exit and span out leaving me facing 3 oncoming karts. The first two , split either way and just missed me but the third hit me almost head on lifting my kart up which then came to rest on the side of his. Neither of us able to go anywhere we lost time waiting for a Marshall to free us. On resumption there was something from my kart scraping the tarmac which I decided to pi in to check out. A quick once over from a marshal showed no visible damage so out I went and the scraping noise had soon stopped. I had lost a lot of time and after handing over was feeling pretty annoyed.
However, my woes were nothing compared to Michael’s whilst he and Nick were out on their second stints. A kart had clouted Michael’s with enough force to break the steering arm. This lost them a lot of time which proved impossible to recover. Other drivers were also having problems too, as we witnessed one hit a kerb with enough force to rip the wheel off and send it bouncing over the tyre wall. It was soon time for my last session on track and I was keen to try and improve on the last. I seemed to be doing ok and managing to overtake some of the others out their despite their lack of awareness. It was one of these drivers who were to cost me towards the end. With a few laps left another Red Flag was out as yet again too many drivers were ignoring the waved yellows. On resumption I was behind a slower kart with Stephen right behind me and a bunch of others behind him. Having lined him up on the back straight, through the sweeping chicanes and devils drop I made my move at the same double apex corner before the start finish straight where my previous incident occurred. I got up the inside on the first apex only for the other driver to cut back straight across the front of me and hit me into a spin. The numerous Karts behind all streamed through as I had to pick up speed on the straight feeling pretty annoyed. I did manage to catch said driver back up a couple of laps later and get past him before the chequered flag came out.
With neither Kart 8 or 24 on the timing screens it was on inspection of the print outs we found out our final placing. Stephen and Michael finished 14th after the costly damage and it was 17th place for myself and Nick. A bit disappointing but at least it wasn’t last place and there were some good Karters out there. I was never going to be able to compete with the likes of Michael. Despite the total mayhem it seemed to be, a great night was had and I’m sure I’ll be writing about my next crack at the whip in the not too distant future. In the meantime, I’ll stick to tacking photos of top race drivers as they can be safe in the knowledge they won’t be facing any competition from me.