After a pretty rubbish week, I was looking forward to last weekend. My favourite British Race series was to be making its yearly visit to my favourite British racing Circuit. The British GT Championship was to be competing on the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch and I was really looking forward to it.
Having spent the few days on the run up to the weekend checking the weather forecasts, things were looking good. I’ve been luck so far this year with the weather and I was again this weekend. Just a couple of brief showers on the Sunday afternoon were nothing to worry about. I always pack my waterproofs though just in case.
The Saturday morning was spent on the Druids shooting the GT Practice session and the F3 qualifying. I wanted to try a few different things to see what worked and what didn’t. Some stuff came out well, some didn’t. I found a nice new angle too during the F3 qualifying so I will remember that for next time. It’s always nice to capture a nice ‘Through the Trees’ shot too and with Brands one of the few circuits in England where you can do that, I made sure I got a few in the bag. I was enjoying myself and the time flew by. So I was soon back in the media centre checking out what I had captured.
The weather was still fine and dry in the afternoon as I headed out onto the Grand Prix loop for the second GT practice session and the first of the weekends three Formula 3 races. I decided to start at Stirlings, a known quantity for me and a good place to get a variety of shots, before walking back round the inside of the circuit as the session progressed. I got some useable stuff here but the sun was beginning to be an issue so whilst at Westfield bend waiting for the start of the F3 race I decided to cross over to the outside of the circuit so the sun was behind me.
I had never been on the outside of the Grand Prix loop and once I was there I was glad I had made the decision to cross over. There were some really great angles and new places to explore options and I was pleased with the results I was getting. I shot the F3 race and decided I would come back for the GT race on Sunday. The final session I needed to shoot was the GT qualifying and I wanted to be in the pit lane for that so headed back at the end of the F3 race. The day had flown by and I was really looking forward to race day.
Sunday’s action was due to start at 10am with a 10 minute warm up session for the GT’s so I had a bit of a lie in. I headed to the garages and pit lane for the quick warm up session to get a few driver shots. I went to Druids to capture the action of the short 20 minute F3 race before lunch and getting my stuff prepared for the main two hour GT race. Watching the start of the F1 race on the TV in the media room, rain started to fall. I could see blue sky in the distance so was confident it would be a passing shower. However, I’m not trained meteorologist so it was time to break out the waterproofs to take with me just in case.
The GT race was the one I was really looking forward to and as I headed out the rain had now stopped. I wanted to capture the start from Druids with the cars coming up the hill. As the pit lane opened and the cars headed out to form up on the grid, the rain started again causing a greasy surface which would add to the excitement at the start of the race. By the time the cars were released from the rolling start, the rain had stopped but the track was still slippery and the cars were on slick tyres. With a few spinners and some of the field taking it steadier than others there were a few position changes. Thankfully, I had my pocket radio so could tune into radio Brands to keep track of the commentary and what was going on. This was to prove invaluable out on the GP track where there are no tannoy speakers.
I shot the first few laps from the outside of Druids hairpin before making my move to the Grand Prix loop. I headed to the bridge on the main straight and walked up the outside of the track along Hawthorn Hill. I was to spend the rest of the race working my way around the outside. Trying new angles and perspectives a brief shower whilst I was at Dingle Dell wasn’t going to ruin my enjoyment. I was keeping up to date with the race action on the radio and I was glad of it. The race was proving to be pretty exciting. The Nissan GTR of Alex Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough that started in ninth was now in the lead with the other Nissan GTR of the Hetherington brothers Benji and Freddie was making its way through the pack too and was up to fourth before disaster struck.
Benji Hetherington had pushed just a bit too hard through Stirlings and two wheels up on the kerb on the exit was enough to spit the car out and into the barrier on inside. It was a heavy impact and a relatively long safety car period was to follow to allow the recovery of the car and repairs to the barrier. It was a disappointment as the white Nissan was due a good race and things were looking good. The pit stops and drivers played out soon after the safety car period and It was Jann Mardenborough now in the leading Nissan. Oliver Bryant had taken over the BMW Z4 and was up to second place and trying to close in. Each time Bryant closed the gap, Mardenborough seemed to have an answer and kept him at bay just a couple of seconds behind. Keeping track of the commentary whilst continuing to capture what was unfolding on track with my camera the time was flying by but I wasn’t prepared for what was about to happen.
Whilst the Nissan and BMW battled out at the front, Jonny Adam was now in the Aston Martin setting very quick times. He was catching the front two at quite a rate but with quite a deficit to make up, would there be enough time with the 2 hour finish time in sight. It looked like he could make second place but would still need to pass the BMW once he caught him. Sure enough, the flying Aston was to steal second place at Paddock Hill bend on the penultimate lap. Onto the final lap and the Aston had the Nissan in its sights. Could the Beechdean car take an unlikely win just two weeks after a full rebuild thanks to its heavy impact with the wall at Rockingham just two weeks ago?
I was at sheen curve on the last lap. I could see the Nissan approach with the Aston in close attendance and the BMW not too far behind. I watched as they rounded Stirlings and now not even a cigarette paper could separate the rear of the Black and Red Nissan GTR and the front of the Blue and White Aston Martin. Out of sight I had to rely on the commentary. After defending the final bend, the Nissan had the inside line but the Jonny Adam moved to the outside. It was to be a straight drag to the line. Side by side the pair crossed the line. A second or two passed after the flag had dropped while the commentator waited for the timing screen to update. Who had one?
Incredibly, after 2 hours of racing and 74 laps of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit, just twenty two thousandths of a second split the pair. That’s 0.022seconds in numbers. The closest British GT race finish in history. The spoils went to the Nissan. Just. It now made it six different race winners from six races and five different manufacturers. What a finish. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough for you, Jann Mardenborough confirmed that this, his first GT race victory had come exactly 365 days after he won the Playstation GT Academy. It really was fairytale stuff. I was beaming. I had witnessed an awesome race and my favourite British race series had produced something truly special on my favourite British race circuit.
I stayed to photograph the final F3 race of the day knowing that it was just never going to match the excitement of the GT race. I headed back to the media room and was met by beaming faces all round and discussion of the incredible scenes that they had witnessed. A video still from TSL timing’s camera aimed at the finish lane showed how close the GT race finish really was. It was a fantastic weekend and I was so glad to have witnessed it.
For the full race report visit The Checkered Flag.
I now have two weekends away from the circuit, before my next event which is again back at Brand Hatch on the Grand Prix circuit for a bumper weekend of the F2, GT Open and Britcar. If it is half as exciting as the British GT race, it will be a good weekend and I look forward to finding some more new angles and locations to shoot from.
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.