LAMBORGHINI CONQUERS THE SILVERSTONE 500
FULL BRITISH GT CHAMPIONSHIP REPORT
Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw ignited their British GT title challenge by taking victory in a turbulent Silverstone 500 in which all of the championship leaders hit trouble.
The three-hour event featured three safety car periods, a truly bonkers first hour and plenty of talking points. But through it all Minshaw and Keen kept their heads to score big and secure the Barwell Motorsport team’s second victory of the season with the Lamborghini Huracan.
In truth it should have been more for Barwell, had the two sister cars not both been forced into retirement by avoidable incidents, neither of which were Barwell’s making.
The Huracan was a star of the weekend in both the wet on Sunday and the dry on Saturday. The fight for pole boiled down to a straight fight between the mid-engined Lambo and the sledgehammer front-engined Bentley Continental of Rick Parfitt Jr and Seb Morris.
The Bentley figured strongly in the speed traps, but its biggest strength was mid-corner speed. “It’s all about handing for us,” said Parfitt after topping the amateur driver qualifying session. “We are so good on the brakes and can carry a lot mid-corner, but we lose out to the Lambos on corner exit as they have better traction.”
Morris pipped series returnee Alexander Sims to the top time in the Pro session to secure the Bentley’s third pole of the campaign, with Sims and Liam Griffin sharing the front row, just a tenth behind on combined times.
But that was as good as it got for the Bentley, as Sunday brought gloom both in terms of the weather and the car’s fortunes. Parfitt lost control during the wet morning warm-up and rear-ended the barriers, forcing a swift repair.
The lack of wet running also caught up with Parfitt in the race, which began behind the safety car in drenched conditions. Parfitt plunged down the order and he admitted struggling for confidence in the conditions. He handed over to Morris still inside the top 10, but when Morris got a sharp snap of oversteer coming out of Aintree he slewed wide and hit a dip in the turf beyond the exit kerbing, spitting the Bentley into the air and breaking the front splitter and radiator. The polesitters were out.
But they weren’t the only ones to hit trouble in a crazy first half of the race. Championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonathan Adam qualified third and Johnston soon deposed the gripless Parfitt to lead. But then he hit a patch of standing water out of Chapel corner, spun and broadsided the perimeter wall, breaking the TF Aston’s front-left suspension.
All three Barwell Lambos managed to stay out of trouble due to a clever early strategy. All three cars stopped under the safety car on lap two to install their pro drivers.
It dumped them to the back of the pack, but essentially gave them one of their mandatory stops for free, and also had the bonus of keeping the cars out of the melee at the front.
The Huracan’s balance of performance mandates a small engine restrictor as the car makes up for its lack of grunt through the corners with its high-downforce aero package. Usually that’s a testing prospect for amateur drivers, but in the wet the lesser power delivery and greater traction worked nicely.
Sims flew up the order when racing did break out, using the greater grip of the Huracan to sweep past the amateurs in the field and inherited the lead when Johnston limped out, and that’s when the confusion began.
When one of the V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaros shed bodywork after an off as the conditions worsened the safety car was called, but as it joined it picked up the third place Ferrari 488 in the hands of Adam Carroll, not the leading Huracan.
The safety car then proceeded to lap slowly waving cars past as it attempted to pick up Sims, who had unwittingly pitted to hand back to Griffin just before catching it and further delayed the process. After five chaotic laps, the safety car had its man, with Griffin now in the car heading the queue.
Mike Simpson opted for a long second stint in the works Ginetta G55 GT3 and swiftly snatched the lead at the restart, but that car would fall down the order due to it having to make two late mandatory stops.
With the Ginetta running out of sync, the fight for the win came down to who used their strategy under the safety cars best. Barwell’s chances were thinned when Griffin was hit by an errant GT4 car at Vale and broke a wishbone, and Richard Abra suffered suspension damage after his Lambo was hit by the Vantage GT3 of Mike Brown while entering his pit box.
Barwell’s hopes rested on its sole remaining Huracan, but its early strategy was playing out beautifully. With Keen and Minshaw having gotten two of their mandatory stops done early, Keen was installed for a long final stint shortly after Pete Littler crashed his Vantage and called a third safety car.
It meant that Barwell completed all three of its stops when racing was neutralised, and with Keen in for the final third of the race with fresh slick tyres as the track dried, the writing was on the wall. When the order worked out after the final stops, Keen was 25 seconds up the road and victory was assured.
“Going for the early stop was crucial, but we knew we had to not get lapped to make it work,” said Minshaw. “Conditions improved after the last safety car, and we called the strategy perfectly. It feels good to be back on the top step.”
The fight for the rest of the podium places was fraught. Ryan Ratcliffe and Will Moore’s Audi made the most of a long run on wet tyres to steal into second for the final restart, but Ratcliffe had Joe Osborne’s AMD BMW closing in fast.
Osborne’s late drive was stupendous, after the car had lost time with a spin and an unscheduled fourth stop after moving to slicks too early.
Despite that Osborne nailed the final stint to slot into second with a few laps to run. Carroll’s Ferrari and Rob Bell’s Ecurie Ecosse Mclaren then demoted Ratcliffe to fifth in the final corners.
The Team Hard Ginetta G55 crew of Robert Barrable and Aaron Mason dominated GT4, winning by a minute. Well-timed stops behind the safety car and an early move to slicks earned them the sizeable lead and a first win.
The Ecurie Ecosse Mclaren of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell secured pole, but fell back after losing time behind the first safety car and then enduring a recurrence of an engine issue.