ASTON IN THE ARDENNES
BRITISH GT ACTION FROM SPA
And they say it’s just the weather that’s fickle in the Ardennes.
For TF Sport, British GT’S annual European foray to Spa was truly a race of two halves.
While on one side of the garage Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer celebrated a superb victory, on the other TF’S title challenge nearly dissolved after first free practice when Derek Johnston was involved in a high-speed accident on the Kemmel Straight ( see Racing News).
That nearly ended his and team-mate Jonathan Adam’s weekend after barely 30 minutes on Friday, in what was the worst possible start for the championship leaders.
Johnston was fortunate in fact. He’d been able to brake and come down the gears when he saw the trouble ahead sparked by fluid dropped from a guest GT4 Maserati. It meant when his Aston lost control it was at reduced speed and suffered only frontal damage. It was a mighty job to fix, but ultimately it was repairable.
TF miraculously got the car out in time for qualifying that afternoon, but with just a base set-up on it and no prior running before the session, Johnston and Adam could only line up seventh on the grid.
But Johnston and Adam weren’t the only ones to hit trouble. After their victory last time out at Silverstone, Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen were looking to close the gap in the points. But an uncharacteristic mistake by the Barwell crew meant Minshaw completed his qualifying on mismatched tyres, something the team collectively apologised for.
The only rain of the weekend descended in time for the Pro session and proved the differentiator.
Team Parker Racing’s Bentley Continental GT3 has been a force this year, with Rick Parfitt Jr and Seb Morris having snatched pole for three of the four previous meetings. It didn’t look on for a fifth when Parfitt couldn’t hook his sectors together in the Am session, but Morris timed his run perfectly to get a flying lap in just before rain hit the far end of the circuit.
“I saw it coming in and pushed like mad on my first lap,” said Morris. “I got through sector two just before the rain hit.”
As a result Morris wound up one second faster than Alexander Sims’ Lamborghini in the Pro session to annex yet another pole on aggregate times. The Mclaren 650S of Rob Bell and Alasdair Mccaig started second by dint of a superb lap from Mccaig, but that’s as good as the Ecurie Ecosse team’s weekend got as chaos at the race start counted them out.
When the lights went out Parfitt got a bad start and was forced to move wide to defend from Mccaig into La Souce. That left a tempting gap up the inside for Liam Griffin to try to sneak into, but he overcooked it, went too deep on the brakes and tapped the Bentley, which in turn slammed into the Mclaren, damaging its suspension and putting it out of the running.
The chaos didn’t end there. Griffin’s bonnet detached in the collision and was hit by the GT4 pack, damaging an Ekris BMW. Andrew Howard was also shuffled wide in the Beechdean Aston GT3, and when he tried to rejoin the track he had to avoid the crawling BMW and was then swiped by another GT4 car, causing his Aston to lose a wheel. The reigning champion was out after a few metres.
With all the cars in front hitting trouble, Farmer took control of the race early on. Having qualified a fine third, Farmer hit the front through Eau Rouge and controlled the pace for the first half of the contest. The Aston’s straight-line grunt made it strong in sectors one and two, meaning Farmer could maintain a gap over Hunter Abbott’s Grasser Lamborghini and the Black Falcon Mercedes AMG of Abdulaziz Al Faisal once he had worked past the recovering Parfitt to run third.
Farmer led until five minutes to the pit window, when Abbott dived past at the Bus Stop Chicane, delaying Farmer and causing him to be shuffled down to third.
“I thought I had it covered but he just got too good a run on me and before I knew it they were both past,” said Farmer. “I was about to try to chase them but then got a radio call saying ‘let them go, they’re not in the championship’, so I took the safe option.”
Farmer stopped at the first chance to hand over to 2008 GT champion Barnes, and set up a fascinating strategic duel.
Abbott pitted a lap later to hand to Rolf Ineichen, while Al Faisal opted to stay out a further two in the hope of taking track position. Neither worked out, thanks to a stunning two first laps from Barnes where he lapped seconds faster on fresh Pirellis than both late-stoppers.
When Ineichen rejoined in the lead, Barnes was already up to speed and hunted down the Lamborghini before diving past in traffic through Blanchimont.
Ineichen’s attentions then turned to his mirrors as he had the Bentley closing at rapid speed. Parfitt completed his stint in fourth before handing to Morris. Morris lost time with a slow getaway from his pit box, but once he was up and running he showed superb pace to haul in Ineichen before snatching second with a quarter of the race to run.
Morris then towed on to the back of Barnes for the lead, which set up an absorbing final 20 minutes. Morris repeatedly closed through sector two, but Barnes’ prowess in the run through La Source-eau Rouge and Blanchimont kept the Aston ahead to the flag and cemented Barnes’ first British GT victory for eight years.
“That was hard work as I could see Seb in my mirrors every lap, but I concentrated on making the most of the car at the start and the end of the lap where I knew we had the pace, and then taking it a bit easier in sector two so as not to put too much load through the tyres,” said Barnes. “Mark and I have been on some journey – from crashing a Caterham on our first day working together to winning British GT at Spa!”
Ineichen fell behind both Daniel Juncadella and Miguel Toril in the Black Falcon Mercs by the flag. But Juncadella’s podium was stripped post-race when he was judged to have passed under yellow flags, promoting Toril and Al Faisal to the rostrum.
Sixth place was a superb result for Minshaw and Keen, who drove brilliantly to recover from starting stone last in GT3, and with a 20-second penalty to serve following their win at Silverstone.
It was valuable points, but not as good it could have been as Johnston and Adam secured seventh, despite an early swipe with a GT4 car knocking the Aston’s toe Johnston and Adam now lead by just 8.5 points heading into Snetterton.
“If you’d offered us sixth yesterday we’d have bitten your hand off !” said Adam. been some stunning work by the team.”
Joey Foster and Alex Reed celebrated maiden GT4 victory for Lanan Racing after a superb first stint by Reed and another technical hitch for Mclaren’s GT4 crew.
Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty dominated qualifying in the Ecurie Ecose 570S GT4 and Mitchell was well clear in the first half of the race when he suddenly lost power at Fagnes. “It looks like a fuel pump issue,” said a despondent Haggerty.
Their pain was contrast to Reed’s joy as sped past. “You should have heard me on radio, I was shouting ‘We’re P1’,” he said.
Reed’s stint set up Foster to stroke the home ahead of the championship-leading PMW Optimum Ginetta of Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson. Matty Graham and Jack Mitchell completed the podium in their Macmillan Aston.
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we’d Adam. “It’s team.” celebrated a after another crew. Haggerty Ecose in suddenly fuel Haggerty. as he on the said. the car leading Robinson and in
1 Johnston/ Adam 106pts; 2 Minshaw/ Keen 97.5; 3 Parfitt Jr/ Morris 95.5; 4 Liam Griffin 81.5; 5 Farmer/ Barnes 79.5; 6 Adam Carroll 75.5 etc.
1 Alex Reed/joey Foster (Lanan Racing Ginetta G55); 2 Graham Johnson/ Mike Robinson (PMW Optimum Ginetta G55) +4.371s; 3 Matthew Graham/jack Mitchell (Macmillan AMR Aston Martin Vantage); 4 Marcus Hoggarth/ Abbie Eaton (Ebor GT Maserati MC); 5 William Phillips/jordan Stilp (RCIB Racing Ginetta G55); 6 Aaron Mason/ Robert Barrable (RCIB Racing Ginetta G55). FL Tim Stupple/ Lennart Marionek (RYS Team Hollinger KTM X-bow GT4) 2m32.300s (102.86mph). P Sandy Mitchell/ Ciaran Haggerty (Ecurie Ecosse Mclaren 570S). S 42. 1 Johnson/ Robinson 114.5pts; 2 Jordan Albert/jack Bartholomew (Beechdean Aston Martin) 97; 3 Anna Walewska/ Nathan Freke (Century Motorsport Ginetta G55) 75; 4 Stilp/ Phillips 74.5; 5 Hoggarth/ Eaton 72; 6 Foster/ Reed 70 etc.
1 Steve Williams (Evora GT4); 2 Xavier Georges (Exige V6 Cup R) +3.857s; 3 Andrew Wright (Exige V6 Cup R); 4 Robin Nilsson (Exige V6 Cup R); 5 Philippe Loup (2-Eleven); 6 Bence Balogh (Exige V6 Cup R). CW Loup; Harry Woodhead (Exige S2); Tamas Vizin (Elise Cup R). FL Georges 2m39.030s (98.52mph). P Williams. S 38.
1 Williams; 2 Jonathan Packer (Exige V6 Cup R) +5.774s; 3 Nilsson; 4 Georges; 5 Wright; 6 Loup. CW Loup; Christopher Franck Laroche (Exige S2); Vizin. FL Packer 2m41.803s (96.83mph). P Williams. S 38.