AWESOME AS­TON

BRI­TISH GT SHOW­DOWN

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Rob Lad­brook

is­takes de­cide ti­tles. But what’s most cru­cial is the tim­ing of them. Stum­ble at the right time, and there’s of­ten a chance to come back. Err at the wrong one and it’s game over.

That was the story of this year’s Bri­tish GT Cham­pi­onship fight. Jonathan Adam and Derek John­ston were gifted the GT3 ti­tle by an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic er­ror by Bar­well Mo­tor­sport’s Jon Min­shaw.

TF got its bad luck out of the way last time out in Nor­folk, when a mix-up in a pit stop and an on-track clash twice handed Min­shaw and Phil Keen the lau­rels, and the cham­pi­onship mo­men­tum. But the tim­ing worked out for TF.

For Min­shaw, his er­ror left no room for re­turn, leav­ing him watch­ing on from a gravel trap as his ti­tle hopes faded away.

In truth, this year’s two-hour fi­nale at Don­ing­ton wasn’t a clas­sic. But nei­ther was it pre­dictable. In terms of the rac­ing, Ecurie Ecosse swept all be­fore them with GT3 and GT4 wins for Mclaren. But As­ton Martins were on top for most of the week­end, a fact that was com­pounded when John­ston and Adam claimed top spot in qual­i­fy­ing.

The Van­tage was noth­ing short of a mon­ster in sec­tors one and two, with both TF cars top­ping the speed traps, with the rest of the Gay­don contingent close be­hind. In con­trast, the Lam­borgh­ini crews had to seek so­lace through the more flow­ing sec­ond sec­tor, when the Hu­ra­can’s strong aero bal­ance paid div­i­dends.

“The Van­tage is a beast around here, so we have to push like mad through the mid­dle of the lap to stay in the game,” said Keen, who would line up in third. “But Jon’s not feel­ing the pres­sure, as what hap­pens hap­pens.”

While tech­ni­cally three crews came into Der­byshire in con­tention for the ti­tle, one felt out of it af­ter qual­i­fy­ing. Team Parker Rac­ing’s Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal crew of Rick Parfitt Jr and Seb Mor­ris knew only a win would do, and it looked un­likely when they could only line up in fifth po­si­tion.

“We’re just re­ally strug­gling on trac­tion, and for some rea­son on the brakes too,” said Mor­ris. “We should be quick here, but we’re strug­gling get­ting out of every hair­pin and the oth­ers just drive away from us. To be hon­est the ti­tle is a long shot.”

How­ever, with John­ston up front, and with his favourite track clear ahead of him, the tag of ti­tle favourite be­gan to swing grad­u­ally to­wards TF.

John­ston got a great start to open up an early gap over Alas­dair Mc­caig’s Mclaren 650S, which had qual­i­fied a fine sec­ond. The GT3 ranks were thinned by the end of turn one, when Liam Grif­fin and Mark Farmer clashed around Hol­ly­wood and Farmer’s As­ton was spat into the barriers.

Cue the safety car, and an­noy­ance for John­ston: “In our pre-race chat, Jonny just told me to do ex­actly what I did at Rock­ing­ham and here last year [where John­ston scorched away early on, re­sult­ing in a win both times]. I’d got a few sec­onds clear at the start and then it was gone. Also our Achilles heel is tyre pres­sures. Once they go down it takes two or three laps to get them up again. I knew I’d be hang­ing on at the restart.”

He was. Mc­caig piled the pres­sure on un­til John­ston hit GT4 traf­fic, which squeezed the top three to­gether and con­trib­uted to the flash­point of the race. Min­shaw had made a solid start to shadow Mc­caig in third. But, know­ing that third wouldn’t be good enough for the ti­tle should John­ston/adam win, knew he had to make a move on track to stand a chance.

Min­shaw tried that move around the out­side of the Craner Curves, just as Mc­caig was lap­ping Paul Hol­ly­wood’s GT4 As­ton. Min­shaw was caught out by the closing speed as Mc­caig had to get off the throt­tle and Min­shaw was forced wide, dipped a wheel on the dirt and spun vi­o­lently down the track and into the Old Hair­pin barriers. Game over. “Jon was dev­as­tated, but it was sheer bad luck,” said Bar­well head Mark Lem­mer. “He was sim­ply caught out in traf­fic, which can hap­pen to any­body at any time. It’s just sod’s law it was at the trick­i­est part of the track. He’s been su­perb all year re­gard­less.”

With the De­mon Tweaks Lambo stranded, John­ston knew it was his to lose. “I saw the Lambo in the gravel and got on the ra­dio shout­ing ‘He’s off, he’s off !” said John­ston. “The team kindly re­minded me there was 90-min­utes left, so I just got my head down.”

John­ston pulled a size­able gap by the time he handed across to Adam, but the 15-sec­ond pit stop suc­cess penalty handed the lead to the Mclaren, now with Rob Bell in­stalled. Bell put in a su­perb stint to surge into a lead he’d never lose, with a con­tent Adam happy to trail home in sec­ond.

It was Mclaren’s day, but As­ton Martin’s sea­son.

“It’s just amaz­ing as we were pretty down­beat af­ter Snet­ter­ton, but this race was al­most per­fect,” said Adam. “Derek’s stint was ex­cel­lent and we put in so much prepa­ra­tion work for this round. It feels amaz­ing.”

Seb Mor­ris took third in the Bent­ley ahead of An­drew Howard/rory Butcher’s Beechdean As­ton. Grif­fin/ Alexan­der Sims were fifth ahead of Richard Neary/martin Short.

Op­ti­mum Mo­tor­sport’s Gra­ham Johnson and Mike Robin­son snatched the GT4 ti­tle af­ter a tense run to third place, amid con­stant pres­sure from their ti­tle ri­vals Jack Bartholomew and Ross Gunn in the Beechdean en­try.

The Ginetta wasn’t the strong­est pack­age over the week­end, and again lagged in qual­i­fy­ing against the more fan­cied As­ton Martins as Beechdean bagged pole. But the star of the race was again the Mclaren 570S of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty, who dou­bled the Ecurie Ecosse team’s joy.

Mitchell put in a stun­ning first stint to pull well clear of the pack and, with no suc­cess penalty to serve in the stops, the car stayed out front in Haggerty’s hands, de­spite the Scot suf­fer­ing badly from a ma­jor hand in­jury in­flicted a few days be­fore the race ( see Rac­ing News).

“Ciaran drove like a hero and was in a lot of pain af­ter­wards,” said Mitchell. “My stint was great and I man­aged to get a gap. Af­ter that it was the long­est race ever watch­ing the fi­nal laps as I was wor­ried about him.”

With the Mclaren long gone, the cham­pi­onship fight cen­tred on the bat­tle for third. Bartholomew got a ter­ri­ble start and was mugged as the pack hit turn one. He fought back to sit seventh when the pit win­dow opened and he dived in for Gunn. Gunn set a fu­ri­ous pace when he re­joined, and grad­u­ally towed into fourth and got within 10 sec­onds of Robin­son, be­fore a brak­ing is­sue spelled the end. “The pedal was go­ing to the floor, there was noth­ing I could do,” said Gunn, who had to cruise around to an even­tual sixth.

Matthew Gra­ham and Jack Mitchell took sec­ond for Gen­er­a­tion AMR, but the real party was with Op­ti­mum. “It’s amaz­ing as we didn’t have the fastest car and we’ve been up against it all week­end,” said Robin­son. “Be­ing Bri­tish GT cham­pion will take some get­ting used to.”

John­ston led early on, but Mclaren won

Op­ti­mum pair beat Beechdean in GT4 Min­shaw’s off at the Old Hair­pin ended Bar­well’s ti­tle chal­lenge

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