This weekend saw 47 sportscars take to the Silverstone Arena circuit for three hours of racing, in the toughest race of the 2013 Avon Tyres British GT Championship. The Silverstone 500, that attracted a record breaking field, didn’t fail to deliver, with the heated action matching the Northamptonshire temperatures.
In a display of raw BMW power, the Ecurie Ecosse Z4 of Oli Bryant and Marco Attard secured the top step of the podium to claim their first victory of the year. With Attard at the helm for the rolling start, the Englishman found himself in an immediate duel with Trackspeed’s David Ashburn. The No.31 Porsche made a flying start to take the lead at the opening corner, but cooly, Attard used the superior aero package on the Z4 to reclaim the lead at Stowe on the same lap.
Whilst early charger Ashburn started to fall down the order as he struggled on Avon’s rubber, Attard was carving out a lead of 1.5 seconds. However, his time at the front was to be short lived, as Benji Hetherington in the Fortec Mercedes was showing off his professional racing credentials and making an attack on the lead on lap five. Amazingly, Hetherington had charged his way from tenth on the grid to the lead with great aplomb, as the Fortec team gambled on putting their lead driver in the SLS for the opening stint.
A lap later, the safety car was called into action for the first time. Mark Blundell in the United Autosports McLaren, battled with over-steer, but as he fought to correct the MP4-12C’s wagging tail, he speared into the Team LNT Ginetta of Richard Sykes. In turn, Sykes collided with the MTech Ferrari of Derek Johnston, who was adjacent to the G55 at the time. The resulting damage that took 15 minutes to clear, saw all three cars involved in the incident retire.
Taking advantage of the safety car, Attard pitted to hand over the Ecurie Ecosse BMW to pro driver Bryant, losing the minimum amount of time they could. This put the pair in a great position just over 15 minutes later, when the safety car was once more introduced.
Phil Keen was now in the No.33 Trackspeed Porsche, following Minshaw’s visit to pit lane during the earlier safety car. Rejoining in fourteenth, the 997 GT3R had made great progress and was swarming over the gearbox of Rob Barff’s 458 Ferrari in ninth position within a few minutes of the restart. Then on lap 17, Trackspeed were to be dealt a fateful blow, that would effect all three of their cars. Unsighted by Barff’s Ferrari, Keen was unaware the Trackspeed sister car of Gregor Fisken was crawling it’s way back to pit lane after collecting a puncture. Whilst Barff took last minute avoiding action, Keen would only see the slowing No.32 Porsche at the very last moment, and made crunching contact into the side of Fisken’s ‘Tartan Terror’. The collision resulted in both cars strewn at the side of the circuit and out of the race. Looking to take advantage of second safety car, the only remaining Trackspeed car of Ashburn head to the pits to put Nick Tandy behind the wheel. But as he entered pit-lane, Ashburn’s search for the speed-limiter button, distracted him enough that he collided with the armco and caused major suspension damage to the left side of the car.
On the restart, it was John Dhillion leading the field in the Mtech Ferrari, and he valiantly defended his status at the front until the likes of Vita4one’s Matteo Bobbi and Rosso Verde’s Allan Simonsen moved ahead in their 458s. Over the ensuing laps, Bobbi and Simonsen traded the lead, until they both headed to the pit-lanes for scheduled stops and driver changes. It was this point that the Ecurie Ecosse BMW emerged as a winning contender.
With Jay Palmer now in the Vita4one Ferrari at the front, Bryant turned up the wick to work his was past Tom Sharp’s CWS Ginetta, to head the chase to the leader. Over subsequent laps, the margin was cut to Palmer, until lap 67, when following a spin, the Vita4one car picked up a puncture that would hand the top spot to Bryant.
With 20 minutes of the race remaining, Bryant had victory in his sights, and calmly managed his 14 second lead over Jonny Adam’s Beechdean Aston Martin whilst dealing with the congestion on the 3.6 mile circuit. Flawlessly, Bryant steered the Ecurie Ecosse to the finish line to take the chequered flag and the first win for himself and Attard this season.
The second place finish for Adam and Andrew Howard in the No.007 Vantage was ultimately decided in the final stint of the three-hour race. With 45 minutes on the clock, newly assigned Aston Martin works driver Adam, was running in sixth position. After catching and passing Hector Lester in the Rosso Verde Ferrari, the Beechdean car progressively moved up the order as those ahead pitted to claim the runners-up spot.
Making it two BMW’s on the podium, Steve Tandy and Dan Brown secured third place in the 888 Optimum Z4 to take their best finish of the season so far. They bested the Warren Hughes and Rembert Berg MSport Audi R8 by 25 seconds at the line, who out paced the top finishing Ferrari of AF Corse’s Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron.
Despite a small fire during their first pit-stop of the day, the Barwell Aston Martin of Mark Poole and Richard Abra took a points scoring sixth place, ahead of new entrants Michele Rugolo and Steve Wyatt in the second AF Corse 458. Although the third AF Corse car of Dhillon and Aaron Scott received a black flag for a pit-stop infringement, the No.13 Ferrari was able to recover to secure solid points in eighth place. With the demise of the Trackspeed cars early in the race, it was up to the Oman Air Motorbase 997 GT3R to fly the flag for Porsche, which Omad Al Harthy and Michael Caine duly obliged with their ninth place finish. They pipped the second Porsche to finish in the points of Prospeed Competition’s Charles Putman and Charles Espenlaub, to earmark an impressive debut in the British GT Championship.
In a titanic battle to the finish, Adam Christodoulou and Joerg Viebahn brought the Pro Sport Performance Porsche GT4 to the finish line a mere two-tenths ahead of the Ekris BMW M3 of Ricardo van der Ende and Bernard Van Oranje. The Ekris BMW had held the early advantage, but a slow pit-stop meant the Porsche would step into the lead by the tinniest of margins. For the final two-thirds of the race, the Ekris and Pro Sport cars couldn’t be separated, with the gap between them never extending further than four-tenths. In a bid to out strategise each other, the teams pitted on the same laps in the final hour, but the BMW was never able to regain it’s earlier advantage, and had to follow the Porsche to the finish line, just two car-lengths behind.
The first British GT4 regulars to cross the line was the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G50 of Rick Parfitt Jnr and Ryan Ratcliffe. The pair had found themselves a lap down to their competitors after the first hour, following some confusion behind the safety car, but they gainfully worked their way back around over the remaining green flag laps to secure third place.
With their first win of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, Bryant and Attard now lead the standings on 60.5 points, clear of Hughes and Berg in second on 45. Despite their retirement, Ashburn and Tandy are still in the Championship fight on 43 points, as are the likes of United Autosport’s Matt Bell and Mark Patterson on 42.5, plus Trackspeed’s Richard Westbrook and Gregor Fisken who hold 37.5.
In GT4, Century Motorsport’s Zoe Wenham and Declan Jones see their advantage cut to 20 points, with Parfitt Jnr and Ratcliff leading the chase on 58.5. They are nine points clear of Complete racing’s Steve Chaplin and Thomas Wilson.