I was looking to do a complete championship in 2014 but, in spite of coming close to a couple of drives, it hasn’t worked out in British GT, mainly as a result of driver grading issues.
In 2013, I took part in four different European GT3 championships on four different makes of tyres, in the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3. I raced with JRM at the Spa 24 hours and ADAC GT Masters at Hockenheim and in the Blancpain Endurance Series and GT Tour (French GT) with JMB Racing, a French Nissan Customer team. It was a fantastic learning year for me, and I spent a lot of time at the track with the JRM team, even when not driving, sitting in on driver debriefs and worked closely with the sadly departed Nigel Stepney and the rest of the team, which taught me a huge amount. In my last race with Nigel in French GT at Paul Ricard at the end of last year, sharing with Jean-Philippe Dayraut, I put the car on the front row in qualifying and finished fourth against strong opposition which was a fantastic result.
This year, I’ve been doing test/customer days for JRM at Portimao, Donington Park and Silverstone, setting up the car and doing some driver coaching for the customers with data and onboard video, as well as shaking down JRM’s new cars before they go off to the customer teams. It’s nice to carry on the relationship with the guys after racing with them last year, bringing my experience of driving the car.
I would be going straight into the race weekend without any seat time – in at the deep end
I also had a run in the Motorbase Aston Martin at Portimao which I enjoyed immensely – a great car and a fantastic track.
With British GT not working out for me, I turned my attention to the Blancpain Endurance Series. An opportunity arose for a drive in the David Appleby Engineering Bentley Continental GT3 at the Silverstone round, which I quickly took up. It’s fair to say the run up to the race weekend wasn’t the smoothest! We had a test scheduled at Snetterton, where I would get my first run in the car, but unfortunately there was an issue which meant that the test was cut short – I had my helmet on and was waiting to jump in but it wasn’t to be! I was unable to get any further time in the car and this meant that I would be going straight into the race weekend without any seat time – not ideal for a tough series like the Blancpain Endurance Series– in at the deep end!
It was nearly impossible to drive at any speed, with the car aquaplaning many times a lap – mainly on the straights
On to race weekend, and due to my lack of seat time, I was allowed to take part in the Bronze session on the Friday afternoon, however, after Steve Tandy did his 8 laps, I had done an out lap, then coming into Maggots, the car stopped and I had to get a tow back to the pits. The problem was quickly identified and the car would be ready for Saturday, but this meant that I’d be heading into the weekend with not only no seat time, but the weather for race day was going to be different to the majority of Saturday’s testing.
I was first in the car for practice 1, but the conditions were atrocious. It was nearly impossible to drive at any speed, with the car aquaplaning many times a lap – mainly on the straights! I stayed out just because I needed to learn what the car did, but in reality, it was more about survival than learning, so after just six laps, we parked the car in the garage, as the rain continued to lash down. Not an ideal first session. I was once again first in the car for Pre-Qualifying to get a few laps under my belt, and conditions had improved but were still wet. My times were mid pack, a few tenths off the number 7 works Bentley and ahead of the second car which was satisfying. I handed the car over to my team mates after about 25 minutes – conditions were still wet but began to improve and by the last half hour there was a dry line and slicks were the way to go. I jumped in the car at the very end for my first dry laps in the car and did two laps before the flag, my first put me P4 overall, which dropped down the order as others improved, and my second put me P9 overall, P4 in class and fastest Bentley. The car felt good straight away and gave me confidence to push which is testament to the development work put in by Bentley to the Continental GT3.
The car felt good straight away and gave me confidence to push which is testament to the development work
The sun appeared on Sunday morning, but the track was wet when I arrived at the circuit, and we were the first cars out on track, so the question was how long would it take before it dried out. Luckily, by the time I went out for my session it was almost dry – the car felt good and I finished my session P10 overall out of 44, and P3 in class. There were improvements to be made to the car though, and I was looking forward to the race. It would be a voyage of discovery for me as it would be the first time I’d done more than three flying laps in a row in the dry with this car. I was in the car second, with Steve Tandy starting the race. He came in P25, and I exited the pits in P33, before starting to make up places. I looked after the tyres in the first few laps and this would pay off at the end of the stint. There were big gaps between the cars ahead (as well as lots of traffic) but I chased them down and passed a few cars, being among the fastest on track towards the end of the stint, climbing up to P20 overall and P9 in class before handing over the car to James Appleby. After a safety car interrupted stint, he brought the car home in P9 in class and P19 overall after an intermittent issue dropped him down a place towards the end. The David Appleby Engineering guys had been flat out in the weeks leading up to the race, so a points finish was a just reward on their Blancpain Endurance Series debut.
Overall, I think I can be pleased with the result and my own performance considering the lack of time in the car. It was a fantastic experience to drive the Bentley, and I would love to get another opportunity, now that I’m more familiar with it!
I’m working on a number of drives and hope to announce something in the near future to continue my 2014 season.