It wasn’t confirmed until the weekend before that I was going to be racing at Silverstone in the International GT Open, but what a weekend it turned out to be! It was fantastic to be paired with Aston Martin factory driver Darren Turner; if anyone knows an Aston Martin, he does, so that would really help me get up to speed. TF Sport were running the car and I’ve known the guys for a while now – I have a lot of respect for them and was looking forward to working with them.
We didn’t really know what to expect going into the weekend, especially with some other strong driver pairings, and racing against cars such as GT1 and GT2 Corvettes, but we were confident that the Aston Martin was going to be in the mix. The way the championship works is there are two classes; GTS and Super GT. We were in Super GT, which is the top class and we were against the SMP Racing and Villorba Corse Ferraris and several Corvettes.
The only time I had in the Aston beforehand was a handful of laps in Portimao at the beginning of the year, and having driven the Nissan for JRM customer days, and the Appleby Engineering Bentley in Blancpain Endurance in between times, it would mean getting used to a non-turbo GT3 car for me. That was something I worked on in practice, just meant a different approach to the throttle application.
The test sessions were mainly dry, and enabled me to get settled in the car and get used to the Dunlop tyres which the championship uses; I had never driven on them before, but didn’t take too long to get used to them and find out their characteristics. We were looking in reasonable shape after the testing, and were looking forward to getting the weekend underway with qualifying on Saturday morning.
The forecast had now changed its mind from dry to overnight rain, but was expected to stop in time for quailfying, but that turned out to not be the case at all! The rain came down very heavily when we got to the track, which meant that at least the first qualifying session would be wet. The way it works in GT Open is that the GTS cars go out first then vacate the track and the Super GT cars then go out. Darren was out in the first session and did a fantastic job to put the car on pole. My qualifying session was a couple of hours later, but it was still wet. It had stopped raining just before the GTS cars went out, so 15 minutes later when I went out, I had done an out lap when there was a red flag which resulted in a delay. As the track dried, it got ‘greasy’, meaning we in the Super GT class had trickier track conditions to contend with than the GTS cars, resulting in a topsy turvy grid with GTS cars filling the top 3 places. I managed second in class, just 0.1 off the Scuderia Villorba Corse Ferrari. I did a purple first sector on my last lap, but didn’t quite manage to improve the overall time which meant we started fifth, and therefore on the inside into the first corner in the second race, which always helps!
The track had dried out by race time, and there would be no more rain for the rest of the weekend. We had the timing screen on in the garage, but I needed to find the live TV feed of the race, I wanted to know what was going on in those opening laps, find out who we were up against etc but the television wouldn’t play ball. After much arguing with a remote control, to the amusement of the the TF Sport guys, I found the channel and waited for the start. As we were a new entrant into the championship, we had an additional 15 second penalty in the pit stops for both races, which would make things difficult for us against the championship regulars. Darren made a great start and managed to pull a big gap in his stint, which was reduced in the pit stop, I then extended it again and was cruising, just managing the gap when I saw a car stopped at the side of the track out of the Vale. I knew a safety car was coming, which was the last thing we needed, and when the call came through, I realised I’d have to pull the pin when it went green again. I had a lapped car between myself and the second place car, so left a gap to the safety car when its lights went off, and went for it early, in the hope that the pack would take a few corners to clear the lapped car. The plan worked and I managed to pull a small gap by the start/finish line, and with only 3 laps to go, I extended the gap each lap and was eight seconds clear by the flag. What a result it was for not only me, but TF Sport and Aston Martin. Everyone had put a lot into the weekend and to see them all so happy was fantastic!
Race 2 was a different prospect entirely. Due to winning the first race, we had another 15 seconds of time added onto our pit stop, which meant a total penalty time of 30 seconds, which would be hard to overcome, especially with some rivals having no pit stop penalty time at all. I knew starting fifth on the grid that I would have to get my head down and try to make up a few positions early on. The Aston was really good in the high speed corners, so the first sector, through Copse and Maggots/Becketts was where I would have to maximise it. I made up a place through the first corner, and waited for the tyres to settle down before setting about chasing down the Ferraris in front of me. I managed to get past one when it ran wide out of The Loop, then started chasing down the championship-leading car. I managed to get a good run through Copse on lap 6, and knew I had to keep the momentum up if I had any chance of getting past before Maggots. I managed to jink left and slid past on the inside into Becketts. The Ferrari was offline into the flowing sequence of corners, so I pulled a slight gap onto the Hangar straight and broke the tow. I was now in second place and caught the leader on the next lap, setting fastest lap up to that point, before getting past into Stowe on lap seven. I managed to stretch a gap to the now second place Ferrari of Daniel Zampieri, which stabilised at around the one second mark. With 25 minutes on the clock, the team called me in to hand over to Darren, the gap having reduced to almost nothing by a back marker holding me up through Stowe Corner.My plan had been to go from fifth to first in my stint and I was really pleased to hand over the car to Darren in the lead.
After the stop, Darren was in seventh place and picked off several cars ahead with a few quick laps and was up to second place with seven laps to go. The gap to the lead Ferrari was over fifteen seconds, and with time running out, he backed off and brought the car home second which was another great result.
I have to say a massive thanks to John Gaw of Aston Martin Racing and Tom Ferrier of TF Sport for bringing this all together. Also thanks to IWI Watches for coming on board and BT Sport Motorsport Tonight for their support for the weekend. The guys at TF Sport did a fantastic job with the car all weekend and it didn’t miss a beat.
In terms of the rest of the season, we’re working hard on getting out again – there are a few options we are exploring, and I hope to have news for you soon. I’ll keep you posted.