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May 29, 2017

British GT Brands Hatch: In-Depth

British GT Brands Hatch: In-Depth

Nick Tandy and David Ashburn capped a dream return to the British GT championship with victory for Trackspeed at Brands Hatch, although a puncture for erstwhile leaders Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw in the closing laps that robbed the team of a 1-2 finish made for muted celebrations. Porsche works driver Tandy had charged up to second after taking over from team boss Ashburn and was holding position behind Keen in the sister car, only for misfortune to strike that also spells the end of the Demon Tweeks duo’s slim championship hopes.

“It’s always nice to get on the top step of the podium, I won’t deny that, but it’s a bit of a downer for all the guys because although we won the race, it could have been so much better,” reflected Tandy. “We’d discussed before the race what would happen if we were in front of them and it was quite clear that Trackspeed want the championship more than a race win. Their car was still in the championship hunt, so there was never any question of challenging them – it’s a real shame. We just wanted to finish side by side for a nice picture.”

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Keen’s rotten luck dropped him to the tail of the lead lap in tenth – for a brief moment, before he gained ninth from Ryan Ratcliffe – promoting the two Motorbase Aston Martins to the podium with Michael Caine surviving heavy late pressure from Rory Butcher. Omani Ahmad al-Harthy starred in the opening half of the race, making a perfect start from third on the grid to lead the opening lap, whereby he steadily set about building a cushion over Minshaw, Jeff Smith and Colin White, who would fall out of contention when he made contact with a slower GT4 car.

While Caine didn’t have the pace to match the Porsches after the stops, their second place ensures the championship will go down to the wire, although a fourth-place finish for Marco Attard means the Ecurie Ecosse driver needs only a 7th place at Donington to clinch the title.

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It was a result that decidedly looked unlikely after qualifying down in eighth and with a 20-second success penalty looming over them from Spa, a safety car – caused by Derek Johnston sliding into the gravel Clearways after an incident with Andrew Howard – only making their task more difficult. But the telling pace of Alexander Sims – setting fastest sector times on his outlap and the race’s fastest lap on his first complete tour – meant the BMW was able to claw its way back into contention and into an eventual fourth place after a fantastic battle with Matt Griffin’s Ferrari.

“Quite honestly in my eyes that’s a win for us today,” a delighted Sims said afterwards. “That’s literally as good as we could have done I think. The first half of the race went well initially; I don’t know what was up with Howard and Adam but that obviously played into our hands and Marco did a solid job. But with the safety cars, it seemed like everything had just gone against us, but after the stop somehow we were in tenth position straight away – it was just a fight from then on. The dice with Griffin was fantastic, he really made me work for that, I’m very pleased that I could get him in the end for those extra few points and a bit of pride I guess.”

Crucially, fourth for Attard also put an end to Beechdean’s hopes of defending their title after a nightmare race that had looked so promising after qualifying four tenths clear of the rest. Howard dropped back immediately on the opening lap with a brake problem that first reared its head during the warmup and had dropped two laps down by half distance after a spin and the contact with Johnston. Jonny Adam would eventually bring the car home out of the points in 16th.

“The pace wasn’t bad, but we just lost power steering through left handers, which was tricky,” explained Adam. “The championship is out of reach now, it’s just one of those things. We’ll try to finish on a high at Donington and get second if we can, we still have every chance. Motorbase aren’t far in front and they’ll have a pitstop penalty as well.”

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Griffin was content with fifth given his 75 kilo weight penalty which destroyed the tyres, ahead of Alex Macdowall’s PGF-Kinfaun Aston Martin and a misfiring Tom Onslow-Cole, who had earlier ran ahead of Sims.

“We just had something trip on the car unfortunately,” said the former BTCC racer. “Our car was involved in quite a big accident at VLN last week and it’s been fully rebuilt since then, but I think something has just earthed out and it was an intermittent issue for the rest of the race after that. I was on the back of Matt [Griffin] and just biding my time. It’s frustrating, but at least we finished.”

That’s sadly more than can be said for Triple 8’s Warren Hughes and Jody Firth, who had ran as high as fourth on their first outing in the BMW following their switch from Trackspeed before a wheel detached on the perennially unlucky Hughes’ outlap.

“Jody had a fabulous opening stint to get up to fourth from tenth on the grid; we talked about the possible placements of the car for the first lap and what the likely scenarios would be and he absolutely maximised it,” said Hughes afterwards. “We were going to be in very good shape once everything settled; we were first ones in, which would have given me a couple of laps on fresh tyres compared to the other guys, but the first lap out of the pits we lost drive coming out of Druids, then the wheel parted company by the time we got to Hawthorns. I’m gutted for Jody and gutted for the team – we’re just looking to Donington now to finish the season on a high.”

Adam Carroll and Gary Eastwood finished just short of catching Onslow-Cole in eighth, ahead of Keen and Ratcliffe. Northern Irishman Carroll hopes that BoP changes will be forthcoming at Donington, with Ferraris having struggled across the board this weekend.

“We worked hard for that, I gave it everything it’s got,” said Carroll, who also served a success penalty after finishing third at Spa. “We weren’t the quickest car out there by any means but we were very consistent right to the end. That’s the best we could really do today – it’s a truer representation of where we actually are than Snetterton was. The Aston is still too quick, it’s too good in the high-speed and too quick in the straight line, so a little more speed please, and then we’ll be much closer.”

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In GT4, Beechdean Motorsport’s Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings took a dominant victory to extend their championship lead over chief rivals TF Sport, with a little bit of help from the safety car. With a 20-second success penalty to serve after victory at Spa, Andrew Jarman only had to stay within range of Wylie in the first stint to inherit the lead, but all that changed when the safety car picked him up instead of the Beechdean driver to effectively gift Wylie a lap’s advantage over the rest.

With the pressure off in the final stint, it was then left to Giddings to bring the car home in one piece ahead of a disgruntled Jarman and Devon Modell. Fox Motorsport’s Jamie Stanley and Paul McNeilly completed the podium finishers.

“The safety car helped massively because we could just bring it home in one piece,” admitted Giddings. “We’ve just got a bigger points lead now, so it’s more of a safety blanket for Donny. Hopefully if all goes to plan we should be in good form.”

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Sims is also understandably looking forward to the finale; while he can’t win the title himself, having skipped Snetterton to race in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, delivering the championship for Attard would be the perfect way to finish his first season as a BMW factory driver – although he won’t count his chickens just yet.

“It would be lovely to end with a top result and [Motorbase] have obviously got a penalty for the next one, so right at the moment it’s looking good. But you’ve just got to look what happened to Howard and Adam this time, it’s not a given at all; we’ll have to approach it exactly the same way and do as well as we can.”DSC_4334_original

About The Author

James Newbold

James Newbold is Racing.GT's Editor. He graduated from a politics degree at the University of East Anglia in 2015, which should help him navigate through the political minefield that is GT racing. He likes Marmite on toast and Oreo cookies. Speaks Spanish, but only when no one is looking.