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July 24, 2017

British GT Donington: TF Sport win the battle, but Beechdean win the war

British GT Donington: TF Sport win the battle, but Beechdean win the war

Fifth place was enough for Beechdean’s Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam to wrap up the 2015 British GT title in a madcap season finale at Donington Park, as Matt Bell and Derek Johnston took an unlikely victory from sixth on the grid.

With four cars entering the championship decider still in title contention, the cards were stacked for a thriller, and so it proved to be. Pole-sitter Andrew Jarman’s Aston Martin led away from the start as Howard slipped to fifth behind the fast-starting Triple Eight BMW of outside bet Lee Mowle, championship leader Marco Attard and Johnston.

DSC_6896_originalWith the top four pulling steadily away, and a 20-second pitstop penalty to serve courtesy of their victory in the last round at Snetterton, Howard had good reason to be worried, but the balance of the championship shifted dramatically when Johnston tapped Attard from behind at Goddards. The contact was enough to send the rear-drive BMW into a spin and dropped Attard to the tail end of the GT3 field, but all was far from lost.

Sadly, Attard’s recovery didn’t last long. In a flash, a seemingly innocuous move on GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick at the Melbourne Hairpin resulted in contact which eliminated both cars, putting Howard and Adam firmly in the box seat for the former’s second title.

“Marco was up behind me, I checked my mirror and he wasn’t pulling out for a move, so I turned into the corner and then he was there,” reported a distraught Chadwick. “It wasn’t the ideal end to the season by any means, but it’s just one of those things.”

Attard’s team-mate Alexander Sims, who is contracted to BMW and likely to move on next year when Barwell becomes a Lamborghini customer, took the incident with good grace.

“We were making the best of a difficult situation, it’s just a shame,” said the philosophical Sims. “I think it was just a racing incident, I don’t think it was malicious in any sense. Of course, it would have been lovely to win, but we’ve had lots of highlights this year, lots of races which have been thoroughly enjoyable, and we’ve to all intents and purposes dominated at times, so we should be proud of what we’ve done.”

After the stops, Adam resumed in tenth, but picked his way methodically through the field, crucially avoiding the madness unfolding all around. Liam Griffin and Rory Butcher’s already slim title hopes were firmly extinguished when the Motorbase Aston Martin clattered into Mowle – already hamstrung with exhaust problems following a “touring car move” by Johnston – at the Melbourne Hairpin, sustaining terminal damage to the right front, while a terrific run for GT3 returnee Bradley Ellis in the RAM Mercedes was cut short when Lewis Plato was turned around at Goddards.

DSC_7703_original“It was just busy, frantic, people were diving all over the place,” said an elated Howard after sealing his second British GT title. “It was an unbelievable race. Having done it a few seasons, early doors I’m not going to bang doors with the guys going past me. The pace of the front-runners was absolutely unbelievable. Of course you’re not happy about it, but you just have to let them go and settle into a rhythm.”

Up front, Jarman now led from TF Sport team-mate Johnston, with Ellis and the battle-scarred Mowle third and fourth. Johnston pitted first to hand over to Bell, who pumped in a quick outlap to leapfrog ahead of Jody Fannin and pull away to record the team’s first win of the season.

“At the start of the year in pre-season testing we showed race-winning pace, but we had a whole host of bad luck in the first three or four rounds,” recalled Bell. “It was all looking a little bit doom and gloom after Silverstone to be honest, but we all rallied together and we got the car to a window where we were all really happy with it. We could really do with another two or three rounds, then we could still win it! Hopefully we can come back with the same crew and use this as a platform to have a bit more of a consistent year.”

Fannin looked comfortable in second until the final lap, when a flurry of GT4 traffic allowed the fired-up Joe Osborne to close in at the Old Hairpin. However, Osborne was unable to make the move stick and spun, dropping to fourth behind the Demon Tweaks BMW of Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw, which recovered well from a 15-second pitlane penalty. Special mention too for Benny Simonsen, who stormed through from last to sixth and took fastest lap in the Rosso Verde Ferrari he shared with Hector Lester.

But the day belonged to Howard and Adam, who finally adds his name to the roster of champions after being denied his share of the silverware by a points deduction in 2013.

“At the moment it just feels surreal; I genuinely didn’t think we would win it today,” Howard reflected. “It’s great to see Jonny win the championship – he’s in the history books now. He wasn’t there in ’13 as he should have been, but he is now.”

DSC_6464_originalIn GT4, Daniel Lloyd and Chris Webster carved through the field from 11th on the grid to deliver Academy Motorsport their first win of the season. Having started the season in the Motorbase GT3 Aston Martin, Lloyd showed that he is equally adept in GT4 machinery, hunting down and passing long-time leaders Dennis Strandberg and Will Moore in the sister Academy Aston Martin at the Melbourne Hairpin with just minutes remaining.

“Every lap I saw a different car at the end of the straight, caught them, passed them, and then as soon as I passed them I saw another car,” Lloyd said. “I was trying to look after the tyres at the same time because I knew it would be important to have some life in them for the end. It’s all a bit surreal, we didn’t expect this result this weekend, so it’s a nice way to end the season.”

Nathan Freke was also able to pass the Swede in the closing stages to take second in the Century Motorsport Ginetta with Ian Stinton, while James Nash and Richard Taffinder’s Stratton Motorsport Lotus narrowly missed out on a maiden podium visit by three seconds.

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.