TF Sport made it back-to-back wins in the British GT championship at Rockingham, as Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston took a lights-to-flag victory despite a 20-second success penalty. Here’s what we learned.
1. Johnston driving better than ever
With that hefty success penalty looming over him from Brands Hatch, the odds of Derek Johnston recording a third successive win in the British GT championship (including the final round of last year at Donington) appeared rather slim. Indeed, the man himself professed that he would be content with a top-five finish, but his pace from the word go suggested that he stood a good chance of surpassing that.
Quick throughout practice, Johnston set the fastest time in the Am qualifying session and held the lead at the start, keeping his foot nailed to the floor at Turn 1 to duck underneath the fast-starting McLaren of Alasdair McCaig. From there on, Johnston set about steadily building the gap, weaving his way through the traffic with a minimum of fuss and managing his tyres to the end of his stint. It was testament to his polished racecraft that despite the extra-long hold, Adam was able to emerge from the pits still in the lead and deliver an improbable victory.
“It’s my second year in the Aston Martin, my second year in the team and with Jonny joining, he brings not just his experience and knowledge of Aston Martins but a sense of calmness to me,” said Johnston. “The whole package has allowed the speed come out really; I like it around here, although I know not many people do, so that helped as well!”
2. No team orders at Barwell
Behind the TF Sport Aston Martin, the second half of the race saw a fascinating battle for second between the Barwell Lamborghinis of Adam Carroll and Phil Keen, who shared with Jon Minshaw.
A strong opening stint from Liam Griffin meant Carroll held the initial advantage, before the arrival of the Safety Car allowed Keen to close in. But whilst he had more pace than his new team-mate, chosen to replace the underwhelming Fabio Babini, Keen was unable to make it count and could only watch as Adam stretched his legs up the road.
— Anglo American Oil (@Sunoco_UK) May 1, 2016
Carroll would later receive a drive-through penalty which relegated him to fourth for overtaking the lapped BMW of Martin Short before the restart, but it came too late for Keen to mount a challenge on the lead as he instead found himself under attack from Ross Gunn’s Beechdean Aston Martin. Although second went some way to making up for a non-scoring Brands, a frustrated Mark Lemmer felt that Rockingham would afford them a strong chance of victory.
“There were no team orders, we just told them to be sensible,” he said. “It was a case of ‘fight, but don’t cook your tyres and don’t hold each other up’ and they sorted it out themselves. They’re both top guys so they knew exactly what they were doing.
“It’s disappointing that we didn’t have the pace to win because this should have been a strong circuit for us, but the Aston is just too fast for us at the moment. We’re okay with the laptimes, but we need to have a car that is more raceable. We need more power and less weight to really be able to attack the Astons.”
3. McLaren show their hand (sort of)
Rob Bell felt Ecurie Ecosse didn’t get the best out of their tyres in qualifying at Brands Hatch, but a series of fastest laps soon after the pitstops suggested that there was nothing wrong with the McLaren’s raw pace. That was in evidence again at Rockingham, as Bell and McCaig managed a strong second on the grid, but it all went awry in the race as McCaig was dogged by electrical problems, misfires and gear selection gremlins. While Johnston pulled serenely away, McCaig was powerless to fend off Griffin, Minshaw, Rick Parfitt’s Bentley and Andrew Howard, the problems continuing during Bell’s stint despite a system reset.
“To finish seventh is a bit of a sore pill to swallow, looking at the guys we were ahead of, I’m not sure if we could have won, but I think there was definitely a podium or second place in the bag,” said McCaig. “We’ve obviously got the pace, the car is quick, over a lap and it seems quick over a stint, so we’ll get the car stripped down and find the problem and hope it doesn’t happen again.”
4. Bentley’s brands form is no fluke
Team Parker Racing’s weekend had a little bit of everything, but a look beyond their eventual tenth place finish suggested that their race-leading pace at Brands Hatch was no fluke. Forced to miss FP2 and qualifying to an accident at the end of FP1 when Parfitt was caught out on oil at Gracelands, ‘Geoffrey’ was rebuilt overnight and reappeared kicking and screaming for a few fliers during warmup.
— Rick Parfitt Jnr (@RickParfittJnr) May 1, 2016
Eager to make up for lost time, Parfitt charged through from the back to fourth, but misjudged a move on Minshaw at Deene that saw both explore the grass. A stop-go penalty for contact with a GT4 car dealt a further blow to their chances, before the 15-second success penalty carried over from Brands saw Seb Morris resume a lap down, effectively out of contention. However, despite the lingering after-effects of the damage which made the car unstable in the slow-speed corners, Morris was still able to run with the leaders and believes their luck will turn at Oulton Park.
“It was a difficult one here because we had such a big crash in practice, the guys did a brilliant job of outing it all back together,” he said. “We need some good luck now – we’ve had two bits of bad luck in two races so hopefully the cream will rise to the top.”
5. Beechdean prevail in GT4 race nobody wanted to win
Somehow it was only fitting after a GT4 race no-one nobody wanted to win that Beechdean youngsters Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert would inherit a first British GT victory hours after the chequered flag. The pair had struggled with braking issues throughout the race, which meant they would only factor in the outcome much later on.
Graham Johnson’s Optimum Ginetta led throughout his stint from pole until a tangle with Jody Fannin’s GT3 Aston Martin on School Straight handed the lead to the new McLaren 570S – at least until Ciaran Haggerty was given a stop-go penalty for violating the minimum pitstop time. Second-placed Abbie Eaton in the Maserati was hit with a similar penalty, which handed the lead to GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick, but she was struggling with brakes too, and lost out to a charging Nathan Freke, who had started from the back after a fuel problem in qualifying.
Freke and Anna Walewska would go on to finish first on the road, but were subsequently excluded from the results for a pass under yellows on Lap Two. That promoted Albert and Bartholomew to a surprise win, but however they come, a win is a win after all…