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March 31, 2020

Five things we learned from the Silverstone 500

Five things we learned from the Silverstone 500
Photo Credit To Andrew Soul/ Xynamic

The Silverstone 500 was a wet and wild affair that saw 51 cars from the British GT Championship and GT4 European Championship mixed together in a three-hour extravaganza around the full Grand Prix circuit. Seven different manufacturers made up the top seven positions, but it was the Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen that prevailed for the first time this season after their rivals hit trouble. Here’s what we learned.

1. Barwell play strategy to perfection

With three mandatory driver changes and a minimum drive time of 80 minutes to be factored in, strategy was always going to play an important part in the outcome and it was Barwell that duly managed to get their ducks in a row.

The race started behind the Safety Car and Barwell made the astute call to bring Minshaw in immediately, which meant they only had two more stops to make over the next three hours. Following a typically efficient stint from Keen, Minshaw moved ahead of Marco Attard’s FF Corse Ferrari (running on an identical strategy) and managed to keep pace with Silver-rated Will Moore in the Optimum Audi, the best of the cars to have already made two-stops.

Once Liam Griffin and a returning Alexander Sims had been ruled out through contact (more on that later), Keen took over for the final stint and made short work of a fading Ryan Ratcliffe, stroking the car to the finish with an eventual margin of 45-seconds.

“All the guys did a great job and Jon did all the hard work in the middle stint, so all I had to do was cruise round and make sure they didn’t get too close,” Keen said. “Liam went out with contact and he was our main competitor, so it was relatively easy to be honest.”

2. Title battle wide open as favourites fail to score

It was a tough day at the office for the main championship protagonists as all three failed to score. Points leader Derek Johnston had been the star of the early proceedings in the TF Sport Aston Martin as Rick Parfitt Jr.’s pole-sitting Bentley struggled for traction in the unrelenting rain. Johnston had built a tidy lead before aquaplaning on standing water at Chapel and brushing the wall with the left-front, which caused terminal damage to the suspension.

Before they could capitalise, Team Parker Racing also hit trouble. After taking over from Parfitt, Seb Morris made good progress and was chasing after Ross Gunn’s Beechdean Aston Martin when he ran wide passing a GT4 car at Aintree and appeared to clout a drain cover. Morris tried to continue with a badly damaged splitter, but it soon became clear that the Oulton Park winners were destined for retirement.

That ought to have put Griffin in the pound seat, but he was out of luck too. Following a similar strategy to their sister car, Barwell had immediately pitted him from second to hand over to Sims, who carved his way through the field to the lead. Barwell took the opportunity to switch back to Griffin under a Safety Car and were odds-on for at least a podium, with Sims due to take the car to the finish, when Griffin was hit by an out of control European GT4 car at Vale and suffered a broken wishbone.

“It was a very unfortunate race, our pace was very good and we did everything right that was under our control,” reported Sims, making his first appearance of the season in the Lamborghini. “I don’t think there was a massive amount Liam could have done differently, he overtook the guy into Stowe and was ahead into Vale when he got taken out. He’s obviously annoyed because something out of his control ended our race when we were on to score big points. There’s not much more to say, that’s just how it goes sometimes.”

Having made up for their non-score at Brands, Minshaw and Keen now sit just 11.5 points off the championship lead and are right in the thick of the battle heading to Spa Francorchamps next month. It really is anybody’s game.

3. Osborne’s Silverstone love affair continues

The narrative from the AMD Tuning camp this season has been rather repetitive, with a lack of straight-line speed blunting the Z4’s attack and forcing Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle to sharpen their defensive skills.

But there is something about Silverstone that always seems to bring out the best in Osborne – qualifying fifth overall in the Blancpain Endurance Cup and finishing a strong second in last year’s 500 – and in the changeable conditions Osborne favours, the Z4 was a car transformed.

Mowle survived a huge moment at Chapel in the early going and after completing two driver changes behind the Safety Car, (Mowle to Osborne and then back to Mowle, the same strategy employed by Optimum), AMD were well-placed when a bungled tyre call meant Osborne had to pit again after completing his final mandatory stop.

With his unwanted wets discarded in favour of slicks, Osborne got his head down and charged, setting the fastest lap of the race on Lap 59. Rob Bell’s McLaren was his first victim at Becketts, then Adam Carroll’s Ferrari at Vale and finally Ratcliffe’s Audi for an eventual second. Could it have been more without that extra stop?

“I’ve not got a clue, obviously we would have been closer, but we win us a team and we lose as a team,” Osborne said. “The team got us a podium at Oulton Park which we didn’t deserve as drivers and today we made a mistake in the pits, but luckily it’s the same result. It’s frustrating that we still can’t win a race in this championship, but we’re getting closer.”

“I’ve never seen him drive so well,” Mowle added. “That was the drive of the day by a county mile.”

4. GT4 Europe won’t be missed…

It’s not all that often that the series organisers are compelled to delay the sanctity of the lunchbreak, but the driving standards displayed by some of the guesting GT4 European Series drivers (and a litany of track limits violations) meant an impromptu second drivers briefing was called after second practice.

The problems continued in the race as their lack of awareness around the faster GT3 machinery, added to the appalling weather, produced numerous incidents. Few among the regular British contingent are relishing the prospect of a repeat at Spa.

“It’s tough because some of them are very good, but some of them are terrible,” Ross Gunn told Racing.GT. “It was carnage this weekend and personally I hope that it never happens again. 34 cars on a day like today is plenty.”

However, the slower GT4 traffic did at least provide Gunn with the opportunity to pull off a move reminiscent of Mika Hakkinen’s famous pass on Michael Schumacher in the 2000 Belgian Grand Prix, taking both Liam Griffin and Ross Wylie’s Motorbase Aston Martin into Stowe.

“I came off Becketts with a lot more momentum than Ross and Liam, and I saw they went left of the backmarker, so I went on the inside,” he said. “It was very satisfying, in the corner I was on the radio yelling to the team going ‘yeah!’ That was definitely the highlight of the race for me, I’m looking forward to watching it on TV!”

5. …But there’s still class in spades

Amid all the moments of madness, the battle between Bell and Carroll in the closing stages was a welcome reminder of the class that exists in the British GT championship. Both were heavily disadvantaged by the return of the Safety Car, which picked up erstwhile leader David Pattison in the Ginetta, imminently due another pitstop but running just ahead of them on the road. As a result, Keen and Ratcliffe were gifted an enormous advantage and the charging Osborne was able to close.

After the restart, Bell was caught out in the traffic and lost two positions, but soon came back at Carroll – the Ferrari now struggling for tyres after losing out to Osborne – and briefly made it stick, only for Carroll to launch a brave move into Maggotts that required the full cooperation of his friend and former team-mate.

Bell made one last go at it into Copse on the final lap, but had to back down and settle for fourth after following Carroll past Ratcliffe’s ailing Audi.

“The Safety Car definitely cost us a lot of time, maybe half a lap or more, but ifs, buts and maybes is what racing is all about – you win some, you lose some,” said the pragmatic Bell afterwards. “We had a good battle on track, he passed me and I thought I got him back, but he just had a bit more grunt. It was fantastic.”

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.