The use of pitstop success penalties in the British GT championship has largely proven a successful method of ensuring that no one team can dominate a weekend double-header, but that theory was thrown out of the window at Snetterton as Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen delivered two perfect drives to take the championship lead into the Donington finale. Here’s what we learned from a sweltering day in the Norfolk countryside.
1. Demon Tweaks duo step up when it counts
The broad grin fixed to Phil Keen’s face told the story. Two wins on the same day – a feat not achieved since Rockingham in 2010 – a pole position and GT3 lap record for good measure will always go down as a weekend to remember, but it was the championship ramifications that will mean the most to the Barwell Motorsport pair.
If the controversy surrounding the 30 second post-race penalty for Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle overshadowed their race one win, there was none of the sort in race two, after a bungled pitstop by TF Sport’s Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston meant they failed to capitalise on the Lamborghini’s 10 second hold in the pits.
— Barwell Motorsport (@BarwellMotorSpt) August 7, 2016
“I got out of the car thinking we’d be fourth, but I looked at the timing screens and thought that’s odd, we’re first!” Keen said after race two. “It was a surprise to me as it was to everybody else I suppose, even Andy our engineer was scratching his head, but I’m not complaining! Lots of people had problems around us this weekend whereas Barwell were faultless and everything ran like clockwork, which has helped us a great deal.”
Minshaw and Keen’s second and third wins of the year, following on from their triumphant display in the wet and wild Silverstone 500, means they now have an 11.5 point advantage over the Aston Martin pair, who have led from the first round. It follows a successful weekend for the pair alongside Osborne and Oliver Gavin at the Spa 24 Hours, where Minshaw drove a quarter of the race to finish third in Pro-Am.
“Jon has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years, he feels really comfortable in the car now and he’s driving the best he’s ever driven, so he really deserves the results he’s been getting,” he added. “We’ve done this championship since 2013 so this is our fourth year together and we’re really just crossing our fingers, we’ll do the best we can and hopefully get the result we need.”
2. TF Sport and Parker not out of the running
Of course, 11.5 points is by no means an insurmountable gap for defending champion Adam and Johnston, who won at Donington last year alongside Matt Bell. They will take heart from the fact that Minshaw and Keen will have to serve an additional five seconds in the pits, but with no pitlane penalty to serve in race two after a fourth in race one, they could have done without losing precious seconds fumbling with the belts, dropping them briefly back to third before Johnston repassed Mowle.
“We had a belt issue there, I couldn’t release it fully and when Derek got in, it unfortunately fell behind him and we lost around 10 seconds,” Adam reported. “Without that, we would have leapfrogged to the win.”
Despite the disappointment of losing the points lead, Adam is optimistic that they can replicate the form which carried the team to consecutive wins at Brands Hatch and Rockingham earlier in the year.
“[Derek] is pumped, if you asked him to map out what his favourite track is on the calendar then Donington would be it,” continued the Scot. “He only lives around half an hour away, he’s done thousands of laps there and won in pretty much everything he’s been in; he says he’s stronger at Donington than he was at Rockingham, which for me is a real incentive because he was unbelievable at Rockingham and he drove away from the field.
“There’s everything to play for, it would be nice if we were a bit closer but anything can happen at Donington and it will be down to track position in that first stint.”
— Rick Parfitt Jnr (@RickParfittJnr) August 7, 2016
TF Sport won’t just have the Barwell Lamborghini to concern themselves with as the Team Parker Racing Bentley of Rick Parfitt Jr. and Seb Morris also stand a fighting chance, 27 points behind with 37.5 still up for grabs.
Unable to live with the pace of the Aston and the Lamborghini in qualifying due to a lack of straight-line speed, Oulton Park winner Parfitt reckoned Morris had “drained every ounce” from the car to hold off Adam and score a podium in race one, before taking fifth from ninth on the grid in race two.
“We have the same BOP as Silverstone where we were 4 miles per hour down on the straights and that really hit us, as I think everybody saw in qualifying. But we didn’t have any issues with that, it’s just the way the championship works,” Parfitt explained.
“We were working with what we had, Seb drove one of the stints of the season to hold back Jonny in the first race and under the circumstances I’m happy with fifth from race two. Our pitlane speed limiter stuck on a bit which ultimately could have cost me being in front of Mark [Farmer], but it’s all to play for and there’s an outside chance that we could still nip it, with no penalty and double points.
“At the same time, I’m just happy to be fighting in the top three or four. If anyone had said before the season that I’d be able to do that, I’d have grabbed their hand off!”
3. Team cars could factor into the mix
The complexion of the final round could also be shaped by the second cars from TF Sport and Barwell Motorsport, with each looking to help their team-mates after being eliminated from title contention at Snetterton.
Spurred on by their debut victory at Spa-Francorchamps, the second TF Aston Martin of Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer were on form again in Norfolk, qualifying on pole and taking second in the first race, just 0.427 behind Keen. Fourth in race two means they are an agonising half a point shy of the total needed to retain a mathematical chance of the title, but with no success penalty to serve, they will expect to be in contention for the race win.
— TF Sport (@OfficialTFSport) August 7, 2016
The second Barwell Lamborghini of Liam Griffin and Alexander Sims will be in a similar position, after two incident-filled races finally ended the luckless Griffin’s championship hunt. A spin on lap one and a puncture resulting from contact with David Pattison’s Ginetta limited them to ninth in race one, before contact with Mowle at the Wilson hairpin broke a steering arm in race two.
Now without a podium since taking victory alongside Adam Carroll at Oulton Park in May, Griffin will be hungry to end the season on a high and help Barwell to overcome the 14.5 point deficit to TF Sport in the team’s championship. Should he or Farmer manage to qualify at the front and thereby prevent Johnston and Minshaw from building a gap at the start, there could be potential for fireworks…
4. Post-race penalties bite again
And now to the moment that decided race one. It had seemed like the Cinderella story was finally about to come true as the paddock’s nearly men Osborne and Mowle were just three minutes away from achieving their first victory together in the ageing BMW Z4 GT3.
We won on the road. Post race penalty for contact with @philkeenracing puts us P5. Apologised to him, awkward considering we were team mates
— Joe Osborne (@osbornejoe) August 7, 2016
An excellent first stint from Mowle, taking advantage of contact between Johnston and Alasdair McCaig’s McLaren on the opening lap, saw them pit from third, which soon became second after Barnes served his pitstop penalty carried over from Spa.
Now on new tyres, Osborne pumped in two consecutive fastest laps and in a flash was on Keen’s tail, the Lamborghini delayed by a pack of GT4s. Spotting that his exit from the Esses had been compromised, Osborne stuck his nose down the inside at the Bombhole, just as Keen turned in. Nine seconds were lost in the spin, leaving Osborne clear out front for what would have been his first win since Snetterton in 2012.
But it wasn’t to be. With the finish line almost in sight, the stewards handed Osborne a drive-through penalty, leaving AMD fuming that they had no time to argue their case. Speaking later, Osborne accepted blame for the collision and apologised to Keen, but felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime and expressed disdain for the timing of the decision. He duly ignored the radio messages to come in and took the checkered flag, but was subsequently slapped with a thirty second penalty that dropped the BMW off the podium altogether.
The ins-and-outs of the penalty call and its implications will be discussed in greater detail in this week’s edition of Thursday Thoughts.
5. George keeps Gunn on his toes
While the majority of the GT4 headlines will be concerned with a first win for the McLaren 570S GT4 and Sandy Mitchell becoming the youngest British GT winner ever at 16 years and 169 days, the standout performance of the weekend came from Generation AMR’s Matt George.
On a weekend that saw defending champion Ross Gunn return to the class to partner title hopeful Jack Bartholomew in the absence of Beechdean’s GT3 Aston Martin, it was a pleasant surprise to see George – in his first season of car racing – top both practice sessions and qualify second only to Gunn before making a mistake to bring out the red flags.
But anyone expecting Gunn to simply run away with it in the race would be disappointed. Putting his Saturday discrepancy behind him, George didn’t put a foot wrong and was never much more than a second behind the Aston Martin GT Academy winner, setting a new lap record in the process before handing over to inexperienced co-driver James Holder.
Despite coming away from the weekend with two 12th places, George left an excellent impression and also earned the plaudits from race two winner Gunn, whose cameo appearance helped Bartholomew close to within two points of season-long leaders Mike Johnson and Graham Robinson.
— Ross Gunn (@RossGunnRacing) August 7, 2016
“Ross is an amazing driver and he makes very few to no mistakes, so I just tried my best to keep him on his toes,” said George. “I made a massive mistake in qualifying, I didn’t really get to show what I was capable of, but the race pace of the car this weekend has been really good, so it was a case of being sensible and doing our best when the traffic came around.
“I’m my own biggest critic, I always want to be better, so I’m very happy for now, we just need to iron out a few of the little errors and go from there.”