Barwell cars battle for podium at spa

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It was a very busy race event for Barwell Motorsport last weekend, when both the British and Belgian GT Championships descended upon the beautiful Spa-Francorchamps Grand Prix circuit. With the entries for both series being combined into one big grid (but with separate results classifications), we were thus running both of our Aston Martin DBRS9s in the race – for British campaigners Andrew Howard/Jamie Smyth and also the Belgian Championship example of Eddy Renard/Vincent Vosse.


Unfortunately for both Astons, their races were badly compromised after being hit by other cars at the first corner, in separate incidents. This was especially galling for Andrew Howard, after a great qualifying performance which had put him fourth British car on the grid. His Beechdean Dairies DBRS9 was whacked in the side by a Ferrari at La Source hairpin, however, and then became entangled with the errant Italian machine which dropped both cars to the back of the field. The front splitter and dive planes had been damage in the impact as well, which was to cause further problems later on. Similarly, Eddy had been given a hefty knock at La Source, but while this didn’t cause any delays at the time, it had knocked the front steering geometry out of line on his car which then started to understeer badly only a few laps into the race.

The Barwell Aston of Howard was absolutely storming its way back up the order, as Andrew was clearly very fired up after the first corner incident. This was a stonking recovery drive, which took him back up to sixth place by the end of his stint after he had been lapping very close to the pace of the leaders. Unfortunately, however, the damage to the front splitter and aerodynamics meant that the front tyres had been working overtime during the first half of the race, as they were trying to make up for the lack of aerodynamic grip. Jamie duly took up the cudgels at half distance, but was unable to progress things further as the front tyres really started to give up the ghost. By the end of the race they were worn almost to the canvas, and eighth place was the best that could be achieved. This situation was not helped by a problem with the ‘fly-by-wire’ throttle late on in the race, which shut the throttle off on one lap. The Barwell crew changed the throttle potentiometer for race two, and this cured the problem.

Tyre problems were also the undoing of the Belgian duo, as Vosse moved the Aston Martin Brussels-backed car up to a comfortable fifth place (and chasing down fourth spot) only for a puncture to undo all of his hard work. This happened just after the 130mph Blanchimont corner, giving Vincent a hairy moment but luckily he wrestled the car under control and brought it into the pits in one piece. The only tyres you are allowed to fit in this case are the ones reserved for the next race of the weekend, but the problem is that you are then severely compromising your performance in that race. With Vincent on pole position for Sunday’s race, we decided to retire the car from this encounter as there was no chance of a decent points-scoring result.


Vosse had scorched to pole position in the ‘pro’ qualifying session for the second Belgian GT race at Spa, posting two laps good enough for the spot and the better one half a second clear of the opposition. We thus had high hopes of achieving a strong podium result in this race, as Eddy was also driving well and really enjoying Spa in the high-downforce DBRS9. Sunday morning’s weather was to throw us a curved ball in the shape of heavy fog, however, and the organizers unfortunately didn’t seem to want to delay our early 9.05am start. Hence the race was started in dense fog behind the safety car, and everyone’s mood became darker as the fog became worse.

After 15 minutes of running behind the safety car, the visibility on circuit was still quite poor (one GT4 car had crashed during this period!), and it seemed that a race stoppage or even cancellation could be on the cards. There was then a small lift in the mist, however, and the organizers made a very quick decision to start the race. Unfortunately Vincent, leading the pack around, was slightly caught out by this and on cold tyres he suffered a few off-course excursions during the opening few laps. This dropped him down to eighth place out of the Belgian GT runners, and Eddy then had his work cut out to make up positions in the second half of the race. With the tyres now well and truly up to temperature, the car was working well and Renard put in his best performance of the season as he fought his way back up to fifth place by the finish.

Also impressing during his stint was Jamie, who showed his good feel for driving a car on slicks in slightly greasy conditions and was hounding the Ferrari of Adam Wilcox for fourth place. Although Jamie had superior pace and would get past Wilcox on the exit of Eau Rouge, the Ferrari’s better braking ability into Les Combes meant that he couldn’t hang on to the place. He thus handed over to Andrew in fifth, but the Ferrari team held their car in the pits for longer than necessary and more accurate pit stop timing by us meant that Andrew emerged from the pits ahead. With the track still slightly greasy from the mist, Andrew was driving confidently and was able to reel in the Mosler of Short/Fisken (the winners of race 1). Just as the Barwell Aston was in position to pounce on its rival for third, the sun came out and very quickly heated up the track. This had the result of then increasing the tyre wear as the race entered its closing stages, something which the Mosler is much less affected by and it enabled Fisken to put some clear air in between his car and the Aston. Fourth was still a very good result for Jamie and Andrew, after two good drives.
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