Generation AMR: The season may have started, but it is far from over!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The first meeting of the season was held at Zandvoort, Holland on 21st – 25th April 2011, with Generation AMR, in partnership with the Hardinge Group and The Spa Hotel,

Royal Tunbridge Wells, competing against 16 other GT4 cars as well as 6 more GT4 cars entered in the Dutch GT4 Championship. This was the first opportunity for the James and Ant to compete against some of the best drivers and teams in Europe, with world class drivers such as Jeroen Bleekemolen (Le Mans Prototype driver) and Stefano D’Aste (former World Touring Car driver), so the team was under no misapprehension that this would be a tough opening weekend.

Free Practice
Zandvoort is a circuit that is notorious for low grip and it didn’t fail to deliver. With the sun shining and temperatures reaching 26˚C, the team found that 3 areas of the track were like driving on ice, thanks to the sand that blows onto the circuit from the surrounding dunes. The original set-up planned for the weekend had to be rapidly adapted and the team worked hard to find a suitable engineering solution that gave the drivers the balance of high and low speed performance. Out on circuit, the other marques were showing just how much, or how little in many cases, they could cope with the challenging conditions. With manufacturers such as BMW, Chevrolet, Corvette, Lotus, and Maserati represented, it soon became clear which car and driver combinations were going to be at the front of the field. Nevertheless, Generation AMR worked on every aspect of their performance and closed the gap with the competition during the 2 sessions; when it came the time for qualifying, the team was justifiably in a positive mood that top 6 positions out of a field of 23 were more than achievable.

Just before qualifying, a historic single seat race car dropped oil all the way round the circuit, with some of it being left on critical braking points and the racing line. The circuit worked hard to clean the track but a long delay was inevitable. Ant Scragg started qualifying first, as the team had already decided that he would drive in the first race of the season on the Saturday. When the session started, Generation AMR went out on track first, to assess the levels of grip and start on a strategic run that would put us in with a chance of a front row slot. But with so many cars trying to qualify in just 15 minutes and with the cars so evenly matched, Ant found that every attempt to get a fast lap in was hindered by cars blocking the ideal line as they too tried to get a fast time in – even though they should have moved aside for our faster car. Halfway through the session, another car had a mechanical failure resulting in even more oil being dropped, so the red flags came out and the car returned to the pit lane, with just 6 minutes left on the clock. Ant went back out and tried once more to get a clean lap in, but was blocked by a Porsche that would not give way and so the session ended with Ant only able to make P14 out of the 23 cars that qualified. The team knew that we had more pace than the performance showed, so focus shifted onto getting a better result in Q2 and trying some different tactics to avoid the traffic

Q2 started well, with James bringing the car up to speed quickly and we started on a fast lap, only to once again be blocked. However, James pushed on and we soon found ourselves in the top ten. The session would not go cleanly though, as an accident elsewhere on track saw our efforts thwarted, as the red flags once again came out and James returned to the pits with 8 minutes to go. When the session resumed, James went all out to push us further up the grid but some stunning times from a couple of cars left us assessing where they had got the speed from and how we could close the gap. In the end James ended in a credible P8 for race 2 and we had learnt some of the tricks teams were using out on track to gain a legal advantage.

Race 1
Saturday dawned on a new day, with the team having worked hard the previous evening to change the settings on the car to further close the gap to the competition. With high temperatures resulting in heavy tyre wear, the team felt that the set-up we had chosen would best favour the conditions when it came time to push, and push hard! The great thing about the Aston Martin Lagonda brand is its ability to draw admiration from all corners of the paddock. The Hardinge Group and Spa Hotel liveried car was immaculately prepared as ever and we were swamped by photographers wanting to snap the outside and inside of the car all day. Fans and other teams alike admired the graceful lines of the car and its racing pedigree, with talk in the paddock being about the fear that we were going to bring a few surprises to the party! Ant started Race 1 well and was soon making his way past the competition and staying out of trouble – which was more than could be said for some as one competitor’s race only lasted 8 seconds! Ant pushed on throughout the race and each lap he took time out of the cars immediately in front of him, then lining them up for the pass. The car performed faultlessly and Ant drove brilliantly against drivers with far more experience, which was rewarded by a P9 finish, but we were P6 in the European Cup – first points in the bag!

Race 2
With the team having benefitted from a rest day on Easter Sunday, the Monday race day was a
hectic affair with a 25 minute race and the big one of the weekend, a 50 minute race with both drivers in the afternoon. Once again, Generation AMR had prepared the Hardinge Group/Spa Hotel car perfectly and so James drove round for the start of his race brimming with confidence. The race started well with James keeping pace with the front runners and positioning himself for the second half of the race when we knew we could be stronger. An accident early on brought out the safety car and James joined the “snake” in P7. On the restart, he timed it perfectly and pushed on hard to take 6th place before coming up against our fellow Aston Martin team, Rhesus Racing – previous winners of the championship. But their best efforts proved to be not enough and James overtook them to take P5 on the road – could we be on for a podium? Despite his best efforts, James ran out of time in the 25 minute sprint race and the team decided to save the tyres for the longer race, asking him to slow down a little and secure a fine finish of P4 in the European Cup. A great result that had our competitors on edge, particularly after our disappointing qualifying runs meant they thought we were off the pace!

Race 3
With the car cleaned and prepared for the final race, the whole team took to the grid where we were joined by hundreds of sponsors’ guests for the 20 minute grid walk. Basking in sunshine, the Hardinge Group/Spa Hotel car looked beautiful, once again drawing lots of interest from the public, business people and the photographers. Starting from P8 again, Ant warmed the car up well on the formation lap and pushed hard from the start, which saw him in a great battle with the Maserati GT4 car. As they headed into Turn 1 at the start of Lap 2, it looked like Ant had the edge and was going to make the pass stick, but luck was not on our side. Just ahead of Ant, a Ginetta driver had pushed a BMW into a spin, which resulted in Ant coming round the corner to find the Maserati on the right and a car sideways in front of him blocking the track. A split second decision was required and he rapidly took avoiding action to the left. Sadly this meant playing with a gravel trap and Ant almost made it through before the gravel sucked the car down and he was stuck. Thanks to the format of the European Cup, we are able to receive assistance without penalty, but in the process we dropped 2 laps to the front runners by the time Ant was dragged out of the gravel and he got back to the pits. A sprint look around the car told us that there was no damage and Ant sprinted back out to re-join the race. He pushed harder and harder each lap and soon he caught the back of the field and began the process of un-lapping himself. We watched the timing screens intently, analysing each sector and lap, encouraging Ant to push even harder as he was matching the pace of the cars at the front and taking big bites out of cars as he muscled his way through the traffic. The team performed a perfect pitstop and James rejoined the race in P18, still 2 laps down on the leaders but with no extra time lost in the pitlane. After Ant’s strong drive, James continued the trend and pushed all the way to the end of the race, with his performance getting better and better each lap. In the end, the team were left to ponder on what might have been, but happy with the pace of the car and the fact that Ant had avoided what could have been a very serious accident.

Whilst the total number of points from the weekend was disappointing, the team learnt a number of things about competing in Europe against world class drivers and the potential to get even more out of the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 race car. We developed our pace throughout the weekend on a tricky circuit and had shown that we could challenge for podium places. Our strategies have developed and we look forward to the next meeting knowing that when we go to Silverstone we will be on home turf, with a strong car and a great team attitude that we know will see us further up in qualifying and pushing hard every second of every race.
The season may have started, but it is far from over!
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