Petronas-Barwell Racing: Debut Belcar podium

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Barwell Motorsport kicked off the 2011 race season in fine style at the weekend, with a fighting 3rd place podium finish in the opening round of the Belgian Belcar Endurance Championship at Zolder. The team’s Aston Martin DBRS9, run under the banner of Petronas-Barwell Racing and driven by Tim Verbergt and Jeffrey Van Hooydonk, was in the hunt for a top three finish throughout the race despite a clutch problem. The Barwell-run Aston then claimed the final podium slot in the final 20 minutes of the three hour encounter, much to the delight of new team partners, Petronas Lubricants Belgium and Aston Martin Brussels. It also marked the fifth podium finish in a row for Barwell Motorsport, continuing the run started in September last year in British GT, Britcar GT and Spanish GT events.

This result was just desserts for the hard-working Barwell engineers and crew, who had only received the new 2011 Aston Martin Racing aero bodywork upgrades just days before the start of the race meeting. We thus only had the one hour free practice session on Friday to work on the set-up of the new-look DBRS9 and try to optimise its performance, before Saturday’s qualifying sessions. By qualifying we were reasonably satisfied with the work we had done, and the stopwatch proved that the upgrades have been a step forward for the DBRS9, which is one of the very original GT3 designs and now entering its sixth season of competition!

Even with the upgrades we know that we are facing a tough battle against the ‘new age’ GT3 machines from Audi, Ford, Porsche and Mercedes in the highly competitive Belcar GT3 field, and to heighten the challenge further Zolder is not a track that plays to the ‘high-downforce’ strengths of the big V12 6-litre Aston. Jeffrey Van Hooydonk then caught everyone by surprise (including us!), however, when he hauled the 600bhp beast around in 1m31.5s to take provisional pole position after the first qualifying session! This was 1.5 seconds quicker than we had ever been at Zolder, and all the more impressive given that this year’s Michelin Belcar tyre is a harder compound than we had used in previous years. With the second 30-minute session still to come, though, we were expecting a big challenge to this from the German marques. With a very good time in the bag we chose to focus on the race set up during second qualifying, rather than chase a slight improvement on our single lap qualifying time. Unfortunately we did get bumped by the Audi of Maassen/Longin, the Merc of Kumpen/K.Wauters and the Porsche of Soulet/Goossens, but still ended up 4th and only half a second shy of the pole time, which is as close as we have been at Zolder.

Tim Verbergt took the start of Sunday’s 3-hour race (with three mandatory pit stops to be carried out), but as is quite common around the tight confines of the Zolder track there was a lot of nudging and jostling for position going on as the field blasted down the start/finish straight. Tim got a couple of knocks from the cars around him during the first lap, one being a pretty hard whack in the driver’s side door and he also received another in the left rear. This caused him quite a big ‘moment’ and as he lost momentum both the Audi of Verbist/Ide and the Ford GT of Palttala/Kuismanen slipped past. Verbergt was soon back up to fifth spot when the Ford hit problems early on and pitted, and he then became embroiled in a close tussle with the rival Aston Martin DBRS9 of Moser/Schmetz. This lasted for many laps, with the Moser-driven machine seeming to have an advantage under braking which raised our suspicions that it was running the ‘sprint’ spec front brake pads (as opposed to the ‘endurance’ ones on our car), and thus we would be expecting it to run into braking difficulties later in the race. Tim thus didn’t lose time fighting Moser and settled back into sixth spot, concentrating on getting into a good rhythm to complete his stint after the first lap argy-bargy and worrying knock in the side.

Our first pit stop at 45 minutes went absolutely like clockwork, with a re-fuel, change of all four tyres and Jeff replacing Tim at the wheel. Soon sixth place became fifth as the Verbist/Ide Audi hit trouble, and Jeff set about chasing the other Aston which now had Schmetz at the controls. With Schmetz being slightly slower than Moser, Jeff was able to close on him a little bit lap by lap, and the inter-Aston Martin battle started to intensify! As he closed to within pouncing distance from his prey, however, Jeff radioed in to say that he had lost the operation of the clutch and was having to shift down through the gears without using it. This was not only hampering his lap times a little bit, but also presented us with a problem at the pit stops in terms of the car departing from its stationary position. Despite all of this, Jeff drove an excellent stint (posting a best lap time only 3/10ths of a second slower than the race winner) and brought the car in for our second scheduled stop just after the 90 minute mark.

The solution for the pit stop was for the driver to select neutral, fire the engine up and then the rules allowed us to push him away from the pit stop position for a few yards until the car was rolling and he could bang it into first gear. Without the clutch it is quite hard for a fully strapped in driver to select neutral on the sequential gear lever, however, and thus after re-fuelling and changing tyres (once again carried out with ruthless efficiency by the Barwell crew) one of our guys had to open the door of the car and help Tim physically get the lever into the neutral position. This all cost us quite a few precious seconds, but with the Moser/Schmetz machine suffering its own time delays in their stop, we still came out ahead and moved up to fourth place as the race entered its second half.

Again our attentions were immediately focused on the tussle over who would come out as top Aston Martin, as we were beginning to lose sight of the top three runners who had been setting a very hot pace in the first hour and then pulled further ahead by not having to take on board so

much fuel at the stops (due to enjoying better fuel consumption). However our pace was still
good enough that a small problem for the Porsche, Audi or Merc ahead could put us in a
position to threaten the German top three lock-out. Back in the battle of the British 6-litre V12s, Moser was again able to close on Tim and soon there was virtually an eight-wheel 12-litre V24 DBRS9 running on the track, as our rival was all but glued to the bumper of the Petronas-Barwell car for three laps! We stuck to our belief that they would soon encounter some brake issues, and again Tim didn’t resist the pass from Moser but concentrated on his own stint where he also had to get used to not being able to use the clutch. He soon got to grips with the problem and set some very good lap times during his second stint, during which he was able to keep the Moser-driven Aston in his sights and thus set Jeff up very well to take fourth spot back during his final race run.

With 40 minutes remaining Tim came in for the final scheduled stop, where we would fuel the car to finish the race and just change the front tyres. Jeff hopped in and this time we had the re-start routine finely tuned, as the car was returned to the fray with minimum fuss. After our stop we looked up the pit lane and saw the Moser/Schmetz Aston (which had pitted before us) still sitting outside its garage and receiving some serious attention from its mechanics. It remained there for a few more laps, apparently having suffered from brake problems....

With the Aston Martin ‘Challenge’ now over, Jeff was able to concentrate on keeping up a good pace in fourth spot and looking after the car for the final 40 minutes, as the fifth-placed Ford GT was two laps back and not a threat and the Mercedes of Kumpen/K.Wauters in third was too far ahead for him to catch purely on pace. With just over 20 minutes to go, however, the Merc was in the pits for an unscheduled visit and all eyes from the Petronas-Barwell camp were trained on their pit area. It didn’t stay in long enough for Jeff to pass it on the track, though, but there was still a chance that they had a problem that could allow us to close. We didn’t have to wait long for the answer to this, as half way round its next lap the TV screens showed the Mercedes SLS parked by the side of the track with only three wheels still attached. Jeff thus assumed third position, and with it the Barwell podium run was kept alive!
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes