Petronas-Barwell: Solid 5th at Zolder keeps Petronas-Barwell drivers in top 3 of Belcar

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Elsewhere the Barwell-engineered Beechdean Aston scores a podium in round 1 of British GT (27 April 2011)

The Barwell Motorsport Belgian GT squad was back in action last weekend, for round two of the Belcar Endurance Championship – a race of 125 minutes around Zolder. We kicked off the season in fine style first time out at Zolder with a third place podium result for the Petronas-Barwell Racing entry, but the Aston Martin DBRS9 is not well suited to Zolder’s tight chicanes and we knew it was going to be tough to repeat that result. With the front-running pace in Belcar getting hotter and hotter and none of our rivals suffering any mechanical problems, we were thus happy to come away with fifth place and keep drivers Tim Verbergt and Jeffrey Van Hooydonk up in third spot in the championship standings. This puts them well placed as we head off to Spa for the next round in June, a track which is a happy hunting ground for the Aston Martin DBRS9.

We also had an interest in two other cars running in two other different locations over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, with the Barwell-engineered Beechdean Aston DBRS9 GT3 contesting the British GT opener at Oulton Park, and the Gulf AMR Middle East Aston Martin Vantage GT2 (which is co-prepared by Barwell technicians) attending the official Le Mans 24 Hour test day. Barwell MD, Mark Lemmer, had provided the engineering and set-up plan to Beechdean in advance of Oulton, but then had to miss the qualifying day there as he was on Belcar duty at Zolder. However, with Zolder’s race finished by Sunday evening he was then able to hot-foot it back to Blighty, and get up to Cheshire for first thing on Monday to join the Beechdean squad for the Bank Holiday race day at Oulton! Mark then enjoyed running the car to a great third place for Beechdean’s Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam in the British GT season-opener. Barwell’s Engineering Director, Chris Weeden, meanwhile was at Le Mans looking after the Vantage GT2 for Sunday’s official test day. The Gulf AMR Middle East team’s Aston ran well during the test and recorded the fourth fastest time in the GTE Amateur class, ahead of the Team Jota Aston.

During last Friday’s free practice sessions at Zolder the Barwell engineers and drivers worked on further fine-tuning of the set up and performance of the Petronas/Aston Martin Brussels-backed DBRS9. This hard work paid off during Saturday’s official qualifying sessions, when Jeffrey Van Hooydonk hooked up a great lap to post a 1m31.1s time – a full 0.4s quicker than last time out on new Michelin tyres. This looked good enough to give us third position on the grid until a last-ditch effort by Anthony Kumpen in the Mercedes shaded our time by a mere 4/100ths of a second! Fourth was still a mighty effort at Zolder, however, and put us ahead of both of the WRT Racing Audis. As a measure of the high level of competitiveness of Belcar this year, two weeks ago our time would have put us on the front row of the grid, but the fastest two cars were now recording 1m30.3s laps – only a second slower than the FIA World GT1 Championship pack!

The outside of the grid is not an easy place to start at Zolder, and Jeffrey had to fight hard with the Verbist/Ide Audi as they ran side-by-side through the first two corners of the 125-minute race. The Audi just had the momentum to squeeze past, however, and demoted our Aston to fifth spot. Van Hooydonk was then the meat in an Audi sandwich as he also had the Longin/Maassen car breathing down his neck, but he comfortably had the pace to hold his ground whilst also keeping the pressure on Verbist in front. After 10 laps the Verbist/Ide Audi blinked first and made a mistake which allowed Jeffrey back up to fourth, and he was then able to start to eke out a small margin over the WRT team-mates. This set the pattern for our race, as we would continue to battle with the two Audis both on the track and in the pit lane over the course of the next two hours.

Jeffrey drove an absolutely stunning stint in the blistering heat, with his only issue being that he had to turn the car’s traction control system off as it was causing a slight misfire when switched on. Despite this he strung together lap after lap in the mid 1m33s bracket to stay ahead of the Audis before our first scheduled pit stop after 55 minutes. During the first round of pit visits (every car has to make a mandatory two stops) the leading Ford GT3 dropped back after it was taken over by a slower ‘gentleman’ driver – the only one in the top seven cars – but we got jumped by both Audis which had taken on less fuel. The net result of this was that we were now lying in fifth place with Tim Verbergt at the wheel, at the half way stage of the race.

The Barwell pit stop had included a full four-wheel change, which was completed with our usual speed and efficiency, although this time with a subtle ‘difference’ – Unfortunately on race day morning the No.1 mechanic and regular wheel changer on the car, Mike Brown, had been taken ill with a stomach bug and was unable to join the crew. To prove the strength in depth of our squad, he was replaced as a wheel changer by none other than team principal, Mark Lemmer, who had to leave his post on the pit wall (where he calls the race strategy), run across the pit lane and grab a wheel gun to change the right side wheels! However Mark was well drilled in this procedure, as he often takes part in the crew’s wheel change practice competitions back at the Barwell base.

Although the faster Audi pairing of Longin/Maassen in third place was able to move out of our reach during the middle phase of the race, Tim was able to keep the Verbist/Ide machine in his sights. Without any retirements amongst the leaders, the focus of our race was now this fight over fourth place, as we also had no threat from behind with the GPR Racing Aston DBRS9 dropping back over a minute away from us. When Tim came in to the pits to hand back the reins to Jeffrey there was a little over half an hour remaining, and we had a 15-second deficit to the fourth-placed Audi. To try and help Jeffrey take the fight to the Verbist/Ide car we fitted a new pair of front tyres on (as planned), as we were concerned that the existing fronts could lose significant performance in the heat over a long stint. The penalty for this was an extra eight seconds in the pits, which we would comfortably get back in track time. The Audi, however, is easier on its tyres and they didn’t change any at their final stop, but Verbist could still match Jeffrey’s pace during the closing stages of the race and thus keep hold of the Audi’s fourth place.




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