Barwell Motorsport: Petronas-Barwell drivers move up to 2nd in Belcar Championship

Monday, June 20, 2011

And Barwell run Secure Racing makes a successful British GT debut at Brands Hatch.

Barwell Motorsport was in action in both Belgium and England last weekend, as we contested the latest events of the Belcar Endurance and British GT Championships. The Belcar series was making its first visit of the season to Spa, and the competition got even hotter with the addition to the entry of many top factory-supported teams from the cream of the major international GT3 racing series. The Petronas-Barwell Racing Aston DBRS9 suffered near disaster early on in the frenetic wet/dry 3-hour race, when a rival car ran over the team’s pit lane equipment during a pit stop. Although this caused a major delay for us, drivers Jeffrey Van Hooydonk and Tim Verbergt staged a great recovery to climb back up from 27th to finish 8th overall and third out of the regular Belcar runners. To prove the competitiveness of Belcar, the race was won by the championship-leading Porsche of Goossens/Soulet. With this result, Van Hooydonk and Verbergt have moved up to second place in the Belcar points behind the Goossens/Soulet combination.

Meanwhile at Brands Hatch we were embarking on our first British GT race of the year, with the GT4 Class Aston Martin Vantage being run under the Secure Racing with Barwell Motorsport banner. Having only completed a shakedown run at Silverstone prior to the weekend, this was very much a learning event for both the team and drivers Peter Erceg and Chris Holmes. The car ran like clockwork all weekend, and we got faster and faster the more miles that we racked up. This year’s GT4 class is hugely competitive, and thus we were delighted to claim a solid fifth place on both the car and drivers’ debut in British GT. We also had our regular involvement with the GT3 class at Brands, with Barwell boss Mark Lemmer performing chief engineering and car set-up duties on the Beechdean Aston Martin DBRS9. This set a superb fourth fastest qualifying time of 1m 27.1s – the fastest ever DBRS9 Avon-tyred time around Brands by a fair margin. Unfortunately Andrew Howard had a spin on the opening lap of the race which put the car down the order, and it then suffered a puncture later on in the race. Jonny Adam was absolutely flying during his race stint, however, and set the second fastest GT3 race lap.

The Belcar entry for Spa was a match for any other international GT race this year, with the winners of the last rounds of both of Europe’s two premier GT series, the FIA GT3 European Championship (Faster Racing BMW Z4 GT3) and the Blancpain Endurance Series (Vita4one Ferrari 458 Italia) joining the fray, as well as other top squads from Mercedes and Lamborghini. This meant that most of the major GT manufacturers were represented at Spa by factory supported teams! In terms of numbers, the interlopers helped the grid to swell to an impressive 29 cars across the three classes.

The condensed two day schedule also meant that there was very little time to work on the set up of the car, and we weren’t satisfied that we had got a really good handling balance on the Aston Martin Brussels-backed DBRS9 by the end of the one hour practice session. With dry weather forecast for the official qualifying session, we sent Jeffrey out to get a reasonable time in the bag during the early stages on the first set of new tyres. Tim then took over but struggled
to get a clear lap in during his run. Our plan was then for Jeffrey to have another crack of the whip at a qualifying lap with new slicks, but the rain came and scuppered our chances. We were thus left with no chance to improve on Jeff’s first ‘banker’ time and 11th position, and were frustrated as we felt that a lap time in the low 2m 21s bracket (which would have put us seventh) was achievable. With the extremely high quality of the field the top six cars were all in the 2m20s bracket, an absolutely stunning overall pace. Even though they are using the harder compound Michelin tyre, these top six Belcar GT3 cars would have all qualified ahead of the GT2 Professional class pole position Ferrari in the recent Spa round of the Le Mans Series!

Race day morning brought with it that traditional Spa feature of black clouds and more rain. The rain had eased up an hour before the race start, but still the majority of the cars started on wet weather tyres, and the forecast was for more rain. One significant bucker of this trend was the Prospeed Porsche of Goossens, however, who made what turned out to be an inspired (and brave) decision to start on slicks. Only four laps into the 3-hour encounter it was already clear that slicks was the way to go, and thus the pit lane was full of cars (including ours) coming in to change to dry tyres.

The race-leading Mercedes of Anthony Kumpen was in the pit box immediately before ours, and as he left his spot he misjudged how close he was to our fuel rig boom and the attached air line for the wheel change gun that was about to be used on our car. Kumpen ran straight over the gun and scooped it up onto the front of the Merc, which then pulled the whole fuel rig over to 45 degrees as he drove off down the pit road! Fortunately the gun snapped off the end of the line before the fuel rig toppled over and created what would have been an extremely dangerous and damaging situation. As it was the loose air line whipped back and smashed a hole clean through the front left side fender of the Aston. The shocked Barwell pit crew quickly regrouped, fitted a replacement air line and gun, then repositioned the car and fuel rig, assessed the damage and completed the tyre change. Unfortunately because of all this we had lost over a complete lap to the main pack, and Jeffrey rejoined way back in 27th place.

Hence we began what was to be an absolutely stunning recovery job and damage limitation exercise. Jeffrey got his head down and got stuck into his stint, which remained dry until very shortly before he was due to stop on the hour mark. Just prior to this there was more drama in the vicinity of our pit lane area, as a Lamborghini was coming down the pit lane on fire and then parked up only 10 metres away from our pit box, having left a trail of burning fuel all the way back to its fuel rig! Fortunately the marshals did a great job and got the fire out and the car cleared quickly before Jeffrey came back in, having moved the car up to 15th place by this point. At the second stop we fuelled the car for an hour and, with the rain settling in, sent Tim back out on a set of wet tyres for his stint.

Tim did a great job during his hour stint in the wet, although he reported that the car was struggling a little bit with high rear tyre pressures. Just as the race went into its final hour, Tim had got us into 12th place before he returned to the pits for our final stop. We fitted a fresh set of rear wets, which now had their pressures optimised after Tim’s feedback. Jeff was then absolutely flying as he continued to move the Petronas-Barwell Aston up the order. He reeled in and passed the rival GPR Aston Martin DBRS9 before claiming 10th place from the Corvette of Bouvy/Coens as the race entered its last 30 minutes. He then had a 50-second deficit to the
Vanthoor/Wauters Mercedes, but was able to make huge gains every lap as he was consistently one of the fastest cars on the track at this stage. Incredibly he hunted down and passed the Merc for ninth place, which then became eighth position as the sister Mercedes of Kumpen/Wauters ran out of fuel in the closing stages (justice served for it spoiling our race!).

At Brands Hatch the weekend was certainly a lot calmer and less action-packed in the British GT encounter, but the pace in GT4 has also significantly moved forward from where it was last year. The regular British GT runners have already done two race events and plenty of testing, so we were certainly starting on the back foot with our new Dtex-backed Aston Martin. Both Peter and Chris are new to British GT racing and moreover Chris was having his first race in a GT car of any kind, having come from a background of racing single-seater formula cars. Without the benefit of any proper testing, we were also learning about the new spec Avon tyres, and during official qualifying we didn’t get the most out of the new slicks as they require much longer runs than before to get to their optimum temperature.

Peter thus started from sixth place but had the absolute nightmare of circuit conditions to contend with at the start of the two-hour encounter – a track with a dry racing line but damp off the line. With the line dry the only tyre choice was to use slicks, but if you strayed off the racing line onto the damp surface then you instantly had absolutely zero grip...! Many cars found this out to their detriment during the opening laps, as they slid off the line and straight off the track! Peter kept the Aston ‘on the island’ however, although the Lotus Evora of Nordstrom/Clarke slipped through on the opening lap to demote him to seventh spot. The Kiwi then settled himself into the race and started to learn how to get the best out of the Vantage’s traction control system. This became especially useful towards the end of his hour stint, when a quick rain shower sprinkled the track with water but didn’t come down heavy enough to warrant a change to wet tyres. Under these highly treacherous conditions Peter was absolutely flying and matching the times of the GT4 class leaders. Shortly after the halfway mark he brought the car into the pits in sixth place to hand over to Chris, having gained a place back when the Ladas/Mallock KTM XBow hit problems.

The Barwell crew topped up the car with fuel, changed all four tyres for a fresh set of slicks and sent Chris on his way. He rejoined the race with the track surface still extremely greasy, and wisely didn’t push too hard until he had got sufficient heat into the fresh tyres. Once the Avons were up to temperature he really started to get into his stride, and as the circuit dried out Chris just got quicker and quicker. Soon he was matching, and then comfortably exceeding, his qualifying pace, and the Barwell Vantage was not only reeling in the factory Lotus of Glew/Jackson in fifth place but also setting faster lap times than the class leading Ginetta of McDonald/Denis! In the closing stages of the race the pressure that Chris was putting the Glew/Jackson car under clearly had an affect on the Lotus, leading to it crashing out of the race with less than 10 minutes to go. Chris and Peter thus claimed an excellent fifth place finish in the first event for Secure Racing with Barwell Motorsport.

Barwell Motorsport

Images British GT & Belcar
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