Barwell Motorsport: Double-podium finishes at Spa

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

- Barwell’s Aston Martin Vantage claims GT4 podium in race two
- Barwell-engineered Beechdean DBRS9 scores 3rd place overall

The latest round of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship took place at the Spa-Francorchamps F1 track in Belgium last weekend, with two one-hour races on the Saturday. The Barwell Motorsport-run Aston Martin Vantage GT4 was having its second outing in the series, with drivers Peter Erceg and Chris Holmes tasting the podium champagne for the first time after a great run to third place in GT4 in race two. We also shared in the overall GT3 podium success in this race, with Barwell’s Mark Lemmer engineering the Beechdean Aston Martin DBRS9 to another third place finish for drivers Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam.

The Vantage GT4, entered under the Secure Racing with Barwell Motorsport banner, was one of the front-runners in the GT4 class from the very start of the Friday practice sessions. With the team using their first race at Brands Hatch in June really as a learning event, we were able to hit the ground running at Spa. Despite Chris never having been to the daunting seven-kilometre Spa circuit before, he quickly got to grips with its flowing high-speed turns, and was setting some very rapid lap times in the Aston Martin. This was no mean feat last weekend, as the British GT regulars were joined by both the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge and European GT4 Championship series competitors, swelling the number of cars on the track to 55! Peter was also bringing his times down well during the practice sessions, as he got to grips with the 450bhp Aston Martin Vantage GT4. The Kiwi driver carried this through to the first official qualifying session, qualifying sixth in GT4 for race one, whilst Chris was confident of fighting for pole position in his session. After a ‘banker’ lap warming up his tyres, he then attacked and set his best first sector time of the weekend but the lap was scuppered by the red flags coming out and stopping the session. His banker time was good enough for fourth, but if he had been able to complete his fastest lap then pole or second position was certainly on.

For the Beechdean GT3 entry, we were also supplying senior Barwell technician Mike Brown to boost their crew looking after the mechanical well-being of the car. He and Mark were working hard during the free practice sessions, when they made quite a few significant set-up changes to the DBRS9, which was then able to pump in consistently fast times over long runs. Unfortunately official qualifying didn’t go according to plan, with neither driver able to realise their true potential. In the amateur session Andrew hit traffic on all of his laps and was disappointed to line up 10th, whilst just as Jonny got his hard compound Avons (for the DBRS9) up to temperature he got badly blocked on one lap and then the red flags came out and restricted him to ninth on the grid for race two.

For this event there were two one-hour points scoring races for British GT, with each driver starting one race – the amateurs would start race one and the pros race two. Peter started race one and settled into a good rhythm, but as he was passing a slower Ginetta in the European GT4 series contact was made and he was worried that the car had been damaged. He carried on for a few more laps without any further dramas, until he came in to hand over to Chris midway through the race. Unfortunately the Safety Car came out and Peter got baulked behind it for half a lap before he got to the pits, and then during the stop the Barwell crew spotted that a wheel had been damaged during his earlier clash and it had to be changed. We thus lost a chunk of time to the pack ahead, but Chris did a good job in closing down the GT4 championship-leading KTM of Belshaw/Clutton and finished sixth just eight seconds behind at the end.

At the start of the race Andrew began to get stuck into chasing down the top 10 GT3 pack, and had picked off two of them by the time he came in for the mandatory driver change pit stop just before the half way stage. At this point the Safety Car was out to control the field, and thus we took advantage of this and also during the stop Mark’s attention to detail over the mandatory pit lane time paid off and we managed to jump one place up the order. Jonny thus came out in seventh place and set a scorching pace as he closed in on the leaders and moved up to fifth position. He closed down the fourth placed Tate/Mortimer Ferrari to just 0.8 seconds by the finish, and with one more lap would surely have taken this place.

Chris made a strong start to the second one-hour encounter, and was immediately right on the tail of the front three British GT4 contenders and hounding the two factory Lotus Evoras in front. The pace of these four was incredibly hot, and they left the rest of the GT4 field trailing in their wake. Chris was driving the wheels off the Barwell Aston Martin, and moved up the order as the cars ahead progressively came into the pits for their driver changes before us. Chris got his head down and tried to press home the advantage of having a clear track before coming in to hand over to Peter. This worked really well and with the pit lane timings worked out to perfection, Peter was able to blast out of the pits in the lead of the GT4 class – in only his second ever event at international level!

However, with the four cars behind him all sporting a ‘double-pro’ driver line-up, he was going to have his work cut out to try and defend the position. We lost one of the opposition when the Nordstrom/Clarke Lotus fell by the wayside, but Peter lost out in the heat of battle to the Denis/McDonald Ginetta and the sister Lotus of Glew/Jackson. As the race entered its closing stages he was holding onto third place well, and setting good lap times, but a small mistake let the KTM sneak past and with the tyres and brakes now past their best it looked like he would have to settle for fourth. The leading Ginetta struck trouble two laps from home, however, and the Barwell Aston’s great reliability thus enabled Peter to benefit and take a very well-deserved third place and first-ever British GT podium for Erceg, Holmes and the Secure Racing with Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4. “It was a fantastic result for the team,” said Peter afterwards, “To be on the podium, in an Aston Martin, at Spa and in only our 2nd round of the British GT Championship, it doesn't get much better than that!”

Jonny had done a great job in getting heat into his Avon tyres on the Beechdean Aston Martin DBRS9 during the warm-up lap for the start of race two, and was then able to really attack his rivals as soon as the lights went to green. Such was his pace and confidence on the opening lap that he moved up from ninth to sixth and was right on the leading bunch of cars! Belying the fact that this was his first ever visit to Spa, he then proceeded to get stuck into a three-way scrap for fourth place, which he soon came out on top of. He subsequently fell foul of some oil dropped on the track at Les Combes corner and slide wide, slipping back down to sixth again, before making one place back prior to coming into the pits!

Another precisely timed pit lane visit put Andrew back out into the race in second position, behind the leading Ferrari 458 of Cameron/Griffin and just ahead of the Fisken/Bridgman Porsche. These three then pulled out a big gap over the rest of the pack as they put on a great fight for the race victory. With two laps to go Fisken managed to push Andrew’s Aston down to third, but the Beechdean man stayed on his bumper and the three lead cars started the final lap with less than two seconds separating them! Unfortunately slower traffic got in the way of the tussle, but Andrew brought the car home for a superb third place finish. “This was a terrific result in what is one of the oldest GT3 cars in the world,” commented Mark Lemmer. “I was extremely happy with the set-up that we got on the car and the Avon tyres worked really well in the race.”
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