Generation AMR: Young Guns fight back at Spa

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The third round of the 2011 FIA GT4 European Cup saw the teams head to Spa for two one hour long, action packed races in a change to the normal format. Sharing the grid with the British GT Championship, the Dutch GT4 Championship and the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge of Great Britain, the Generation AMR pairing of Ant Scragg and James Appleby found themselves in the mix with 39 other GT4 cars and 15 GT3 cars in what was to prove to be an epic weekend of motorsport at this legendary circuit.

Having not tested at the circuit prior to the meeting, Ant and James had to rely on their experience of racing once at the circuit in 2010, where they had battled against each other for over two hours in the Aston Martin race. Both proved to be quicker than any other GT4 drivers last year, so after the strong results at Round 2 at Silverstone, where they had achieved two fourth places and a third, both drivers were more than ready to battle with the hugely experienced international drivers that have dominated the series so far.

Free Practice and Qualifying

Free practices were held on Friday morning and the team methodically worked the car and drivers through a development programme to fine tune the potential of their 2011 spec Aston Martin GT4 race car. With some tyres saved from Silverstone, Generation AMR topped the Euro GT4 section of the timing sheet in Free Practice 2 and sent a clear message to the rest of the field that they meant business!

With 55 cars attempting to qualify in both 15 minute sessions, not even 7 kilometres of track seemed enough space to get clear of all the traffic. However, in Q1 James Appleby set a truly spectacular time of 2:34.252, taking provisional pole and going faster than any other Aston Martin GT4 has ever gone around Spa until the Ekris BMW, driven by Ricardo Van Der Ende, stormed to the top by over a second, only to be beaten by the Lotus of Cor Euser by just 2 hundredths! Content with P3, the team elected to save the tyres for the race and with no significant threat out on track, James pitted to handover to Ant.

Ant went straight out at the start of the second session to try and find a window of opportunity, pushing hard to build heat in the tyres and set a quick time early on. His first attempt was severely compromised by traffic, with less experienced drivers “not being totally aware of their surroundings”, so at the end of his second lap, the team instructed him to back out of the run and find space for his next attempt. Unfortunately, just as Ant was finding space to attack the timing board, a major incident at Eau Rouge resulted in the session being red flagged, with the team having to settle for P4. The Hardinge and Spa Hotel backed pair were not disappointed though, as their tyres had been saved in both sessions for the crucial one hour races to come on the Saturday.

Race 1

Saturday dawned bright and wet at Spa, with heavy rain having descended all night and into the morning. Fortunately, the track dried quickly and race one saw James starting from 18th on the grid. The rolling start of 55 cars was clean and he quickly asserted himself through Eau Rouge, using the torque of the Aston Martin to power past the BMW and the Lotus up the hill and into P1. Although he built a 1 second gap by the end of Lap 2 which he pushed harder each lap to maintain, the speed of the Lotus through the tighter corners proved too much by Lap 8 and he let Cor Euser through to save the car for Ant’s stint after the pit stop. However, under pressure James continued to apply the Lotus out-braked himself and James gladly retook the lead and built a 5 second gap before the safety car was deployed due to a Ginetta in the British GT Championship getting it “all wrong”.

The team rapidly assessed their position on track and, unlike many of the competitors who immediately pitted, left James to push on and catch the safety car. He did so exactly on cue and then slipped into the previously hectic pit lane with plenty of space. A perfect pit stop by the young engineers who are part Generation AMR’s development programme put Ant out still P1 on the road but behind the safety car, which had bunched the field up while the damaged car was removed from the circuit.

At the restart, Ant pushed harder than he had ever done in a race, opening a gap of 2.5 seconds, but now it was the Ekris BMW in the hands of Duncan Huisman that showed its true pace, overtaking the Marcos International Lotus and closing the gap rapidly as Ant fought his way quickly through the traffic ahead. On Lap 17, Huisman bravely moved onto the grass approaching the final chicane and forced his way past Ant. Not to be out done, Ant maintained the pressure, with the gap ebbing and flowing over the next 3 laps until the BMW encountered traffic through Eau Rouge and Ant pounced, powering up the hill and clean past the leading car.

What followed saw the team holding their breath for two and a half laps, as Ant was hounded by the BMW, with the Lotus chasing both cars hard. It was nip and tuck all the way, with clean yet hard racing between Ant and Huisman, each trying to out fox the other as the finish drew ever closer. At the line, the BMW tried all he could, but Ant stormed past the chequered flag to record the team’s first victory.

Race 2

In race 2, it was Ant’s turn to start from 21st on the grid and after a perfectly clean run through La Source, he emerged up the hill in P3, chasing down the Rhesus Racing Aston Martin that was now in P2. The team had worked hard on the setup of the car and it showed over the next few laps as Ant hounded the back of the Rhesus car, tagging it a couple of times as Jan Joris Verheul drove very defensively in order to keep hold of his 2nd place. Meantime, the Ekris BMW had taken full advantage of this battle, building an 8 second lead before the Marco International Lotus slipped past Ant on Lap 7.

Not daunted by this change in position, Ant focussed on reeling them both in, but he needn’t have worried. The Lotus made a significant error trying to pass the Rhesus car, which enabled Ant to breeze past him. Meantime, Generation AMR’s Team Manager, Jeremy Doncaster, was watching the timing screens carefully and advised Ant of oil at Turn 5 as soon as the warning came on the monitor. Ant calmly pressured the Rhesus car, who obviously hadn’t received the same news off his team and so when the pair arrived at Les Combes, one failed to brake and the Generation AMR car sailed safely past and into second place.

By now the Ekris BMW was over 12 seconds in the lead having taken full advantage of the fun going on behind. Ant continued to push and brought the car in at the end of Lap 11, handing over to James during another faultless performance by the pit crew. James went out to close the gap on the BMW, who had yet to pit, and smoothly drove round the mass of slower GT4 cars that were focussed on their own races. After the BMW had pitted, James found himself still in P2, with the BMW retaining the lead and the 3rd place car some 14 seconds behind. So with good focus, James set about putting in consistently quick times, hoping that an incident or error by the BMW could close the gap. It wasn’t to be though, so at the line the BMW took the win and James took second, with the Rhesus Racing Aston Martin a distant 3rd, 26 seconds being the Generation AMR car.


“It was an amazing feeling seeing Ant come across the line 1st in race one and I so wanted to repeat that feeling in race 2, but we cannot complain with the second place – this has been the best race weekend of my life so far!” quipped James Appleby after race 2. “The team has done a great job all weekend and thanks to the continued support of our partners, the Hardinge Group and The Spa Hotel, as well as our technical partners, we’ve been able to show what young talent can do against seasoned and highly experienced international racers. Wow, what an awesome weekend – let’s get to Zolder!”

“We really couldn’t ask for more” added Ant Scragg. “The car was so well balanced, we’re still not as quick as the BMW’s or the Lotus’s through the slow to medium speed corners, but this has to be the best feeling in the world, beating those guys at Spa. There’s world class drivers on this grid and for James and I to mix it up with them like this is truly a great moment in our careers and something we aim to repeat time and time again. The team did a brilliant job with the car and the strategies and I can’t thank them enough. This weekend is a massive points haul for us and we’re now in a strong position, championship wise, at the half-way point”.

Ant Scragg now lies 5th in the European Drivers Championship, with James Appleby in 4th and Generation AMR a creditable 3rd in the Teams Championship in their inaugural year. Round 4 takes place on the 16th & 17th July, with the teams moving to Zolder for two 25 minute races and a 50 minute main event. The team will be keeping everyone up to date on the Facebook page and via twitter @generationamr.

Images courtesy of Xynamic Motorsport Photography
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