Barwell Motorsport: Swan Song British GT Victory for Aston Martin DBRS9 at Silverstone

Monday, October 10, 2011

 The last round of this year’s British GT Championship was a top quality event, with 30 fabulous GT racing cars contesting a two-hour race around the classic sweeps of the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. Barwell Motorsport was being represented by three Aston Martins across three different classes in the race – the Barwell-engineered Beechdean DBRS9 going for overall GT3 honours, joined by Paul Whight’s DBRS9 in GT3B and the Secure Racing with Barwell Motorsport Vantage GT4 entry. It was the Beechdean car – the oldest GT3 chassis on the grid – that brought home the bacon, however, with a resounding overall victory by 22 seconds after great drives from both Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam.

Barwell’s Mark Lemmer was confident that he had found a great set-up on Beechdean’s 2011-spec DBRS9, and the high-downforce machine is well-suited to the fast curves of the Silverstone GP track. Jonny Adam then duly delivered a stunning qualifying lap which planted the car on overall pole position, an incredible achievement for a chassis built in 2005 against much more recent cutting-edge opposition from Porsche, Audi, Mercedes, Ford, and no less than six new Ferrari 458s! It was also double-pole success for Barwell in qualifying, as the Paul Whight/Andy Ruhan DBRS9 machine also took the honours in GT3B (for older-spec GT3 machinery). This was a superb performance from Paul, who was having his first race of the season without the benefit of any testing, and blew off the cobwebs in style!

Meanwhile in GT4, by the time of Saturday morning’s qualifying session we were just thankful that we had an Aston Martin Vantage chassis to wheel out for the day! Unfortunately during Friday’s slippery first free practice session Peter Erceg suffered a big ‘off’ which badly damaged the front end of the regular Dtex-backed Vantage GT4 machine. There was insufficient time to rebuild the car in time for Saturday, and thus we immediately contacted our friends at Aston Martin Racing to see if we could hire in their GT4 ‘test car’ as a replacement for the race day! Thankfully they were able to help us out, but the car was on track day duty during Friday and we couldn’t get our hands on it until 8pm that evening. The Barwell mechanics then carried out an intense night of work preparing the car, and making some alterations to the fuel system to convert it for re-fuelling from our fuel rig during the two-hour race. Saturday morning’s half hour qualifying was thus little more than a ‘shakedown’ test for Peter and ‘celebrity guest’ driver, Tiff Needell, who was making his Vantage GT4 race debut.

There was hectic action throughout the field in the opening laps of the 2-hour race, as the packed 30-car grid put on some great racing. With the Aston Martin DBRS9 running on slightly harder compound Avon rubber, it is vulnerable in the early stages of the race as it takes longer to get heat into the tyres than its rivals on the softer compound. Both Andrew and Paul suffered from this and lost places as they were forced to tread carefully until their Avons were up to proper working temperature. Paul’s time loss was compounded when he was nudged off the track by a rival car, dropping him down to third in GT3B. Peter was suffering from a different reason for losing time – the replacement Vantage GT4 is a lower specification car and a good three seconds a lap slower than his 2011-spec machine! Unfortunately this left him and Tiff powerless to make any progress in the GT4 rankings, and thus all they could do was stay out of trouble and bring it home.

Andrew had done a good job of coping with the difficult first few laps, and when his tyres were hot he started to come back with a vengeance from fifth place and attack some of the cars that had passed him early on. He successfully reeled in and passed the Porches of Fisken/Bridgman and Ashburn/Westbrook, to claim third spot, and was then keeping pace with the second place Ferrari of Bateman/Lyons. The leading Audi of Osborne/Brown was, unlike the rest of the front-running pack, being driven by its ‘Pro’, Joe Osborne (a former British GT race-winner in Barwell’s Ginetta-Zytek!), and was thus a fair way in front. Andrew then suffered a quick spin and slipped back behind the Jones twins’ Mercedes, to lie in fourth position as the pit stop/driver change ‘window’ was about to open.

Another man on a charge was Paul Whight, who was absolutely flying on his 2011 race debut once his tyres had joined the party. After receiving the nudge he was carving his way back up the order, and after 40 minutes was back in the lead of the GT3B Class having overtaken the Lamborghini Gallardo of Atkinson/Pickford. His task now was trying to build a gap for Andy Ruhan (freshly crowned as GT Cup Champion) to defend against the Pros in the rival cars. Paul was clearly pushing hard and setting excellent lap times, but as he approached the pit stop period he started to feel unwell. This affected his concentration and unfortunately just one lap away from being in the ‘fuel’ window where he could come in and hand over to Andy, he spun and hit the barriers at Stowe corner. Sadly the damage was sufficient to put the Aston Martin DBRS9 out of the race on the spot, and denied poor Andy a shot at giving Barwell Motorsport a class victory in GT3B.

The Safety Car thus came out whilst they removed Paul’s car from the scene of the crime, and there was a flurry of activity in the pit lane as the field came in to re-fuel, change tyres and swap drivers for the final hour. Jonny Adam thus rejoined the fray in fourth spot, still under the Safety Car conditions, but had a string of backmarkers between him and the third place Mercedes. When the race was restarted he made short work of getting onto the tail of the big German machine, but he now had Westbrook in the Porsche breathing down his neck and had to tackle the notoriously hard-to-pass Jones’ Mercedes quickly. Jonny wasted absolutely no time in out-foxing Jones through the hairpins, however, and proved that you can squeeze two extremely big GT cars alongside each other on one of the tightest parts of the track! The Scotsman then pulled off a beautiful manoeuvre to pass the Bateman/Lyons Ferrari as they blasted into the high-speed Becketts section, before reeling in and overtaking the leading Audi. With just over half an hour to go he had earned himself a four-second gap over the Westbrook/Ashburn Porsche in second, but he never gave the Porsche a sniff of the exhaust of the big Aston as he stretched out his lead to over 20 seconds. So good were the combination of Barwell car set-up and driver that Jonny was able to set fastest overall race sector times during his final few laps!

In the Secure Racing with Barwell Motorsport GT4 entry, Peter Erceg had shaken off any nerves after his accident the day before, and put in a faultless stint to guide the Aston Martin Vantage through the first half of the race. Tiff took over and also settled into a consistent race pace, but like Peter was also unable to force the replacement machine to get anywhere near the pace of its front-running rivals. The former F1 driver was clearly enjoying his stint behind the wheel, however, and brought the car home for a sixth place points finish.
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