Petronas-Barwell: Van Hooydonk & Verbergt poised to take 3rd place when race stopped with 30 minutes to go

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Barwell Motorsport was back on international racing duty last weekend, when we contested the latest round of the Belcar Championship at Zolder with the ‘Petronas-Barwell’ Aston Martin DBRS9 GT3. With a great set-up on the car and an excellent race strategy in place, we were very well positioned in the race to comfortably take third position and probably secure second, but then the race was stopped prematurely due to a serious incident in the pit lane where a person had been knocked over and injured by a Ferrari during its pit stop. The final results were then declared at this stage, which meant that we were classified in fourth position.

After a successful test day on the Thursday before the race, we knew that we had made good progress with the set-up of the Petronas/Aston Martin Brussels-backed DBRS9, and had better pace around Zolder than at our previous visit in April. We were thus confident of qualifying in the top two rows, and devised a strategy for the Saturday qualifying sessions that would minimise tyre wear on our Michelin rubber and give us tyres in great shape for Sunday’s 125 minute race. After the first 30 minute qualifying session we were satisfied with a strong lap from Jeffrey van Hooydonk that put us third on the grid at that stage, and thus kept to our strategy for the second session. During this Tim Verbergt only did the very minimum number of laps necessary for him to qualify, and circulated at a very sedate pace. For most of the session it looked like we would hang on to third spot, but then late on the Maassen/Longin Audi chipped our time by a mere 16/1000ths of a second!

After the opening lap of the race a Porsche had deposited a large amount of fluids out of its engine onto the race track, and this made for treacherous circuit conditions as it was extremely hard for the drivers (on slick tyres) to judge exactly how much grip they would have both when braking and during cornering. Jeffrey had several lurid moments when the slippery track surface sent the Aston sliding around in unexpected directions, but he managed to keep the big V12-engined machine on the track. Unfortunately the Vanthoor/Wauters Mercedes was not so lucky and suffered a big accident which brought out the Safety Car after only 10 minutes of racing. Jeffrey was running in fourth place at the time, but this was a ‘real’ third as the Maassen/Longin Audi was due to come in for a one-minute penalty due to a regulations infringement by the team on the grid. The Safety Car picked up the three leaders but the time lost behind it for us was minimised by quick thinking from Barwell chief, Mark Lemmer, who brought Jeffrey into the pits as soon as he came round to take one of our mandatory two pit stops.

With the leading Porsche and Mercedes not following this strategy and thus getting caught behind the Safety Car for another lap, we should have leap-frogged them in the running order but unfortunately delays surrounding the driver change (where Jeffrey had to get out and then back in again to continue his stint) cost us valuable time. This kept us behind the Porsche and Mercedes, but also behind the Audi of Verbist/Ide which had started from the pit lane and then had the extreme fortune of being able to come straight into the pits before it got caught behind the Safety Car, thus jumping it up from fifth place straight into the lead.

With the Maassen/Longin Audi having taken its penalty, Jeff thus re-emerged from the pits in fourth place right on the tail of the leading trio of Audi, Porsche and Mercedes. Unfortunately the Kumpen/Wauters Mercedes was now being driven by its amateur pilot, Koen Wauters, and he was clearly holding the Petronas-Barwell Aston up and losing ground to the front two. Koen is a quick amateur driver, however, and the combination of his pace and the strong power and braking ability of the Mercedes meant that Jeffrey just couldn’t find a way past. This was costing us in the region of one second a lap, which Jeffrey proved when the Merc pitted and he instantly lapped quicker with free air in front of him.

With just over 50 minutes to go Jeffrey pitted from third place for a full ‘service’ – re-fuel, four-wheel change and driver change to Tim. With the Kumpen/Wauters Mercedes having now suffered a problem and dropped out of contention, this meant that Tim should have re-joined in third and been able to start attacking the Verbist/Ide Audi for second. A broken right rear wheel nut on the DBRS9 caused a delay with the wheel change, however, and meant that Verbergt came out just under 10 seconds behind the Bouvy/Coens Ford GT in fourth.

A fired up Tim then set about hunting down the Ford, and was absolutely flying as our qualifying strategy was now paying dividends with Verbergt having a lovely fresh set of Michelins at his disposal. He set the second fastest overall race lap as he relentlessly closed down the Ford, which was now visibly on the ragged edge trying to keep our Aston at bay. With just under half an hour of the race to go, Tim had closed to within two seconds of his prey and it would only be a matter of a few laps before we reclaimed third place. By this time, however, the pit lane incident had occurred and once the serious nature of it had been established the event officials stopped the race and declared the result early.

  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes