Petronas-Barwell: Van Hooydonk & Verbergt claim fourth place in 2011 Belcar Championship

Monday, October 24, 2011

Barwell Motorsport ran the Aston Martin DBRS9 in its first ever race – the 2006 FIA GT3 European Championship’s debut event at Silverstone in 2006. Fittingly, six seasons later, it was also us fielding the glorious 6-litre V12 machine in its last ever outing as a ‘current’ competitive GT3 car, in the last round of the Belcar Endurance Championship at Spa. The cream of Europe’s GT teams were present for the final big three-hour event of the 2011 calendar, and the Petronas-Barwell Racing DBRS9 entry of Jeffrey Van Hooydonk and Tim Verbergt battled hard over fifth place throughout the event with the two Audis of new European Champions WRT Racing. Jeffrey and Tim eventually claimed seventh place in the race and with it fourth position in the 2011 Belcar Drivers’ Championship standings. Taking out the Zolder 24 Hours event (not part of our programme in Belgium with the DBRS9), this result also meant that our drivers were the second highest points-scorers in the other five main championship events that we contested.

A chilly but sunny Spa was the perfect setting for the end of the 2011 European GT racing season, which has been one of the all-time classics in terms of the quality and competitiveness of both the European and national championships. Most of the top entries from the premier Blancpain Endurance Series were present for the Belcar season-closer, including the top three teams, WRT (Audi), Marc VDS (BMW) and Vita4One (Ferrari). We were also battling WRT for second and third in the Belcar Drivers Championship (with the winners already decided), and to help protect their positions Audi had brought in ‘star’ third drivers in each of their cars including former Le Mans winner, Stephane Ortelli, and Formula Superleague front-runner, Julien Jousse. They obviously felt seriously threatened by the Petronas-Barwell Racing Aston camp!

Our Aston Martin Brussels-backed DBRS9 commenced battle with the Audis during Saturday’s official qualifying session, which was the most competitive ever seen at Spa in GT3 racing. Pole position was set by the Vita4One Ferrari 458 Italia, with a GT3 record-breaking 2m19.2s lap that is approaching the pace of GT1 cars of just a few seasons ago (and quicker than the 2011 GT2 benchmark)! Our Aston Martin set the pace at Spa only two years ago but is now outgunned by the ‘new generation’ GT3 cars, although we did set the fastest ever DBRS9 time around Spa on Saturday with a great 2m21.3s effort that split the Audis and put us seventh on the grid.

The rolling start of Sunday’s 3-Hour (with 3 mandatory pit stops) encounter was quite a hectic one, with Koen Wauters outbraking himself into the La Source hairpin in the KRK Mercedes, and the big GT cars running up to three abreast into the tight first corner. Tim Verbergt gained a place from Wauters in the Barwell Aston but then lost one as the Longin/Maassen/Jousse Audi slipped past. He gained another on the opening lap when the Chad/Scuderia Vittoria Ferrari 458 suffered problems and retired, but Tim then got pushed back by the Black Bull Swiss Racing Ferrari on the run up the Kemmel straight, so completed lap one still in seventh place!

Frustratingly Tim was being held up by the Black Bull Ferrari for much of his stint, but just couldn’t find a way past the Swiss-run machine. We thus brought him in after 40 minutes, a few laps earlier than planned, for a perfect pit stop from the Barwell crew where we took on board a timed amount of fuel and changed the front tyres for a fresh set. Unfortunately KRK had brought Koen (who had been behind Tim) into the pits a few laps earlier and this had enabled Kumpen to jump ahead of us by the time Jeffrey rejoined the fray. Shortly before the hour mark we were back residing in seventh place, however, as the Black Bull Ferrari had crashed out of the race and subsequently brought out the Safety Car.

With the Aston able to do one hour on a tank of fuel, the timing of the Safety Car meant that with two hours to go we could take advantage of the situation to bring Jeff back in the pits for our second mandatory pit stop. Team boss Mark Lemmer was quick to react to the opportunity and gave Van Hooydonk the call on the radio to come into the pits immediately. Once there we filled up the fuel tank and fitted four fresh Michelins to take him through another hour of racing before our final stop. Jeffrey thus rejoined the circuit and caught the pack of the leaders behind the Safety Car. Out of the cars ahead of us at the time, the Prospeed Porsche, Vita4One Ferrari, Marc VDS BMW and KRK Merc all did the same, but strangely the Audis stayed out behind the Safety Car for a few more laps before pitting, which meant that they automatically came out of the pits behind the rest of us who had got our stops done earlier.

When the race resumed a few laps later Jeff was thus promoted to fifth place and was embroiled in a three car scrap for third place with the Bouvy-driven BMW and the Wauters-driven Mercedes. After a few laps it was clear that Bouvy was the slowest of this trio and was holding both Wauters and Jeff up, which was allowing the Longin/Maassen/Jousse Audi to close back up. Soon the Audi was right on Jeff’s tail, but it then slid down another snake as it had been awarded a drive-through penalty for a pit stop infringement, and this gave the fifth-placed Petronas-Barwell Aston some breathing space once more. By the end of Jeff’s stint, however, the Audi had reeled in and passed the Aston and thus Van Hooydonk was called back into the pits from sixth place with one hour to go.

It was then the well-drilled and rehearsed Barwell pit crew’s turn to spring back into action once more, for their last Belcar pit stop of the season. Again there was not a moment lost as they filled the car with fuel and changed all four tyres faultlessly. Tim jumped in for the final hour and had the unenviable task of trying to keep the Audi of Stephane Ortelli at bay in the fight for sixth place. Verbergt drove a very strong stint but was powerless to resist the pace of a very fast Audi being driven by one of the very fastest sportscar drivers in the world. Tim thus brought the DBRS9 home for a hard earned seventh place finish in its final race amongst top-drawer competition, certainly the best result possible on the day without any major dramas befalling our main rivals. The big Barwell-prepared Aston had once again not missed a beat, completing another year with a 100% reliability record.

Spa thus brought our mainstream GT season to a close, and we would like to thank everyone involved in allowing us to be involved with the fantastic DBRS9 (in its ultimate 2011 technical specification) for one more year – especially José and Marleen of Aston Martin Brussels, Petronas and all of the team’s sponsors, and our great drivers, Jeffrey Van Hooydonk and Tim Verbergt.
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