Barwell cars put in ​star performances in​ Aston Martin Le Mans Festiva​l​

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Barwell Motorsport was delighted to be part of the one-off Aston Martin Racing Festival of Le Mans race event at the weekend, which was supporting the Le Mans 24 Hours around the full eight mile

Circuit de la Sarthe. The Festival event saw Aston Martin GT1, GT2, GT3 and GT4 cars compete together for both overall and class honours in a 45-minute race on the Saturday morning. We had a two car team entered in this race, with Paul Whight's 2011-spec 6.0 litre V12 DBRS9 GT3 being shared by Barwell MD and former BTCC star, Mark Lemmer, and a Vantage GT4 being fielded under the Schrader Racing with Barwell banner for American drivers Fred Schrader and Kevin Buckler. Both cars featured strongly in the race action, as Lemmer and Whight led the wet race outright for six of the 10 laps and were set for a top three finish and class win before an incident dropped them to fourth, whilst the Schrader/Buckler car came out on top of a mighty scrap for third in GT4.

Track time was limited at Le Mans for the AMR Festival Pro-Am driver crews, with just one hour of free practice and one hour of qualifying preceding the race. Both Lemmer and Whight were quickly up to speed in the DBRS9 GT3, however, with Paul proving to be one of the very fastest of the amateur drivers in all classes, and Lemmer then going on to put the car third overall on the grid and second in GT3. This was an impressive performance given this was his first ever race in a DBRS9, and the fact that the car was having to run on its standard homologated GT3 gearing, which proved to be too short for the Le Mans straights and was hitting the rev-limiter in 6th gear (at 175mph) for long periods of time on five different points of the track! He was only out-qualified by the brand new 700bhp Vantage GT3 of Japanese pro Tomonabu Fujii, and the GT2 Vantage of former GP2 series runner-up and Indycar hopeful, Luca Filippi (but not by any of the GT1 cars!). Meanwhile Fred Schrader was improving every time he went out in the Vantage GT4, and then Buckler (who won the GT2 Class of the 2002 Le Mans 24 hours) did a sterling job to put the car third fastest in the GT4 class order. Again this was a highly impressive feat, given that nearly all of our opposition race these cars regularly in the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge series.

Prior to Saturday's race, all of the running on track had been done on slick dry tyres, but as Saturday morning dawned it was clear that wet tyres were going to be pressed into service for the first time as heavy rain hit Le Mans. This provided no issue for the team, however, as with our six years of DBRS9 experience we knew exactly what settings to put on the car for the different conditions. Despite the fact this was his first experience of the car in the wet, Lemmer was in no mood to sit behind another car's spray as the 30-strong field of Aston Martins took the rolling start, and was on the move as soon as the lights went green. Fujii's amateur partner in the GT3 Vantage, Frank Yu, was immediately swept aside from pole position by both Filippi and Lemmer and the two of them then duelled it out in a braking battle for the Dunlop chicane. Mark won this particular tussle and claimed the lead after a superb start from third position, then putting in an absolutely storming opening lap to establish a four-second lead over the single-seater star!

These two then enjoyed on an incredible fight for the lead in treacherous conditions over the next four laps, as they pulled over a minute clear of the rest of the field! Filippi closed to within two seconds in his GT2 Vantage at one stage, but Mark (quite literally) soaked up the pressure and pulled the gap back out to over four seconds by the time the Italian came into the pits at the end of lap four. As if the tricky conditions and having a driver of Filippi's calibre on your tail weren't enough of a handful, the Barwell man was also having to cope with an as-yet unidentified electronic throttle problem - which caused the throttle to stick open at random times! Paul took over the car at the end of the fifth lap and held onto the lead until the start of lap six when Filippi's team-mate, Brian Lavio, went past on the pits straight. The sticking throttle was causing Whight some lurid moments on a still very damp track surface, and unfortunately then got the better of him at the Ford chicane where he was pitched into a spin and out of second place overall and the GT3 lead. The DBRS9 then had to be pushed out of the gravel and Paul returned to the pits for a check over before rejoining and claiming 10th overall, fourth in GT3.

Fred started the Schrader Racing with Barwell Vantage GT4, and with this car right in the middle of the pack he had to cope with driving it around in a huge ball of spray at 170mph! After some of the pro drivers in rival cars had gone by, the Californian then settled into a good rhythm as he felt more and more confident with the excellent grip offered by Dunlop's wet tyres. He concentrated on getting good exits onto the straights (or should I say 'straightaways' in USA racing parlance ?!) and rebuffed the efforts of a big gaggle of class rivals during his stint. Schrader did a great job in conditions that he isn't used to racing in, and handed the car over to Kevin with it running around the top 10 out of the 18 GT4 runners.

Buckler (who is the boss of top-line US race team, The Racers Group) then set about hunting down the opposition, and had just one clear goal in his mind - to get the car into a podium finishing position. He immediately found his feet on the wet track and was one of the fastest GT4 cars on the circuit for the duration of his stint. With just one lap to go, however, he was up to fifth but it looked as though the podium was going to be out of reach and he would just run out of time to pick off another two cars. He was closing on the fourth placed car of David Clark (which started the lap eight seconds ahead), but then saw the second position car of Mantello/Bouche hit trouble and tumble down the order. This meant that with just half a lap of racing left, Kevin was hunting down Clark for that precious final podium spot!

Buckler not only caught his rival by the Mulsanne Straight but then pulled off a cracking manoeuvre into the second chicane, as he forced Clark to defend the inside line under brakes and then as he ran wide on the exit Kevin blasted past. This was a great result for Fred and Kevin, who were delighted to stand on the GT4 podium in the post-race awards ceremony. Fred then rewarded the Barwell crew by handing out some fabulous big cigars for us all to smoke afterwards!

Paul Whight: "What an amazing event! Barwell had the car on song from the first lap. Our old car held its head up and led the GT1s and GT2s for most of the race. When can we do it again...!?"

Mark Lemmer: "Leading a wet race at Le Mans in a V12 Aston Martin was something very special indeed. I'd just like to say a very big 'Thank You' to Paul Whight for inviting me to drive with him in this fantastic event."

Fred Schrader: "It was pretty hairy out there. I knew if I played it smart, kept pace and turned the car over in one piece to Bucky, we would have a helluva chance. That start in the something I will never forget...!"

Kevin Buckler: "Unbelievable! That was just awesome. The weather conditions were pretty horrific when we started and we had lots of curveballs thrown our way, but Fred drove an amazing first stint. I really wanted to get that guy on the last lap and send Fred and I home with some of the same amazing memories like I've had from this place.

Images © Richard Leach
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