Poole & Abra robbed of certain victory on Aston Martin Vantage GT3 debut

Friday, November 09, 2012

Barwell Motorsport started a new chapter of its successful Aston Martin Racing story at Donington Park last weekend, when we ran Mark Poole and Richard Abra’s stunning new MP Motorsport-liveried Aston Martin Vantage GT3 for its first race event. This was the final round of the Britcar British Endurance Championship, a 4-hour night race held in freezing conditions around the fast sweeps of the Donington National circuit. The car certainly made an impact first time out, taking pole position, fastest race lap and comfortably leading the first hour of the race. A debut victory seemed certain, but lady luck intervened and another car spun in front of us, sending Mark into the gravel in order to avoid a collision. Unfortunately a poorly co-ordinated recovery effort by the race officials then compounded our woes, and meant we lost a total of 10 laps which dropped us out of contention for the win, but Mark and Richard then staged a superb recovery which clawed back six of those laps and netted fourth overall and third in class at the finish.

Saturday morning’s official qualifying session would decide the grid order for the race, which was set for a dusky start just before four p.m. on the same day. After posting the fastest time in Friday evening’s official ‘night practice’ session, Richard was confident of fighting for pole position, but the very cold and wet conditions and some traction control concerns meant that it was going to be quite a challenge to get the most out of the 6-litre V12 British ‘beast’! Abra delivered a superb performance, however, and fought off a threat from Javier Morcillo’s Mosler to claim pole position by 4/10ths of a second.

Richard and Javier continued their battle on a dry track during the rolling start for the 4-hour encounter, with the Mosler driver using the considerable grunt of the American machine to challenge our JCAM-backed Aston Martin on the run down to the first corner. Abra confidently held the inside line and kept the Mosler at bay to stave off this initial challenge, and Morcillo then kept him honest during the opening few laps on cold tyres.  As soon as the Barwell Aston’s Dunlops were up to full operating temperature, however, his main rival was a smaller and smaller glow in Richard’s rear-view mirror. This was a highly impressive debut in Britcar Class 1 and GT3-level competition for Abra, as he set a series of consistently fast times which absolutely demolished the rest of the field. Such was his pace that he was exceeding our expected fuel consumption figures, and the Barwell engineers had to reluctantly radio him to ease off a fraction!

Incredibly, as the race approached the first hour mark, Richard had managed to lap everyone apart from the second-placed Mosler. Although we were expecting to have to make an extra re-fuelling pit stop over our main rivals in the two GT2 Ferrari 430s (as Britcar rules dictate that you can only put in a maximum of 50 litres at each stop), our speed advantage was such that we would easily overcome this factor on our way to what would have been a comfortable race win. Richard brought the car into the pits just before the first hour was up as planned, and after the Barwell crew had provided further fuel and some fresh rubber, Mark took over the reins for his first race stint aboard the Vantage GT3. Just as we were completing our scheduled stop, the race was put under Safety Car conditions due to an incident on track, but as Mark approached the pit lane exit the Safety Car was still over on the opposite side of the circuit and thus he should have been allowed to rejoin the race track immediately. Unfortunately the marshal controlling the pit lane exit made a mistake and kept the exit lights on red, forcing Mark to stop unnecessarily. The team re-checked the track and there was still no sight of the Safety Car even approaching the start/finish straight, but still Mark and now other cars were being detained. After seeing nearly 30 seconds of our hard-earned lead wasted away by the bungling official, and the engine water temperature alarm now flashing on the Aston’s dash, we had had enough and team boss Mark Lemmer radioed Mark Poole to leave the pit lane. Shortly after this the official realised his mistake and switched the lights to green!

With the sun now having set and the circuit plunged into full darkness, Mark then carried on the good work once the field was back under full race conditions, and continued to increase the gap to the second-placed Mosler, which he was working on putting a full lap down on us. Shortly into the second hour of racing a light drizzle of rain descended upon Donington Park, which instantly made the track surface very greasy and slippery. With all of the cars on slick dry tyres, driving conditions became quite treacherous and the driver of the Mosler got caught out as he entered the first corner and sent the big car spinning across the track. Unfortunately for Mark he was first on the scene soon after the Mosler driver had lost control, and left with the choice of either ploughing into the side of the stricken Mosler or straightening up his Aston and sending it into the gravel trap. He thus had no real option and through no fault of his own ended up in the gravel bed on the outside of the corner. With the Mosler also stuck there and both cars in a dangerous place, the race was again put under Safety Car conditions to allow the cars to be recovered safely back to the pits. For some reason it took the marshals two laps before they even approached the cars and they then seemed unclear as to what their recovery plan was going to be, costing us more and more precious time. Extraordinarily they then towed the cars through the side gate on the outside of the corner, into the far end of the outer paddock area, and just left them there, without any form of communication with the drivers as to how they were to get back to the pits! By this stage we had sent down some crew members to see what was going on, and they quickly organised a tow vehicle to get the Aston back to the pit lane.

By the time we had got the car back into the pit lane after this debacle, the pit crew checked there was no gravel in the engine bay, re-fuelled, put it on wet tyres and sent it back into the fray, we had lost the one lap lead we’d built up over the rest of the opposition before the incident, and a further nine laps to boot. With nearly two and a half hours of the race still remaining, we had time to claw our way back up the order, but without any major dramas befalling the lead cars it was going to be an impossibility to recover our race winning position. The drivers and team all got stuck into the job in hand, however, and soon we were back into the top 10 overall as Mark and Richard used the car’s superior pace to full advantage.  Worryingly, however, there was a noise coming from underneath the front of the car, although the car’s performance didn’t seem to be affected by whatever it was. At the next scheduled pit stop the Barwell mechanics had a look under the car, and saw that the aluminium floor panel under the engine bay had been damaged during the car’s trip into the gravel. Although it was making a noise, the technicians were comfortable that it wasn’t presenting any danger and also wasn’t costing us any lap time. During the next stint the noise worsened though, and it was clear the floor section was now scraping on the ground, and thus we took the decision to remove it at the final stop.

The crew then did a great job to remove the offending piece in an efficient manner, and with the loss of only a matter of seconds of extra time. Mark thus blasted out of the pit lane for the final 35 minutes of the race, and drove a great stint as he matched the best times he had set in the car during testing but this time in pitch black night and on very old tyres! He moved the car up to fourth place (and third in Class 1), and was closing on the third-placed Chevron at a mighty rate, but just needed a few more laps to claim the final overall podium spot. Having been 10 laps down on the overall winning Ferrari 430 GT2 after the incident with the Mosler, Mark and Richard were just four behind at the finish after a remarkable fight back. A simple calculation shows that without the earlier delay it would have been quite a commanding victory for the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 on its debut...

Richard Abra: " Despite the incident with the Mosler our first race experience in the new Aston GT3 was amazing, it was great to stage such a fight back in the race and I’m really looking forward to getting back in the car. Massive thanks to all the guys at Barwell Motorsport for turning out such a great car, I can’t wait to have another go! "

Barwell Motorsport
  • Digg
  • del.icio.us
  • StumbleUpon
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Technorati
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis
  • MySpace
  • LinkedIn
  • Live
  • Google
  • Reddit
  • Sphinn
  • Propeller
  • Slashdot
  • Netvibes