GT3 front runners faulter at Rockingham

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

The script was to have should have gone something along the lines of both TF sport cars continuing their dominance in both qualifying and Sunday morning warm up with a one-two finish come two hours after the green flag.

The trouble is that motor racing is notorious for not following the script and Sunday's two hour endure proved to be a disappointment for TF Sport but then a delight for another Aston Martin Racing squad.

The opening lap proved to be relatively uneventful of the #1 car as Johnston quickly established a lead of several seconds over the chasing pack. Farmer meanwhile had dropped a place but the best start was reserved for James Littlejohn in the #24 MacMillan GT3 who had stormed up from the fourth row of the grid and up to third by the end of the first lap. All was soon neutralised however with the first Safety Car due to a stranded Ginetta.

Littlejohn was having the best race of his short GT3 racing career hassling Minshaw in the #33 Lamborghini - allowing Johnston to pull away but damage had been sustained to the steering of the #1 car (after hitting a kerb after a brief and unseen excursion onto the infield) leading to persistent and chronic understeer. Rapidly loosing the top spot to the the #33 and #24 going into turn 1 it began to be a game of damage limitation for the #1 car as the team little understanding to the cause to his grip issues.

The understeer issue for Johnston was also the direct reason for him being awarded a 5 second penalty for persistant track limit violations. Meanwhile the fastest qualifying GT3 Am Driver, Mark Farmer would have issues of his own as he would spin out of fourth position on the infield section of the circuit before being able to continue having already lost several places.

Forty minutes in another Safety Car period for another beached Ginetta again bunched the pack behind the now leading MacMillan GT3 of Littlejohn.

Back in the highly competitive GT4 class the #62 Academy Motorsport car of Will Moore was the best placed of TeamAMR crews holding a slightly distant fifth to the then class leaders.

On the hour mark the #24 MacMillan was first to pit for Littlejohn to hand over to Jack Mitchell before almost the entire grid followed suit. The lack of any success time penalty for the #24 from previous races allowed Mitchell to exit the pit lane with effectively an extended lead.

With three quarters of an hour to go the race to the flag really began in earnest as Mitchell fought to maintain a lead over the chasing Bentley of Seb Morris and the Ferrari of Matt Griffin but a mistake from Mitchell gaining through the chicane and onto the finish straight allowed both followers to force they way. All was not lost however as the Spirit of Race Ferrari also had a 5 second penalty to add on to his finishing time.

Twenty five minutes remained when another Ginetta made it a full house of stranded cars in the gravel forcing a very confusing Safety Car period when it picked up the track leading Ferrari and not the actual race leading Bentley. Upon release Griffin was able to make his distance as the others were forced to battle for position. Mitchell (still P3) was having to defend his position but at least the two TF Sport cars were able to mix it again with those ahead as both Adam and Barnes looked to recover their individual situations.

Entering the final laps Mitchell had mirrors full of the two Barwell Lamborghini's but managed to hang on and secure his team first GT3 podium position by less than 1/10th of a second. Behind then and despite the #1 car finishing ahead of its sister #11 car Johnston's penalty would swap the cars around in the amended classification.

The same penalty was of course added to the time of the 'winning' #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari plus an additional 23 seconds for an apparent incident of avoidable contact with the #31 Bentley but that only reduced their position to second, fractionally ahead of the #24 car.

Whilst MacMillan Racing enjoyed their best performance yet from their GT3 crew the fortunes of its sister GT4 car (Jan Jonck and Will Phillips) was not so memorable. A change to the cars BoP made the car lighter but then had any advantage removed with a longer pit stop and despite some very determined driving from the duo, together with some understeer issues arising from a damaged front splitter and floor only managed to finish P11 in class.

Academy's Will Moore and Matt Nichol Jones faired better in their Vantage GT4 by continuing to show that they have a driver line up and car with pace (elbows kept well and truly in this time) to finish P5 in class a they now prepare themselves for round two of the European GT4 Northern Cup at Brands Hatch this weekend.

For some there is now a break as the Championship now moves onto Snetterton and two - one hour races at the end of May. Others may have International or European duties to fulfil in between.

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