MacMillan Racing - Rockingham race report

Monday, May 01, 2017

#24 AMR V12 Vantage GT3 Mitchell/Littlejohn

Sunday’s first long-format race of the Championship was a great one for Macmillan AMR, James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell underlining their true speed, leading half of the race and claiming an eventual third-place podium finish – the team’s first in the marquee GT3 class. Just three races into their GT3 adventure, drivers and team proved they have what it takes to run with the very best.

Set-up issues and driving errors in qualifying - caused in part by the ballast weight the duo is forced to carry as an all-Silver line-up - masked the true pace of the Macmillan AMR Aston Martin GT3 but James and Jack were able to unlock their machine’s potential during the two-hour encounter that formed Round 3 at Rockingham Speedway.

James started the race from 8th on the packed grid, leaping up the order to run third at the end of Lap 1. A dozen laps later, he claimed second spot, before taking the lead of the race on Lap 22.

“I had a really good start and got up to third by the chicane,” smiled James, “and although there were a couple of half-chances before the early Safety Car, I knew my best chance would come when we hit GT4 traffic. Playing a waiting game worked, as the guys in front made mistakes that allowed me to move up to 2nd and then finally grab the lead, with a really nice move.”

James then set about building up an advantage and was almost 10 seconds clear of his pursuers before the appearance of a Safety Car but he still led the field once racing resumed and was working his way clear once more, as he peeled off into the pits for the mandatory driver-change.

With a full tank of fuel for the second half of the race, Jack headed back out into the fray. Once the pit-stops had worked themselves out, the no24 V12 Vantage still had a lead over its rivals but it became clear that the fastest of the cars behind were closing in.

“Initially, it was the Bentley that was our closest rival,” said Jack. “I had a small gap over him but they weren’t the only quick car behind us and soon there were two Bentleys, both Lamborghinis and a Ferrari hounding me!

Despite stalwart defending, Jack was unable to prevent a Bentley and a Ferrari slipping past. A late-race Safety Car again bunched the field, bringing more attackers onto the Aston’s tail but Jack defiantly held them off for almost half an hour, claiming a delighted third place, as the chequered flag came out.

“I made a mistake under braking, which allowed one of the Bentleys past and the Ferrari also slipped through the gap. The final Safety Car closed everyone right up and once we went back to green, it was very hard work, keeping the others behind me. Fortunately, by that stage, the GT4 cars were battling pretty hard and I was able to use those squabbles, to help me keep the door closed. Seeing that chequered flag was a big relief, I can tell you – that was a tough race!”

#42 AMR V8 Vantage GT4 Jonck/Phillips

Will Phillips started the race in the no.42 GT4 car, using a revised set-up to try and preserve the Aston’s rear tyres, which struggle on the abrasive Rockingham asphalt. The changes that the team had made were clearly beneficial, as Will began picking off his rivals. That progress was dramatically halted by the intervention of the Safety Car for a second time in the race, midway through his stint:

“Our race was really completely undone by the Safety Car,” said Will. “I was up to 8th and we’d just been passed by the leader – our GT3 sister car – when it came out. That meant that we lost touch with the GT4 leaders, as they were ahead of the no.24 car on the road and were free to race around to join the back of the queue that we were near the front of, effectively costing us a lap.

“We had made a decision to sacrifice a little pace, to preserve the tyres, which worked superbly and my tyres were only starting to give up 5 laps before the pit-stops, which was ideal...

Driving partner Jan J√łnck took over the car, knowing he faced an uphill struggle to make much headway, being a lap down on most of their class rivals.

“My stint was pretty tough,” said Jan, “but we had decent pace. Most of the cars that were a lap ahead were around me on track and we could match their speed, so our car clearly has the potential… our race was just completely compromised by that misfortune with the Safety Car.”

When the chequered flag came out, the no.42 car was classified in 11th place, sixth of the Silver pairings – scant reward for all the team’s hard work and not indicative of the car’s pace and the drivers’ potential.

“Rockingham dealt us two very different hands,” said Team Principal David Macmillan. “Naturally, we are thrilled to have claimed out first podium in GT3, in only our third race. Had James not had his lead slashed by the Safety Car, who knows what might have happened...

“The other side of that particular coin left our GT4 drivers in a position where they had no realistic hope of catching the cars ahead.

“That’s racing, I suppose, but we’ll bounce back in Snetterton. We know both teams are fast enough and good enough. Now we just need some luck to prove it!”

Source material - MacMillan Racing

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