Rockingham - a classic yet contentious GT race!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Well, there was simply nothing dull or predictable about the second round of the British GT Championship yesterday from Rockingham with positions changing even after the throwing of the chequered flag in what can only be described as a classic GT race.

Thankfully for all, Sunday's stiff wind had cleared the rain of yesterday and most of the 1.9 mile track was now dry although still incredibly slippery due to its low abrasive state. During yesterdays Qualifying, all five Aston Martin teams had been blown away by the incredible pace of the  #33 Lamborghini with just the #75 Optimium and #11 TF Sport car coming anywhere close with the remaining three cars from the MAR stable starting from the lower half of the GT3 grid.

The 22 car GT4 class again fielded an incredibly challenging line up with Will Moore and Matt Nichol-Jones bouncing back from the Oulton Park disappointment to start P6 but with the teams younger guns way back in P20.

Sunday's Warm up was more about driving a track that was finally dry with all cars entering laps times 10-15 seconds quicker than yesterday however, as the clock neared the start of the GT race at just after 13:00 the clouds began to build again and light rain began to fall.

At the drop of the green flag, the #33 Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw quickly established a early lead over Flick Haigh in the Optimum car but her attentions were soon turned to the second Lamborghini close behind before soon dropping back to P3. Unfortunately for one, a heavy impact with the outside retaining wall for another GT3 brought of the first of many Safety Cars that at least allowed the field to bunch up again when the time came.

The drizzly rain had just about stopped but the wind had picked up considerably and that must have been very noticeable to the drivers at the far end of the circuit to the pit straight.

Mark Farmer's #11 TF Sport car was suffering from an unquantified electrical ailment that necessitated a quick visit to pit lane - that dropped him a lap in the process. Even from the track side it was possible to identify cars that were on the move - the main one being Graham Davidson in the #47 Jetstream car who had spent too many laps languishing behind the slower Nissan GTR GT3 - but once passed the gap to those ahead collapsed.

Another Safety Car for a beached GT4 again slowed and tightened the pack with Davidson now up to P3 with a three way AMR battle going on behind him between the Optimium, Beechdean and #17 TF cars who had had their own trackside issues up till then. A further Safety Car allowed Davidson to make stick an ambitious move on De Haan on the #69 Lambo as the cars turned into the first chiccaine off the bank circuit - P2 for the Scotsman in only his second BGT race.

Just before the pit window opening Johnston got a drive through penalty for avoidable contact with the #1 Bentley that would be compounded with the 15 second success penalty from Oulton Park when the #17 final pitted. What was bad news for them was good news for Haigh and Howard as the moved up to P4 and P5 respectively.

By virtue of the #33 cars own success penalty, AMR works driver Maxime Martin suddenly found himself leading his first British GT race before even lapping his factory co-driver Nicki Thiim (now in the #17 TF Sport) soon after!

Two more quick Safety Cars caused chaos in the ranks with GT4's again being caught in the chain amongst faster, race challenging GT3. Martin had himself a very close call coming from the infield and onto the banking when a GT4 driver lost control of his car right infant of him but soon the Belgium and Scots elation was to be turned into dejection as the #47 was themselves given a drive through for track limit violations.

Stealthily down in GT4, the #62 Moore/Nichol-Jones had been slowly moving up the order to take the final podium position with just five minutes left on the clock whilst its sister #61 car had moved up from P20 to be holding a comfortable P9 in class for youngsters Wood and Jonck.

Normally, the chequered flag is the end of the race and that may still be so but it's normally over until the results have been officially verified. The podiums showed a jubilant Derek Johnston and (nearly) smiling Marco Sorensen take second place in GT3 whilst Moore and Nichol-Jones saw out their own class to finish on the final step of the GT4 podium.

Post race however would see the #17 Johnston/Sorensen car have a 30 second penalty applied to them (for query a secondary penalty for avoidable contact), a move that would knock them down to P7 but would see the #99 Howard/Turner Beechdean car take the final step of the podium in their place and maintain their own momentum in the Championship so far this year.

Although a great racing spectacle for us watching, the levels of frustration was obvious in both the Jetstream and TF camps in a race that should have been much different for them both. For Jetstream the washout of Oulton Park and the missing of FP2 yesterday confirmed the teams resolve and ability which was rightly rewarded with Davidson being given the Blancpain Driver of the Day Award despite the visibly annoyance in their Pro driver. For Sorensen, breaking the circuit lap record still earned him the Fastest Lap trophy.

Beechdean AMR now hold top spot in the GT3 Championship for a AMR team in P3 with Optimum just behind as the BGT season moves on to Snetterton at the end of May. For many within these AMR teams next weekend presents them with a new challenge - the first round of the WEC aboard the new Vantage GTE!

Next round is at Snetterton towards the end of May with two, one hour sprint races around the fast 300 circuit.

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