British GT - Snetterton race reports

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sundays two races that formed round two of the British GT Championship from Snetterton certainly didn't leave anybody disappointed when it came to track incident and accident but the rewards that were gained by the Aston Martin Racing runners were hard fought for.

Watching Saturdays Free Practice and then Qualifying times across the GT3 and GT4 classes certainly showed that there was no consistency with any of the teams or drivers as each were required to set their own times for the two race Am's start one followed by the Pro's in the other format. It appeared to be the consensus up and down the pit lane that the operational window of the new Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3 and GT4 was very tight and nobody had found the ideal set up going into race day.

Indeed, it appeared that most cars within the TF Sport, Optimum, Academy and Beechdean teams had elected to run a different set up to Qualifying as late as Sunday morning warm up and again even in between races. With the exception of AMR factory driver Nicki Thiim qualifying for race 2 on GT3 pole and Tom Canning in P2 for the GT4 class in race 2, all the other nine cars were towards the rear of their respective packs. One GT4 team commented upon how their cars were unexplainably 2 seconds a lap slower to what they had obtained at a test at the circuit just two weeks ago - was than a negative effect of an inter round balance of performance change or just a change in circumstance?

Martin Plowman, the very approachable guy that he is, offered the fact that he and co driver Kelvin Fletcher had gone too far the wrong way with balance, sacrificing top end speed in favour of grip. The trouble with the Snetterton 300 circuit is that you need both! Similar comments were being made by some of the GT3 drivers so clearly there was an issue - the question was where and could it be rectified in time for the races.

Race 1 began under bright skies and sunshine producing some of the highest track temperatures of the meeting so far with the opening lap producing enough drama to fulfil a race report of its own. Graham Davidson in the #2 TF Sport GT3 soon found himself doing a little autocross along the start straight as a neighbouring Optimum Vantage GT3 of Ollie Wilkinson had inadvertently squeezed another car in the middle of the track across onto the far side forcing the Scot to take avoiding action by keeping his foot firmly planted along MSV’s prized cut grass!

As the GT3 field then approached the Wilson hairpin for the first time, a missed braking point from the ABBA Mercedes lumped his AMG GT3 heavily into the rear of Mark Farmers #2 TF Sport Vantage causing sizeable rear end damage but at least he as able to continue. Then Andrew Howard chasing up behind in his #99 Beechdean AMR Vantage hit the fluid being deposited on track by the now terminally ill Mercedes to spin off onto the fortunately grassy infield before being able to rejoin but a long way back into the GT4 field. There was was also done.

Early contact between cars with any thirty seven car grid is always inevitable (like above) but for the #75 Optimum Vantage GT4 of Mike Robinson, he wouldn't be so lucky as wheel to wheel contact with a BMW GT4 damaged his front wheel wheel and suspension putting the car he shares with Patrik Matthiesen into early retirement.

And this was all before the end of the first lap!!

Fortunately, things did soon sort themselves out as the gaps between cars grew and that at least stopped any more wasteful and pointless contact between squabbling cars and drivers for a time. Wilkinson in his #96 made the most of the chaotic start moving up to and holding very convincingly P3 overall with Josh Price being the highest placed AMR GT4 runner - albeit down in P8 in class.

For the next twenty minutes or so of racing up until the start of the mandatory pit stop windows, it appeared to be a case of simply holding your position as few cars made progress through the field. Sadly, the new Vantages were again struggling with low end power to get themselves out of the corners and that always left the drivers compromised at the next. For the #99 Beechdean GT3, Howard's earlier issues on track would be compounded by a further 5 second success penalty after finishing on the podium last time out at Oulton Park and for the #96 Optimum GT3, a mistimed pitstop would cost them a potential podium finish after a drive through penalty was awarded for the remainder of the time missed.

Again, the next fifteen minutes appeared to stagnate in the GT3 class until Jonny Adam (now aboard the #47 TF Sport GT3) inched his way onto the back of the Team Parker Racing Bentley in P3. Lap after lap the Scot tried to pass the #7 car ever conscious that the JRM Bentley of Sebring Morris was now catching him. Then on the final lap of the race it all kicked off. Morris passed Adam but the #69 Lamborghini had also joined in and in Morris' haste to get away he collided with an another car damaging his bonnet. Unable to see the track he had to back off and in a final sprint along the straight to the flag it was the #47 car that took the final stop of the podium.

It certainly wasn't all over then either - passing by the along pit lane to Parc Ferme, an animated Rick Parfitt Jnr certainly made his emotions clear to Adam but wisely left things to his team to sort having just seen his podium vanish in the final 500metres of the race.

For #TeamAMR, the #47 was to be the only podium of that race with the other cars too far down, damaged or already out of the race to compete against some clearly faster rivals. Howard even dared to broach the subject in interview after his pit stop when he 'tip-toed' along the Balance of Performance subject by suggesting this his car was underpowered!!

For several of the AMR cars, the break in between races at least allowed for some repairs to be made - extensive ones to the #2 TF Sport and #62 Academy cars after Alex Both Jones made his own race ending contact with the Jaguar GT4 on just the 15th lap.

Race 2 was to start under skies that had clouded over and darkened slightly as even very light rain began to fall. That and with the air and track temperature still being quite high all would start again on slicks with any rain bound to spice things up!

At the front of the pack was Nicki Thiim in the #2 TF Sport car who would have the clearly fast Lamborghinis from Barwell Motorsport starting just behind him with Jonny Adam behind them and a couple more in P6. In GT4, TF Sports Tom Canning was bouyant of the chances of a good race with his #97 car starting P2 overall in GT4 just behind Team Parker Racing Mercedes AMG GT4 of Scott Malvern whom he knew he would have to overtake early to have any chance of winning.

With the race start more disciplined with the Pro's than earlier, there were fortunately few moments of accident and incident as this hour long race soon established a rhythm. No really able to break the drag to the Lamborghini's, Thiim had to settle with just staying in front of them knowing that one had a 10 second success penalty to serve at its stop. Just after the half way mark Thiim pitted to hand the car back over to Farmer for the final 28minute run to the flag.

That didn't start off too well for Farmer as first a delayed stop and then slower GT4 in the pit lane holding him up lost the #2 car valuable time. In GT4, Canning had completed a very fast yet this time mature stint in his car to hand over to Ashley Hand who would temporally lose the P3 position having just existed the pits on cooled tyres.

Howards weekend would go from indifferent to worse as he would get unceremoniously punted off the circuit just after the bridge at Nelson by one of the BMW GT3's - not very gentlemanly but at least the there was no significant points paying race position lost at the time although he might argue with that!!

Almost in a repetition to Sundays earlier race, everything came down to the final fifteen minutes of racing. Both Lambo's were now almost attached to the rear of Farmers Aston Martin and it wasnt long before that inevitability happened with first them and then the Balfe McLaren GT3 overtaking the striking metallic blue liveried AMR dropping him down to P4 overall.

With the podium chance in GT3 now lost attention turned to GT4 as Hand was having a great battle for P3 again with the then Balfe McLaren GT4. Fortunately, luck came the way of the #97 car as the #20 was given a 10 second stop and go penalty for avoidable contact earlier in the race. That would give Hand a clear run to the flag and the first podium and points for the #97 crew. Unnoticed by the cameras and those on site, the complexities of the Pro-Am and Silver Cup GT4 classes had allowed the #11 Beechdean AMR car of Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher to sneak up the leader board to take what was then P2 at the chequered flag but a post race penalty to the 'race winning' Audi soon elevated them to race winners in the Pro-Am class.

Despite the obvious and ongoing power issues with the cars and the series (more the series rather than the car we're sure) hard work and determination from the respective teams and drivers allowed three AMR cars to take their first podium and significant points of the season in their respective tables as the Championship moves onto round three and the 'endurance' race at Silverstone in June.

For TF Sport, despite the disappointment of race 2 in GT3, Snetterton has proved itself to be something of a success after the disaster of Oulton Park with their first podiums and points in both classes. Their account is now open and that will also encourage their #2 and #95 cars to do likewise.

For Academy Motorsport, two DNF's for one of their two GT4 cars in each of Sunday's two races was something that team boss Matt Nichol Jones and his young drivers didn't deserve but they will overcome their issues to succeed (hopefully) sooner rather than later.

For Optimum's three cars it was good and bad. For their Silver Cup GT3 entry it was an extension to their championship lead over the #7 TPR Bentley whereas their two GT4's struggled with pace all weekend - kept another clean race but leave Norfolk with just a handful of points between them. As they become more accustomed to and can harness the full potential of their GT4's then their points will come.

Finally with Beechdean AMR team, the GT3 pairing of Andrew Howard and Marco Sorenson also leave with just a single point having never appeared able to challenge. At least their disappointment can be countered with the second podium and first race win of the season for their #11 GT4 crew - a result that sees them take the overall lead in the GT4 Pro-Am title race.

Next stop Silverstone.

Photo credits - Steve Jackman (as watermarked)

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