The highs and the lows of the British GT's Silverstone 500

Sunday, June 09, 2019

If you are going to have a Blue Ribband event in the midst of your season then you may as well make it something like what was just observed from Silverstone today as the British GT Championship held its annual three hour spectacular with its Silverstone 500.

Featuring itself as the third round - fifth race of the season and with a record forty two cars being entered across the permitted GT3 and GT4 classes, it was the TF Sport team who stepped up to the plate yesterday during the four Qualifying sessions to gain nett pole positions in GT3 for the #47 Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3 of Jonny Adam and Graham Davidson and the #95 AMR Vantage GT4 car of Josh Price and Patrick Kibble.

Leaving the wind and the rain from earlier in the weekend behind them, race day was forecasted to be dry and warm with only the smallest possibility of an ad-hoc shower later in the race and even if it did rain - that would only add to the spectacle!

In contrast to some previous years, the opening laps were relatively well behaved by all even despite the increased numbers as the Am drivers had their first laps in what would be a multi pit stop race.  Even in the opening laps there was a clear break developing between the top three cars in GT3 (led by Davidson in the #47) from their chasing pack as well as Price developing a clear lead in his brightly coloured TF Sport car in the GT4 class. Everything looking fine and dandy!

The first AMR casualty came in the form of Ben Hurst's #61 Academy GT4 car getting unceremoniously punted off track and into the gravel by one of the Toleman McLaren 570's at Luffield - an incident that caused the McLaren a puncture and technical issues as well as the young Canadian firmly beached in his now rather mangled car. Both cars would eventually make it back to the pits but both would play little to no further part in the race and this was only lap four!

Tyre debris from that ailing McLaren would be left all along the Wellington Straight and that proved to be a bit of an issue for Andrew Howard and his #99 Beechdean AMR car as he passed the #2 TF Sport car of Mark Farmer. Quick thinking on Howards part let Farmer back through as there was doubt to if his move was under a caution or not.

Half an hour in and Josh Price was flying in the #95 car, Matt George was getting his first track warnings in the #14 Generation AMR Vantage GT4 and Alex Toth Jones had already been into the pits to repair front end damage from an unseen impact. It was all pretty eventful although thankfully not really in large scale damaging way - well at least it was until Farmer got turned around by the remaining BMW GT3 at Village whilst James Holder (now in the #14 Generation AMR car) got a drive through for track limits - damage can be measured in many ways!

An early point of note was that whilst all the other GT3 cars were gradually pitting and swapping their Am drivers over to their Pro's, TF Sport was electing to keep both of their GT3's out for as long as possible as far as their full tanks would allow but only time would tell whether this was the correct strategy or not. Just as the #47 car pitted, the then GT4 class leading TF Sport car of (now) Patrick Kibble was given a penalty for too short a pitstop - not just a couple of seconds but by a whopping ten seconds and that would seriously dent their race chances.

With the #2 car finally pitting just after the hour mark, it didn't take Nicki Thiim long (his first flying lap to be exact) to grab the headlines of the fastest car on track so far as he began the long path of elevating his car up from P10 overall. Meanwhile, the #75 Optimum GT4 car of Patrik Matthiesen and Mike Robinson was continuing their good form of earlier in the weekend to maintain a robust P5 in the Silver Cup class whilst the #11 Beecdean AMR GT4 car of Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman had latched onto P3 in their Pro-Am class stakes.

Just before the halfway mark it was great to see the re-emergence of the #61 Academy car with Micah Stanley now at the wheel after its earlier incident with the now retired Toleman McLaren. Unfortunately for him and the team, there was clearly undying issues with the car that would see him eventually pull over at Club and retire the car. When will Academy's luck change in this Championship?

As each driver had just 100minutes of drive time available the middle compulsory pit stop was always going to be something tactical with many team electing to short stint their Pro drivers to leave them available for the final dash to the flag with both TF Sport GT3's following hat line of thought. Disaster was to soon hit the other side of the TF Sport garages though as the #95 GT4's second stop was again adjudged to be on the wrong side of their Silver rating minimum time and that lead to a further stop and go penalty for Price - or at least it would have if he had stopped at the Penalty Box at the far end of the pit lane. His drive through was therefore considered not sufficient and he was made by Race Control to do it all over again - basically destroying and remaining possibilities of a point scoring finish. A faulty timer within the car had fingers pointed to it as the cause of these errors!

Going into the final hour it was the turn of Bradley Ellis in the #96 Optimum GT3 to have a scary moment as having first overtaken a Mercedes GT4 going into Maggots, that GT4 then rear ended the grey liveried Vantage putting them into a spin before giving it a further 'kiss' on the nose to rub salt into the wounds. The offender on this occasion was the same as who had earlier turned Connor O'Brien into another spin in the #35 Optimum Vantage GT4 earlier in the race!

Thirty minutes to go and Ellis and Marco Sorensen were having their own little battle on track for P7 overall but whilst a higher overall place would have been good for Ellis and co driver Ollie Wilkinson , the fact that they were racing at all at Silverstone was to benefit their GT3 Silver Cup entry over their GT Open commitments this weekend at Spa Francorchamps - something that they were already doing by still leading that class in British GT.

It took until the final twenty minutes of the race to bring all the remaining cars into their natural race position with all mandatory pit stop now having been concluded. Adam was now back in the leading position that Graham Davidson had established right at the start of the race but this time the Ram Racing Mercedes AMG with Callum MacCleod was chasing him hard on fresher tyres to the Scot.

As the top two now locked together with just minutes remaining that would have been a terrible image for any back markers that they were coming across. First up for this was Martin Plowman in the #11 Beechdean AMR but he managed (just) to avoid getting in anyones way but it wouldn't be the same for Chad McCumbee's Ford Mustang GT4 just two laps later. Coming across the rear end of the Ford quicker than first thought, Adam was forced to take the long way around first and then the inside line for the second part of the Maggots/Beckets sequence leaving the poor American having both Aston Martin and Mercedes GT3 leaders on either side of him turning onto the Hanger Straight.

With no malice we are sure, as Adam turned his car to the left for the straight his rear left wheel came into contact with the outside of McCumbees front right - that resulted in catastrophic damage to the rear suspension to Adam's car causing him to spin out into immediate retirement from the race on the grass just short of the Hanger Bridge. Total disaster for both Adam and Davidson was well as the team having worked so hard to give raise to this possibility of a potential race win and for the second time in recent weeks has an AMR GT3 that involved Adam finished its race participation on that corner with terminal damage as a result of impact with another car (Garage 59 at Blancpain GT Endurance last month).

From the massive disappointment of that near last lap race ending incident we must take the positives that came from that race from the greater #TeamAMR family of teams. Already following the leaders around in P3, the incident simply allowed Nicki Thiim and Mark Farmer take the next step up on the podium for their first P2 finish off the year as well as the #96 Optimum car of Wilkinson and Ellis taking another GT3 Silver Cup victory.

There was also good news in the GT4 class (and despite the earlier errors of the #95 TF Sport Car) with the sister #97 TF Sport car of Tom Canning and Ash Hand claiming their second podium of the year with a P2 finish just ahead of the #75 Optimum car of Matthiesen and Robinson who completed the podium for their first item of silverware. Finally, Beechdean racers Fletcher and Plowman scooped their third podium of their GT4 Pro Am class so far with a P3 finish in their #11 car.

Or at least thats how they finished on track - they now familiar barrage of post race penalties has now changed things slightly to the following.

GT4 Silver Class win for #97 TF Sport Tom Canning/Ash hand
GT4 Oveall podium - #11 Beechdean AMR elevated to P3 overall as well as P3 in Pro AM for kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman.

With a weekend off now for the British GT team before the next round at Donington Park in just two weeks time there is always the small matter for some of the Le Mans 24 Hours!!

Photo credits - Jacob Ebrey

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