Championships won and Championships left to be won after Brands Hatch GT marvel

Monday, August 05, 2019

If proof was ever needed as to the depth and quality of racing within the British GT Championship,  then people should perhaps look no further than yesterdays penultimate round of the 2019 season from Brands Hatch.

In terms of the Aston Martin Racing family within the Championship, results from the previous round at Spa Francorchamps had the effect of elevating those previously thought to be out of the running very much into the mix whilst others had seen their once commanding lead reduced to next to nothing through others simply finishing ahead when it mattered.

Prior to Qualifying for Brands Hatch again had the Optimum Motorsport team scratching their heads as the course of under performance within the #35 Vantage GT4 of Conor O'Brien and Jack Butel leaving them with little to no mileage prior to their Qualifying session on Saturday. The same issue would then blight the #97 TF Sport Vantage GT4 immediately after Qualifying to a point where (on Sunday) their participation within Sundays two hour race came into serious doubt.

Only by the unselfish determination of the TF Sport technicians and over thirteen hours spent sitting in the boot of the car was the #97 finally declared fit to race with little over an hour before the grid was due to form - so for that matter, here's an appreciative hand clap to all of them for their endeavours.

Qualifying for that matter again had shown just how well Optimum Motorsport's young gun Ollie Wilkinson was progressing in his racing career, with results obviously improving ever since he and AMR factory driver Darren Turner had worked to together in the GT Open Series to win their first podium in that European Series in the new AMR Vantage GT3. A front row start for the #96 car that he shares with Bradley Ellis was the result - the highest placed AMR with just the rejuvenated Balfe Motorsport McLaren 720s ahead. In GT4, the #97 TF Sport car of Tom Canning and Ash Hand were the highest placed Vantage in their class also sharing a P2 slot to the then pace setting HHC McLaren 570s.

Under the high cloud and warming temperatures of Sunday morning saw a completely mixed bag affair for TF Sport as first their #47 GT3 crew of Graham Davidson and Jonny Adam went fastest in an incident interrupted warm up - interrupted by their second GT3 of Mark Farmer and  Nicki Thiim ending up in the gravel trap all whilst their #97 GT4 was still being feverishly worked upon!

After all of that excitement finally came the start to yesterdays two hour penultimate round to the season and another excellent start from the Aston Martin's as Wilkinson grabbed P1 at the end of turn one, lap one as Davidson also picked up two places to follow the #96 car into Druids holding P2. A few seconds behind in GT4, and whilst the #97 TF Sport GT4 of Hand took the class lead, their #95 team mate of Josh Price had already suffered a 'blue on blue' incident with the #75 Optimum car destroying his front off side suspension and steering putting him and co driver Patrick Kibble into immediate retirement even before half a lap had been completed. After their podium at Spa, Brands Hatch gave them a serious and hard hitting reality check.

Whilst Andrew Howard and Mark Farmer were making little headway in their GT3's towards the rear of the pack, Wilkinson was putting in some very quick laps to establish a sizeable lead over the #47 car whilst the two Optimum GT4's were having a great dice with their opposite numbers at Academy Motorsport although the running of the #62 Academy car of Alex Toth-Jones would soon be hit with a ten second stop and go penalty for a start procedure infringement.

Just twenty minutes into the race adversity would again hit the Academy team as the #61 car of Ben Hurst was caught, through absolutely no fault of his own, by the passing Team Parker Bentley that would send him heading straight into the barrier at high speed for an immediate race ending impact and the Canadian GT4 driver back to the pits for repairs although that was later deemed not possible and the car was retired before the hour. Bizarrely and just as the track was being turned to Safety Car conditions, a wheel onto the kerb at Paddock Hill Bend would send Wilkinson into a 360 degree spin - miraculously missed by all behind him to recover and move on having only lost two places!

Lucky him!!

Unfortunately for many in the GT4 field, the Safety Car also had the net effect of splitting the class as the #97 TF Sport desperately tried to break the close attention of two McLaren 570s' close behind but  couldn't as the pace of the GT4's ahead matched their own pace albeit nearly a full lap difference in track position between them.

At the hour mark both the GT4 class leading #97 and the GT4 Pro-Am leading #11 Beechdean AMR of Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman pitted straight away and whilst the #97 would be hampered by a twenty second success penalty from the last round at Spa, Plowman was able to make his escape before his class advisories gained any advantage.

TF Sport kept Farmer out in the #2 Vantage GT3 for the longest hoping that a clearer track and more competitive track time would overcome his recent break in confidence. These stops also saw for Valentin Hasse Clot's introduction into the British GT as he took over from Howard in the #99 Beechdean but in their haste, their stop would later be judged to have been three seconds too quick earning them a three seconds stop and hold later in the stint that would all but negate any advantage made during the race. Despite that, it was a fine audition in the Championship from the young Frenchman who will also see out the season with the team at Donington later next month.

After the stops,  Jonny Adam had secured their position at the front whilst the #96 Optimum was now struggling for pace and desperately hanging onto their P11 position after their twenty seconds of additional time after their win at Spa a few weeks ago. A strange phenomena had had a really positive effect on the #62 Academy car with (now) Will Moore at the wheel as, having served their penalty, the immediate Safety Car had seen them 'waved past' to the head of the train to command a thirty second lead over the chasing pack - he only had thirty minutes to endure for their best result ever in the Championship!

Sadly for the team from Worcester, brake failure for Moore going into druids caused his #62 Vantage to spin off and back heavily into the tyre wall on the outside. That was their race ran through now real fault of their own.

As the race entered its final stages little change was made to the running order in both classes by the time the chequered fell with the #47 TF Sport car claiming the overall race win for Adam and Davidson by over six seconds. That and the finishing position of the Championship leading Barwell Lamborghinis has giving raise to another #Doningtondecider for the overall GT3 Championship as the #47 will battle it out with the #69 and #72 cars next month in the final round at Donington.

A similar situation also exists in GT4 with (following the post race penalties applied to some of the podium finishers at Brands Hatch) sees the #97 TF Sport car of Hand and Canning leading the class by 18.5 points as well as in the GT4 Silver Cup stakes. The #11 Beechdean AMR car of Plowman and Fletcher have also increased their lead in Pro-Am again to 29 points with just 37.5 points available at the final round leaving a two horse race in that Championship.

One Championship that was however decided following the race at Brands Hatch was the GT3 Silver Cup, as by virtue of their none points score for the Team Parker Racing Bentley and the P11 finish for the #96 Optimum car was enough for  Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis to win  their first and Aston Martin Racing's first Championship for the 2019 AMR Vantage GT3 with one race remaining.

The Championship, competitors and fans now have about five weeks to recompose ourselves ready for the final round of the season at Donington Park on the 15th September!

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