Taking the rough with the smooth for Optimum at day one of GT Open

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Every race has two potential outcomes to it - one favourable and one not so.

That was certainly the case today as Wakefield based Optimum Motorsport returned to the race track for the second time this week but this time (having tested at Donington Park earlier this week) as part of a two pronged attack on both the International GT Open Series for their GT3 car and the GT Open Cup for one of their GT4 cars.

Firstly the good news, and that belonged fair and squarely with both Connor O'Brien and Charlie Eastwood who took their #35 Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT4 to the season regulars and came so close to securing a maiden win in the series at the very first time of asking.

TF Sport World Endurance Championship driver, Charlie Eastwood took the start of the race from P9 having set his first ever Qualifying time within a GT4 car and after that it dint take him too long to make his own mark during the todays first race. Halfway round the first lap of the 55 minute race Eastwood was already up to P5 and by the time that that lap had been completed the #35 car was sitting a comfortable P4.

By the time the young Irishman came into pit lane to hand over to the other young Irishman, the #35 car had already been duelling for second place in the race. The second and older specification AMR Vantage GT4 from the Whitebridge AMR garage of Chris Murphy and Adam Hatfield had been keeping themselves busy towards the rear of the pack claiming P7 by the time Hatfield had to pit.

Completing their minimum time of 70 seconds in pit lane O'Brien was to move up to P2 overall by the time others had completed their pit stop cycles and it was only a matter of time before he took the race lead with an audacious move around the outside of the then race leading Lamborghini at Club.

Things were looking good for O'Brien as the race clock counted down to 15 minutes remaining - that was before the speed of the chasing #35 Lamborghini came into tview of the rearview mirror of the #35 car as multiple GT Open Cup winner Liberati took seconds per lap out of O'Briens lead.

With just four minutes remaining, the inevitable happened as Liberati took the race lead from O'Brien as the Irishman stumbled out of Village onto the Wellington Straight to accelerate away and claim the race win by over four seconds.

None the less this was a special moment for O'Brien as he rightfully celebrated his first GT4 podium since stepping up from Ginetta GT5's last season. Huge congratulations to him, Eastwood and the team and here's hoping for more tomorrow.

For the #72 Whitebridge AMR car, a P14 finishing position one lap down two the winner was a very credible effort in very much the oldest car on the grid for the reigning GT Cup Champions.

The other kind of news as they say from the GT Open came in the form of a relatively short race for the team's GT3 crew of Ollie Wilkinson and Darren Turner.

Setting a combined Qualifying time under the Series new rules earlier today saw the #96 grey and blue liveried AMR Vantage GT3 start from P8 on the grid with the young lad from Leeds (Wilkinson) taking the start with the ever mindful and experienced duo of AMR factory driver Turner and team engineer Bas Leinders present on the radio.

Twenty current examples of various GT3 cars raced off at the start with Wilkinson soon having to take avoiding action coming out of the Becketts/Maggots complex as a Teo Martin McLaren and Spirit of Race Ferrari tangled meters earlier leaving the #16 McLaren crumpled in the wall.

Getting back onto the track and back up to speed along the Hanger Straight, the #96 was last seen going to one one side of a mid pack Lamborghini before next being seen spinning in unison with the same Lamborghini as both cars entered Stowe. Unfortunately for Wilkinson, another car tried to pass to the rear of the now stricken AMR but collected the rear wing - almost ripping it off completely before it came to a halt against the outer circuit concrete wall. Very much a racing incident (we think) rather than the fault of any one individual.

Wilkinson did limp the car back to pit lane and during the intervening twenty minutes of the resulting Safety Car period, the team went about their work replacing damaged components and the vain attempt of getting the car back out again - they succeeded in that but the damage was already done with eight laps lost to the leaders.

The team did send Wilkinson back out for a couple of laps before he pitted and swapped over to Turner who conducted some further shakedown laps to make sure that the car was 100% ahead of tomorrows Qualifying and second race of the weekend. With that, the car again pitted and was retired from the race.

Not quite 'hero to zero' in two races of the series but lessons there to be learned from Wilkinson as he strives to emulate the racing credentials of the man who shares the driving seat of his car this weekend.

Photo credits - GT Open / Optimum

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