Strong running from the Aston Martin crews at British GTs Silverstone 500

Monday, May 08, 2023

If Mother Nature provided the drama in Saturday’s Free Practice and Qualifying sessions ahead of the Silverstone 500, it would thankfully be the actual race that provided all the excitement as the British GT Championship raced out their third race at the home of British motorsport.

Four Aston Martin Racing powered crews joined the fray this time around as both the full season entries from Beechdean AMR and R-Racing were joined by the new Blackthorn Motorsport GT3 car and a guesting Century Motorsport GT4 Aston of old.

With race organisers having to set the grid to Sunday’s three hour race by times set by each driver within Free Practice 2, the starting order was always going to be a bit topsy-turvy in its natural order but for the #97 Beechdean Vantage GT3 of Andrew Howard/Ross Gunn and the #23 R-Racing Vantage GT4 of Josh Miller/Seb Hopkins, their own ‘getting down to business’ mentality from the off saw them neatly placed in P5 and P3 respectively in class.

All things ‘new’ from the #19 Blackthorn car of Claude Bovet and David McDonald meant that they were in for a baptism of fire as they got to grips with their brand-new Vantage GT3 having received it only days before the event. Similar would apply to the #21 Century Vantage GT4 crew of David Holloway and Bradley Ellis by the fact of their very limited running together this season for the #19 car to start at the back of the GT3 field in P24 and the #21 car in P38 out of a total grid size of forty-three starters.

From the torrential rains of Saturday to the humid warmth of an early May Spring Day of Sunday saw the race take the green flag with a dry and warming circuit with both the #97 and #23 cars eager to advance their positions at this very early stage with both Howard and Miller (respectively) behind the wheels.

With so many cars of track with an even wider diversity of driver talent and ability, it obviously wasn’t long before contact was made that left debris across the track at Club, bring out the Safety Car for the first time and that gave the teams the opportunity to swap out their starting Am drivers at an early stage of the race, mindful of course of each drivers 100minutes maximum driver time.

Losing fifteen minutes to that period, the #23 R-Racing car quickly came to attention of Race Control as Miller quickly lost several his ‘five lives’ for track limits – something that would even more quickly come back to bite the young duo once they had made their first driver change a little while later when Hopkins had to serve a Drive through Penalty.

A great battle was developing between Gunn in the #97 and the #70 Inception Racing McLaren as the two British GT and IMSA GTD rivals (Ben Barnicoat) battled things out for any of the top three places on track as the race progressed. 

By the end of the first hour, the #97 was leading the way for the AMR teams in P4 overall, with the #19 Blackthorn car hanging on (just) to the rear of the GT3 field but with the #21 Century Vantage GT4 car now having swapped with the #23 R-Racing car for position thanks to their earlier penalty.

Those positions improved again slight as the second Safety Car period was called, again for debris which negated the Inception cars then huge lead of 20 seconds to zero – which helped the #97 Beechdean car at least get back in contention with this guesting GT3.

Going into the final and whilst six crews would have to serve additional success time penalties after their performances last time out at Oulton Park, none of these were the #97 and #23 cars so both could just run their usual minimum pit stop time at the final scheduled stop.

Trouble for one came just into the final hour as Holloway was brutally nerfed off the track and into the tyre wall at the start of the Wellington Straight but he was at least able to continue with time lost recovering soon taken care of by a huge collision between a recovering GT4 car and a GT3 car through the Maggots complex – Safety Car no.3 immediately.

Thankfully and despite how it first appeared, both drivers were reported as being otherwise uninjured as a consequence after the Team Brit McLaren GT4 cut across the path of a charging #84 McLaren GT3 as the GT4 tried to return to the circuit after a spin of their own earlier.

That caution period unfortunately came 4-5 laps too early for Howard and Gunn to swap out for the final time as Howard was forced to follow the Safety Car until just thirty-eight minutes remaining. That left a 27-minute sprint to the flag with the #97 car still chasing an overall podium finish, as were both the Vantage GT4 crews in silver for the #23 R-Racing crew and the #21 Century crew in GT4 Pro-Am – and despite their early knock.

What the final Safety Car did leave us with was a dramatic race to the flag for a result that eventually saw the #97 cross the line less than half a second off the podium in fourth, but with the efforts of the one-off entered #21 Century car claiming a P2 finish in GT4 Pro-Am.

Thanks to their transgressions with track limits earlier in the race, the #23 car would finish P6 in class having had 30 seconds added to their post-race time for exceeding driver time with the #19 rounding off their inaugural AMR British GT event in P16 overall after also being hit with a drive through penalty for causing a collision just before the end of the race.

Thanks to the additional Championship points on offer at the end of the Silverstone 500, these results see the #97 crew tied for P2 in the GT3 overall table, third in the GT3 Pro-Am Cup and third within the GT3 Teams Championship.

As for the #23 R-Racing crew, an early DNF at Oulton Park and just three points from Silverstone sees them well down the order in P11 with six races still to come.

Next stop Donington Park at the end of the month.

Photo credits – Jacob Ebrey / D Gibson

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