United Autosports pairing Matt Bell and Mark Patterson secured victory in the final round of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Donington Park today, but fourth place was good enough to clinch the 2013 British GT Drivers title for Beechdean-AMR driver Andrew Howard. Declan Jones won the GT4 class race, but that was not enough to stop Ryan Ratcliffe and Rick Parfitt Jnr from becoming 2013 British GT GT4 Champions.
The two-hour season finale was played out in beautiful autumnal weather at the massive Leicestershire circuit and the large attending crowd were treated to a flavorsome battle between ten drivers for overall GT3 honours.
An amazing title race swung back and forth as positions changed on track due to drivers taking penalties for missing yellow caution flags, speeding in the pit lane and quiet a few teams not completing the minimum pitstop times.
Lee Mowle dominated the race early on by the pole-sitting #8 888Optimum BMW Z4 GT3, continuing the strong performance by team-mate Joe Osborne in yesterdays qualifying session. In his first year of GT3 racing, Mowle, after progressing from the Ginetta GT5 Challenge last season, looked comfortable as race leader and broke the challenge of those behind him bar that of the menacing #32 Trackspeed Porsche of Gregor Fisken.
Andrew Howard, Championship leader going into the weekend, Starting sixth on the grid, was quick off the mark and made an early move on 2010 Drivers Champion, Patterson who started seventh, and David Ashburn at the Foggy Esses, also seized the opportunity and passed the Trackspeed driver.
There were lots of overtaking and challenges up and down the 32-car field, between the Preci-Spark Mercedes AMG SLS and the Mtech-prepared Ginetta of Derek Johnston saw the G55 pit with suspension damage. Johnston returned to the track but wouldn't complete the race, retiring after 21 laps.
Elsewhere the PGF Kinfaun-AMR entry of Phil Dryburgh hit the rear of the title contending #888 888Optimum BMW Z4 of Steve Tandy. Dryburgh retired the Aston immediately, the BMW continued only for it to receive further contact, this time from the Preci-Spark Mercedes at the Melbourne Loop. Fellow title contender Ahmad Al Harthy was knocked into a spin in the commotion, the Oman Air Motorbase driver was on the outside of the BMW and Mercedes drivers, and while Al Harthy did get his Porsche going again, it was much lower down the order. The final race of the season would be the first race of 2013 that the Omani driver and reigning Champion Michael Caine would not score points in. The Jones twins Mercedes would later be black flagged and disqualified, and fined the pair £1,000.
Undoing the hard work of race leader Mowle, an early Safety Car period brought the pack together. Ashburn, the cause of the caution who was spun out of the race and then couldn't restart his Porsche 997 GT3 R following an unsuccessful overtake on the Twisted Team Parker Racing Ginetta of Adrian Barwick at McLeans. British GT debutant Barwick recovered and continued, but he and team-mate Bradley Ellis limped home eighth in GT4.
Mowle made a good getaway after the restart and left Fisken and FF Corse's Gary Eastwood in his wake. Fisken made one error in his stint, a spin at Goddards on lap sixteen, the Scotsman returning to the track in eighth place. This promoted Howard to third following a determined charge past Ecurie Ecosse's title hopeful Marco Attard, and a persistent Patterson, who would eventually pass Attard with a sublime undercut out of the hairpin shortly after Howard.
Series returnee Gregoire Demoustier, while the top five squabbled amongst themselves. Going on to challenge Howard for third before the pitstops, the Von Ryan driver made an express start from seventeenth on the grid to pass Attard for fifth. John Dhillon was making a good progress in the AF Corse Ferrari 458 who was up to seventh. The past three rounds have seen the Ferrari driver improve, and the Donington round was his most accomplished race to date.
With the Pro drivers now installed, six cars were given driven through penalties for overtaking under yellow flags while the APO Sport GT4 Ginetta was assisted back on track after getting stuck in gravel . This affected Adam Wilcox (Predator CCTV-AMR), Aaron Scott (AF Corse), Phil Keen (Trackspeed), Richard Abra (Barwell Motorsport-AMR) and the race-leading BMW of Osborne.
Principally due to the FF Corse Ferrari of Barff having an additional 15 seconds added to his mandatory stop for a podium finish last time out in Zandvoort, Osborne resumed the race in the lead.The field settled, following this period of changes and the full grandstands at Donington were treated to some stunning battles; Between Bell and Barff, a lengthy battle, now fighting for second, saw the experienced pair bang doors halfway through the fearsome Craner Curves, and while the Ferrari was first to reach the Old Hairpin, Bell would have the last laugh, getting his man at the end of the lap.
Osborne's lead of two seconds was obliterated when the BMW driver was awarded the first of two stop-go penalties for suspected pit lane speeding. 888Optimum hotly contested the claims, but timing provider TSL couldn't find an irregularity, despite Osborne's team reporting contrary. Upon leaving the pits Osborne's car suffered a propshaft failure and the #8 BMW retired in the pit lane.
Back on track, Duncan Tappy replaced pacey Demoustier, was now proving how wide the Von Ryan McLaren could be, preventing Jonny Adam from passing. This provided the Scotsman with a serious dilemma. Adam needed to pass Tappy to give Howard the Championship win, but cleanly; race leader Bell was now able to win the Championship by one and a half points from Howard, should positions remain as they were. Needless to say, they wouldn't.
Adam was promoted to third behind Barff and race leader Bell, which opened up the race as Tappy was awarded a stop-go penalty for overtaking under yellows, Try as he might, Oliver Bryant couldn't pass the Beechdean driver, but Bryant didn't relent and stayed within four seconds of his rival for majority of his stint.
The experienced Porsche ace, Richard Westbrook, returned to British GT this weekend. The Trackspeed driver was given a challenge of sizeable proportions when he rejoined the race in a lowly fourteenth place after team-mate Fisken pitted from eighth. Donington witness a fiery performance from Westbrook who was at times the only driver to successively post lap times in the 1:30s as he carved his way up through the field. 'Westy' took a mighty third place finish in the 'Tartan Terror' as the flag fell, the best result for the #32 Porsche since he gave it a victory at the two-hour Rockingham round in May.
An eight second lead, Bell had a comfortable cushion to Barff at the flag, which gave him and Patterson second in the Championship. The win also sees Patterson crowned the inaugural Blancpain Gentlemen Drivers Trophy winner, an additional bonus for the South African who has excelled in the top national GT series.
Westbrook who was 24 seconds off the Ferrari on the penultimate lap eased off to finish 30 seconds behind Barff at the finish. The Porsche man also scooped the Mobil Service Centre Driver of the Weekend for his performances in qualifying and the 120-minute race. Behind the Trackspeed driver was Adam in fourth, with Bryant fifth, which tied up third place for the Ecurie Ecosse drivers in the points standing.
Aaron Scott continued his team-mates good work and finished sixth, taking the fastest lap of the race, an impressive 1:30.236. Von Ryan's Tappy was seventh, still an impressive result despite their penalty, and Tom Sharp guided the CWS 4x4 Spares Ginetta G55 he shares with Colin White to eighth to claim their first points of the 2013 season.
Phil Keen again showed his ability to fightback, the Trackspeed Porsche overcoming the earlier stop-go to give team-mate Jon Minshaw a ninth place finish. Rounding out the top ten on their debut weekend in GT3 were Jacques Duyver and Charlie Hollings in the second AF Corse Ferrari. After qualifying left the pair feeling like they should be further up the grid than the eleventh place grid slot, a battling performance by both drivers resulted in a debut point and a half.
Starting from pole-position in the GT4 class, Barwick had a difficult spell in the opening laps and the damage received from the collision with Ashburn put pay to Barwick or team-mate Bradley Ellis, the 2007 British GT Champion, challenging for a class win.
Rick Parfitt Jnr was an early class leader, and the Optimum driver was able to control the race from the front as his rivals contested amidst battling GT3s, but Nathan Freke would soon come to challenge his Ginetta rival.
Going into the weekend just twelve and a half points separated Parfitt Jnr and team-mate Ratcliffe from Century Motorsports' Declan Jones. Freke, Jones' team-mate and team boss put in a sterling effort to give Jones a cushion with which he could takeover from.
Behind the top two, Harry Whale, making his British GT GT4 debut this weekend in the Silverstone Auctions-AMR prepared Aston Martin Vantage GT4 got the better of APO Sport's James May and Complete Racing's Steve Chaplin, who was also in a Vantage GT4.
Before the cars pitted, Whale passed Parfitt Jnr who was mindful of the fact the Aston Martin driver couldn't take points away from him. May's APO Sport had an off-track excursion before the interval too, the modest British driver later admitting he was pushing too hard.
After pitstops were complete it was Jones who led the pack from Ratcliffe, Zoe Wenham (who would hand over to team-mate Rory Bryant), Kiwi Aston Martin factory driver Richie Stanaway (in for Whale), Tom Wilson (in for Chaplin), Ellis and Dan Eagling in for Matt Smith.
Drama followed though as the Championship leading Optimum G50 was handed a stop-go penalty for being too quick in the pits for the mandatory stop, but such was Ratcliffe's advantage before pitting to Stanaway, he came out still in second place.
However, Stanaway got his man before the end of the lap, Ratcliffe letting the Aston Martin driver through at Redgate to avoid a potential mishap through the Craner Curves, and that is how they finished.
Jones took the win, his third of the year, and his first since the opening weekend at Oulton Park, but it wasn't enough and Parfitt Jnr and Ratcliffe wrapped up the 2013 GT4 title by two points, finishing third on track, second in the points.
Dan Eagling behind the top trio in fourth, put in another top performance having taken over the Redgate Lifetime Racing Ginetta from Matt Smith, himself having arguably one of his best drives of the season. The pair's result sees them seal third in GT4, a solid result to a campaign that only saw them begin racing in the second event of the season.
Taking points for fourth in class, Steve Chaplin and Tom Wilson finished fifth on the road, a strong result having missed the previous two rounds at Brands Hatch and Zandvoort.