Two thrilling races at a freezing Oulton Park this weekend kicked off the 2013 Avon Tyres British GT Championship in style. Trackspeed went home with two wins, importantly giving the 2013 Porsche 997 GT3 R its first victory and 1-2, and GT4 team Century Motorsport also left the Cheshire track with a brace of wins. Local drivers Jon Minshaw and Declan Jones both stood on the top step of the podium at their home circuit, and Zoe Wenham became the first female winner of a British GT GT4 race and Jones himself took a record, becoming the youngest winner of a GT4 race (17 years, 10 months 20 days), beating Benji Hetherington's (18 years and 6 months) previous record.
Race One - Trackspeed take a dominant 1-2 race one win at Oulton Park
It was reigning teams champions Trackspeed that finished on top this morning during a thrilling opening race of the 2013 Avon Tyres British GT Championship. The Surrey-based team claimed a dominant 1-2 finish with Phil Keen leading home Nick Tandy, and Fortec Motorsports' Ollie Hancock a strong third. In GT4 local driver Declan Jones brought home the Century Motorsport Ginetta to claim his and team-mate Zoe Wenham's maiden victories in the class in front of a large Easter Holiday crowd at Oulton Park.
After three laps behind the safety car to ensure the field held position for the rolling start, it was Hancock's driving partner Benji Hetherington that led the field into treacherous first corner, Old Hall. Vita4One Team Italy's Jay Palmer, cautious after an off-track moment at Druids on the first pace lap, was harried into turn one by the fast-starting Trackspeed Porsche of Keen's co-driver Jon Minshaw. Fortunes weren't quite so favourable for Jon's younger brother, Jason who was racing in the #14 Fortec Mercedes AMG SLS.
An adventurous move by Gregor Fisken's #32 Trackspeed Porsche into Old Hall led to contact with Andrew Howard's #007 Beechdean Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 and Howard was a passenger as his Aston was pushed left into Minshaw's SLS which was on his left-hand side. The Fortec machine had a heavy impact into the tyre barriers and did rejoin the circuit, but only as far as the next corner Cascades.
With the stricken SLS now clear, racing began and Hetherington led Minshaw and British GT debutant Ahmad Al Harthy (Oman Air Motorbase Porsche) from the Ferraris of Palmer and GT Cup Champion, Derek Johnston (Mtech). It wasn't long before Johnston would meet his demise though, contact with Palmer spun the Mtech driver around and there he remained. A safety car was deployed and on the restart Hetherington led the field away once more.
In GT4, Steve Chaplin lost the class lead to Alex Osborne's APO Sport Ginetta on the opening lap. Osborne went on to begin building a comfortable lead, and when Chaplin spun at Lodge on lap 8, this allowed Rick Parfitt Jnr past for second place. Chaplin pitted immediately and would retire in the pits.
United Autosports' Zak Brown, Trackspeed's David Ashburn (Tandy's co-driver) and JRM's Mark Cole were making light work of those ahead of them. Just before the pit window opened it was seemingly looking like Fortec's race to lose; an oil spill from the Team LNT Ginetta G55 of Richard Sykes caused Hetherington to back off, reducing the lead he'd built up. The oil leak turned into a fire and Sykes ground to a halt by Warwick Bridge on the back straight, his oil spill also claimed Cole's Nissan GT-R at the exit of Druids.
Cole's JRM team-mate Fannin was one of a handful of drivers to not pit immediately when the window opened and he soon had a pacey SLS, now in the hands of Hancock and Keen's Demon Tweeks liveried Porsche closing in. Keen and Hancock had a clean fight for over five laps, the Fortec driver clearly keen to give the prominent single-seater squad a debut GT victory. However, it wasn't to be. As Hancock and Keen squabbled for the lead, Tandy, a recent addition to the Porsche factory driver squad, reeled the pair in at a rate of one-two seconds per lap and a spirited move up the inside of team-mate Keen at Knickerbrook freed him to tackle Hancock's SLS.
James May was now in the lead GT4 APO Sport car, but was caught and passed by Parfitt Jnr's team-mate the young Welsh driver, Ryan Ratcliffe, then Declan Jones' Century Ginetta too. Jones would eventually take the class lead when Ratcliffe came in to serve a stop/go penalty for having too short a pit stop. Jones now led GT4 by a comfortable seven seconds and it looked unlikely he would be caught.
Elsewhere, United Autosports' lone McLaren was up to fifth in the hands of 2011 British GT co-champion Glynn Geddie. Playing super-sub for Rob Bell, absent due to the birth of his first child, Geddie showed excellent pace and made the most of the top-five position team-mate Zak Brown had afforded him. Behind him Al Harthy's co-driver and reigning British GT champ, Michael Caine was closing in, as was the tartan-liveried Porsche of Richard Westbrook, who was carrying damage from Fisken's exuberant start. Ecurie Ecosse's Olly Bryant was now seventh, up from fourteenth on the grid in the hands of Marco Attard, and Matteo Bobbi in for Palmer was hustling the Vita4One 458 around the 2.69 mile Oulton Park circuit on his racing debut here.
Hancock and Tandy had a brilliant battle, with the Fortec driver showing his mettle on more than one occasion in a car he'd not driven before this weekend. However Tandy's experience showed and he elbowed his way past a very wide Mercedes on lap 22, taking Keen with him. Hancock was now looking like he might fall prey to the terrorfying trio of Geddie, Caine and Westbrook. Danish maestro Allan Simonsen set the fastest lap of the race (1:36.130) on the same lap, and was bearing down on the group ahead; the lap record holder had his work cut out after team-mate Lester had failed to progress through the field before the pit stops.
Geddie would get the better of Hancock, but shortly afterwards a gearbox failure would rob the flying Scotsman of a podium finish. Hancock, now with mirrors full of Porsches managed to hold off Caine and Westbrook to the flag, the Porsche pair were side-by-side as they drove towards the line the final time. Tandy, who had a four second lead over team-mate Keen looked to be easing up and a lap time of 1:41.034 brought the #33 Porsche onto his tail, before Keen passed Tandy up Clay Hill on the last lap for the win.
Behind the top five it was action-a-plenty. Simonsen burst past the BMW Z4s of Dan Brown (888Optimum) and Olly Bryant (Ecurie Ecosse), before brushing aside the Ferrari of Bobbi on the exit of Old Hall and gave Westbrook plenty to think about before the flag dropped. The group battled hard and the victims were Bobbi who pitted with damage and then retired from the race, and Brown's Beemer which suffered a left rear puncture. Benefiting from this was Aaron Scott's AF Corse Ferrari which finished seventh, Matt Griffin's Mtech Ferrari eighth, and United Autosports' Matt Bell who finished ninth, despite his Audi having suffered a slow puncture from the mid-point of the race. Aston Martin Racing MD, John Gaw, rounded out the top-ten in the PGF - Kinfaun AMR Vantage GT3 after a battling performance up from nineteenth on the grid.
Jones made the most of being unchallenged and finished a lap ahead of the Optimum car which had the stop/go penalty, the APO Sport car held it together despite leaking oil from it's gearbox for third and the fifteen points that come with the final place on the podium.
Race Two - Tandy/Ashburn take the win in action-packed Oulton second race
Nick Tandy and David Ashburn gave Trackspeed their second win today with a convincing performance in their 2013 Porsche 997 GT3 R after a dramatic 60 minute sprint race ended with a two-minute dash to the flag. Century Motorsport doubled its earlier win when Declan Jones and Zoe Wenham held off a strong challenge from Optimum Motorsport to cross the line first.
Polesitter Allan Simonsen dominated the first half of the race, the Rosso Verde driver led from the off and he and Tandy soon stretched the field out, leaving behind Beechdean Motorsports' Jonny Adam who was coping admirably in the patched-up Aston Martin V12 Vantage that had been a victim in the first race first corner shunt.
Mtech's Matt Griffin, Trackspeed's Richard Westbrook and Vita4One Team Italy's Matteo Bobbi gave chase to Adam who was seemingly racing by himself. Such is the quality in the field this year that the battle for fifth between Westbrook and Bobbi was 'worth' three FIA GT Drivers Championships.
Local driver, slowly turning local hero, Declan Jones, was continuing his dream debut in British GT's GT4 class. Not only had the Liverpudlian teenager been fastest in all practice and qualifying sessions, but after a race win in the earlier race he was now dominating the second race of the day too. Optimum Motorsport's Ryan Ratcliffe, hardly a slouch himself, was putting on the pressure, and James May was a close third after a stirling continued effort by his APO Sport team to ensure the car made the grid; the team's Ginetta G50 having had numerous electrical and gearbox issues throughout the weekend.
One team not quite so fortunate were the Complete Racing AMR outfit from Gloucestershire. Despite a strong showing in the first race, Tom Wilson didn't make the grid after his V8 Aston GT4 had an engine issue and broke down at the end of the pit lane as the cars left to join the grid.
Danish star, Simonsen was flying and his fourth lap was the quickest of the race, a 1:35.861 with an average speed of the 2.69 mile circuit in excess of 101 mph.
Casualties in race two began to develop. The tell-tale signs of a problem, smokey exhausts, appeared on Griffin's Ferrari and John Gaw's Aston Martin, and the Mtech and PGF-Kinfaun AMR crews proceeded to bring their cars in for evaluation before the looming pit window, neither car would make it back out on track.
This moved Westbrook up to fourth and the Trackspeed driver was closing on Adam whilst holding off the threat of the looming black Ferrari of Bobbi. With the pit window open it was JRM's Mark Cole and reigning Champion, Michael Caine's cars that pitted first. Caine's new team-mate, Omani driver, Ahmad Al Harthy impressed in race one but had a job to do in the second half of this race as the Oman Air Motorbase team were just outside the points.
Up front Simonsen stretched his lead over Tandy to one and a half seconds before all of the top five pitted together, causing the pit crews some pressure. Tandy's team-mate David Ashburn left the pits first, with Bobbi's co-driver Jay Palmer right on his tail; Simonsen's team-mate, Ulsterman Hector Lester exited fourth behind Andrew Howard, but Westbrook's driving partner Gregor Fisken struggled to get the #32 Porsche to fire-up properly after the stop, leaving his Porsche in a precarious position in the pit lane.
This caused a problem for Gary Eastwood who was taking over from Rob Barff. As Eastwood attempted to move from behind Fisken's Porsche he almost collected Steve Tandy's 888Optimum BMW Z4 and later received a stop/go penalty for the unsafe release. While all this was going on Jon Minshaw nicked ahead of both of them and re-joined in fifth.
In GT4, Jones pitted the Century-prepared G50 comfortably and handed over to Zoe Wenham who was relishing the fact she was now in the car to beat in the class. James May had got the better of Ryan Ratcliffe before the pitstops, but Rick Parfitt Jnr now in Ratcliffe's Optimum G50 was ahead of Osborne in the APO car.
Ashburn and Palmer had now pulled out three seconds on Howard's Aston Martin who was holding off the attentions of Mark Patterson, the South African driver who now lives in Bronxville, New York. Patterson and team-mate Bell had been quietly getting on with their weekend, steadily improving and finding more and more pace in their United Autosports Audi R8 LMS ultra.
What happened over the course of the next ten minutes can only be described as 'dramatic'.
Palmer spun the Vita4One Team Italy 458 while attempting to unsettle race leader Ashburn, and dropped to fifth. Next up Howard spun the Aston Martin, and joined Palmer down the order in fifth, this promoted Patterson to second and Ecurie Ecosse's Marco Attard to fourth, Palmer was now third having fought back past Attard already.
Then an absolutely huge accident happened between Jon Minshaw and Howard at the Knickerbrook chicane. Minshaw, off the racing line lost control on the rubber marbles and his Porsche took off over the nearside kerb and into the right rear/side of Howard's unassuming Aston Martin. Both cars were wrecked and would play no further part in the race.
Just when it looked like things might calm down, Colin White in the CWS 4 x 4 spares sponsored Ginetta G55 exited final corner, Lodge on fire. To give perspective, a clearly visible orange fire could be seen burning from the right side of the Ginetta, and White bailed out as soon as he stopped the vehicle, just outside of the pit entry lane. White escaped unscathed, but a little shaken.
Almost ten minutes passed and it looked like the race would finish under safety car conditions, but marshalls and race officials handled the situation with aplomb and this teed up a two minute last gasp two lap sprint. When the safety car peeled off the circuit Ashburn used every trick in the book to keep Patterson behind him and when Palmer outbraked himself at Knickerbrook, Attard took a well-deserved third place for the Ecurie Ecosse crew.
Similarly the battle for GT4 honours was close as the flag dropped, Wenham's comfortable lead had been eradicated by the safety car caused by the Ginetta inferno, and she crossed the line three tenths of a second ahead of a hungry Rick Parfitt Jnr; the Surrey-based driver relishing his first weekend in the top UK GT series.
Not quite so happy post-race were the APO Sport team. The team's Ginetta had a cracked chassis in five places after a collision with Derek Johnston's Mtech Ferrari, the 458 reportedly t-boning the G50 as it re-joined the circuit. APO finished the race, claiming fifteen points for third place.
New boys Fortec didn't have quite such a good second race after getting onto the podium in race one with Benji Hetherington and Ollie Hancock. The pair's gearbox got stuck in fourth gear and the SLS was eventually retired by Hetherington from fifteenth before the Minshaw/Howard incident. The sister car of Jason Minshaw and James Walker had a better race finishing seventh on the road.
Post-race Palmer was handed a ten-second penalty for an infringement relating to his re-joining the race at Knickerbook on the last lap. This dropped the British driver down the order to fifteenth and meant the top ten consisted of six different brands.
This meant that Lester and Simonsen inherited fourth place for Rosso Verde completing a solid point scoring weekend for the pair, Steve Tandy and Dan Brown got 888Optimum's first points of the year and Minshaw/Walker moved up to sixth from seventh.
Elsewhere FF Corse's Eastwood and Barff got six points for a seventh place finish, a great result considering the pair had to take a stop/go penalty too, and Preci-Spark's Godfrey and David Jones picked up points on their debut weekend in the McLaren MP4-12c.
Reigning Champion Caine and team-mate Al Harthy took a double points scoring finish at the opening race weekend by adding to their earlier fourth place with a ninth place finish and Zak Brown and Glynn Geddie rounded out the top ten and collected a point for their efforts. The pair had a difficult weekend, gearbox issues in race one and brake issues in race two, but still take away a championship point.
Benjamin Franassovici, championship manager
"That was a great start to the season. We had full capacity with 34 beautiful GT cars entered, congratulations to David Ashburn for his very successful one off return... or is it? It was a really cold weekend and I was blown away by how many people came and braved the weather, so thank you to them. We now head to Rockingham for our first two hour race, I look forward to welcoming the Toyota in GT4 and the track always gives us a good race."
David Ashburn, driver #31 Trackspeed Porsche (race 1 runner up, race 2 winner)
"After the restart I could see Mark was pushing and I just put the car where I needed to. I knew I had it when I left Lodge and made it hard for him up Deer Leap. Yes I am definitely retiring. With a result like this of course I'm retiring, it can't get any better can it?"
Nick Tandy, driver #31 Trackspeed Porsche (race 1 runner up, race 2 winner)
"Two morale victories for us. Today we won it because we had a great stop. I had a good in lap and even though we had the ten second success penalty, it was really good. Anymore retirees looking to race I'm more than willing, I like racing, winning and champagne."
Phil Keen, driver #33 Trackspeed Porsche (race 1 winner)
"Jon had a great start and that set us up well. I had a good scrap with Ollie in the Mercedes and then Nick came through and opened the door, so I snuck past as well. When I saw Nick slowing on the last lap, I just went for the win. It's great to give the new Porsche GT3 its first win, and to do it as a 1-2 is even better."
Keith Cheetham, team manager, Trackspeed
"It wasn't a bad start to the season all things considered. It would've been nicer to have had two good results from the full-season cars (#32 and #33), but it's great to see David and Nick do well. Gregor was unfortunate with the electrical issue that delayed him in the pits, these things happen sometimes. When you have a bad weekend, you have a bad weekend. We can now look to Rockingham where we always have gone well, last year we had a 1-3, perhaps this year we'll get a 1-2."
Ollie Hancock, driver #15 Fortec Motorsport Mercedes (race 1 - 3rd)
"I apologise to Nick if he felt I put him on the grass, there is a blind spot in the SLS, I thought I knew where that was. Benji did a great job and had a flyer. I made some changes as the setup wasn't really to my liking, but we did it and we got a podium in Fortec's first race. Its mega for them."
Zoe Wenham, driver #43 Century Motorsport Ginetta (GT4 race 1 & 2 winner)
"That was really good fun, and it was really tight at the end. Declan has done a great job this weekend and I'm pleased I held off Rick at the end there. It's great to leave Oulton leading the championship."
Declan Jones, driver #43 Century Motorsport Ginetta (GT4 race 1 & 2 winner)
"I can't fault the weekend. Quickest in testing, qualifying and we won both races. The last two laps after the safety car were really close, Zoe parked the car on every apex and she brought the car home in first. It's great to win twice at home, it's been a really fantastic weekend."
Full results available here: www.tsl-timing.com
Mobil Service Centre Master of the Weekend: Marco Attard
Championship points after round 1:
1 - Nick Tandy/David Ashburn - 43 pts
2 - Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen - 25 pts
3 - Marco Attard/Olly Bryant - 23 pts
4 - Hector Lester/Allan Simonsen - 22 pts
5 - Mark Patterson/Matt Bell - 20 pts
6 - Benji Hetherington/Ollie Hancock - 15 pts
7 - Ahamd Al Harthy/ Michael Caine - 14 pts
8 - Steve Tandy/Dan Brown - 10 pts
9 - Jason Minshaw/James Walker - 8 pts
=10 Gary Eastwood/Rob Barff - 6 pts
=10 John Dhillon/Aaron Scott - 6 pts
12 - David Jones/Godfrey Jones - 4 pts
13 - Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin - 4 pts
14 - Zak Brown/Glynn Geddie - 1 pts
15 - Phil Dryburgh/John Gaw - 1 pts
1 - Trackspeed - 68 pts
=2 Ecurie Ecosse - 23 pts
=2 Fortec - 23 pts
3 - Rosso Verde - 22 pts
4 - United Autosports - 21 pts
5 - Motorbase - 14 pts
6 - 888Optimum - 10 pts
=7 AF Corse - 6 pts
=7 FF Corse - 6 pts
=9 Mtech - 4 pts
=9 Preci-Spark - 4 pts
11 - PGF - Kinfaun AMR - 1 pts
1 - Declan Jones/Zoe Wenham - 50 pts
=2 - Rick Parfitt Jnr/Ryan Ratcliffe - 33 pts
=2 - James May/Alex Osborne - 33 pts
Blancpain Gentleman Drivers Trophy Winner: Mark Patterson
Blancpain Gentleman Driver Championship:
1 - David Ashburn - 43 pts
=2 - Marco Attard - 27 pts
=2 - Hector Lester - 27 pts
4 - Jon Minshaw - 25 pts
5 - Mark Patterson - 24 pts
=6 - John Dhillon - 10 pts
=6 - Steve Tandy - 10 pts
=8 - Duncan Cameron - 8 pts
=8 - Gary Eastwood - 8 pts
=8 - Jason Minshaw - 8 pts
11 - David Jones/Godfrey Jones - 7.5 pts
12 - Phil Dryburgh - 4 pts
13 - Zak Brown - 2 pts
14 - Gregor Fisken - 1 pt
British GT TV Broadcast:
Channel 4: Highlights, Saturday April 6th, 7:00 am 7:30 am
Motors TV: Highlights, Saturday April 6th, 6:30 pm 7:30 pm
More listings here: http://www.britishgt.com/television.php
2013 British GT Calendar:
1 Oulton Park (GB) - 30 March (Sat) 1 April (Mon) - Sprint Races
2 Rockingham (GB) - 5 & 6 May Refuelling Race
3 Silverstone GP (GB) 25 & 26-May - Refuelling Race
4 Snetterton 300 (GB) 15 & 16-Jun - Sprint Races
5 Brands Hatch GP (GB) 10 & 11-Aug - Refuelling Race
6 Zandvoort (NL) 6, 7, 8-Sep - Sprint Races
7 Donington Park (GB) - 56-Oct - Refuelling Race
For more information about WP Racing, official fuel supplier to the British GT Championship & British Formula 3 International Series and many other topline UK Motorsport series, please contact us today.
Photography courtesy of and copyright to Jakob Ebrey Photography.