Claude Bovet and David McDonald, driving the Blackthorn Mercedes GT3, triumphed in the opening round on the Silverstone GP circuit, though it could well have gone to the Audi of Peter Erceg and Marcus Clutton; the two cars dominated and exchanged the lead multiple times in the three-hour race, and it could be said that the outcome was decided on penalties.
A revised qualifying format saw the grid determined by a 10-minute shoot-out for amateur drivers, levelling the field for the first part of the race, and pole-sitter Erceg led away from the line, with Bovet on his tail, the pair just half a second apart as they crossed the line for the first time, though a full seven seconds ahead of John Seale’s Ferrari 488. Bovet grabbed the lead on lap 2, and began to eke out an advantage, and the gap back to third place was now about a quarter of a minute, though it was the stunning orange Aston Martin Vulcan that now held the position, very quickly up from 13th on the grid after qualifying issues, and rapidly building a gap of 30-seconds over Seale’s Ferrari, which was maintaining a five-second gap back to James Whitley’s Team BRIT McLaren, the paralympic skiier having his fIrst race in a GT car. Rhys Lloyd was well up the order in the Dragon Sport / Amigo TCR Astra, but was deemed to have taken a false start, and was called in for a drive-through penalty, while in the midfield, Tony Prendagast’s Golf was dicing with Brad Thurston, having his first run in a Team Hard Porsche.
Nine laps in, Whitley’s fine run in the McLaren came to a stop at Becketts – handled by waved yellows and recovered back to the pits, a simple electrical connection malfunction was diagnosed and rectified. Returning to the race after losing around 12 laps, the car then ran faultlessly for the duration, though too far back for Whitley and fellow reigning Trophy champion Chris Overend to make an impression on the Class D podium places. John Seale was also in trouble – the black Ferrari came to a halt on the circuit, and was then driven slowly to the pits, a power-steering issue ending the day for the enthusiastic amateur and denying pro-driver Jamie Stanley a turn at the wheel. Jonathan Beeson’s Audi held the TCR lead, but a fired-up Rhys Lloyd was making moves on Ash Woodman’s second-placed Cupra – there was side-by-side action and kerb-hopping, but old-hand Woodman was having none of it.
At the front, Erceg was now decimating the lead that Bovet had stretched out – they circulated less than half-a second apart for a few laps before Erceg made a more assertive job of lapping Chris Goddard’s Ferrari to get back a tenuous advantage for the Audi. Goddard, in fact was one of the first heavy-hitters to pit, dead-on the one-hour mark, handing over to teenage coming-man Charlie Hand. Adam Wilcox retired the GT4 McLaren started by David Foster with a suspected cracked oil tank, and Erceg pitted the Audi from the lead 70 minutes in. Bovet pitted the Mercedes just one lap later, handing over to pro-driver David McDonald, though Erceg got back into the Audi after refuelling during what was an overlong pit stop. The two cars maintained their 1-2 positions, though the Audi was a third of a lap adrift. Just 20 minutes later – dead-on the halfway point of the race – Erceg was back in the pits; new tyres all round, and Marcus Clutton took over. There followed a long period of additional pit stops and penalties for the leading pair, and the Mercedes generally held sway over the Audi by around a lap, until a pit stop for tyres by McDonald saw the gap close to just a few seconds with 50 minutes of the race left. Clutton had been punching in some fastest laps, and after a short spell on the tail of the Mercedes, siezed the moment on the Loop and began to stretch a lead out. A final pit stop for the Mercedes saw the Audi now a lap ahead, but this was reduced to a 10-second gap when Clutton was called in for a stop/go penalty, then eradicated completely when he was pitbound again to serve a further penalty for transgressing during the previous one. Game over then, and with just 15 minutes left the Mercedes ran to the flag a minute ahead of the Audi. The two cars had dominated, throughout the race, with not even the Venture Innovations Aston Martin Vulcan able to touch them- Gleb Stepanovs had performed a magnificent opening stint, earning him the Britcar Outstanding Achievement award, though there minor issues as the race progressed, as pro-driver Steve Tomkins alluded: “We had low oil pressure at the last pit stop, and when that was sorted, we had high water temperature, so I had to nurse it home”.
The RNR Performance Ferrari 458 Challenge of Chris Goddard, Charlie Hand and Charlie Hollings kept it clean to take the Class C win, fourth overall, having 12 laps over the Brad Thurston/Adam Hatfield Porsche, which had put in a spirited performance, though the remaining Class C machine, the Audi BTCC of Maurice Henry and Daryl DeLeon expired after 33 laps.
The MKH Aston Martin of Peter Montague and Stuart Hall was the top Class D GT4 runner, two laps ahead of the Neville Jones / Chris Jones / Matt George Aston Martin, while reigning co-champion Tom Jackson assisted newcomer Ameerh Naran to the third step of the podium in the Breakell Racing Mercedes GT4. Ghanaian businessman William Tewiah had early and late spins in his stint in the One Motorsport Mercedes he shared with Ed McDermott, fourth in class, while endurance experts George Haynes and Dave Cox (29 Nurburgring 24-hrs to his name) had a solid run in their newly-acquired BMW GT4, ahead of the Team BRIT McLaren.
The battle for Class E honours was hard-fought – the Dragon Sport / Amigo Astra of Rhys Lloyd and Max Coates showed well in qualifying and at the start, but a penalty, then a late-race retirement with a possible blown head gasket stymied what Coates thought could have been a win. The Audi TCR of Jonathan Beeson and George Heler ebbed and flowed into the class lead, seven pit stops, five of them for penalties, but they kept coming back into contention, though it was the EDF Cupra of Ash Woodman and Martin Byford that took the class win, with less penalties but not clear of issues -”the brake pedal was down to the floor towards the end” said Byford. Tony Prendagast and Kieran Griffin took third in the JW Bird VW Golf, and Max Hart accompanied Maltese national Warren Sciberras to fourth in the T4 Motorsport Cupra. Britcar Trophy graduates Owen Hizzey and Scott Symons had hoped to compete with the GT4 machines in their SVG-run Class G Ginetta G55 Supercup, but were thwarted by a left front corner failure- nevertheless the SVG team effected as repair to get the car out to finish the race.
Words: Steve Wood, photos: Paul Cherry and Chris Valentine.