Scuderia Vittoria pairing Charles Bateman and Michael Lyons secured their second victory of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship season yesterday evening after a dramatic three-hour race into darkness at Donington Park.
The duo had qualified in eighth place in their Ferrari 458 Italia but played the strategy game well to move into the lead heading into the final hour of the race. Despite a third Safety Car period late on, Lyons was able to bring the Ferrari home to the finish to give the team its first win since the opening rounds of the campaign at Oulton Park.
In GT4, the Lotus Sport UK team stormed to victory, with Phil Glew and James Nash leading from start to finish to win ahead of the Ginetta of Josh Wakefield and Jake Rattenbury.
The race had started in the wet after earlier rain, which led to tricky conditions throughout the opening stint.
Early on, the Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin proved the class of the field, with the team electing to put Jonathan Adam in for the first stint while most teams took the decision to start with their professional driver watching from the pit wall. From sixth on the grid, Adam stormed through to lead by the end of the first lap and then pulled away at the margin of three seconds a lap before the gap between the Aston and the chasing pack eventually started to stabilise as conditions improved.
Behind Adam, Gregor Fisken had also got ahead of reigning champion David Ashburn and into second place, with the two Trackspeed Porsches running in tandem ahead of the MTECH Ferrari of Duncan Cameron, Bateman and Mike Guasch’s United Autosport Audi.
Bateman made a move on Cameron for fourth just before the 20-minute mark and that allowed Guasch also to close on the Ferrari, before contact between the two cars saw Cameron slip down to eighth and left the Audi to pit with bodywork damage which cost it two laps.
The Aston Martin led through to the opening round of stops - at which point the field switched to slick tyres on the drying track - but that would be as good as is got for the Beechdean crew as Andrew Howard then suffered a spin at Redgate on his out lap. Dropping down to fourth, Howard then lost further places among the quicker ‘pro’ drivers before a spin at the Esses saw the Aston beached in the gravel and led to the Safety Car being deployed. Although he managed to get the car back to the pits, the Aston Martin was soon retired.
It would prove to be the moment when the race swung towards Scuderia Vittoria, as the team called Michael Lyons - who had taken over from Bateman - in for a second stop.
Keeping the car towards the front, Bateman then pitted when the Safety Car came out for a second time to remove the CRS Ferrari of Andrew Tate from the gravel, and this handed control back to Lyons as the three cars ahead all pitted.
Despite his final stint running to just over an hour, and with fuel needing to be saved, Lyons maintained a lead of more than 20 seconds before the Safety Car was called out for the third time with 16 minutes remaining when the MTECH Ferrari of David Back went off.
With three lapped cars to act as a buffer against the chasing pack, Lyons was able to hold on to his lead and take victory as a heated battle developed behind for second place. “The pit stops and the safety car worked out really well for us, and then at the end it was real heart-in-the-mouth stuff for me,” Lyons said. “The tyres went through a phase, they started to come back to me and then the safety car came out again, and I was thinking ‘please don't do this’, but actually it helped save the tyres a bit and at the end I was matching the boys behind me.”
Those boys behind at the finish were the MTECH Ferrari of Matt Griffin and Tim Bridgman’s Trackspeed Porsche, which had moved to the front of the field by the half-way stage - the former despite the earlier delay in Cameron’s first stint.
Bridgman had been the race leader when the second Safety Car period was called, ahead of Griffin. Both cars dived for the pits to complete what would be their second of three mandatory stops - with Gregor Fisken and Duncan Cameron maintaining position when they rejoined the circuit.
However, while still behind the Safety Car, the pair found themselves stuck behind the GT4 Aston Martin of Sergio Lagana, which was suffering from a gearbox issue and which they were unable under the Safety Car rules to pass. Having already been delayed, there was further drama for Fisken as he exited Goddards to take the restart when Lagana suddenly dived for the pits, forcing the Porsche man to jump on the brakes and allowing Cameron through into the lead.
“The guy in the Aston Martin, I now discover, had a problem: his car was stuck in third gear,” Fisken said. “When you have a problem with your car you should come into the pits. We were both stuck behind him and we lost everything. He was struggling and he would not come in, and then when he finally decided at the last minute to duck into the pits, I had to swerve to avoid him. The Cameron/Griffin car took advantage and passed us.”
The Ferrari would then lead the Porsche through to the final stops, where both were jumped by Lyons, with Griffin and Bridgman setting about chasing down the leader over the final 40 minutes.
The final Safety Car looked like setting up a grandstand finish but Griffin found himself stuck behind the lapped cars of both Gordon Shedden and Adam Wilcox and was unable to challenge Lyons for the lead, although any challenge would ultimately have been immaterial when stewards handed Cameron and Griffin a time penalty for the earlier pass on Fisken at the end of the second caution period. With that time penalty applied, the MTECH car dropped back behind the Porsche, into third place, with Fisken and Bridgman securing the runner-up slot.
“This penalty is a difficult one because for sure the rule is that under a safety car you can't pass until the start line but the Aston decided late to go for the pits and nearly took Gregor out,” Griffin said. “Duncan had no choice: he had to go past or hit Gregor. To dart into the pits like that was dangerous and could have caused a crash, so I think the penalty is harsh. You have to look at the circumstances.”
Outside the top three positions, the second Trackspeed Porsche of Ashburn and Stephen Jelley took the chequered flag in fourth place with its challenge having been hampered by a number of minor off-track excursions by Ashburn.
The CRS Ferrari of championship leaders Jim and Glynn Geddie was the final car to finish on the lead lap, in fifth place having lost time - and position - during the opening stint when the car was forced to serve a drive-through penalty for a starting procedure violation.
The all-new Rosso Verde Ferrari 458 Italia rounded out the top six after an encouraging debut, with touring car star Gordon Shedden quickly up to speed and matching the pace of the front-runners as he looked to lift the car back up the order after team-mate Hector Lester lost time during the wet opening stint. It had been Hector’s first chance to sample the car in such conditions.
Guasch and Bell lifted the delayed Audi - the only one in the race after the sister car was ruled out by a qualifying accident - back up to seventh at the finish, although the two laps lost early on would prove to be too much to make up. They regained one of the laps lost but seventh was the best the pair could have hoped for.
The 360 Vision Ferrari of Phil Burton and Adam Wilcox, the Speedworks Corvette of Ron and Piers Johnson and the Rollcentre Ginetta of Tom Sharp, Martin Short and Matt Nicoll-Jones rounded out the top 10 - the latter having been one of the stars of the early stages as Sharp fought his way up into the top five with a series of daring moves in the tricky conditions. For his sterling efforts at the wheel, Burton was awarded the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend trophy.
The GT4 category was dominated by the Lotus Sport UK Evora of Phil Glew and James Nash, which led throughout the three hours and claimed victory despite a late stop/go penalty. A strong first stint from Glew in the wet conditions saw the Lotus challenge a number of the quicker GT3 cars and the pair took the chequered flag a lap clear of the Ginetta of Josh Wakefield and Jake Rattenbury.
“It was a fairly straightforward race, really,” Glew said. “We got a good start, we had great pace in the wet and pulled a massive lead and we kept that lead pretty much all through the race. We had a scary moment towards the end with the stop-go penalty, but we had a big lead so it didn't matter too much. James and I got on really well, we have a good team around us, and it’s been a great weekend. All thanks to the Lotus Sport UK team.”
The Scuderia Vittoria Ginetta of Dan Denis and David McDonald had been well placed for third before a misfire in the final half hour saw the pair drop well off the pace. It allowed the KTM X-Bow of Marcus Clutton and Peter Belshaw to claim the final place on the podium, despite the car being forced to serve two stop/go penalties.
Elsewhere among the GT4 brigade, the second Lotus of Leyton Clarke and Freddy Nordstrom stopped on track, while the Barwell-run Secure Racing Aston Martin was hampered by its gearbox issues but did return to action late on, albeit 29 laps down.
The JRM-run Nissan GTR GT3 - entered in the Invitational Class for its British GT debut - ran inside the top 10 in the early part of the race before dropping 10 laps in the pits while the team worked to resolve a mechanical issue. Although the car was then able to return to action to continue with its development programme, a loss of drive left Nick Catsburg stranded on the side of the circuit and forced the car into retirement.
The GT3B Ferrari of Aaron Scott and John Dhillon enjoyed a trouble-free run to 11th place, taking the flag less than three seconds ahead of the GTC-class Chevron of Jordan Witt and Anthony Reid, which was another car to be given a drive-through penalty - this time for a refuelling infringement.
Just 18.5 points separates the top nine drivers as the Avon Tyres British GT Championship heads for a grand finale at Silverstone on 8 October. The GT4 class is still open, too, with Belshaw and Clutton taking a 26.5-point lead into the last two-hour race of the season.
The British GT Championship is sponsored by UK tyre manufacturer Avon Tyres and is further supported by Sunoco Racing Fuels, Anglo American Oil Company and OAMPS.
Avon Tyres British GT ChampionshipRound 9, Donington Park GP 25/9/2011105 laps / 261.17 miles
Provisional results GT3 & overall1 Scuderia Vittoria Ferrari Michael Lyons/Charles Bateman 3h 0m 43.609s / 86.70mph2 Trackspeed Porsche Gregor Fisken/Tim Bridgman +6.054s3 MTECH Ferrari Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin (IRL) +6.100s4 Trackspeed Porsche David Ashburn/Stephen Jelley +9.029s5 CRS Racing Ferrari Jim Geddie/Glynn Geddie +33.549s6 Rosso Verde Ferrari Hector Lester/Gordon Shedden 104 laps7 United Autosports Audi Mike Guasch (USA)/Matt Bell 104 laps8 360 Vision Ferrari Phil Burton/Adam Wilcox 102 laps9 Speedworks Motorsport Corvette Ron Johnson/Piers Johnson 102 laps10 Rollcentre Ginetta Martin Short/Matt Nicoll-Jones/Tom Sharp 102 laps etc
GT3B1 MTECH Ferrari John Dhillon/Aaron Scott 101 laps
GT Cup1 Chevron Racing Chevron Jordan Witt/Anthony Reid 101 laps
GT41 Lotus Sport UK Lotus James Nash/Phil Glew 100 laps2 Century Motorsport Ginetta Josh Wakefield/Jake Rattenbury 99 laps3 ABG Motorsport KTM Peter Belshaw/Marcus Clutton 98 laps etc
Fastest lap Bridgman 1m 31.205s / 98.17mph Est Rec
Provisional championship standingsGT3 & overall=1 Geddie & Geddie 121.5 points; =3 Cameron & Griffin 113.5; =5 Guasch & Bell 110.5; =7 Lyons & Bateman 107.5; 9 Ashburn 103; =10 Fisken & Bridgman 89.5 etcGT3B=1 Dhillon & Scott 137.5 etcGT4=1 Belshaw & Clutton 178.5; =3 Freddy Nordstrom & Leyton Clarke 152; =5 Dan Denis & David McDonald 141.5 etcGT Cup=1 Reid & Witt 81.25 etc
TV schedule Channel 4: 0700 8 October; Motors TV UK 1952 8 October + repeats
Final rounds Silverstone, 7/8 October