The finale of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge at Brands Hatch was a tense and gripping affair, with Optimum Motorsport once again featuring a full team with the return of Finlay Ractliffe, as well as two-time Ginetta champion, Stewart Linn, in addition to full-season racer, Nick Firth.
Throughout the weekend, with a few minor setbacks in the mix for good measure, Optimum once again proved they have the capacity to fight for race wins and future championships.
It was a successful qualifying for Linn who set the pace early on with a time worthy of P5. The following 10-minutes of the session saw a number of positions change as the rest of the field pushed to their limits. Linn was able to keep pace with the front-runners and, having not competed in the car for the majority of the year, showed a strong return to the championship. A final qualifying position of P5 put him between two championship contenders, Simms and Strandberg, and three-tenths of a second off P2.
While Ractliffe had a slow start to qualifying as he built confidence around the track, he soon began to show his true pace. Within the last few seconds of the session, Ractliffe managed to climb a number of positions for a P11 start to the first race. A fractional margin of 0.061 seconds separated him from BRDC F4 ace, Sennan Fielding, in P10.
Due to Firth's tyres being extremely damaged after the unavoidable contact at Brands Hatch, the car was fitted with four new tyres; Firth took a 36-point penalty for this, however it was a necessary move. While Firth managed a P6 time in the first half of the session while warming his tyres, a differential issue forced him to retire before he was able to put in his quickest laps. A challenging weekend awaited Firth as he was set to start the first race in P17, and the second P19.
It was a tremendous start for Ractliffe and Firth, both of whom took advantage of the conditions at the start to climb through the field. Ractliffe was able to get into P7 with teammate Firth just behind in P8. After a short battle between the two, it was Firth who won, with Ractliffe losing out on two positions due to Gaffney taking advantage of Firth’s overtaking move.
While valiantly holding off Mortensen behind him, Ractliffe was able to take back P8 from Gaffney. Unfortunately a run in with another competitor forced him wide, and meant he chose to retire the car in order to save his tyres for the remaining races.After overtaking Ractliffe, Firth had moved to P7, an impressive 10 places higher than where he started, and over the final few laps of the race, Firth was able to further improve by taking P6, due to mechanical misfortune for Hirst ahead.
Linn had an unfortunate start to the race as he received contact as the cars pulled off the grid. The resulting spin caused him to drop from P5 to P17, however Linn’s experience and pace shone through as he made up a number of positions to take P13 after only the second lap. A few laps later and Linn was placed P10, behind Gaffney and teammate Ractliffe. In a series of brilliant overtaking moves, Linn took P8, and further took P7 after Ractliffe’s retirement. The final minutes of the race were a tense battle between Linn, and Pointon and whilst Pointon ultimately took P7, Linn’s P8 finish showed the seasoned racers determination after climbing from P17.
The first 10 minutes of the 20-minute race were conducted behind the safety car, after Ractliffe and Webster had contact at the top of the Craner Curves. Ractliffe and Webster would manage to carry on in the race, but the resultant avoidance by Gaffney unfortunately put himself and Firth into the tire wall with race ending damage.After the safety car period had ended, Ractliffe worked his way forward overtaking Keogh for P10, and a later spin from Flowers enabled Ractliffe to finish P9.
Meanwhile, Linn, found himself in a lengthy post-safety car battle with front-runners, Strandberg, Pointon and Simms. Through a dramatic series of place-swapping, Linn and Pointon would ultimately drop off the back of the lead pack and continue battling all the way through to the closing minutes of the race. After providing the spectators and fans with an impressive display of clean wheel to wheel racing, Linn unfortunately lost out to Pointon by a mere 0.093 seconds to take P7.
A brief rain shower before the start of the final race, ensured conditions were initially slippery for the Ginetta cars, all of which were fitted with slick tyres. Due to a penalty from causing the collisions at the start of Race 2, Ractliffe began the race in P19. After making a spectacular start, overtaking a number of drivers, including Murphy and Flowers, Ractliffe was able to get as high as P9 before an unlucky spin into the gravel meant he was unable to finish the race.
It was another tough battle with Simms for Linn during the third race. The pair fought it out for the duration of the race, exchanging P6 and P7 a number of times. While Linn made a valiant effort, it was Simms who ultimately took the position, with Linn finishing P7.
Due to the previous DNF in Race 2, Firth’s would have to begin the race in P28. However, as with previous races, Firth would once again prove that fighting through from the back is no challenge for him. Firth was able to take back a staggering 10 positions through the first lap alone, putting him P18. Firth kept a steady pace throughout the race, picking off his competitors one by one.
After making his way past the leading G20’s of Flowers and Murphy, and the G40 of Mortensen, Firth found himself in a comfortable P11 with a few minutes left in the race. However, not settling for a place outside of the top 10, Firth pushed on and with a final, daring and impressive overtaking move on Keough round the outside into the Fogarty Esses, Firth finished a hard fought and well deserved P10, 18 positions higher than where he started.
Shaun Goff - Team Principal:“Overall it was a strong showing of pace for all three drivers, but we were disappointed not to have all three in amongst the fight for the last spot on the podium; Gamble and Chadwick were on another level but third was not out of reach!All three drivers did well for different reasons; Stewart to have not raced since the first round in April and challenge with the seasoned front-runners. Nick to have showed impressive pace in testing, to then have a mechanical issue in qualifying, which meant he had to start near the back all weekend. He had a mature approach about the situation and managed to pull off the drive of the weekend and finish 6th in Race 1. Finlay for having not done a single lap around Donington GP format until qualifying, and yet he managed to out-qualify seasoned runners. It was unfortunate that some bad luck throughout the weekend hampered his results.”
Finlay Ractliffe #63:“After starting on the back foot, as we had not gotten any track time prior to qualifying, we knew the weekend was going to be a struggle, but we made the best of it. It’s been an eight-week gap between races for me, so it meant I had to warm myself, and the car up quickly!We managed to secure P11 in qualifying with a 1:48 lap time, which was only five-tenths off the pole time last year. Given our lack of testing, both the team and myself were quite happy.I made a cautious start to Race 1, managing to get up to P8, but I was unable to close the gap in front of me. A faster driver made his way through the field after a mistake at the beginning, however as he made his way past me he cut in front of me which caused me to lose control and not finish the race.A terrible start in Race 2 saw me getting tangled up in an incident with Chris Webster; I later apologised for this. While my mind was distracted, I was still able to get a P9 finish. I was later given a 10-place grid penalty, however no action was taken for the incident against me in the previous race so it left me bemused as to what the regulations actually are.After starting with the grid penalty in Race 3, I knew I would have some work to do. Starting further back meant I was able to avoid the trouble that normally occurs at the front. I managed to make up four places in the first corner, and seven at the end of the first lap. I kept my head down and focused, making it up to P9 before a brake failure forced me to retire at the Melbourne Loop. All in all it was a difficult weekend, but we showed that we have good pace and could have definitely been right up there had we been able to test!”
Nick Firth #76:“The problem in qualifying with the differential made the weekend a case of damage limitation. In Race 1, I was able to make a good start and pick my way through the field to a sixth place finish, which I think was a good recovery from a P17 start, but in race 2 I ended up getting involved in someone else’s accident. Unfortunately, an incident ahead meant that myself and Rob (Gaffney) got put onto the grass and into the tyre wall. The team did great to get the car back in one piece again for Race 3, but the DNF in Race 2 meant I had a P28 start. I took my opportunities in the first lap and managed to get past 10 people. From there on out, I was just trying to pick off a car each lap, which ultimately got me a P10 finish. I’ve had a great debut season with Optimum and looking forward to a successful 2015 Championship.”
FINAL CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS
13: N. Firth - 125pts16: S. Linn - 100pts18: F. Ractliffe - 76pts