Having proved to be so dominant at the same venue last year, the 2019 edition of the Oulton Park season-opener to the British GT Championship brought lots of learnings, and with it came a superb first podium of the season – and Silver Cup victory - for Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis.
After months of preparation, the Wakefield-based team wheeled out three fantastic new Aston Martin Vantages over the Bank Holiday Easter weekend; fielding two cars in the GT4 class and one in the GT3 Silver class.
Optimum Motorsport took part in the Friday test day – which consisted of two one-hour sessions - with the new driver parings of Connor O’Brien / Jack Butel and Mike Robinson / Patrik Matthiesen getting equated in the #35 and #75 GT4s respectively. Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis meanwhile also completed the sessions, ahead of official practice in the beautifully liveried #96 GT3.
Qualifying for the two-rounds on Easter Sunday however proved to be challenging for all three driver pairings. With such large field – 38 entries – finding and extracting the ultimate lap time in just a ten-minute qualifying shoot out, proved to be especially difficult.
The opening race saw Ollie line up 11th in his #96 GT3, making a great start to move up two positions to run ahead of #47 of Graham Davidson. With incident and accident aplenty in both races, the Safety Car was soon out with Ollie up to seventh applying pressure to #8 of Richard Neary.
Excellent pit work from the Optimum Motorsport crew, combined with the timing of the mid-race driver change, resulted in Bradley exiting the pits in a fighting third position. The 2007 British GT Champion duly showed his race-craft as with an extra 30 kilos of ballast on board courtesy of running in the Silver Cup, he held #69 of Jonny Cocker at bay despite extensive pressure – and the odd tap – to bring home a fabulous podium position and the Silver Cup victory.
The afternoon race proved to be a bit tougher, but still brought a great result with Ollie and Bradley battling hard in very difficult circumstances to finish sixth from 11th on the grid and securing valuable championship points on a day where so many did not.
In the GT4 garage, qualifying hampered both sides somewhat, but race day proved an altogether more successful campaign. Connor O’Brien and Jack Butel both adapted to the new challenge in style, working their way through the field to finish the first race in sixth in the GT4 Silver standings in the #35 GT4, repeating the result in the result in the second round.
The sister GT4 #75 Vantage also made great strides as the weekend progressed, with Patrik and Mike rebounding well from a challenging first race to finish the second in a more representative fifth position.
There’s no let up in the race programme for Optimum Motorsport who will be back out in the GT3 class ay Paul Ricard next weekend for the opening round of the International GT Open Championship with Ollie and Bradley. The British GT Championship meanwhile resumes at Snetterton mid-May.
Ollie Wilkinson, #96 GT3
“I got a clean start and jumped one of my rivals there; I saw an opening and I placed myself there in the middle of the circuit – which is always the safest place to be. The first lap is always very busy and there was the expected contact and two cars took themselves out and I then spent a lot of time battling the #8 Mercedes but carrying the extra 30 kilos made that really hard.
“I got a move done into Cascades which was really good, and I could stay ahead of him before I pitted and then we made more positions in the stop – a mega job by the team, spot on. The rest was down to Bradley who again did an amazing job considering the weight penalty against the #3 Barwell Lamborghini. A hell of a job; unbelievable really!”
Bradley Ellis, 96 GT3
“After seeing Ollies start to race one, I could feel the pressure as a race result was on. I had to make sure I could capitalise on the hard work from Ollie and the perfect pitstop from the team. Holding the Lamborghini behind me in the stint was really difficult – especially in the low-speed turns – and then the GT4 traffic too was difficult. I’m really delighted with this result, very good work from the team.”
Connor O’Brien, #35 GT4
“Qualifying didn’t go entirely to plan, but still we knew we could progress up through the field and then with that ongoing mentality, this is what we did in both races. I really had a good battle with the Century GT4s and once they pitted, I had some clear track and we were able to show the pace we had. Jack did a really good job and we as a team made progress as the race weekend continued. We made gains, and where we are at the end of the season is really where it matters.”
Jack Butel, #35 GT4
“Connor did a good job in qualifying – I didn’t get the best from my run but the first race was really mega and we worked out way up to finish sixth, so we can’t complain with that as we have really been working hard to improve the car over the whole weekend. Race two was similar, so we’re over the moon as it’s all about the points ahead of the end of the season.”
Mike Robinson, #75 GT4
“The Pro-Am issues against Silver are a problem in this championship. The Safety Car and the timing of that around the pit-window can make such a huge difference. In fairness, we battled the car this weekend and the BoP – you can see where the Aston Martin entries finished – but we got points and we look ahead to Snetterton.”
Patrik Matthiesen, #75 GT4
“We made changes from session to session and the car felt a lot better as a result. It’s hard to say where we stand overall, but we got solid points in both races, so we go from here.”