David Ashburn got the defence of his Avon Tyres British GT Championship title off to the perfect as he and co-driver Richard Westbrook combined to take the no.1 Trackspeed Porsche to victory in the first of the day's two races at Oulton Park.
Ashburn had started the car from second on the grid and fell in behind the pole-sitting Scuderia Vittoria Ferrari, where Michael Lyons took driving duties to take the rolling start. Lyons took the lead in a clean start – the only major change of position coming as Andrew Howard fell back from fifth on the grid to sixth at the end of the first lap in the Beechdean Racing Aston Martin.
With Lyons at the head of the field he repeated the form that had put the team on pole for their maiden British GT race, putting in a succession of fastest laps to ease away from the chasing Ashburn, eventually holding a near seven second lead when the pit stop window opened half way through the race.
The real battle in the opening stint was for third place. David Jones held the place from the green flag in the new Preci–Spark Mercedes SLS, but came under increasing pressure from Michael Guasch in the best placed of the two United Autosports Audi R8 LMS.
Jones – he and his brother remembered for battles through the field in years past – was in defensive driving mode – a frustrated Guasch explains.
“I was behind him the entire stint – I started fourth and he kept his position in the first turn so I ran behind him the entire time and just could not get around him,” emphasised the American. “He would block wherever he had to block and he did his job quite nicely.”
He adds, explaining the move that finally moved the Audi forward; “the [Mercedes] had so much torque it would pull away from me on the straights, but I could get him in the corners, but he finally made a slight mistake on the exit of the first chicane and I got a nice run and I said 'I'm going for it'. I knew his tyres were shot so I just shoved it in there and at least he was gentleman not to try and close the door so late, he could have probably take us both out, but I had the corner and he let me take it.”
Gausch finally made the move at the Knickerbrook chicane the lap before both he and Jones made their compulsory stops. They followed the lead Ferrari into the pits – both Porsches having made their stop a lap earlier – as early as possible.
It was the stop where Lyons' lead went away – passing the car over to Charles Bateman, the new driver stalled the car twice as he tried to pull away from the pit stall. The error dropped the F458 down to sixth, Richard Westbrook now leading in the Trackspeed car started by Ashburn.
Westbrook, fitting in British GT races where his international commitments allow, controlled the race, only battling against the heavier than expected tyre wear in the closing laps of the race. His lead was eroded all the way down from nearly seven seconds down to 1.6 by the end of the race, Matt Bell impressing for United Autosports in his first race at Oulton Park.
“It's always great to win, but it wasn't easy out there,” Westbrook told www.thecheckerflag.co.uk. “The Audi had the legs on us and we've got a bit of work to do, but a wins a win so it's a good start to the championship. Dave did a good stint then the way our car's set up it's a little bit hard on tyres. We had a feeling that would be the case so we know what to do and we'll put it right for the second race.”
Thanks to Gausch's move at Knickerbrook Bell resumed the race ahead of the Jones Mercedes, Godfrey soon forced into the same defensive lines his brother had mastered in his stint. First Tim Bridgman came up against the Preci-Spark rolling road block in the second Trackspeed car, Jonny Adam later making the battling duo and threesome in the Beechdean car. Finally, after 28 of the 36 races squeezed into the hour, Bridgman breached the Jones defences on Clay Hill to take third – a late confirmation in the Porsche alongside Gregor Fisken – had made it past the Mercedes on the run up Clay Hill.
“I'd got past up Clay Hill and then on the run down to Lodge he basically just used me as a brake in the corner and put me off,” said Bridgman after the race. “He obviously decided he was coming past but just took far too much speed into the apex. I gave him room and he needed more room because he'd just gone too fast into the corner and in effect just used me as a bit of a brake. Hit me and drove off.”
Bridgman limped through the gravel on the outside of Lodge, briefly rejoining in seventh behind the battling Ferraris for Allan Simonsen and Bateman. However, Bridgman was off again at Old Hall, the impact from the Mercedes enough to damage the suspension and forced the car into retirement.
“It's a real shame for us,” Bridgman said. “It's just disappointing that the Fiskens car didn't get to the end of the race. We we're on for the podium, we were in for a strong day.”
The Mercedes, if Gausch's belief is true, was again struggling for grip, and after holding off Bridgman for so long Adam and Simonsen quickly made their way into third and forth, the Dane pushing Adam for the final spot on the podium for the closing laps, but to no avail. The DBRS9 crossed the line in third, only for the engine to expire almost instantly – the end of an engine problem which had effected the car for much of the race – the team offering an early diagnosis of the car running down a cylinder for the entire second half of the race.
Behind the Preci-Spark Mercedes was Bateman’s Ferrari, leading a fleet of Maranello machinery. MTECH pairing Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron drove from the rear of the grid to seventh, head of the Geddie family CRS Racing car, Chad Racing and Predator CCTV entries.
The GT4 class was dominated by the KTM X-Bow of Marcus Clutton and Peter Belshaw, taking the lead early from the Scuderia Vittoria Ginetta G50 of Dan Denis, and never really being threatened for the remainder of the race. Denis and co-driver David McDonald held on to second and the second ABG Motorsport X-Bow of Athanasios Ladas and Michael Mallock stole third from the Century Motorsport Ginetta on the final lap, the first good news of the weekend for the Anglo-Greek duo after they missed Saturday's qualifying.
The Chevron GR8 – the only entry in the GTC class – finished 12th overall, Jordan Witt and Anthony Reid beating all the assembled GT3 Ginetta G55.