TJ Motorsport's George Gamble overcame his disappointment in missing out on the runners up spot in the 2011 Ginetta Junior Championship by taking victory in the Ginetta Junior Winter Series at Snetterton.
An action packed weekend saw the ten entrants, consisting of series regulars and a couple of newcomers, battle it out over two qualifying sessions and four races, meaning consistency was key.
HHC Motorsport's Charlie Robertson, the driver who pipped Gamble to the vice-champion position in the main series, dominated the wet qualifying session by taking pole position for both of Saturday's encounters. Gamble didn't have everything his own way though, with a bad tyre call in qualifying leaving him seventh and fifth on the grid respectively.
The weekend's opening race saw Robertson get a decent getaway, but a decent start for FML's Jake Giddings saw him edge into the lead at Riches, with Robertson fending off Niall Murray into Montreal. Ollie Chadwick held fourth ahead of Declan Jones, but they were quickly dispatched by the hard-charging George Gamble, who had a great opening lap.
Giddings held the lead until lap two, when 14 year old Robertson forced his way past at Williams, while behind Murray was struggling with his tyre choice, leaving him easy prey for Gamble, who got past at Oggies to get in the podium places.
Robertson cemented his lead and took a comfortable win, while behind Gamble closed on Giddings and passed him on lap three to take second and held the place until the end, setting the races fastest lap in the process. Giddings took third ahead of Jones, with Max Coates taking fifth with MGR Motorsport, the team's debut in the series. Chadwick took sixth ahead of newcomer Oliver Basey-Fisher, with Murray slipping to eighth late on, while William Palmer and debutant Guy Wenham completed the runners.
Robertson said: “It was a really tough race, we got quite a good start but Giddings still managed to get in front of us. I caught him, passed him, and then saw George in my mirrors. He caught me and I was under so much pressure. I'm just really pleased I was able to hold him off for the win.”
Race two began on a slightly drier track, with Robertson leading way, while Giddings struggling to getaway after gambling to run on dry tyres. Behind, a great start for Palmer saw him leap from ninth to fifth, though the Hillspeed driver lost some ground when he was caught-out by a spin for Chadwick at the Esses.
As Robertson streaked away at the front, Gamble, Coates and Murray battled behind, with Basey-Fisher sitting in a strong fifth. Gamble soon broke off the group though and after setting two consecutive fastest laps, was on Robertson's tail.
Gamble snatched the lead at Agostini on lap six and started to edge away himself, with Robertson to suffer disappointment two laps later when clutch failure forced him to retire, giving Gamble a clear run to the line, winning by almost 20 seconds. DDD/Murray Motorsport's Murray took second place on the final lap from Coates, the duo having a great battle throughout the race.
Debutant Basey-Fisher took an excellent fourth place ahead of Giddings, whose tyres began to come good towards the end of the race. Chadwick took sixth, with Palmer taking seventh, recovering from a spin on lap four. Wenham took eighth and Jones ninth, Robertson proving the only retirement.
The next morning, the drivers returned for another qualifying session and two more frenetic races. It was Giddings who secured pole for the opening race; however the FML driver wasn't even able to take the start due to an oil leak, caused by the breakage of an alternator bracket.
All Giddings could do was watch from the side as the race began, with Chadwick bursting into an early lead, followed by Robertson, Coates, Gamble and Jones, the latter spinning out of contention on the opening lap.
Chadwick's pace was slower compared to those behind, but good defensive driving meant they initially couldn't find a way past the JHR Developments driver. On lap three, Robertson finally got past and with those behind not able to get straight past, he was able to pull away and take a comfortable second win of the weekend, setting a new lap record in the process.
Coates and Gamble finally usurped Chadwick on lap five, however he fought back and passed Nottingham-based Gamble soon after. Coates pulled clear to take a comfortable second, while it was Murray who emerged in third on the final lap after Gamble and Chadwick were delayed at the Esses when fighting for position.
Chadwick emerged in fourth, with Gamble settling for fifth, leading home TJ Motorsport team-mates Jones and Basey-Fisher. Palmer took ninth, with JHR Development's Wenham ninth.
Robertson said: “That was definitely one of my best wins yet. I got quite a good start, slotted in behind Ollie (Chadwick) but then he got away a bit when I had a battle with Max (Coates). I caught him back up and passed on about lap three and then managed to get away and pulled out the gap.”
Coates and Giddings lined up on the front row the decisive final race of the weekend, with Coates and Gamble in contention for the championship. MGR's Coates got a good start to lead away at the start, with Robertson following him to take second at Riches, however a great start for 2010 Ginetta Junior Ireland champion Murray saw him burst through to take second at the hairpin.
Robertson fought back though and a stunning move at the Esses saw him pass not just Murray, but also Coates to storm into the lead; however a slight wobble at the same place a lap later allowed Coates back into the lead. Coates led away but came under immense pressure from Robertson, Gamble and Murray, who set a new lap record during the race, though there was to be a change for second when Robertson spun off on lap five.
Coates held on to take a very popular win, the first for new-to-Ginetta team MGR Motorsport, with Gamble holding second to take the title. Giddings returned to the podium in third after contact sent Murray spinning off on the final lap. Robertson fought back to fourth ahead of Jones, Basey-Fisher, Palmer, Chadwick and Wenham.
Coates commented: “I think it's a great way to cap off my time in Ginetta Junior. It was probably the hardest race I've had; it's so hard to lead in these cars and especially at a track like this with such long straights where you give away a tow. I just pushed as hard as I could to try and do everything to get enough points for the championship. In the end we missed out but it's fantastic to win the race.”
A consistent weekend was enough to crown Gamble the 2011 Ginetta Junior Winter Series Champion, though a superb Sunday for Coates meant the Yorkshireman ended the weekend just five points adrift. Murray looked set for third until his last lap excursion, dropping him to fourth behind a frustrated Robertson, who'd hoped for more after taking two wins.
Gamble concluded:“It's amazing, it's great to win the championship at Snetterton with it being TJ's local track – I don't know what to say about it, I'm just over the moon. When I saw Jake (Giddings), Charlie (Robertson) and Niall (Murray) together I knew I had to play it safe and get the points. We've got a few options to look at for next year but I'd definitely enjoy being back in Ginetta Junior.”