Joe Osborne and Steve Tandy combined to win the first two hours Avon Tyres British GT Championship race of the year, winning the fifth round of the 2012 season at Rockingham.
Taking the second stint of the race Osborne (a former GT4 champion in the series) took over the Trackspeed no.32 at the first opportunity, Tandy one of several drivers who dived into the pits as the race restarted after a lengthy safety car for an accident by Andrew Howard in the Beechdean Aston Martin.
With several of the lead cars pitting together Osborne and the team were able to leap ahead of several teams, including MTECH, United Autosports and their Trackspeed in the no.31 car as David Ashburn and Phil Keen swapped places in the cockpit. That promoted Osborne into the top ten, third best of those who had made their mandatory stop and with just a twenty minute pit window straddling the mid-point of the race he picked up further places without a fight as those ahead made their stops.
A pass on track moved Osborne up to – effectively – second place behind Jann Mardenborough in the RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R. Alex Buncombe had started the car and took the lead from Daniele Perfetti at the Deene hairpin on lap 16 before galloping away to a thirteen second lead before the appearance of the safety car for Howard's crash.
Howard had been running in fifth place when a slow puncture pitched the no.007 Vantage hard into the wall on the outside of Rockingham's fearsome oval track turn one. Howard was not seriously hurt in accident, walking away from the car but the heavily damaged car was stranded in the middle of track with debris scattered across the track that caused the retirement of the Jones' Mercedes after a fragment of debris had damaged the radiator of the SLS.
“I had all the slower guys ahead of me and I knew I had the pace to pass them, but they drove well and made it hard to get past them so I had to make some pretty tough moves on them,” said Buncombe. “Unfortunately that sort of ruined my tyres a bit so once I got past them my tyres had gone so I was doing mid 1:27s when I would have liked to be doing low 1:26s. I had about a thirteen second gap to PS then we had the dreaded safety car which completely buggered the race I think we would have been on for a top three if that hadn't have happened.”
The appearance of the Juke R safety car instantly deleted Buncombe's lead but set up perfectly the second half of the race. Perfetti stayed out a lap longer than the Nissan driver to briefly lead before Anthony Reid in the diminutive Chevron went a lap further still, the Invitation Class, pre-homologation GT3 car leading at the end of the superb stint from the former Touring Car driver.
Before the safety car Reid had fought up to third place overall in the nimble no.98 up from thirteenth on the grid, passing the comparatively gigantic Porsches and Ferraris. Reid's stop put Phil Burton in the Predator CCTV Ferrari 430 Scuderia briefly in the lead before Mardenborough retook the lead for RJN.
The opening of the pitstop window was the beginning of a frantic exchange of lead in the GT4 category. Phil Glew, in the no.48 Lotus Sport UK Evora had dominated the opening stint in the class, though the safety car cut down the lead he had over Warren Hughes, taking the first stint in Team WFR's Ginetta G50.
When the pits opened Hughes, feeling unwell all weekend, came in to hand over to Jody Fannin. However, the stop put them in the pits at the same time as the team's GT3 Ginetta G55. Having both cars in the pits cost both cars time, Fannin returning to the track after losing nearly five minutes.
That delay left them behind the similar Ginettas of Century Motorsports and APO Sport, driven by Zoe Wenham and Alex Osborne respectively after their own stops. Both had been promoted not only by the problems for Hughes and Fannin but by Glew's retirement, the lead Lotus making a fiery exit after a driveshaft failure.
But from third place Fannin moved back to the lead. Already winners in three out of the four races so far this year Fannin's was gaining on Wenham and Osborne, but his task was eased by a fifteen second stop-go penalty for Wenham – punishment for too short a stop by the Century squad. The extra stop dropped Wenham back to third in the Ginetta battle, and ahead – with alarming ease – Fannin reeled in Osborne and finally took the lead as the leader – still Mardenborough at that point – completed lap 50.
Mardenborough's lead would only last another six laps before – adjusting the brake bias on the Nissan to cope with the decreasing fuel load – he outbraked himself for the Deene hairpin and allowed Joe Osborne to slip by on the inside to take the lead.
Contending with handling of the car – and heat inside the car – Mardenbrough struggled for consistent pace against the pro drivers he was racing against. Keen, Allan Simonsen and Matt Griffin all passed the Nissan GT Academy winner – still in his first season of racing, barely a year after taking his first racing laps having won the competition.
As Osborne escaped into the lead the next man behind the Nissan was Matt Bell in the United Autosports Audi. However, a problem put the R8 into safe mode as he crossed the finish line at few laps later, causing the car to slow to a stop on the entrance to turn one – Oliver Bryant narrowly avoiding taking out the ailing Audi as Bell dropped off the racing line.
Bell restarted the car, finishing ninth, the last man on the lead lap.
The finale up front looked like a battle between Trackspeed Porsche teammates Osborne and Keen – Osborne, only partly jokingly, admitting he was part expecting team orders to come into play and give Ashburn a second win of the year.
Osborne told The Checkered Flag; “thirty minutes to go I was in the lead and just looking after the rear tyres because the Porsche just eats them so quickly as then I saw the sister car catching and I know he started with newer tyres than me in that stint so I knew it was going to be difficult and I though he was going to have me with ten minutes to go but luckily I timed it right and his tyres dropped off.”
The orders never came and pent-up behind Osborne Keen was never far clear of Simonsen in the Rosso Verde Ferrari 458. The Dane – disappointingly for Trackspeed – split the two Porsches on the final lap, demoting Keen to third place with Griffin fourth to ensure he and MTECH teammate Duncan Cameron left Rockingham in the points lead.
Mardenborough was a distant fifth, fourteen seconds behind Griffin but just one ahead of Tim Harvey bringing the third Trackspeed car to the checkered flag. Bryant and Stephen Jelley in the pole sitting Motorbase Porsche were seventh and eighth ahead of Matt Bell. The top was completed by the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 of George Murrells and Mike Simpson.
With the retirement of both Lotus Evora the GT4 podium was an all Ginetta affair. Wenham was unable to overcome the earlier penalty, she and teammate Dominic Evans sharing the lowest step of the podium behind APO Sport pairing James May and Alex Osborne and Hughes and Fannin who recorded a fourth win of the year despite a stop-go penalty in the closing stages.