At the end of a Donington Park race where the lead on track and the lead in the championship swung wildly over the two hour duration Motorbase Performance pairing Michael Caine and Daniele Perfetti secured the 2012 Avon Tyres British GT title, while in a perfect preview of the 2013 season United Autosports’ two McLarens finished first and third.
“It’s been an intense day,” a newly crowned Perfetti told The Checkered Flag. “The team did a super job they were fantastic, this wouldn’t happen without them. I think for my stint I did more or less what I supposed to do and kept the car clean and them Michael did a super job and we’ve been a bit lucky with mistakes and bumps but that’s part of racing. You have to stay clean and get home and that’s what we did throughout the season and it paid off.”
While the race win and the points’ title ultimately went in two different directions for almost all of the first hour the destination of the two trophies was the same as Alex Buncombe drove from fourteenth on the grid to the lead inside of three laps.
Buncombe and RJN Motorsport co-driver Jann Mardenborough started the final weekend of the season third in the points, one of five teams capable of guaranteeing themselves the title with a race win. After a gearbox replacement during a Saturday spent struggling the Nissan was transformed, Buncombe haring through the field against the ‘gentlemen’ drivers in a majority of rival pairings leaving early leader Zak Brown in his wake. Buncombe pulled out a ten second lead before, similarly rising through the field, Charles Bateman took second from Perfetti in the #24 United Autosports McLaren – the only other team combining two silver graded drivers in the race.
After passing the Porsche driver on lap 11 over the following 23 laps Bateman chipped away the leader’s advantage down to just 5.6 seconds, only to have that work undone by a spin just before the 50 minute mark and the opening of the pitstop window for the driver changes, with Duncan Cameron the first man to pit to hand over the MTECH Ferrari to Matt Griffin.
While Buncombe, Bateman and an inspired David Jones in the roaring Preci-Spark Mercedes SLS had risen up the order into the podium spots Cameron had fallen back during the opening stint after starting fourth. He had come across the line at the end of the opening lap in eighth and fell as low as ninth before recovering back to seventh as part of a terrific, nailbiting battle for positions in the top ten from fourth backwards headed by Brown and including three of the seven title contenders.
While Cameron and David Ashburn – another man in the title hunt – pitted at the first opportunity the top three drove on Buncombe and Bateman logging six more laps before pitting to pass driving duties to Mardenborough and Matt Bell respectively. David Jones went a lap further before handing over to twin brother Godfrey, the Team Pyro run pairing leading a lap, David crossing the timing line in the pitlane en route to their driver change.
Thanks to the longer pitstops for both the Nissan and McLaren teams, the latter compounded by the success penalty following their win at the previous round at Silverstone, Godfrey emerged in second place, seven seconds down on the Nissan. Bell, meanwhile had dropped to fourth behind the Motorbase Porsche, now with Michael Caine at the wheel.
Then the moment when race winners and champions elect became two different entities. Descending the Craner Curves the left-rear shock absorber on the Nissan gave way under Mardenborough and though the car returned to the pits – the offending corner of the car now smoking – their race and championship chances were over.
The immediate beneficiaries where Godfrey Jones who assumed the race lead and the now fourth placed Griffin who was suddenly catapulted back into the championship lead, though only half a point split MTECH and Motorbase, a gap which remained constant even when Alvaro Parente passed Griffin, the pair of one-off entries – Parente and Brown’s McLaren and the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini – ineligible for points leaving them theoretically unable to affect the championship.
Of more concern for Griffin was Allan Simonsen in the gaining Rosso Verde Ferrari. Points for fourth with Caine in second would still give MTECH the title, a drop to fifth behind Simonsen would swing the title to the Porsche squad.
For half a lap Simonsen was in front, taking the position at McLeans before Griffin took the place back at Goddards, the points lead changing accordingly.
A safety car for the Speedworks Motorsport Corvette – thrown off at McLeans after a brake failure – offered a moment of calm before the storm. The Storm, despite Jones, Caine and Bell fanning out three wide into Redgate took some time to develop, partly because the threat of Simonsen to Griffin disappeared when the Dane’s Ferrari fell into ‘limp’ mode. If Griffin was going to change places, it only looked likely to be forwards, the Ferrari driver the tail end of a five car fight for the lead – Jones, Caine, Bell and Parente ahead.
Caine’s attempts to keep the McLaren teammates behind him allowed Jones back into a surprise lead, but also allowed Ecurie Ecosse man Oliver Bryant to close up to the rear of Griffin to start the chain of events that would decide the title.
Parente weaved his way through to the lead, pulling Bell and Caine with him past Jones, Peter Kox also passing the Mercedes in a sensational stint in the pole-sitting Lambo. The Mercedes continued to drop back Griffin passing Jones, Bryant following through on the approach to Goddards.
Already pinned to the inside line for the left hander by the Mercedes Bryant braked late, perhaps tempted by the inviting gap left by Griffin’s late swinging line for the apex, but as the Irishman turned in Bryant’s BMW made contact with the rearmost part of the 458, pitching Griffin into a pirouette that dropped him to tenth and elevated Bryant’s co-driver Alasdair McCaig into the position of champion-to-be.
That that situation wouldn’t remain seemed certain and Bryant was forced to serve a one minute penalty that dropped him from the lead lap, back behind Griffin. The draconian duration of the penalty had little to do with the suspicion of malicious intent from Bryant, but everything to do with the repercussions of the contact.
The moment Bryant pitted was the moment the championship was almost guaranteed for Perfetti and Caine. The Porsche driver – completely unaware of his fate being decided behind him – had fallen to fourth on track behind Bell and Peter Kox who had mightily taken the Reiter car to second after co-driver Nico Pronk had plummeted down the pack during his stint. But, crucially Caine would still collect points for second place and lay one spot ahead of Phil Keen in the Trackspeed car he had to beat.
“I actually had no idea what was going on, so from my point of view I just had to battle where I could and get my head down,” Caine to The Checkered Flag. “The McLarens were just so fast and I got hit twice by both of them and obviously the Kox car I just let through because I knew there was just no point in battling with him and I was hoping that if I let him through he’d take out one of the McLarens. For this circuit the McLaren is just awesome.”
“This morning I woke up early,” explained Perfetti. “I couldn’t sleep and I made a little spreadsheet that I had on my phone so I was constantly looking at all the different options and who was scoring what and in the end we were almost on top of it but we had a few moments of doubt.”
“It was more stressful out of the car. In the car you have no time to stress you just do what you do and then hopefully it comes together, but in the pits it’s a long hour! I think I lost a few more kilos in the pits than in the car.”
Caine crossed the line fourth, behind Parente, Kox (the two split by 3.8 seconds) and Matt Bell, ensuring both United Autosports car ended the race on the podium as they prepare for a multiple-pronged assault on the championship in 2013 with two McLarens and an Audi R8.
Keen was fifth, the title deciding gap between he and Caine 13 seconds. Godfrey Jones, Stephen Jelley, Joe Osborne, Mike Simpson and a furious Griffin completed the top ten on track. Through crossing the line in 11th, with neither Parente nor Kox taking points Bryant completed Ecurie Ecosse’s season of scoring points in every single race, but the title belonged to Caine and Perfetti, who just as with the 2011 champions ended the season on top without having taken a race win.
“That’s not something I’m proud of,” confessed Caine, though he and Perfetti did score the most podiums of the season. “That’s what happens through. We should have won at Rockingham and we up there at Brands but it’s what could have been and what should have been but at the end of the day everyone’s come to win the championship and it’s an important thing for Motorbase to do that and it’s a great achievement.”
“At the start of the year our aim was to be the Porsche and if we were the best of them then to try and win the championship so as a package Motorbase have done a great job. I’ve driven with them for five years now so it’s for them and for the effort that Dave Bartrum’s put into my motorsport it’s just worth it.”
Caine and Perfetti were joined in becoming class champions by FF Corse‘s Ryan Hooker and Gary Eastwood who secured the GTC title with a class win while Team WFR pairing Jody Fannin and Warren Hughes added an eighth GT4 win of the year to close out their own championship year.