The United Autosports Audi R8 LMS of Michael Guasch and Matt Bell only led one lap of the 58 completed during the two hour Avon Tyres British GT Championship race at Snetterton. However, it was the most important one.
The last one.
The entire 120 minute encounter was a rollercoaster affair with penalties, mechanical problems, sterling drives and a spate of accidents, one setting off a lengthy safety car period, all taking place beneath a sky that sprinkled the track with rain in the first half of the race.
An early safety car period wiped the opening exchanges into obscurity, and deleted a healthy lead that Stuart Hall had built up in the Vantage Racing Aston Martin DBRS9.
Hall had started from fourth, but led back to the line by 2.7 seconds after the series' first racing lap of the Snetterton 300 circuit. An obvious tactic to try and sprint clear to create a lead for second driver Thomas Black to protect, Hall's advantage was large 7.6 seconds before Charles Bateman began chipping away after he moved past Michael Guasch for second place.
In keeping with the topsy-turvy nature of the race the safety was called out for an accident involving the two Trackspeed Porsches. David Ashburn had started the no.1 car and had made good progress up the field, getting up to fifth. However, struggling with an ill-handling car on a damp track the reigning champion got sideways onto the back straight leaving teammate Gregor Fisken with no way to avoid a heavy impact. The result was a pair of heavily damaged Porsches – the no.2 with the left-rear corner ripped off and the no.1 with very heavy front damage.
The field was released back to racing with just seven minutes before the window for the driver change and refuelling stops opened. The no.23 Audi was the first pit caller, Michael Guasch pulling out of the battle for second, Matt Bell taking over the car. Also an early caller was the Beechdean Motorsport, coming into the pits with a puncture – one of many on a track strewn with debris and stones brought onto the track. However, oddly the team opted not to change drivers, Andrew Howard taking the car back on track, and necessitating a second stop seven laps later to install the former BTCC man in the cockpit.
Contrary to the Audi they had been fighting both Bateman and Hall were among the last to stop, but that proved to be the wrong tactic as both Glynn Geddie and Matt Griffin swept past as Vantage's Thomas Black and Michael Lyons – in at Scuderia Vittoria – exited the pitlane.
Lyons would have been a place further back had Matt Bell in the no.23 not already served a six second stop-go penalty for not spending the minimum time in the pitlane in their earlier stop.
Geddie had taken CRS Racing‘s new Ferrari 458 over from his father, Jim after the elder Geddie, admittedly struggling with the new car had fallen from pole position to fourth. Both the leaders were pulling away from Lyons in third, Griffin gaining on Geddie slowly but steadily.
As long as Lyons could resist Matt Bell for third, the three new Ferrari 458 Italia would sweep the podium in just their third British GT race.
Then it all started falling apart.
Lyons was the first to retire. Running side-by-side with Bell through the Montreal hairpin demanded the Scuderia Vittoria driver cling to too tight a line, the Ferrari washing out in protest to make contact with the United Autosports car, the touch enough to inflict suspension damage on Lyons' charge.
Griffin, meanwhile had caught Geddie, and the pair had caught Thomas Black in the Vantage Racing entry. The trio raced down the pit straight together, Geddie driving round the outside to put Black a lap down. The Scot completed the pass around Riches, running wide in the process, but Black – seemingly caught in two minds about what to do – got his DBRS9 sideways infront of Griffin. The contact was minimal – the damage to the nose of the MTECH car outwardly only cosmetic, but it was enough to damage the radiator concealed within the fragile nose, something Griffin would later complain about.
The Irishman was also critical of Black's driving. He had fallen down the order, well off the pace set by the professional drivers piloting a majority of cars to the checkered flag, and had found himself in a position he should never have been in – racing with the leaders around the quick first corner.
Within the space of three laps the trio of Ferraris was reduced to a lone 458 Italia, and Geddie was struggling with damage – exacerbated, if not caused, by being forced wide by Black – that was getting worse with every lap. The deterioration was almost audible every time the Apex Tubulars sponsored car came past the pits.
Bell was closing in with laps two, three, for or even five seconds better than Geddie's. So, you could have excused a sigh of relief in the CRS garage when Bell was given a drive-through penalty for a yellow flag infringement that seemed to blunt his tilt for the lead. But still, after nearly two breathless hours, the race had one last twist in a black-and-orange flag for Geddie, the damage to the front apparently reaching tipping point in the eyes of officialdom.
With just 26 seconds left of the two hours Geddie pitted, the team effecting the most rudimentary of repairs before rejoining, cutting the timing beam at pit exit with just a handful of seconds to go. As Geddie disengaged the speed limiter, and went up through the gears, Bell sped by into the lead, taking a two second advantage to the checkered flag.
“At that point I though the gap was too big so it didn't really both me at that point,” said Matt Bell about when the 'meatball' flag came out for Geddie. “They told me across the radio that he'd been given a penalty and we might get him, or we might not – it was going to be a bit touch and go and then obviously as I was coming over the line I saw him pulling out the pitlane and I was pretty sure it was him. So it was nice to have caught him there and not have to do too much work to get past him on the rest of the lap. And then after that it was head down to make sure he couldn't get past.”
Allan Simonsen and Hector Lester completed the podium in third, a reward for surviving the tortuous race unscathed and for a fighting second stint from Simonsen. The Dane took third just three laps from the end, denying the Jones brothers a first podium since switching to the formidable Mercedes SLS.
The second United Autosports car took fifth, followed by the Chad Racing and Beechdean entries. Aaron Scott and John Dhillon were an impressive eighth overall in the GT3B class Ferrari – a performance capped off by Dhillon collecting the Sunoco Driver of the Weekend award.
The GT4 leaders rounded out the top ten – their own battle no less action packed than the overall battle.
Leyton Clarke had led early in his Lotus, but a mistake at Oggies had allowed Peter Belshaw in the KTM X-Bow to take the lead. Belshaw maintained the lead into the pitstop window, but stayed out just over a minute too long, missing the pitstop window
The corresponding penalty, Marcus Clutton stationary for the same time – just over a minute – probably should have ended their chances of class victory, but a late move made it unlikely double as both GT3 and GT4 winners went from penalty box to the top step of the podium.
The two Evoras completed the podium. Michael Mallock smoked over the line in an increasingly sick second ABG Motorsports KTM, but both Ginetta G50s were taken out in a collision after 18 laps.