The combination of Charles Bateman, Michael Lyons and Scuderia Vittoria triumphed in the three hour Avon Tyres British GT Championship event at Donington Park, taking advantage the safety car period that punctuated the race.
With teams having to pit three times to change drivers – with each stop having to adhere to the series' minimum duration – when teams chose to take these stops was always likely to play a part in deciding the outcome of the race.
Like most of the other teams Scuderia Vittoria elected to put -arguably – their slower driver in for the first stint, mindful of the risk of an early safety car eating into the 100 minute maximum driving time for their better driver.
Still former Porsche Carrera Cup driver Bateman was able to move the Ferrari 458 up to third within the first half hour, some achievement as he had only started from eighth. Bateman's charge came in tricky conditions – the race starting on a wet track with then entire field on treaded Avons. The conditions also helped one of the other more recognised racers to take the green flag.
Ginetta GT Supercup front runner Tom Sharp had been drafted in to join Martin Short and Matt Nicoll–Jones in the orange Rollcentre G55.The normal disadvantage for the Ginetta, all the G55's have struggled for outright pace in their first year, was almost erased by the conditions and Sharp's driving got rid of the rest. By the same time Bateman was third, Sharp was fifth.
Neither, however, had the pace of Jonny Adam. On conditions almost identical to those in which the Beechdean Aston Martin won at Rockingham Adam was driving away from the gentlemen drivers assembled behind him.
The first 30 minutes had the former BTCC driver 30 seconds ahead before Gregor Fisken started to chip away at the lead, aided by an Adam error at Goddards that cost him two seconds.
Unfortunately for the GT3 Aston Martin crew their fortunes changed with the conditions. The first of the mandatory stops began after 40 minutes of racing, many teams taking the opportunity to switch to slick tyres to take advantage of the dry line around the track.
Adam, unsurprisingly was the last of the GT3 runners to pit, putting co-driver Andrew Howard back out on the still damp track on cold tyres. Howard, who had driven so well on wet tyres at Rockingham, instantly struggled – spinning at the first corner on his out lap, the mistake enough to wipe out their previous advantage and drop the no.007 car down to third.
A second mistake left Howard in the gravel at the Fogarty Esses at the start of the Melbourne Loop, prompting the safety car to come out.
This gave the teams a difficult decision. Their faster drivers had been in the cars for only twenty minutes, but the safety car gave them an opportunity to take a 'free' stop.
Though he sat just eight seconds behind Tim Bridgman, who had assumed the lead in the Porsche Gregor Fisken started, Lyons came to the pits – the best placed of five drivers to voluntarily curtail their stint.
The stop left Bateman back in the car and on the very end of the lead lap after the brief safety car meant the pitstop was not nearly as 'free' as it could have been.
Bridgman put Bateman, who was now fourth, a lap down, but never comfortably pulled away before the safety car was scrambled for the second time, this time for the other Rockingham winner, the no.11 CRS Racing Ferrari.
If the decision to bring Lyons in during the first safety car gave Scuderia Vittoria the potential to win then Bateman's call to the pits under the second intervention cemented their strategic advantage, as it gave them a pit stop advantage, Lyons climbing aboard the Ferrari to begin the final stint of the race while starting drivers Gregor Fisken and Duncan Cameron were returning to the cockpit during the second stops for Trackspeed and Mtech respectively.
As the two had come into the pits together they returned to the track together behind the GT4 Aston Martin Vantage of Secure Racing. Both men were left frustrated behind the Vantage – reportedly unable to go any higher than third gear – but unable to pass the limping car due to the safety car leading the bulk of the field half a lap away.
That gulf left Fisken and Cameron still leading but frustrated as they trundled the final part of lap behind the Aston after the safety car had released the pack which included David Ashburn, Glynn Geddie and Lyons, the best man to have completed all three stops.
The inconvenience become a hazard on the exit of Goddards when the Aston swung late into the pits, forcing both GT3 drivers behind to all but stop to avoid a collision.
In the split second of confusion as Fisken was forced to all but stop Cameron moved past, taking the lead before the pair crossed the finish line.
The decision was to come back to haunt Cameron and co-driver Matt Griffin when they were given a penalty, in reality as Cameron pointed out after the race he had little option at the time.
“Gregor and I caught him [The Aston Martin] up and for two laps followed him behind the safety car,” he said. “He still had sticker on his rear tyres, that's how slow he was going and they restarted the race, we came round the last corner and he just chopped across Gregor's bow – I thought he'd hit him. Gregor practically stopped on track so what am I supposed to do? Stop and wait for them to sort themselves out?”
The penalty robbed those who had stayed at Donington till dusk a grandstand finish.
Ashburn, Geddie, Fisken and Cameron had all taken their final stops before the last 45 minutes putting Lyons and Scuderia Vittoria into the lead for the first time.
The long final stint gave Lyons other worries with tyre wear to contend with and fuel conservation forcing him into short shifting.
With a 17 second lead the closing laps should have been comfortable for Lyons, but the Julien Draper became the third man to dump a car into the Esses gravel causing the third safety car with just 16 minutes to go. The brief neutralisation gave Lyons chance to overcome both fuel and tyre trouble for the final sprint.
Though he took the restart on three second adrift even without the penalty Griffin was unable to catch Lyons, a lap spent behind the lapped car of Adam Wilcox realistic ended the chase. Lyons, however was unaware of the penalty; “I don't think they [the team] felt like telling me that bit,” he told The Checkered Flag. “I had my head down thinking they were coming for me.”
The pole-sitting Trackspeed Porsche of Ashburn and Jelley finished fourth, Jim and Glynn Geddie completed the top five and the lead lap finishers for CRS Racing.
The result extended the Geddies' lead in the championship to eight points, now with Griffin and Cameron in second place. United Autosports’ Matt Bell and Michael Guasch slip back to third in the championship after finishing seventh behind Hector Lester and Gordon Shedden in the first Ferrari 458 outing for Rosso Verde.
Bell and Guasch had struck trouble early, Guasch hitting the rear of Duncan Cameron's Ferrari. Cameron lost a handful of positions but Guasch navigated back to pits with the bonnet of the Audi flipped up. The stop to tape the bonnet down lost him two laps, a delay he and Bell were never able to recoup.
Wilcox crossed the line seventh in only remaining Ferrari 430 Scuderia for 360 Vision and co-driver Phil Burton. Speedworks Motorsport finished ninth, while the three man Ginetta G55 for Rollcentre completed the top ten.
The JRM run Nissan GTR was classed as the final finisher. The car developed a misfire early on, followed by gear selection problems. It ended the race stopped under the Starkeys Bridge 45 minutes before the checkered flag.
Lotus pairing Phil Glew and James Nash dominated GT4, leading almost uninterrupted throughout the race with only faulty pitlane speed limiter as an obstacle, the problem drew a penalty late in the race and played it's part in wayward pit entry from Nash, where the BTCC regular clipped one of the tyres laid out in wait.
“It was a fairly good start to the race,” Glew said after the podium celebrations. “We got a big lead in the wet, our car works perfectly in those sort of conditions and then we kept that the whole race with James driving both his stints. We had a slight problem towards the end, James started to have a bit of a misfire which we had been suffering with all weekend, but it started kicking in a bit worse towards the end. But we'd done all the hard work at the start of the race and James just needed to bring it home. It was perfect, you couldn't ask for a better weekend.”
Josh Wakefield and Jake Rattenbury claimed second for Century Motorsport. Peter Belshaw and Marcus Clutton completed the class podium and extended their class lead and now only need to finish sixth in class in the Silverstone finale to clinch the GT4 title.