Jann Mardenborough and Alex Buncombe ensured the run of different winners at the start of this year's Avon Tyres British GT Championship was extended to six, Mardenborough taking the checkered flag at the end of the two hour race at Brands Hatch.
Exactly a year – according to Mardenborough himself – after a winning the Playstation Nissan GT Academy the RJN Motorsport survived a thrilling late race charge from Jonny Adam, beating the Scot to the line in the closest British GT finish in the series history – the two cars split by just 0.022 seconds as they crossed the line.
Mardenborough had – for the second race running – been given the leading car after a fine opening stint from Buncombe. The duo only completed eight laps in qualifying, saving the tyres for the race as much as possible and that advantage on a greasy track and against the gentlemen drivers of most of the rival pairings had Buncombe up from ninth of the grid to the lead inside of two laps, passing Steve Parish in the polesitting Motorbase Performance Porsche through Clark Curve.
Buncombe pulled away in the early stages before being pegged packed by Luke Hines in the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55. Once through into second place Hines took two seconds out of Buncombe's six second lead, before the Nissan driver slipped wide on oil from Duncan Cameron's MTECH run Ferrari, losing the rest of lead. Cameron and teammate Matt Griffin had begun the weekend leading the points but Cameron struggled in the tricky conditions of the opening lap, spinning down the field to become the first man behind Hector Lester when the Ulsterman spun his Ferrari at Druids. The resultant contact left Lester with a flat tyre – though he was able to continue after a pitstop – but Cameron was forced to retire with the broken oil line that caught out Buncombe at Graham Hill Bend.
Cameron and Lester were not the only ones to hit trouble in the early laps. John Dhillon and Alex Osborne had both spun at the opening corner, Dhillon spinning into the gravel, though he too was able restart. Less fortunate was Daniele Perfetti who – in the #11 Motorbase Porsche – was helped into the Druids gravel by David Jones in the Preci–Spark Mercedes SLS.
The biggest casualty of the conditions was Benji Hetherington. Another to make the most of the early laps he had moved up to fourth place behind Buncombe, Hines and Charles Bateman in the United Autosports Audi. Trying to chase down Bateman Hethington mounted the treacherously wet kerb at Stirlings, spinning the JMH Nissan GT-R heavily into the barriers, destroying the front of the car due to be taken over by brother Freddie and causing a second safety car period of the race following an early neutral period for debris.
The pitstop window opened at the end of the first racing lap after the Hetherington derived safety car, but unlike the previous round at Rockingham Buncombe declined the opportunity to pit straight away, racing on for several laps with Hines in tow before making his stop, Mardenborough taking over the driving duties shortly after the hour mark.
Reaping the benefits of stopping early – at the end of lap 28 – Oliver Bryant vaulted up into second place at the pitstops, beginning his pursuit of Mardenborough from seven seconds back. Bryant was consistently faster than Mardenborough and the lead was cut to under two seconds before Bryant backed off during a brief rain shower over the GP loop, just as Mardenborough sought to stretch the gap.
Bryant whittled down the lead again, by a fraction of a second a lap, but by the time Bryant was as close as he had been to the Nissan ahead he was already under pressure from Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage.
Andrew Howard had started the #007 car but had fallen back in the opening laps from third to thirteenth before beginning a climb back up the order that left him in seventh place when pit window was opened. Once the pitstops were completed, GT4 squad APO Sport the last to pit Alex Osborne giving up the overall for James May to begin his stint, Adam began to move up the order, taking advantage of a mistake by George Murrells in the Optimum Ginetta before becoming beneficiary of stop-go penalties for Stephen Jelley and Matt Bell (in the cars started by Parish and Bateman respectively) and a left-rear puncture of Tim Harvey in his and Jon Minshaw's Trackspeed Porsche.
Harvey's pit call elevated to Adam to third. 24 seconds adrift of Mardenborough Adam began to bring the gap down by as much as 1.5 seconds a lap.
Mardenborough said; “the guys were telling the gaps to Audi in third position and with about ten minutes towards the end they were telling me about the Aston catching the BMW and I'm like 'what Aston?'”
After hoving into the battle for the lead Adam spent three laps behind Bryant's BMW, before taking second at Paddock Hill at the start for the penultimate lap, and starting a final lap – with just eight seconds left in the two hours – just under a second down on the lead.
Adam describes the final lap; “when I got a lap to go the Nissan was two or three car lengths in front but it looked really good through the first split. Out the back I managed to get on to the back of him. I made him defend into the last corner in the hope I'd get the run down the inside on the way out.”
Mardenborough duly defended after getting a poor run out of Stirlings for the final time and stuck close to the pitwall on the run to the flag, Adam – with greater momentum – swinging to the outside, the two cars side-by-side as they approached the line. In the cockpit of the Nissan the result was too close to call.
“I was looking over at him as we crossed the line and I was instantly on the radio asking who won it,” explained Mardenborough. “We've got some NISMO guys in from Japan and on the radio I could hear them shouting so I knew we'd got it.”
Bryant finished third to complete the podium with co-driver Alasdair McCaig. Nicolas Armindo finished fourth on his British GT debut, helping David Ashburn to take the championship lead, MTECH driver Cameron and Matt Griffin falling to second ahead of Buncombe and Mardenborough.
Optimum's Ginetta finished fifth with Aaron Scott sixth in the Scuderia Vittoria which began the race in the gravel with John Dhillon. Rosso Verde's Allan Simonsen, Stephen Jelley, Matt Bell and the Jones brothers completed the top ten, each after having to make an extra visit to the pits, variously for punctures and penalties.
Jody Fannin took the checkered flag in twelfth overall to win GT4. Despite Osborne's lap one spin he took the APO Sport Ginetta back to the class lead in short order, passing Mike Ticehurst in the Jota run Mazda MX5 inside of a dozen laps.
Osborne held the lead through the rest of his stint, his advantage kept to just a few seconds by the two safety car periods. While Warren Hughes pitted the Team WFR entry to hand over to Fannin early Osborne stretched his stint to the maximum 70 minutes before pitting, James May taking over the car with a 15 second lead over Fannin.
Though his progress was temporarily slowed by the rain – just as was Bryant's – Fannin took the class lead with 20 minutes remain and pulling out a 20 second gap before the end of the race.