Ecurie Ecosse’s BMW Z4 GT3 started from pole for drivers Olly Bryant and Marco Attard and in the closing stages of tumultuous race that included bizarre accidents that begat wild strategies, a late twist and a surprising lack of penalties they emerged at the front to win the Avon Tyres British GT Championship Silverstone 500.
Attard started the car and fought off early challenges for the lead before he was forced to give best to Fortec Motorsports’ Benji Hetherington, one of a handful of pro drivers taking the first stint among the record 46 car field. Unfortunately the crowded track of the early stages proved the perfect catalyst for accidents that led to an opening hour dogged by safety car interruptions that stopped the race from forming any sort of and sent team’s scattering onto divergent strategies at the same time.
The first appearance of the safety car came after just a quarter of an hour after Mark Blundell lost control of his United Autosports accelerating away from The Loop. The spin, according to Blundell, was the end result of prior contact with Team LNT driver Richard Sykes that had broken the rear suspension of the McLaren. As he spun – poetic justice would dictate – be pinched Sykes’ Ginetta against the MTECH Ferrari of Derek Johnston, damaging all three cars, though only the McLaren was left on track.
Attard was one of several drivers to take an early opportunity to pit as did many of the teams that started with their lower graded drivers leaving those starting with ‘Pro’ drivers behind the wheel to move silently up the order. Hetherington, who had hauled the #14 Mercedes SLS up to the lead from tenth before the safety car came out was joined by John Gaw and Tom Sharp, with Gregor Fisken fourth.
On the restart Gaw quickly took the lead from Hetherington but there were soon to be more dramatic incidents further back as Fisken slowed the #32 Trackspeed Porsche with a puncture from fourth. Upon him came the battling group of pro drivers working their way up the order having taken over in stops under the first safety car. Following Rob Barff’s FF Corse Ferrari Phil Keen in the #33 Trackspeed car started by Jon Minshaw was presented with nowhere to go at the apex of Aintree corner and clattered into the side of the sister car, putting both into immediate retirement.
With the safety car out once more, the strategies were again in flux and for Trackspeed there was yet another twist. Having stayed out under the first safety car David Ashburn brought the #31 Porsche into the pits for Nick Tandy to take the wheel. However, as he reached for the pitlane speed limiter he crashed at in the curving entrance to the pitlane, sealing the end of the race for Trackspeed.
The second safety car period, complete with stop for Gaw, handing over to Phil Dryburgh and two stops for Benji Hetherington. Through a quirk of where the safety car had come out the Fortec Motorsports team kept the lead after the first pitstop, but lost it during a second – far briefer – stop to conquer a fuel reset issue for new driver Jason Minshaw.
Their delay left John Dhillon in the lead. All three AF Corse Ferraris had pitted twice under the first safety car, taking advantage of the slower pace complete a pair of driver change pitstops, Aaron Scott leaping aboard the #13 for a quick, three lap stint, completed under yellow flags.
But just as alternative strategy had helped Dhillon to the lead it would see him fall down the order, losing places to Matteo Bobbi and Allan Simonsen – the faster men in the Vit4One Team Italy and Rosso Verde squads respectively – before a one second stop go dropped him further down the order.
Minshaw, initially second at the restart fell away into the distance as, without the safety car to interrupt the race the two pro drivers in the Ferraris were allowed to settle into a battle that last almost the entire middle hour of the race. Neither team, however, would feature at the front come the end of the race.
For the Rosso Verde team it was a case of strategy. The squad’s decision to only stop under the second safety car had helped them to the front after Hector Lester was spun into the Vale gravel in the opening laps. Bobbi and Vita4One co-driver Jay Palmer had also pushed back up the order. Bobbi had spun at the very first corner of the race before being involved in the incident that left Lester off the track and Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle’s 888Optimum BMW out of the race with suspension damage.
Simonsen was the first to pull out of the lead battle, the long stints of the race for the team in the first two hours forcing them into a two green flag stops in the final hour that left them finishing just outside the points in 11th after a half-hour final stint from Simonsen. The Vita4One team only had one more stop to make, which was completed without incident to return Jay Palmer to the race still with a 30 second lead.
Just as with Dhillon earlier he was being chased down by the faster drivers from other teams. Benji Hetherington was able to halve the gap before he pitted the Fortec Merc for the final time. Hetherington’s stop ended the Fortec team’s chances of a good result for the team that much of the race had promised and turned the duty to chase Palmer over to Tom Sharp – though only briefly before he too made a final pitstop – and Olly Bryant.
While other teams had gambled with four, or even five stops, the Ecurie Ecosse team had opted with just the three necessary to get through the race. With stops under both of the safety cars before Bryant took the car for the final hour they had glided up the order as the strategies of those ahead wound out.
With Bryant taking two to three seconds a lap from Palmer’s lead as the race entered the final half hour it was likely there would at least be a challenge for the lead before the checkered flag fell. That was a near certainty when Palmer spun at the The Loop, taking his own lead down to just eight seconds, which Bryant made just four the following lap. Then the battle for the lead was ended before it began as Palmer ran off the track with a flat left-front tyre.
Bryant was gifted the lead without the troubles of making a pass on track while Palmer limped back to the pits for a new tyre, dropping to fifth in the process. His race would get worse, picking up another puncture – right-rear this time – just laps later. On the occasion he was less successful in making it back to the pits without damage, the remains of the tyre flailing the rar of the car apart from the inside, leaving the team to end the weekend without points once again.
Bryant went on to win unchallenged with a 17 second margin after three hours and 77 laps over Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard’s Beechdean Aston Martin. Steve Tandy and Dan Brown made it two BMW Z4 GT3 on the podium in the 888Optimum entry while M-Sport had another strong outing, adding fourth to their second from Rockingham.
All of the top four resisted any temptation for alternative strategies, making just three stops, one under each of the safety car with a third at the beginning of the final hour. It was the same plan employed by the Vita4One before the late race punctures derailed them. All three AF Corse Ferraris finished in the top ten with the Dhillon and Scott piloted #13 the lowest placed of the trio in eighth place.
Directly ahead of them finished Michele Rugolo and Steve Wyatt in the #28 with British GT regulars, but AF Corse converts Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin in fifth ahead of the Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin. Motorbase Performance and Prospeed Competition completed the top ten.
The visiting teams contesting the Avon Tyres GT4 Trophy starred in the lower category with the Pro Sport Performance Porsche and the better of the two Ekris BMW M3 seemingly tied together through the final stints of the race.
Victory – though by just two tenths of a second – went to Pro Sport’s Porsche driven by Joerg Viebahn and Adam Christodoulou with the Ekris pairing of Ricardo van der Ende and Bernhard van Oranje a fighting second.
The class podium was completed by the best of the British GT regulars in the class – Rick Parfitt Jr and Ryan Ratcliffe. Class leaders in the British series coming into the weekend Century Motorsport could only finish tenth in the class after problems forced Zoe Wenham to spend several minutes as a spectator after pulling the car off the track.
Just as in the GT3 class different strategies brought different teams to the fore. The Blendini Moto run Ginetta G50, entering the race as the start of a schedule that will see them complete the rest of the British GT season, were as high as third overall after they declined the opportunity to pit under either safety car period. However, the strategy came back to haunt them as they finished only eleventh in class.