A number of smart strategy calls, and a twist of fate helped the FF Corse pairing of Gary Eastwood and Rob Barff to a comfortable victory in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship race at Rockingham
The outcome of the race hinged upon a pair of safety cars that bunched up the pack before – and then during – the 20 minute pit window that straddled the halfway point of the race.
The first, called for when Tania Mann rotated the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 into the gravel on the outside of Kirby, brought much of the field back together. In that respect it went against Marco Attard and the Ecurie Ecosse team. Attard had led away from the start, taking the early lead ahead of Mark Patterson in the United Autosports Audi, who lost out to Derek Johnston in the #888 BMW Z4 GT3 at the start of lap two.
While the two BMWs pulled away into the lead over third place – the possession of which was ever changing – Patterson was one of a number of drivers to suffer a torrid stint. Having lost out to Johnston, Patterson continued to slide down the order, a trend exacerbated by a puncture that pulled him into the pits. He would later retire following contact with a GT4 car in the wake of the first safety car intervention.
Both Trackspeed Porsches were similarly in strife in the early running, Jon Minshaw retiring the #33 car with a punctured radiator after contact. Jody Firth had a move eventful stint in the #12 car, as the team’s poor fortunes from Oulton Park continued into this weekend. First, Firth was a casualty of the pinch point under braking for the Deene hairpin in lap one, having to explore the escape road with space through the turn at a premium.
Only laps later the left-rear corner of the Porsche caught fire, necessitating a visit to the pits. The dramas put him several laps down but, despite picking up a drive through penalty later in the race, he and Warren Hughes went on to record their first finish of a torrid 2014 season so far down in 15th place.
In contrast, as the first hour continued, Attard remained free from trouble and increasingly free of Derek Johnston, who dropped from being less than a second behind to being more than six seconds in arrears before the safety car took away Attard’s lead. In turn it allowed Eastwood to close up the more than 12 seconds to the lead. That thwarted Attard’s plan to build up enough of a lead to help the team absorb the longer pitstop mandated by their Oulton Park win.
Along with the vast majority of the field Attard pitted early, choosing to hand over to Alexander Sims at the earliest opportunity. However, with Johnston and fourth placed Andrew Howard also pitting early, the longer stop for Ecurie Ecosse pushed Sims down the order when he rejoined.
Eastwood meanwhile had stayed out, inheriting the lead. Ahmad Al Harthy, Pasin Lathouras and Lee Mowle did likewise though all but Eastwood completed their stops before the safety car was called for again.
On this occasion the need was for a combination of John Gaw’s off at Kirby – caught out by the ABS on the PGF-Kinfaun Aston having been inadvertently turned off during the pitstops – and Morten Dons’ Century Motorsport Ginetta stranded on the oval after a blown engine. The arrival of the safety car once more was perfect of FF Corse, playing into the hands of a team that had always planned for Eastwood to drive a longer stint than co-driver Barff.
With all his rivals having taken their stops under normal racing condition, Eastwood found himself more than a lap ahead, which even after the team had completed their stop meant Barff had a 30-plus second advantage when the safety car came in. The pitstop had had its complications though with the light at the end of the pitlane switching from green to red, Eastwood related to theCheckeredFlag.co.uk after the race, just as Barff approached it. What was a close call ended with Barff deemed to have passed the light on red and given a drive through penalty for the pleasure.
Serving the penalty only cut Barff’s lead to 18 seconds as he went on to take a first British GT win for he and Eastwood.
Sims won what seemed like a separate race to finish in second. In fact, when Sims passed Richard Lyons to take second he believed he had taken the lead, only for the team to inform him otherwise with news of another Ferrari 36 seconds up the road. Despite having taken the second restart in sixth place Sims cut through the lead pack, passing the Triple Eight BMWs of Joe Osborne and Luke Hines and Jonny Adam in the Beechdean AMR Vantage GT3 before overhauling the AF Corse of Lyons that had made ground on the back of the later stop by Lathouras.
Lyons kept hold of third to continue a strong start to the season for he and his Thai co-driver with the Derek Johnston and Luke Hines crewed BMW in fourth.
Paul White and Tom Onslow-Cole’s Strata21 example led a trio of Aston Martins over the line, Adam and Richard Abra chasing TOC across the line.
Aaron Scott crossed the line eighth despite co-driver John Dhillon having started dead last after car problems in qualifying and having picked up a pair of drive through penalties. Scott made up places late on passing Osborne and Andy Schulz in the later laps. Osborne had fallen down the order after a grassy moment (after he and Triple Eight teammate Hines raced side-by-side towards the Brook chicane) meant he had to make an unexpected pitstop to clear the radiator grills of the #8 car.
He finished ninth, with Schulz giving Horsepower Racing their first GT3 class point in British GT competition.
The GT4 class twisted and turned through the second half of the race.
From pole position Rick Parfitt Jr. had powered into a ten second lead over Jake Giddings in Beechdean AMR’s GT4 entry, though he – like Attard – had to give up his lead under the first safety car. Their path to victory looked to have been straightened when they pitted at the same time as Eastwood. However a mechanical problem that remained undiagnosed when theCheckeredFlag.co.uk investigated with the Century team shortly after the race robbed Tom Oliphant of forward drive.
Their problems handed the class lead of Ross Wylie – taking over the GT4 Beechdean Aston from Giddings. Like Barff’s margin out front, Wylie’s lead was grand enough to be able to absorb the time lost to a drive through penalty for overtaking under yellow flags. However, a third trip into the pits proved too much time lost.
The team were unable to put enough fuel in the car at the mid-race stop to power Wylie through his entire stint, instead having to cut the stint in two with a short fuel stop that gave the lead to Matt Nicoll-Jones in the Academy Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4.
Oli Basey-Fisher had started the car and – in common with many of those who would end the race as front runners – had waited until the final minutes of the pit window to stop to change drivers. As rivals faltered around him, Nicoll-Jones went on to win by 20 seconds over the Beechdean AMR entry, the TF Sport team of Andrew Jarman and Devon Modell having a – considering the roller coaster rides of races looping around them – quiet race to complete the class podium.