Triple Eight Race Engineering‘s pairing for Derek Johnston and Luke Hines endured a reward-free weekend as the Avon Tyres British GT Championship visited Spa-Francorchamps. Their teammates fared a little better, despite late disappointment
The pair were to start the weekend’s two 60 minute races from deep in the midfield with Hines 22nd fastest in his qualifying session while Johnston was 18th quickest in the earlier session as he battled both a bout of flu and the 7kn Ardennes circuit through the weekend.
Though Lee Mowle had qualified the #88 car he shares with Joe Osborne further up the order there would be an early reversal of fortune in the first race of the weekend as typically changeable Francorchamps weather precipitated differing tyre strategies with some – Mowle included – starting on wet tyres while other, like Johnston in the #888, opted to start on slick tyres.
Several teams came in to the pits as the race started behind the safety car due to the change on conditions, but both of the Triple Eight BMW stayed out and, as they avoided the early contact began to rise up the order with Johnston joining Mowle in the top ten. However, the wet tyres under Mowle, were quickly pushed past their best on the drying track the South West London based driver dropping down the order as Johnston continued to push forward, pressuring Colin White for fifth place.
Unfortunately – after several laps of trying to avoid contact with White’s Ginetta, mindful of the penalties incurred at Snetterton – Johnston spun down to eighth place. Two further places would be lost before Hines took over the car at the mid-race stops and against the pro-drivers of a field now homogenised onto slick Avon tyres he was unable to make up the same ground his co-driver had in the first half of the race.
He would cross the line in 14th, one place ahead of the #88 which Osborne hauled up from the tail of the GT3 class following the strategy miscue.
The second race of the weekend brought a better result for Mowle and Osborne. Joe was part of a large train of cars that became bunched up behind Tom Sharp’s Ginetta until Sharp suffered a serious tyre failure through Eau Rouge, with predictably damaging results.
The retrieval of the wrecked Ginetta was the cause of the one of the race’s two safety car periods. The second, unfortunately for Triple Eight, was called for after Johnston spun into the barriers at Rivage.
“Initially I thought I’d made an error,” said Johnston, “but after looking at the on-board it isn’t the case. I’m not on the kerb, let alone the astroturf; it looks like I’ve actually hit a patch of oil or something, but the guys are going over the data to see if there was a fault with the car. It didn’t behave right in Les Combes even though I was in the correct gear and I had the traction control on the right setting too. It’s a shame not to finish, but these things happen when you go racing.”
The second safety car period found Mowle aboard the #88 in third, a position we was left to protect when the green flag released the pack again with seven minutes of racing remaining. However, the Belgian weekend had a final blow to land and in the closing laps Mowle was passed at the Bus Stop by Gary Eastwood in his FF Corse Ferrari and he was pushed back a further place when Jody Firth took advantage of the gap to take fourth.
Mowle reflected; “I saw Eastwood coming on the last lap, but out of Blanchimont he looked far enough back and I thought to myself, he’s not going to have a lunge from there, but he did and I have to put that one down to experience. It’s a shame as a podium would’ve been a great way to end the weekend after the first race we had.”