Though his own race lasted only a handful of laps Marco Attard was crowned 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Champion at the end of a dramatic season finale at Donington Park.
Attard was left to stalk the pitlane, overcoming an urge to go home, after an unchecked oil line worked loose in the opening laps following an engine change in the morning. His retirement opened the door for Ahmad Al Harthy and Michael Caine to take the championship. The pair, sharing the #4 Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3, needed to win the race to snatch the title and, having started on pole Al Harthy was on course to do exactly that.
The Omani driver had edged clear into the lead, but the combined delay of GT4 traffic and Attard’s problem after just nine laps allowed him to slip seven seconds clear. Crucially the immediate beneficiary when the Ecurie Ecosse BMW slowed was Liam Griffin in the second of the Oman Racing Astons. Under the cumulative pressure of Jon Minshaw, Gary Eastwood, Derek Johnston and Mark Patterson Griffin kept second place through the rest of his stint helping Al Harthy to build up a lead of more than 20 seconds, enough to cushion the blow of the time penalty given them due to their pitstop in the previous round at Brands Hatch.
However, while Michael Caine emerged ahead after the mid-race pitstops, his takeover from Al Harthy almost exactly on the halfway point during the two hour race, he did so with a much reduced margin over Phil Keen in the Demon Tweeks sponsored Porsche started by Minshaw from eighth on the grid. He had made up four places on the opening lap alone, inheriting third at Attard’s expense. Despite damage from first lap contact that damaged the steering and led to some rather understeering lines through the switchbacks of the Melbourne hairpin and Goddards Minshaw’s progress was only at the tail of Griffin’s Aston as he had to turn his attention to fending off FF Corse Ferrari of Rockingham winner Gary Eastwood.
After a slow start to his stint, falling more than five seconds off the back of Keen’s Porsche, Ollie Hancock brought the car back into the fight catching Keen as he, still fighting the steering damage, made up the three seconds of track space to Caine. The battle for the lead culminated in four laps in which the leading trio were split by no more than a second, Caine pushing to try keep ahead in the race and in the championship.
With 20 minutes to go Keen finally found a way into the lead, passing Caine through the Melbourne Loop, simultaneously lifting Attard back to the top of the points and dropping Caine into the clutches of Hancock who took second through Redgate and Hollywood despite some spirited defence from Caine. Cruelly given how close they came to the title Caine and Al Harthy would play no part in the podium celebrations, Matt Bell charging up the order into third aboard the United Autosports Audi wheeled through the first half of the race by Mark Patterson.
Caine finished fourth, five seconds behind the Audi, to lead a trio of Astons with the second Oman Racing entry fifth and the PGF-Kinfaun car of Phil Dryburgh and Alex MacDowall sixth.
Nick Tandy hauled the #31 Trackspeed entry back up to seventh, making up ground throughout his stint having picked up the car from David Ashburn in 13th, their stop slowed by the longer pitstop ‘awarded’ to the previous race’s winners.
Richard Lyons, Joe Osborne and Aaron Scott, who had each been passed by Tandy completed the top ten for AF Corse, Triple Eight and AF Corse respectively.
2013 champion Andrew Howard ultimately gave up his crown with a whimper, spinning the #1 Aston into the chicane gravel early in race before retiring several laps later.
One of the departing GT4 champion, however, ended a troubled title defence with victory. While Ryan Ratcliffe missed out on points after contact in Triple Eight’s #88 BMW his 2013 teammate Rick Parfitt Jr. took a first GT4 win of the season with Tom Oliphant.
The Century Motorsport pair were part of the lead battle throughout the race, racing against the TF Sport and Beechdean AMR Aston crews who were fighting for the title.
Parfitt took the class lead shortly before the pitstops but a problem, which left the car stuck in gear as Oliphant completed his out lap, robbed the pair of 20 seconds and handed the class lead to the sister Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 in the hands of Morten Dons. The Dane’s lead was slowly chipped away at by the chasing Astons of Devon Modell (TF Sport) and Jake Giddings (Beechdean). However, before either could challenge for the lead on track a suspension failure brought Dons into the pits to retire.
“When we went back out, bad luck struck again and I thought our race was over, we couldn’t get out of second gear,” explained Oliphant. “Luckily the team told me a solution on the radio, but we’d lost nearly twenty seconds and were back in third when we should have been clear out front.”
“We battled away though. I found myself in an Aston sandwich for most of it, but kept pushing and their rear tyres went off with ten minutes to go. I knew that was my chance, I got a run out of McLeans and held it around the outside of Coppice while he span.”
With Modelll in the lead the destination of the GT4 title was briefly thrown open as Giddings pitted for extra fuel, employing caution after reporting the car was spluttering as he swung through the Craner Curves. Returning to race in fifth Giddings remained in position to clinch the title with teammate Ross Wylie, a fact only confirmed when Modell lost the lead to Oliphant with two laps remaining. Modell kept second place in the car started in which Andrew Jarman had led much of the first part of the race. The Twisted Team Parker pairing of Bradley Ellis and Adrian Barwick completed the class podium.