Beechdean AMR took a very strong win in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship’s summer holiday trip to Spa-Francorchamps as Jonny Adam set the track alight with his pace.
At the start Liam Griffin in the #6 Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage got a lightning start to send him ahead of Andrew Howard in the pole sitting Beechdean Aston going into La Source with Jon Minshaw occupying third place in the Team Russia By Barwell Racing with Demon Tweeks BMW.
It turned out later in the race that Griffin’s lightning start was actually a jump start and had to suffer a drive through penalty twenty minutes in which sent him scuttling down the order.
However, back to the start of the race and in the GT4 category it was clear to see that the ISSY Racing Lotus, which has been fast all weekend at the hands of Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw, was going to be fast again as it led away Jamie Chadwick in the #407 Beechdean AMR entry.
One man also on the rise was Graham Coomes in the AmDTuning.com Porsche which rose from the very back of the grid – thanks to the bonnet coming loose in qualifying and smashing the windscreen – to eighth in class after just a few laps.
In the GT3 class, Marco Attard in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW seemed to be going in a different direction, going from fourth down to ninth in a very short space of time thanks to being caught out by some very racy GT3s behind him.
One of those, included the Triple Eight BMW of Lee Mowle which started seventh and quickly found themselves racing in third position at the expense of Minshaw.
That got even better after Griffin served his drive-through for jumping the start as Andrew Howard was promoted to third, Mowle went to second and Stuart Leonard in the Leonard AMR car – which is entered for this race only as prep for the Spa 24 Hours – moved up to third
Sadly for Triple Eight, cruel fate intervened in their strong showing by striking the car with gremlins which saw it stranded at turn 14 with a suspected broken fuel pump.
While the #888 was crawling round the circuit, Stuart Leonard showed what benefits a car with hardly any ballast has after he overtook Howard in the Beechdean and claimed the lead of the race.
Annoyingly for them, the 5.6 second lead they built up over the rest of the pack was wiped out as the safety car was called for to recover Mowle’s BMW from the circuit.
At the restart though, Leonard got away to an absolutely lightning start and set about rebuilding his lead over Howard and Minshaw behind him.
The same was also true in GT4 where Yusuf ensured his car carried on leading and Chadwick didn’t get a sniff of an opportunity going into La Source.
Unfortunately for both class leaders, they had what had to be less than two laps under green before the safety car was called for again with the Twisted Team Parker Ginetta and AmDTuning.com Porsche coming to grief at turn 13. The Porsche continued but the Ginetta had its race ended there and then.
At the same time, someone leaked oil on track at turns 16, 17, and 18 which saw the #72 Track Group Lotus Evora hit the barriers at Blanchimon. It got towed back to the pits where a liberal use of masking tape saw the car come back out.
During that safety car period, the whole field came in for pit stops, but the Porsche managed to sneak in on the same lap the safety car was called for and saw it catapulted up the grid.
As Jake Hill explained after the race, their timing was impeccable: “Graham had a spin taking avoiding action with the Twisted Team Parker car which is a bit unfortunate – we were getting a bit worried after that but because of that we managed to get into the pits earlier than everyone else because they were stuck behind the safety car.
“Just as Graham was recovering, the pit window opened so swapped the car over to me and there on had a clear run pretty much all the way to the chequered flag.”
Michael Meadows also took over the lead of the race during that series of pit stops, having taken over the Leonard AMR from Stuart Leonard.
However, he couldn’t remain in the lead for long as Jonny Adam had some sort of out of body experience and absolutely destroyed the field in front of him and dived down the inside of Meadows at La Source to take the lead.
It got even worse for Meadows as Phil Keen in the Demon Tweeks BMW also got past to take second place.
Although, someone going even worse was Ahmad Al-Harthy in the #2 Oman Racing Team Aston. He was running fifth until the second safety car came out and the car went into the pits. An issue in pitlane saw the car come back out on track at the back of the GT3 field and a lot of work to do for Daniel Lloyd. They would eventually finish 11th in class.
In GT4, Gavan Kershaw in the #77 Lotus decided to keep charging and opened up a lead on Ross Gunn that would end up stretching to 30 seconds after not too long. Behind them both, the Porsche was sitting pretty in third, but the #61 Academy Motorsport Aston of Will Moore and Dennis Strandberg had climbed from last in GT4 and was sitting in fourth, looking to claim a spot on the podium.
That charge was quickly stunted with only a quarter of the race left to go, as they got a drive-through penalty for an unsafe release during their pit stop.
Before that though, came the yo-yo effect many teams seemed to be experiencing throughout the race – especially in GT3 – and this time it was the turn of Ollie Hancock in the FF Corse Ferrari which slipped from 5th place to 11th in the space of a couple of laps.
Their place was now occupied by RAM Racing and Lewis Plato and he were closing on the #27 TF Sport Aston of Jody Fannin in fourth place.
It seemed to be a good dice for a time, with the difference shrinking to only a tenth or two at some points. However, it ended in tears after the two cars collided at Les Combes and sent them both plummeting down the pack. RAM went into the pits and came back out, but the TF car had to retire with damage.
The big winner out of all that was the #32 Team LNT Ginetta of Michael Simpson which moved up to sixth place in class, helped by the fact they made easy work of passing the VonRyan Racing McLaren, which did slip down to eighth after that with the sister TF Sport car claiming seventh as their own.
At this point, it seemed as though the field had its fill of excitement and decided to relax a bit in the final ten minutes with Jonny Adam stretching his lead at the front to more than 20 seconds and Gavan Kershaw stretching his lead at the front of GT4 to almost 40.
When the flag fell, Adam led Keen and Meadows across the line with Rory Butcher performing something not short of a miracle to recover the #6 to fourth in GT3 and Alexander Sims held steady after early issues in Attard’s stint to claim fifth.
However, after the race it was determined that Griffin had overtaken Attard too early as the second safety car period ended and was given a twenty second time penalty for his trouble. Which meant that the Ecurie Ecosse car moved up to fourth and the Oman Racing Team car down to fifth.
In GT4 there were no such issues with ISSY Racing taking a very dominant victory, Beechdean AMR ran by themselves 40 seconds behind the winners and more than one-and-a-half minutes in front of third placed AmDTuning.com.
On the podium, Gavan Kershaw told TCF the Lotus suits Spa: “The Lotus loves this place, it can stretch its legs a bit. With the ballast on board we are one of the heaviest cars out there, so it is hard on its tyres – we’ve never done two hours on a set of tyres before so it was a risk.
“But no it’s just a nice steady race, you’re always waiting for something to go wrong aren’t you? Hit, puncture, whatever. I’ve never let so many GT4 past that have been behind me, so no it’s great – we had a second and a third last year so to top it off with this is brilliant.”
Two places behind them, Jake Hill and Graham Coomes claimed their best finish of the year in the Porsche, and the pair believe their podium is redemption for a qualifying session cut short before it really started when the bonnet came loose on the out lap, smashed the windscreen and stopped them from completing qualifying.
Hill said: “That was just one of those silly mistakes which will hopefully be forgotten – bonnet flies up, smashes the window, end of qualifying. That’s how it goes, it is just one of those things but here we are on the podium and we’ve rectified it.”
Coomes himself knew the result was possible, feeling confident in the car underneath him: “We were sitting in the hotel last night, with one dejected face [pointing at Jake] and one that wasn’t so rejected. I did say to Jake we should be confident and I felt that third was possible. We both felt comfortable in the car for the first time this season, all through testing here we were using used tyres and everyone else wasn’t so we knew we had some genuine pace in it, it was just a matter of getting the most of it and not falling over somebody.”
For the British GT field, three weeks brings the next round at Brands Hatch, but for a few teams the Total Spa 24 Hours is next on the agenda in two weeks time where they will hope this manic two hours will leave them with an advantage over other competitors.