Flick Haigh became the first woman to claim an outright British GT victory in the opening round of the 2018 season at Oulton Park, clinching top spot alongside Jonny Adam to cap a perfect start to the new campaign for Optimum Motorsport.
Haigh’s blazing opening stint set-up a thrilling battle between Adam’s Aston Martin and Phil Keen‘s Lamborghini, until a clash for Keen with a GT4 runner handed Optimum a dominant victory on their return to top-class competition.
In GT4, Track-Club returned to winning ways as Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat surged to victory ahead of Century Motorsport‘s Ben Tuck and Ben Green.
The rain-filled skies above the Cheshire circuit ensured a rainy start to the new season, as the determined Haigh emphatically stormed away and immediately bridged a gap to her rivals behind as the first race of a new season burst into life.
A dramatic event began with veteran AM battler Jon Minshaw muscling his #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan past Mark Farmer‘s #11 TF Sport Aston Martin into Old Hall Corner – forcing Farmer wide and into a spin as the ruthless Minshaw began his charge up the field.
Disaster befell TF Sport again moments later on the slippery run down to Knickerbrook chicane, Derek Johnston skating wide and off the road to cap a nightmarish start for the former British GT champion outfit.
An inspired Minshaw continued to slice through the GT3 field as the vibrant green Lamborghini began to excel in the tricky conditions, negotiating the two Team Parker Racing Bentley Continentals in consecutive corners before sweeping ahead of Andrew Howard‘s returning #99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin for second spot.
Callum Pointon clung onto top spot in the early scrap for the lead in GT4 – fending off Michael O’Brien‘s #4 Tolman Motorsport McLaren and the pair of BMW Motorsport-backed Century Motorsport M4s piloted by Ben Tuck and Ricky Collard.
The wet weather claimed its first victim of the afternoon through Lodge Corner – Will Moore being spat into the barrier after a slight collision with one of the charging BMWs. Despite suffering front end damage, Moore successfully dragged the stricken #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin back to pit-lane.
Lights ablaze, Ian Loggie reeled in team-mate Rick Parfitt Jnr in the squabble for fourth, with the Scotsman soon darting ahead and claiming the position away from the defending British GT champion.
Minshaw cut an intimidating figure in Haigh rear-view mirror as the race closed in on its halfway point – the former scything down the deficit and closing within 2.5 seconds of the leader as wheel-guns sounded in the garages to signal the opening of the pit window.
A flurry of activity saw Haigh hand over to pro partner Adam, whilst Keen leapt in to replace Minshaw in the Barwell Lamborghini a lap later. The battle for the win resumed as Keen emerged from the pit-lane and slotted in right behind Adam to spark a fascinating fight at the front.
Academy Motorsport’s awful day continued as talented youngster Jan Jonck slipped off the surface and lightly contacted the barriers in almost identical fashion to team-mate Moore on the first lap. Like Moore, Jonck sheepishly stuttered into the pit-lane with noticeable yet non-terminal damage.
An incident for Pointon’s partner Patrik Matthiesen handed Track-Club’s Barnicoat top spot in GT4, while Green clung onto second ahead of the harrying Charlie Fagg in the Tolman McLaren.
The raging scrap between Adam and Keen reached its peak heading into the final 30 minutes of the contest, unfortunately ending in tears for the latter in typically unpredictable fashion. Desperately looking to prevent Adam from building a leading margin, Keen aggressively fought through the lapped GT4 runners before colliding with Will Burns‘ #50 HHC Motorsport Ginetta into Druids corner – suffering a right side puncture that forced the Lamborghini into the garage to repair damage as the GT3 dog-fight abruptly ended in unfortunate circumstances.
Keen’s untimely clash handed second to Darren Turner in the Beechdean Aston Martin, a full 35 seconds back of AMR ally Adam and just ahead of Yelmer Buurman‘s surging #116 ERC Sport Mercedes-AMG GT3.
One final fight ensued as the race clock gradually ticked down, contested between Turner and Buurman as the improving Mercedes honed in on Turner’s vulnerable Aston Martin. Despite fervent pressure from the spirited Buurman, the experienced GT veteran Turner held on and staved off the Dutchman to clinch a runners-up finish on his full British GT debut.
Adam cruised comfortably over the line to seal a sensational victory for Optimum Motorsport, as Aston Martin fired the first salvo in the GT3 manufacturer’s battle and Haigh claimed a memorable maiden win on her series debut.
Balon and Barnicoat began Track-Club’s GT4 2018 title assault with a win – holding off the hard-charging Green to repeat their Oulton success from a year ago.