Balfe Motorsport are enjoying some well earned success after rounds 3 and 4 of the 2019 British GT Championship season. The third place finish for the McLaren 720S GT3 shared by Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell marks the first for McLaren in the championship since the introduction of the new model. A third place in GT4 Pro/Am for the team’s 570S GT4 places Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien second in the championship fight.
GT3: From Points Famine to Champagne Feast for Balfe Motorsport.
A strong qualifying performance put team owner Shaun Balfe right among the front runners at the start of the first race of the weekend. Sixth place at the pit stops was a far cry from the non-starts of rounds 1 and 2 due to an electrical fault. At the stops, Rob Bell took the wheel and battled his way up to second place until he and a class rival came across a GT4 car at Riches corner.
The rival went to the inside while Bell went to the outside. The GT4 car moved to the right and caught the McLaren GT3 machine on the off-side rear corner, puncturing the Pirelli tyre. Bell attempted to recover the car the 2.7 miles to the pits but was forced to retire the car at the side of the track as the tyre de-laminated and began chewing the McLaren apart.
The second race saw Bell start and handed over the car in fifth place. Balfe took the wheel and completed a trouble free run to the flag, passing two other GT3 cars en-route.
“Qualifying didn’t quite go to plan,” Balfe commented, “but Rob did a fantastic job so fair play to him. I think we’ve got a little bit of set up to work on. Race-wise, Rob was unlucky in race one; he was looking really strong but again these things happen. I’m really pleased I could deliver a result for the team, McLaren, everyone that’s put the hard work in, and put all of us on the map for British GT now. Although it’s been a weekend of mixed fortunes, I think we’ve demonstrated some good pace. Now I can’t wait for Silverstone!”
Rob Bell meanwhile said, “I don’t think we had the ultimate pace to challenge for pole but as a combination we were pretty close to that in the second race. The first race was a bit disappointing. Obviously we were third before getting tagged which was a bit of a racing incident I think, however we’ve made up for it in race two getting the McLaren 720S GT3s first UK podium, so we are happy. I’m looking forward to Silverstone. We need to work on a little bit of pace, and we should be in the mix.”
GT4: Podiums and Penalties for 570S GT4.
In the other side of the Balfe Motorsport garage, it was a similar weekend but for different reasons. An average qualifying for race 1 saw Graham Johnson start the race in ninth place. As competition bounced off each other, Johnson kept the nose clean on his McLaren 570S GT4 handing over to Michael O’Brien at the stops.
O’Brien maintained the clean run, bringing the machine home in third place in the Pro/Am class.
Race 2 however didn’t go as well. O’Brien started strongly, bringing the car up to fourth place before pitting to hand over to Johnson. Once the Am side of the pairing got in the car however the race took a turn for the worse. Attempting to pass the #44 Invictus Games Racing Jaguar F-Type SVR GT4, Johnson put what he admits was an optimistic move.
Contact between the two cars wasn’t hard enough to knock either car out but the steward judged the incident to be the fault of the McLaren driver. A stop and go penalty for the contact knocked the #20 machine out of the battle for the win, finishing the race in fifth place.
Johnson admitted his mistake, saying, “I didn’t drive my best in qualifying, but race one went very well ending with a podium. Race two could have been awesome, Michael did a good job, but I don’t think I showed enough respect to the Jaguar. I jumped down the inside hoping he’d move out my way and he didn’t, so that’s where the contact came from. I threw away a good result and I’m sorry to the team. We had the pace to take the win, but the car was pretty damaged after the contact. Michael hasn’t had his first win in British GT yet and I’ve promised him we will get one this year, so I’m determined to get him the credit he deserves as he’s such a talent.”
O’Brien added, “Qualifying was certainly better than Oulton Park. Graham made a mega start in race one and got the car from 18th to 11th on lap one which was really good, and to finish seventh in GT4 and third in Pro-Am was a good start to the weekend. Race two started well again, we were up to fourth, made our pit stop, and came out in second overall in GT4 but got a penalty for contact which set us back slightly. Overall, it’s been a much better weekend. I know Silverstone really well and it should suit our car, so I’m hoping for better things there.”
Next on the British GT calendar is the Silverstone 500 3 hour race which offers 50% more points compared to a one hour race. Track action begins on 8th June.