Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis converted their inaugural pole to their first race win in the 2019 British GT Championship, leading from lights to flag at the Circuit de Spa-Fracorchamps. The Optimum Motorsport crew were barely troubled during the two hour encounter on the Grand Prix circuit at the Belgian venue, a rare island of calm in a sea of turbulence for the GT3 and GT4 packs on their annual sojourn across the channel.
Tom Canning and Ash Hand kept themselves in contention in a busy GT4 class, ready to capitalise as rivals and race long favourites Tolman Motorsport suffered heartbreak in the dying minutes of the race.
GT3: ‘Easy’ Victory for Optimum Gives Ellis First Win in 11 Years
Bradley Ellis is celebrating tonight after finally collecting his first British GT race win since his championship title defence 11 years ago. The former champion inherited a strong position from his team mate Ollie Wilkinson who survived first lap which derailed the hopes of both the championship leader and their closest rivals.
While Wilkinson shot off at the front like the proverbial robbers dog, all hell broke loose behind. Barwell Motorsport‘s Adam Balon bungled the start in the #72 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO, netting a stop/go penalty for the points leading machine. Sam de Haan also dropped down in the opening lap, spun by the JRM Racing Bentley of Rick Parfitt Jr. The rocker turned racer also picked up a penalty for that ill timed move.
WPI Motorsport‘s Michael Igoe dropped from second to fifth during the opening lap chaos which saw Ian Loggie leapfrog the Team Parker Racing Bentley of Ryan Ratcliffe to take second for RAM Racing.
As the first hour ended the chasing pack was shaken up again as Loggie was spun at La Source, allowing TF Sport‘s Graham Davidson and team owner Shaun Balfe to follow Ratcliffe through. The order was Optimum Motorsport with the Bentley, Davidson’s Aston Martin and the Balfe Motorsport McLaren in distant pursuit. The cherry on the top for the leading pair was that both the #47 and the #22 had success seconds to serve.
A ten second stop and go for Jonny Adam, given for a mis-step by Davidson in the first half of the race put the TF Sport machine out of the battle which left Rob Bell free to give chase to the Silver/Silver pairings at the head of the field. The McLaren had a 31 second deficit to make up when he left the pit lane, and found the tail of the Bentley with ten minutes to spare.
Both had been closing on the race leader through the final hour but when battle was joined, the Aston Martin managed to pull away and secure the victory. The Crewe vs Woking battle also allowed RAM Racing to close back up, Callum Macleod joining the battle in the dying minutes of the race. The three way fight then lead to one of the most astounding overtaking moves in motorsport. Bentley, McLaren and Mercedes-AMG, none particularly small cars, three wide through the legendary and very daunting Eau Rouge corner.
The excess of bravery paid of handsomely for Macleod who left La Source in fourth and entered Radillon in second. Ratcliffe managed to hold the McLaren at bay for the final step of the podium. It is the first time two Silver Cup crews have appeared on the overall podium of a GT3 race in British GT.
Bell secured fourth place with the TF Sport Aston Martin of Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim in fifth, recovering nicely from a first hour spin. Thiim secured the position with a move which would have seemed very brave at Eau Rouge, if not for the three way heroics ahead of them in the field. Adam Christodoulou fell to sixth as a result of the Dane’s move, poor reward for the Team ABBA Mercedes-AMG which Christodoulou and team mate Richard Neary had kept in the action throughout the two hours.
de Haan and Jonny Cocker grabbed seventh to take the lead in the championship standings, just half a point ahead of the erstwhile points leaders in the team car. Adam Balon retired the #72 machine 14 laps into the contest, denying Phil Keen a go at the wheel.
GT4: TF Sport Capitolise on Disaster for Tolman Motorsport
Tom Ferrier‘s crew are also celebrating this evening as the #97 and #95 Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4s run by the team claimed a 1-3 result in the GT4 element of the race. The victory for Canning and Hand marks the first appearance of the multi-GT3 title wining team atop the podium since 2014. But, plain sailing it wasn’t as a race which seemed destined to go Tolman Motorsport’s way was dropped in the lap of Canning in the dying minutes.
The start saw James Dorlin jump from fourth to the lead, a place that neither he nor co-driver Josh Smith, relinquished until the penultimate lap. Strong pace from the McLarens was further demonstrated as Jordan Collard pushed the #5 machine past both the #97 in third and the #95 in second to secure a Tolman 1-2 at the pit stops. Here Tolman’s luck began to show cracks. Success seconds for the Collard and Lewis Proctor‘s performance in the last round at Donington Park dropped the #5 car from contention and left the #4 machine with two hungry Aston Martins snapping at its heels.
Canning had the advantage after passing Josh Price in a quick post-pitstop move for second place. The two circulated for the next hour, hunting as a pack until Canning sensed victory within his grasp. A switchback attempt at the Bus Stop chicane resulted in innocent contact. It gave Canning the lead of the race with just a lap to go, Price moving up in the move too. Unfortunately for Tolman, who had done everything right all along, the contact also punctured a radiator.
Josh Smith was forced to abandon the car at La Source, unable to continue the final four miles to claim at least some points for his efforts. Canning and Price, separated by the #5 machine which had found its way back into contention at the close, toured the Spa-Fracorchamps circuit for the final time to seal the 1-3 victory.
Perhaps the saving grace for Tolman Motorsport is that the demise of the race leader allowed the McLaren with the better championship chance, the #5, to close further on the title fight leaders who managed only 19th overall.
Five points now separate the #5 crew in the McLaren from Seb Priaulx and Scott Maxwell in the #15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4. It assures us that no matter what, the two overall titles will run to the final round at Donington Park in September. Balfe Motorsport can also have cause for celebration, taking a double fourth with their #22 GT3 car and #20 GT4 entry respectively. It gives Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien a half point deficit to the Beechdean AMR duo in the #11 Aston Martin in the GT4 Pro/Am title fight.
The Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher crewed Aston Martin still managed a strong result, fourth in the Pro/Am class, but finished behind the Invictus Games Racing Jaguar F-Type SVR GT4 of Matthew George and Major Steve McCully and the Team Parker Racing run Mercedes-AMG of Silverstone race winners Scott Malvern and Nick Jones.
The crews now only have two weeks to prepare for the next round of the championship. Many have less time than that as Barwell Motorsport, TF Sport and Team Parker Racing are all staying in Stavelot for next weekend’s Total 24h Spa. British GT action resumes on the first weekend in August, where normal service from thecheckeredflag.co.uk will be resumed. Expect full live coverage of each competitive session when the cars take to the Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch for the penultimate round of the 2019 British GT Championship.