Five crews head to Donington Park next month with a chance a the overall British GT3 title after a thrilling race at Brands Hatch which saw Jonny Adam and Graham Davidson re-enter the stage as viable championship winners. The TF Sport pairing did all they could to achieve the feat, leading much of the 2 hour race on the Grand Prix layout of the Kent venue to secure 37.5 points for the second time this year.
In GT4 the fight is even closer with six of the 24 entries in with a statistical chance of taking the crown. Team loyalty, flat out driving and one substantial crash all conspired to make this a possibility as the #4 Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4 of James Dorlin and Josh Smith took their maiden British GT race victory.
TF Sport Triumph as Potential Champions Step Forward.
The GT3 race at Brands Hatch was less about who won the race and more about who positioned themselves to have a chance heading into the Donington Decider next month. Qualifying cast doubt on the performance of the two Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini crews at the head of the table, but that doubt was quickly cast aside once the race got under way.
First to try to reserve a place in the grand final was the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 720s GT3 of Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell. The former taking the start from pole but dropping back almost instantly as a lightening quick getaway from Oliver Wilkinson put the #96 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3 ahead into Paddock Hill Bend.
Graham Davidson however was charting his course to victory, using the outside line at Paddock Hill to pass championship leader Sam de Haan and holding that line for Druids where the pass for second was made. Shaun Balfe then stabilised his position in third ahead of the surprisingly excitable Angus Fender.
The BMW M6 GT3 Fender shares with Jack Mitchell was expected by many to drop down the order with almost indecent pace. No one told the GT3 debutant though and despite the fact he was carried in the official programme as a driver for the #43 Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4, he leapt ahead at the start to confirm a solid fourth place and demote the championship leading car to fifth.
While it all seemed to be going wrong for the championship leaders, it was going right for the #72 Barwell Lamborghini. Adam Balon had the start and made quick progress moving the car up from its ninth place grid spot.
Safety Car Causes Shake Up
The race settled in and the Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin began to streak away at the head of the field, building the gap needed to overcome success penalties for their win at Spa-Francorchamps. Angus Fender continued to acquit himself well on his class debut and further down the order, a battle brewed between the Bentley Continental GT3s of both JRM Racing and Team Parker Racing.
That battle came very close as Rick Parfitt Jr. and Glynn Geddie worked the GT4 traffic round the back of the circuit. A brush too close for the JRM machine lightly clipped the #61 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin, not damaging the Bentley but unsettling the Aston Martin. As the pack approached Westfield though Ratcliffe was trying to make his way through. With no choice but to turn into the corner, Ben Hurst committed. The #7 Bentley collided heavily, destroying the front right on the GT4 car and spearing the GT3 machine off and into the tyre wall.
The resulting safety car compressed the pack and took almost 20 minutes to collect the wreckage and repair the barrier.
As the incident was happening, Ollie Wilkinson was having a moment of his own. The silver driver committed a little hard to Paddock Hill Bend, ran out wide on the exit and rotated the car into the path of the oncoming traffic. The spin didn’t damage the car but did cost five places, and having used much of the grip in his Pirelli P-Zero tyres, Wilkinson was unable to push back through the pack when racing resumed.
That left Sam de Haan relatively unthreatened in fourth place but with Graham Davidson in the lead and Shaun Balfe in second place. Angus Fender continued to hold down third as the action got back underway and the pit window approached.
Pit lane battles between the TF Sport, Balfe Motorsport and Century Motorsport teams were called pretty much as a draw and the cars exited in the same order they entered. Jonny Adam now at the wheel of the #47 machine set immediately to building a gap and soon had ten seconds over the McLaren of Rob Bell in second. Jack Mitchell kept pace with the leaders throughout his early stint but dropped back as the race wore on towards its conclusion.
Barwell’s Intra-Team Squabble Gives Keen and Balon the Advantage.
The fall back towards fourth place coincided with a three way battle for fourth place, Jonny Cocker holding off Phil Keen in an intra-team battle for title supremacy. Joining the fight from behind was the WPI Motorsport entry, the #18 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO of Dennis Lind.
Once again, traffic played its part, separating out the WPI machine from the pack but Keen and de Haan lapped almost as one car for much of the last half of the race. The 2004 champion absorbed everything the perennial championship bridesmaid could throw at him for 45 minutes of tough racing action until finally Keen had his chance on the final lap. The move succeeded and didn’t result in contact, but it did compromise the #69 machine’s run, leaving it victim to Dennis Lind, Tom Onslow-Cole in the Team ABBA Racing Mercedes-AMG and Nicki Thiim in the #2 TF Sport Aston Martin.
The result sets up a stunning final race of the season, with Adam Balon and Phil Keen now back in the driving seat of the championship fight. TF Sport’s Graham Davidson and Jonny Adam, winners at Donington Park in the first visit of the year, sit just six points off the leaders with de Haan and Cocker in third, 11.5 points down. Statistically speaking, both the Balfe Motorsport McLaren and the Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin also stand a chance at the championship but with both tied on 88.5 points, it would require the three leading cars to place no better than tenth and one of the two cars to win for either to take the crown.
For Optimum Motorsport though there was title glory. As one of three Silver Cup entrants at Brands Hatch, the #96 was able to seal the Silver Cup championship at the race. They now sit 37.75 points clear of the crashed Bentley in second for the championship, 0.25 points more than the maximum available for a win in the East Midlands next month.
You can read how the race happened in our archived live blog of the action. The GT4 race report will be available tomorrow. The teams now have a month and a half to lick their wounds and plan their next move ahead of the 2019 British GT Championship Donington Decider event.