The RAM Racing Mercedes of Sam de Haan and Patrick Kujala overcame a spin at the start to take their first Intelligent Money British GT victory of the year and grab the championship lead.
The #69 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT began the Donington Park three hour race facing the wrong way after a spinning at the exit of the first corner and plummeting to last place after making contact with polesitter James Baldwin‘s McLaren.
Yet an impressive recovery drive from de Haan, brilliant strategy calls and a charging final stint from Kujala saw them grab the lead and hold off a charging Phil Keen to take victory and become the sixth different winner in six races.
The three hour endurance race at Donington Park where all of the teams had to stop at least three times saw a variety of different strategies played out with the result not certain until the final half hour.
By then it was Kujala who was out in front, with the RAM Racing’s team strategy of a short second stint to enable de Haan’s driver time to be used up paid dividends.
The chaotic start was triggered when Michael Igoe in the #18 WPI Motorsport Lamborghini was leant on into Redgate by Jordan Witt‘s #10 2Seas Motorsport McLaren causing the winner of the previous Donington endurance event to spin into the gravel, bringing out the safety car.
On the exit of Redgate, de Haan attempted to go around the outside of fellow front-row starter Baldwin in the #2 Jensen Team Rocket RJN McLaren but was forced onto the curb, lost traction and span round facing the oncoming traffic but was thankfully able to rejoin at the tail of the field thanks to the safety car.
Adam Balon in the #72 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan was delayed by the first corner chaos so the team decided to roll the dice and pitted under safety car to handover to their pro driver Keen.
After one lap under safety car, the race restarted and Baldwin sprinted away helped by a spirited defence from new second place man the top Pro/Am runner, the #6 RAM Racing Mercedes of Ian Loggie.
Third place runner, the #78 Barwell Lamborghini of championship leader Rob Collard couldn’t apply full pressure on Loggie as he was busy resisting pressure from Lewis Proctor in the #96 Optimum Motorsport McLaren.
Loggie defence was short lived, as he ran wide on the exit of the old hairpin and spun the Mercedes off and dropped down to 11th place.
The #6 car’s race got even worse after they received a stop-go penalty for a too short a pitstop and eventually finished in ninth place.
Baldwin had a lead of 15 seconds lead when he pitted which allowed co-driver Michael O’Brien pass Collard and Proctor when they made their stops.
Yet O’Brien did not emerge in the lead as Keen, who had been the fastest car out on track during his stint, was a minute clear of O’Brien.
Yet Keen’s lead only lasted two laps when he handed the car back over to Balon, who emerged in eighth place but on a very different strategy to the cars around him.
After his first lap mishap de Haan commenced an impressive recovery drive which got the #69 Mercedes up into sixth place by the time of its pitstop, which became fourth once the pitstops cycled round.
After 20 minutes Sandy Mitchell, who had taken over the #78 Lamborghini from Collard, entered the pits to change a slow puncture, but the Barwell boys took full advantage to make their second scheduled stop and allow Collard to complete his drive time.
This change in strategy saw his closest rivals, the #2 McLaren and the #69 Mercedes respond with stops of their own, but it was de Haan benefitted as he emerged right onto the back on Collard and soon the Mercedes was past the Lamborghini.
The only frontrunner not to follow this strategy was Ollie Wilkinson in the #96 McLaren who took the lead with Balon now up to second.
Collard was first of the two stoppers to pit but due to their victory last time out at Brands Hatch, they had to serve a 20 second success penalty which saw Mitchell fall back to sixth behind his team-mate Balon, Kujala, O’Brien and Jack Mitchell in the #10 McLaren who made their third pitstops on the next two laps.
Wilkinson’s long second stint finally ended with 50 minutes to hand back over Proctor and they emerged second behind Balon but they needed to make another stop with the next hour.
Despite this Proctor very quickly reeled in Balon and after a mistake from the Lamborghini at the chicane, Proctor got close enough to make the pass for the lead at the Melbourne Hairpin.
Balon pitted straight after this to hand over Keen ,who rejoined in fourth place with Proctor pitting on the next lap but Wilkinson was unable to retain fourth and emerged just behind Keen.
With half an hour left to go all of the strategies had cycled round and it was Kujala at the head of the field after overtaking and pulling away from O’Brien.
But Keen had been the quickest car all race and in quick order he dispatched Jack Mitchell’s #10 McLaren for third and O’Brien for second, which gave him 13 minutes to chase down Kujala 8.5 second lead.
Yet despite rapidly pulling away from the chasing pack, Keen was unable to make significant inroads on the Mercedes eventually came 3.4 seconds short of victory.
The victory for the Mercedes allowed them to take the championship lead from the #78 Lamborghini which lost the lead due to its sixth place finish, which without its 20 second penalty would’ve finished in the top three.
O’Brien’s third place saw them lose third place in the championship to Keen/Balon but they are still 21 points off the lead with just four rounds left.
In GT4, the #58 HHC Motorsports McLaren of Patrik Matthiesen and Jordan Collard came out on top of a race long struggle with Brands Hatch winners the #61 Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang of Matt Cowley and Jordan Albert.
Both crews started on the front row and raced away from the pack helped by both of the TF Sport Aston Martins pitting under the safety car, but short period meant they were still in the pitlane when the safety car came in causing them to lose a lap.
Cowley managed to build a comfy six second gap over the McLaren when Matthiesen pitted but TF Sport’s bold strategy eventually paid dividends as it brought them into a 1-2 position at the head of the leaderboard.
Yet they lost out when all of the stops had cycled through so the leader board once again showed Albert in the #61 and #58 of Collard out in front but due to the 20 second success penalty the Mustang had to serve in its final pitstop, saw the McLaren out in front.
Albert battled away at the gap but did not have the pace to reel in the McLaren and Collard took victory by 1.8 seconds.
Third place went to the #95 Aston of Connor O’Brien/Patrick Kibble in the which was the fastest of the TF Astons all day which offered redemption of sorts after their clash with team-mate Jamie Caroline at Brands had deprived Kibble of third.
Their troubles saw both of the TF Aston Martins top the points with 100 points, with Cowley/Albert just 1.5 points behind in third and Collard/Matthiesen jumping up the order into fourth just a point further back.
The GT4 championship leaders coming into Donnington, the #57 HHC Motorsport McLaren of Gus Bowers/Chris Wesemael had their race ruined when they received a stop go 1 second penalty for too short a pitstop.
They later received a further drive-thru penalty which consigned them to eighth place and dropped to fifth in the standings as a result.