Donington Park, Leicestershire 15th September 2014 – Triple Eight Race Engineering signed off the 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Championship with a battling top ten finish for Derek Johnston and Joe Osborne, but left Donington Park wondering what might have been with its two remaining BMW Z4 GT3s after a challenging final race of the year.
On paper Triple Eight’s return to the East Leicestershire circuit should’ve been a happy one. The team dominated qualifying in 2013, taking pole-position by almost half a second last year, and Osborne and then team-mate Lee Mowle led the majority of the race before issues with the timing system robbed the team of a maiden British GT win. However, 2014 would be a different affair after the series’ balance-of-performance calculations made the BMW Z4 uncompetitive in race trim.
An overcast qualifying session on Saturday delivered fifth on the grid for Derek and Joe when times were combined and rivals penalties implemented. Slightly disappointed with eleventh, Warren Hughes and Jody Firth made further changes ahead of the race the next day, keen to finish 2014 on a high. Behind Hughes and Firth were Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, fresh off the back of their points score a fortnight ago in nineteenth.
Sunday brought more clouds and lower temperatures, and after a positive morning warm-up for all three cars, spirits were high in the Triple Eight team. The race start was a well-mannered affair, but Derek was passed into the first turn, Redgate, by several cars, dropping to seventh.
With work to do to make their way through the busy mid-field, both Jody and Lee sprinted into the first laps eager to make up places. By lap five Jody was up to ninth, with Lee up to fourteenth. However, a spin for Jody on the exit of the Fogarty Esses on lap six dropped him down to seventeenth. A handful of laps later and the #8 BMW was back on the pace and on lap 18, Jody passed Lee for fourteenth.
Up front Derek was now sixth after a slick move on Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari, then picking up another place when 2014 Champion-elect Marco Attard pitted and retired. Eastwood got his revenge, passing Derek for fifth on lap 19, but the Newcastle-born head of Mobile Stud Welding (MSW) got the place back with a spirited move on Mark Patterson’s Audi.
The pit window opened on lap 34 and misfortune hit the #888 car on its in-lap, when Derek missed the first apex of the Fogarty Esses and spun on the grass at the exit, dropping down to eighth before handing over to Joe. Jody pitted at the same time as Derek, with the Triple Eight mechanics tasked with delivering two slick pit stops. Lee remained on track for a further three laps, a move that allowed Ryan to join the fray still in fourteenth place, avoiding the earlier melee.
Warren’s race debut in the BMW was short-lived, when the experienced racer was subject to a lunge by Mike Simpson’s Ginetta G55 GT3 at Redgate. The factory Ginetta driver launched his move from a long distance back up the inside of Warren, landing himself right into the side of the BMW, sending the Z4 off into the gravel, curtailing both driver’s races shortly afterwards; the BMW finally giving up with reported suspension damage on the front right corner.
After a strong debut at Brands Hatch, Ryan had plenty more he wanted to prove before the 2014 season closed its doors. However, the exuberant 21-year-old was battling a brake issue that had limited his team-mate’s potential to rise up the order earlier in the day too. Contact from then race leader Michael Caine didn’t help matters, but the Welshman persisted until after three pit stops the team decided it was safer to retire the #88 Bavarian beast after a long brake pedal developed into no brakes at all.
With two cars out all hopes of a positive end to 2014 rested with Joe and the #888 BMW. After five laps behind the wheel Joe didn’t have the car he’d hoped for and found himself battling with Patterson’s team-mate Bell. The Audi got past on lap 44 for sixth and unable to get anymore from his BMW, the BRDC SuperStar became a target for cars that were previously not on his pace.
After chasing the Ferrari of Richard Lyons for best part of 15 laps, hunter became prey and Aston Martin’s factory challenger Alex MacDowall passed the BMW, before Joe was reeled in by Porsche ace, Nick Tandy on a fight back up the order. At the flag, 25-year-old Joe took ninth after a battling performance, delivering points for team-mate Derek and giving Triple Eight a boost in the Team’s standings too.
Derek Johnston, driver #888
“That definitely wasn’t the result we were hoping for. The car felt great after warm-up, but I got jumped into turn one at the start and it was very difficult to get back on level terms from there on in. I chased Patterson’s Audi lap after lap, but just couldn’t get past. The BMW is a great car, but something needs to be done with the BOP because it is a sitting duck on the straights and at a track like Donington, that means you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s been a challenging year, and I’d like to thank Luke Hines and Joe Osborne for their help, along with Triple Eight who’ve given me a great car and a lot of experience.”
Joe Osborne, driver #888
“We just didn’t have the ability to get a podium today. Derek was unfortunate to spin on his in lap, as his stint was progressive and solid until that point. When I got in the car I found myself battling with Matt Bell and we just had no ability to turn up the ante and fight him, the same with MacDowall and Tandy. It was a difficult day, but it was good to finish in the points and driving with Derek has been really enjoyable; he’s a very quick racer and a great character out of the car too.”
Lee Mowle, driver #88
“It’s been a difficult year and the past two weekends in particular have seen us a long way off the front running pace of the Aston Martins, Porsches and Ferraris. That’s not down to the team’s ability, rather the balance of performance calculations presented by SRO. We worked with BMW to approach SRO about redressing the balance before this event, but to no avail. Our issue is that at the start of the year, SRO announced a rationale that would see the BOP switch based on the type of circuit we attended, but that hasn’t happened. Therefore we’ve gone to half the races this season, at very different circuits, with an ill-fitting BOP and no rationale behind it. We now find ourselves a second a lap down on where we were last year at Donington, getting crucified by cars that we were previously ahead of. It’s well documented that the BMW has differing strengths to its rivals, and one of those was it could qualify well. This negated the straight-line speed deficit and allowed Z4s in British GT to present a challenge for rivals in the race. But what has happened is we’re not able to deliver the qualifying performance that gives us a fighting chance in a race; we’re getting crucified on the straights and out of corners by cars that can just put their foot down and cruise past us. That isn’t a balanced performance. We’d like to congratulate Marco (Attard) who has won the championship in a BMW Z4, but it has taken the addition of one of BMW’s top factory drivers to get there, who himself couldn’t keep pace with the other marques towards the back end of the season as the BOP moved away from the BMW. To give us the confidence to return with a three car team, we require strong assurances from SRO that the BOP will be calculated and administered in a transparent fashion next season.”
Ryan Ratcliffe, driver #88
“I’m okay, just a bit gutted to not finish. When I took over the car I knew we had an issue with the brakes; they were super-spongey and the performance wasn’t there so I couldn’t push it and challenge for positions. The lap I came in, the brakes went completely and we had no option but to retire the car. It’s a shame, but I think the past two races have done me a lot of good and we could’ve got a top-ten today. Now it’s a case of seeing who is doing what for 2015.”
Warren Hughes, driver #8
“I’m very disappointed to end the race in that way. I could see the Ginetta in my mirrors, but in my mind there was no way he was anywhere close enough to make a move at that point. I felt the impact hard and went into the gravel; it was a big contact, so much so he punctured the tyre and broke the suspension. Independent people have said to me if it wasn’t for me, he probably wouldn’t have made the corner! He’s a factory driver and you don’t expect a move like that from someone of that calibre. We tried to carry on, but after changing the wheel, I could feel it wasn’t right and we retired in the pits. I think the driving standards in the PRO part of races have been good this year, but moves like that cannot be tolerated.”
Jody Firth, driver #8
“It’s been a difficult weekend. We thought we would be on the pace, but when we saw the BOP we realised the Aston Martin and Porsche challengers would have an advantage. Sure enough that played out, and the car that was on pole by half a second last year, was dramatically off the pace when it mattered; it doesn’t make sense.”
Six long months have seen the Greatworth-based team develop it’s GT offering significantly, taking on the challenge of a third car, and expanding infrastructure ahead of 2015 which will likely see further appearances in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.
Final 2014 Driver’s Standings:
P14 Derek Johnston – 41.5 points
P16 Luke Hines – 38.5 points
P20 Joe Osborne – 29 points
P21 Lee Mowle – 27.5 points
=P30 Jody Firth/Warren Hughes – 12 points
P38 Ryan Ratcliffe – 1.5 points
Final 2014 Team’s Standings:
P7 Triple Eight Race Engineering – 90 points
Race Weekend Information
Avon Tyres British GT Championship – Donington Park
Donington Park, Castle Donington, Derby, DE74 2RP
2.498 mile (4.020km), 12-turn race circuit
September 13-14, 2014
TV Info: See BritishGT.com for more details