Greatworth, BANBURY 10th September 2014 – This weekend (September 13/14) marks the final round of the 2014 Avon Tyres British GT Championship, and while top BMW Motorsport team, Triple Eight Race Engineering is not in the title race this year, the trio of BMWs fielded by the Greatworth-based squad have plenty to prove as they seek to end the year on a high at Donington Park.
After all BMW competitors lacked the outright pace in qualifying to tackle the onslaught of Aston Martins, there were five Vantage GT3s in the top seven places, a change to the balance of performance (BOP) was hoped for. However, no change has been made by series organisers, SRO and the BMW Z4 GT3 drivers will have their work cut out to keep pace with the dominant V12-powered rivals.
Going into the finale, Derek Johnston is the highest placed Triple Eight driver in eleventh place (38.5 pts) and the proud Geordie is keen to win at all costs on his home circuit.
“I’m not going to hold back,” explains Johnston who was unceremoniously knocked out of the previous race by a rival. “It’s the final race of the year and I’ve not had a podium for a long time, too long in fact and I don’t intend to leave the last race of 2014 empty-handed. I know Donington well and I like it. I’ve raced bikes there as well as cars and I’ve explored every inch of the circuit, and on occasions off it! Last year the Triple Eight BMWs were spot-on and I hope that’ll be the case this year. Qualifying is really important at Donington and whatever happens I’ll be going for it there, that you can be sure.”
Johnston stands a strong chance of getting pole-position at the 2.498 mile Leicestershire track, given he will again be paired with British sportscar ace Joe Osborne. The talented 25-year-old, who was awarded the prestigious BRDC SuperStar status earlier in the year, set timing screens alight last year, taking pole by almost half a second from former FIA GT2 Champion, Richard Westbrook. It’s been a luckless year for the Olney-based racer who lies seventeenth in the points (26 pts), but Donington offers an opportunity to make amends.
“I’m in a buoyant mood,” smirks Osborne. “Derek is mega around Donington and I was on pole here last year, so we should be pretty strong. We’ve got to end on a high after a really very disappointing season. The first half of the lap flows really well, then the GP loop is all about technique. You need to be controlled and look after the brakes too, they can really take a pounding round there. Also, I’ll be looking to avoid drive-through penalties after the issues last year. Qualifying is hard to call with the BOP, but I think if Derek and I can qualify well, we’re a potent package for the race win. Nothing but a podium will suffice at Donington.”
Lee Mowle was the star of the show amongst the gentlemen racers the last time British GT arrived at Donington. After progressing steadily through his maiden year of GT3, his performance on the Donington GP circuit gained praise, for not only did he hand over the Z4 GT3 to Osborne in the lead, but the way in which he broke the challenge of more experienced rivals Marco Attard, Gregor Fisken, David Ashburn and Gary Eastwood was little short of mighty.
A podium at Snetterton in race one, followed by a fifth place in race two gave he and then driving partner Osborne momentum into the British weekend at Spa-Francorchamps, where the duo duly took another points score in race two.
Last time out at Brands Hatch Mowle paired up with Triple Eight Driver Development starlet Ryan Ratcliffe. The Welsh-wonders combined and took a strong tenth place finish on Ratcliffe’s GT3 debut in the top British series. Mowle is confident of another points score this weekend: “Donington is a circuit that both Ryan and I enjoy, and I feel we should be able to deliver a better qualifying performance together. That in turn should give us a better opportunity to take more points, that said the BOP does not favour us on this track.”
Ratcliffe, himself a BRDC Rising Star after a measured 2013 season saw him clinch the British GT4 Championship at Donington Park, enthuses confidence after his points scoring debut just a fortnight ago at Brands Hatch.
“After a tricky qualifying and great result at brands, I’m looking forward to Donington. If we can get the car hooked up for quail and get a good grid position, then I’m confident about a better result. I’ve always gone well at Donington, so I’m confident of a good performance again there. I know the competition this time is a lot tougher than previous years, but I’m still confident that Lee and I can get a strong result. The Triple Eight Driver Development programme has prepared me well for these races and we should be able to get some good points for the team.”
Triple Eight added a third BMW at Brands Hatch for Jody Firth and Warren Hughes and the pair are back at Donington for another go at clinching that elusive first win for the team. After qualifying tenth, Jody’s performance in the first half of the two-hour race in Kent was nothing short of mesmerising. Carrying a hefty 75kg in ballast alongside him, almost the weight of having Warren in the passenger seat next to him, Jody pitted the car from fourth place after picking off his rivals one-by-one. Confidence is not an issue for the likeable Leeds-racer who also won the GT4 title in 2009:
“We’re in good shape. I’ve instantly felt at home at Triple Eight, and it is what it says, an engineering-led team. Engineers challenge drivers and that drives progress. I like that and it has increased enthusiasm about my racing.
“I made my race debut at Donington Park; it was Formula Renault in 2005. I qualified eleventh, but was a tenth and a half off pole, that’s how tight it was! I’m expecting similar this weekend! Post Brands, Warren and I have a better understanding of the car and expect to move up the grid. Had the BOP changed, I think a top six performance in qualifying would’ve been realistic, but now we’ll certainly be pushing for it. As for the race, well, I started tenth and got to fourth before the pit stops at Brands, it’d be great to be in a similar position at Donington.”
The third British GT4 champion in the team and a figurehead of British motorsport, Warren Hughes has seen it all having raced in multiple driving disciplines including the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), FIA GT1 World Championship, Le Mans Series, the FIA World Endurance Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a race he won in 2005 in the LMP2 category.
With experience comes wisdom and Hughes, 45, is under no illusions about the difficulty of challenging for pole-position and a win in a car with 75 kilos on-board.
“It’s a hindrance, for sure. It’s too severe for the pairing of Jody and I. The BMW is fantastic, but from my experience in practice and qualifying we still have work to do on the front-end, which will be critical for Donington. Do I think we can win? It’s definitely possible, I’d be utterly delighted to give the team their first British GT victory, but it will be hard; everything has to go right from the outset on Saturday. We have a highly capable team and good resource to make it happen, let’s see what happens.”
Triple Eight sit sixth in the Team’s Championship on 87 points, but with plenty of points on offer this weekend, a top-three finish in the Team’s Championship is possible, should other results go the right way.