Triple Eight Racing battled hard to claim a pair of valuable points finishes, including a podium visit, during an action-packed opening round of the 2015 Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Cheshire’s Oulton Park circuit over the Easter weekend (4/6 April).
The customer BMW squad, revitalised after a tricky 2014, delivered two points scoring finishes, taking third in the first of the two 60-minute races after an impressive rise up from row seven on the grid. A fifth place in the final race of the weekend ensured the Greatworth-based team left the opening round full of confidence about the season ahead.
After productive pre-season testing at Oulton in recent weeks, qualifying on Saturday didn’t yield the expected results. An early off track excursion for Lee Mowle hindered the London-based racer’s ability to push for a top-five time, which was the initial target for the gentleman racer.
Joe Osborne managed three ‘hot’ qualifying laps on the new for 2015 Avon rubber, and the 26-year-old was critical of his performance, believing more aggression on his second run could’ve delivered a position above his sixth place finish. Just 0.3s was the different between the front row and the third, where the #888 BMW Z4 GT3 would start Monday’s second GT race.
With work to do to make their way through a competitive GT3 field, both Mowle and Osborne arrived at Oulton Park in good spirits after a day off on Easter Sunday. Mowle started as he meant to go on and was up to twelfth before the Safety Car appeared to mop up an early spill of GT3 and GT4 runners.
At the end of the third lap, racing resumed and Mowle kept his fellow BMW drivers, Jon Minshaw and reigning British GT Champion Marco Attard, honest. While the Barwell pair had track advantage, the trio of BMWs were nose-to-tail, with little to separate them.
Mowle picked up eleventh on lap eight when Andrew Watson crashed out of second place, and a succession of laps quicker than both Barwell BMWs ensured that the Triple Eight racer was now right on the tail of his rivals. As Mowle flourished, Attard began to back-up Minshaw, which aided the Triple Eight racer’s cause.
While he was unable to find a way past Minshaw, fortune favoured Triple Eight when a lapped GT3 car caused the Aston Martins of Andrew Howard and Ahmad Al Harthy to crash out, promoting Mowle to ninth.
On lap thirteen a huge accident developed in front of Mowle as he exited Old Hall corner with TF Sport’s Derek Johnston and Ram Racing’s Alistair Mackinnon colliding on the approach to Cascades. As Johnston’s Aston bounced off the barrier across the track, it collected the rear of Attard’s Z4 causing significant damage. Minshaw’s Z4 was a related casualty, with debris damaging the radiator on the BMW and relegating the Z4 to the sidelines.
The subsequent safety car appeared just as the pit window opened and after Mowle pitted from fifth, a slick stop from the Triple Eight crew ensured Osborne re-joined in third position, just behind Rory Butcher’s Motorbase Aston Martin.
A delightful performance from Osborne gave the watching spectators a thrilling finale, as the 2009 European GT4 Champion reeled in and passed the Aston Martin driver under braking at the Knickerbrook chicane on lap 24. Race leader, Adam Carroll, soon looked vulnerable as a fired-up Osborne targeted the Ferrari racer in the final ten minutes.
However, it wasn’t to be Triple Eight’s day to claim a first win in the British GT series as a careless GT4 racer blocked Osborne from passing on two occasions, forcing the BMW into heavy braking to avoid a waiting accident. This allowed Butcher through on the inside as the pair headed down to Lodge and that’s how they finished, with Osborne just 1s back in third.
The second race of the day saw the Triple Eight BMW start from the third row, and Osborne started as he left off, making light work of BMW factory driver Alexander Sims at Old Hall corner off the start. Osborne ended the first lap sixth, conceding fifth to Butcher after his challenge on Michael Simpson’s factory Ginetta ended on the dirt.
Osborne then picked up fifth when the Barwell BMW of Phil Keen was put off the track by the Preci-Spark Mercedes SLS GT3, and then played the waiting game, leaving it late to pit when the opportunity arose, inheriting the lead in the process.
Returning to the track in second place sandwiched between race leader Howard and Griffin’s Aston Martins, Mowle set about reducing the deficit to the Beechdean driver and got the gap to below ten seconds in five laps. Griffin refused to go away and stayed within 1.5 – 3s off the Triple Eight BMW.
A drive through penalty was given to the team near the end of the race and Mowle duly complied on lap 31. Returning to the track in sixth, the 49-year-old pushed hard over the final five laps and picked up fifth when Gary Eastwood ran wide on the last lap of the race.
Mowle and Osborne are tied third in the Driver’s championship with Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard on 25 points, 12 adrift of leaders Liam Griffin and Rory Butcher. Triple Eight Racing now sit joint third in the points with Beechdean AMR on 25 points, one point behind second-placed FF Corse and Team LNT, with the Oman Racing Team on 50 points.
The next British GT race for the team is at the Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby (2-3 May). Meanwhile the team will now board a plane for its first trip to the historic Monza circuit in Italy, for the first round of the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series (10-12 April).
Lee Mowle, Triple Eight Racing driver:
“For me it was a good weekend. The car felt great and I managed to get into a good rhythm, overall I was happy with my pace throughout both races. Looking at the weekend as a whole, we didn’t even start the race last year, but I think working from garage 13 and starting P13 in race one perhaps gave us a bit of luck today. For me it was a case of being sensible and avoiding trouble, there was so much kicking off in front of me it was more like touring cars than GTs! I think Joe did a phenomenal job to get third In the first race. In the second, when I got out of the pits it was all about chasing down Howard, and then we got the penalty. Third and fifth, would I have taken that before coming here? Yes. Would I have taken it after qualifying? Definitely! We now leave here in good spirits and we’ve had two cracking results on a circuit that doesn’t favour the BMW.”
Joe Osborne, Triple Eight Racing driver:
“Race one was great. It’s easy to forget we started P13 so suddenly when you’re challenging for the lead and you finish third it seems a bit disappointing, but it was a brilliant result for Lee and the team. GT4 traffic we knew was going to mad this year, there’s lots of them, but I feel a little hard done by as I was alongside the guy and he pulled across the front of me. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident and Rory (Butcher – Motorbase Aston) came past me. I was pleased with my start in race two; I got Sims into turn one, which was a bonus. I went into turn one side-by-side with Mike Simpson but he ran me out of road, which hurt as I had to lift and Butcher got past me. I was quicker than them for the opening laps and then they started to edge away and I think I may have pushed too hard too early on the new tyre; I then brought the tyre back though and had pretty decent pace. Lee did well and his pace was really strong, I think we’re close to where we need to be.”