Von Ryan Racing scored its second victory in as many weekends at Silverstone today after Gilles Vannelet and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs gave the new-for-2015 McLaren 650S GT3 its maiden Avon Tyres British GT Championship victory.
It was the pair’s first race together with Von Ryan after being drafted in at the last minute as replacements for Salih Yoluc and Euan Hankey. But they proved rock solid throughout the weekend after lining up second and then recovering from losing an early lead.
The series’ blue riband three-hour race was seldom short of drama as changing weather conditions, two Safety Car periods and inventive team strategy left the result in doubt right up until the final corner of the last lap. Indeed, just 0.588sec covered the top two at the finish.
Triple Eight Racing’s under-the radar performance saw Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne’s BMW Z4 GT3 emerge as the McLaren crew’s closest rivals over the final stint, while a flurry of fast laps from Alexander Sims helped he and Marco Attard come through to score a third consecutive podium aboard the Barwell Motorsport-run Ecurie Ecosse BMW and increase their points lead.
Having hot-footed it back from Le Mans testing earlier this morning, front row starter Vannelet was gifted the lead on lap one when Andrew Howard spun the pole-sitting Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage at Becketts. He wasn’t the only one to rotate in the wet conditions though, as the field tip-toed through the opening laps.
But the Frenchman was coping better than most and had soon established an eight-second lead over fast-starting Ahmad Al Harthy, who was up three places aboard the Oman Racing Team Aston.
With half an hour gone the race took its first major twist when Derek Johnston spun, edged his TF Sport Aston forward and was collected at speed by Gary Eastwood’s FF Corse Ferrari. While the F458 retired in the pits, a flatbed was required to retrieve the stranded V12 Vantage.
With the optimum pit window not quite reached and track conditions touch-and-go for slicks, a number of teams chose to delay their first stops of the afternoon. Some pitted once for wets while others came in a second time in quick succession for both dry rubber and another driver change.
22GT Racing were the only team to swap on to slicks first time around, ensuring Jon Barnes was soon carving his way through the front four who’d remained on wets.
But while he’d go on to establish a huge advantage on track, his rivals were safe in the knowledge that they’d made two of their three mandatory pit-stops under Safety Car conditions. Only at the end of the race would the various strategies shake out, but certainly not in the way 22GT Racing had hoped for…
Having climbed back aboard earlier in the race, Barnes’ co-driver Mark Farmer was preparing for his final stop when he spun exiting Club and clouted the International Straight’s pit-wall. Although he was unharmed the resulting debris and stranded Aston required the afternoon’s second Safety Car period.
That bunched up the chasing pack headed by Quaife-Hobbs who would have Osborne and Al Harthy’s co-driver, Daniel Lloyd, for company at the restart. The McLaren had looked a touch faster earlier in the stint and that was the case again when racing resumed with just 20 minutes remaining.
Osborne’s dogged pursuit almost paid off on the final lap though when GT4 traffic delayed Quaife-Hobbs and allowed the BMW to close in. Ultimately it wasn’t enough though as the GP2 race winner held on to secure Von Ryan’s first British GT victory just a week after the team won Silverstone’s Blancpain Endurance Series round.
Lee Mowle had run fifth in the early stages and was one of those drivers to find himself out from and then back behind the wheel during the first Safety Car period when Triple Eight realised the benefit of pitting twice in quick succession. Osborne’s fast final stint then kept the BMW in contention until the finish, helping the team maintain their super consistent start to the season.
Ecurie Ecosse made a similar strategy call and were hunting down the leaders when Farmer’s accident brought out the Safety Car. Traffic between Sims and the top-three prevented early progress at the restart but it wasn’t long before the BMW had closed down and passed Lloyd’s Aston Martin, which came home fourth.
Pole-sitters Beechdean AMR fought back from two spins to finish fifth after Jonny Adam had demonstrated what might have been by claiming the Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Weekend Award for his record-breaking 2m03.599s effort.
The Liam Griffin/Rory Butcher Oman Racing Team Aston Martin finished where it started in sixth, ahead of the second Von Ryan McLaren of Ross Wylie and Andrew Watson who spent their afternoon yo-yoing up and down the order.
A mid-race cameo from Jody Fannin helped TF Sport salvage something from a tough weekend with eighth. Having hobbled through qualifying with a misfire and changed the engine overnight, Andrew Jarman’s first race stint was disrupted by a puncture before the first caution period helped the crew retrieve some of their lost time.
Barwell Motorsport’s second BMW looked a potential podium contender until Jon Minshaw was punted out of third place and into retirement by Alistair MacKinnon. The RAM Racing driver seemed especially racy early on in the wet conditions, while Lewis Plato had the car up to second in his stint. In the end MacKinnon was black flagged for causing an avoidable incident.
David and Godfrey Jones came through to finish ninth in their Preci-Spark Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, with Steve Tandy and Mike Simpson completing the top-10 aboard their Team LNT Ginetta G55.
Vannelet’s performance also netted him the Blancpain Driver of the Weekend Award, while Al Harthy and Lloyd were the first Silver Cup pairing home.
The result sees Attard and Sims extend their championship lead to 11.5 points over Griffin and Butcher, with Mowle and Osborne just 7.5 further back in third. In the Teams’ standings Oman Racing’s double score has helped them increase their advantage over Barwell Motorsport to 41 points. Triple Eight are third.
Gilles Vannelet, Von Ryan Racing #12 McLaren 650S GT3: “I had a great time! It was my first weekend in British GT but I raced the car at the Abu Dhabi 12 Hour earlier this year. The new McLaren is really progressive and ideal for a gentleman driver.”
Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, Von Ryan Racing #12 McLaren 650S GT3: “It’s an amazing result for our first weekend in British GT! I didn’t know what was going on at times – we had a massive lead but then the Safety Car came out and we were eighth. I used the tyres up to try and get a gap but Joe [Osborne] was really quick. I was told I was fastest and then he caught me! The race has proven how driveable the 650S is and was fantastic all weekend. The team did an amazing job.”
Lee Mowle, Triple Eight Racing #888 BMW Z4 GT3: “Fantastic! It was really challenging for me across both stints. I started out in the wet to dry and was then first out on the slicks, so it was a big learning curve for me. I’m delighted I kept it on the track and didn’t let anyone down because Joe has been phenomenal this year, so all I wanted to do was hand it over to him in a place where he could do the business.”
Marco Attard, Barwell Motorsport/Ecurie Ecosse #1 BMW Z4 GT3: “It was really tricky, and actually went better than we thought it would because I hadn’t raced in the wet before. At least Friday’s test was good practice. Then I was out on slicks on a damp track, but once it dried they were fine. Then I just left it to Alexander! I don’t think we could’ve wished for a lot more this weekend, especially as we’ve extended our lead in the championship.”
British GT now takes a six-week break before returning for its annual away day at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium on July 10/11.