Titanic scrap with Triple Eight’s Osborne/Mowle goes down to the wire

Ecurie Ecosse duo Marco Attard and Alexander Sims prevailed for the second time in 2015 after a thrilling sixth Avon Tyres British GT Championship round of the season at Brands Hatch earlier today.

The championship leaders extended their points advantage but only after just emerging on top of a ding-dong battle with Triple Eight Racing’s Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne. The two BMW Z4 GT3s were inseparable over the final half-an-hour after a second Safety Car period brought Sims into contention.

Third went the way of TF Sport’s Derek Johnston and Matt Bell, the Geordie duo picking up their first podium of the season after steering clear of the many accidents that marred the two-hour, points-and-a-half race.

Fans basking in the Kent sunshine were treated to an enthralling encounter characterised by Sims’ pursuit of Osborne over the closing stages. A strong opening stint from Mowle had kept the Triple Eight Z4 a close second to Beechdean AMR’s Andrew Howard and emerged from its mandatory driver change with the net lead thanks to the Aston Martin’s 20-second success penalty for winning at Spa.

Osborne was followed closely out of the pits by Rory Butcher whose Oman Racing Team co-driver Liam Griffin had moved the V12 Vantage up two places during his opening stint. But with the second Barwell Motorsport BMW of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen also incurring a success penalty, the way was left clear for Sims to set off in pursuit of the leaders following Attard’s opening gambit.

A string of fast laps – the quickest smashing the existing GT3 lap record – helped him reduce the gap to under 10s before the afternoon’s second Safety Car period made the task a whole lot easier. And racing hadn’t long resumed when he pushed past Butcher at Graham Hill Bend before going off after Osborne who’d established a 4.4s advantage.

The pair were soon together but Osborne wasn’t going anywhere, time and again positioning his BMW perfectly to protect the lead. Indeed, with the gap between them never more than four tenths – and frequently much less – it was only the Triple Eight driver’s defensive performance that kept the white Z4 ahead.

But Sims wasn’t to be denied and when Osborne strayed slightly wide on oil after lapping traffic exiting Graham Hill Bend, the Ecurie Ecosse Beemer had just enough of a sniff up the inside to make the move stick along Cooper Straight. Less than 10 minutes later he took the chequered flag 3.6s clear.

Bell built on the good work of co-driver Johnston to finish just 1.2s behind Osborne, who was also battling fading tyres. The TF Sport pairing had found something in recent testing and it showed after coming through from ninth on the grid.

Pole-sitters Howard and Jonny Adam, who always expected their pit-stop success penalty to play a part in the result, also stayed clear of the incidents to rescue fourth. Howard’s efforts to build a lead over the opening stint were thwarted by a Safety Car 20 minutes in after the Von Ryan Racing McLaren and Preci-Spark Mercedes collided, and a series of yellow flags also kept Mowle in his mirrors before the stops. Adam then resisted the attentions of Adam Carroll’s FF Corse Ferrari to come home fourth.

Gary Eastwood’s opening stint was compromised by a clash with Rick Parfitt Jnr for which the latter was penalised, but kept his head down and set consistently good times before handing over to Carroll. The pair were another to benefit from both Safety Car periods, incidents and penalties for others but were well worth their fifth overall.

Butcher recovered from his clash with Sims to finish sixth ahead of Hector Lester and Benny Simonsen’s Rosso Verde Ferrari. The Dane was one of only two drivers along with Sims to dip below the 1m27s lap bracket.

Jon Minshaw was impressive over his opening stint, bringing the Barwell Motorsport BMW into podium contention from 11th on the grid. But the team’s Spa success handicap and latter stop-go penalty for a pit-stop time infringement meant he and Phil Keen had to be content with eighth.

The RAM Racing Mercedes SLS AMG had a quiet afternoon in the hands of Alistair MacKinnon and Lewis Plato en route to ninth, while several incidents for Ross Wylie consigned the Von Ryan Racing McLaren to 10th after subsequent good work from co-driver Andrew Watson. The pair were also the only Silver Cup entry to complete the distance following the #2 Oman Racing Aston’s demise.

A number of incidents marred the race, though. A brake failure for the 22GT Racing Aston Martin of Jon Barnes in the final 20 minutes denied he and Mark Farmer a likely top-five result. Parfitt also had a scary accident at Sheene, while the second TF Sport entry of Andrew Jarman and Jody Fannin retired in the pits after battling with Attard for fourth.

Sims picked up the Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Weekend Award for his efforts while the Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Weekend prize went to Mowle for his opening stint and qualifying performance.

Meanwhile, the Ecurie Ecosse duo’s victory sees them extend their championship lead to 34 points over Howard and Adam, who are now on their own in second ahead of Griffin and Butcher. There’s a change at the top of the Teams’ standings, however, with Barwell Motorsport – who also run the Ecurie Ecosse entry – establishing a 21-point lead over Oman Racing Team.

Alexander Sims, #1 Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3: “That was the race of the season for me. There was so much ducking and diving in that first stint that Marco playing it a little bit safe was probably the right thing to do. He did a good job to keep the car out of trouble. Then there was a Safety Car early in my stint, which worked out for us. Maybe I’d have eventually caught Joe but wouldn’t have had many laps left to pass. And my God I needed them! Racing so closely with him and Rory was really good. Fortunately I managed to capitalise on Joe slipping on oil. We had the pace this weekend, which wasn’t expected actually. The team has done a superb job and the car’s been lovely to drive all weekend. Pole in my qualifying session, fastest lap and victory is testament to that.”

Joe Osborne, #888 Triple Eight Racing BMW Z4 GT3: “I was just trying to do my job and stay in the highest position possible. I was confident I could do that and was in a good rhythm and knew where both Alex [Sims] and I were strong. But then unfortunately I had to go around the outside of a backmarker, who wasn’t doing anything wrong, but there was some oil off-line and I just couldn’t get on the throttle quickly enough to keep him behind. I like to race hard but fair and gave him just enough room. You never like to go backwards so I’m disappointed but we’ll re-group as a team and move forward. It’s the strongest we’ve been, though.”

Derek Johnston, #17 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage: “We’re absolutely over the moon! It must be the car’s colour change, switching from purple to red… We went to Donington last week and spent the day changing the car because I never felt like I was able to drive it comfortably. So it’s been like starting again this weekend, but at least I can drive it! Sometimes you’ve got to go back to basics and it’s paid off. The sister car also used our set-up as we’ve both been struggling with the rear end. We fixed it and both Astons went well. It was a bit nerve-racking at the end though when things started getting close, but it’s been a great day.”

British GT is next in action at Snetterton on August 22/23 for a pair of one-hour races.