Customer BMW squad, Triple Eight Racing, kept its outside chance of claiming the 2015 Avon Tyres British GT title alive with a pair of fifth-placed finishes in the penultimate round of the season at the Snetterton Circuit in Norfolk, as Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle continued an impressive run of point scoring finishes in their BMW Z4 GT3.
Beautiful English summer conditions illuminated the Norfolk circuit on Saturday, presenting perfect conditions for qualifying. Lee took the role of qualifying for the first race of the weekend, and a succession of quick laps ensured the Triple Eight BMW was always in the top-six, however it became increasingly apparent that it would take a sublime effort for a non-Aston Martin entrant to take pole-position.
Lee’s best lap, a 1:50.768, was good enough for sixth place on the grid, with the rival Aston’s enjoying a 1-2-3-5-7 result, and the McLaren of Silver/Silver pairing Ross Wylie the only other car able to break the Aston’s grip on qualifying, taking fourth. It was a strong result for the businessman from Wimbledon, and some 2.3s quicker than his 2014 time.
Backing up his team-mate’s performance, Joe delivered a blistering 1:48.141, which would’ve secured pole last year by some 0.8s, however in 2015 it was good enough for row two, and third place.
With race day delivering similar conditions to the Saturday, Triple Eight Racing were confident of the results the pair of 60-minute races would yield, despite a 10s success penalty for their brilliant drive to second place last time out at Brands Hatch.
Keen to make inroads quickly in the top five, Lee ran wide into the first corner, Riches and then went too deep into Montreal, dropping to ninth place; this turned to eighth before the end of the first lap. An error by championship leader, Marco Attard on lap seven enabled the Triple Eight racer to make a move out of Palmer. Next Lee set about closing in on former Triple Eight racer Derek Johnston, now 5s up the road in the TF Sport Aston Martin.
At the end of lap 14 the pit window opened and Lee pitted to handover to Joe, who returned the #888 to the track in ninth place after the penalty had been added. A string of quick laps from the 26-year-old Silver-graded driver, enabled him to clear the likes of Mike Simpson and Ryan Ratcliffe, and to catch and pass Aston Martin factory racer, Alex MacDowall, who got tangled with a GT4 while leading the race.
Fifth place soon became realised by Joe when the Von Ryan Racing McLaren had to pit for a penalty relating to a pitstop infringement, and it was a position he held until the end of the race. Joe’s final laps were rapid, and the upcoming British star proved his worth by closing the gap to Jonny Adam, another factory Aston Martin racer, while also ensuring that championship leader Alexander Sims didn’t get too close, keeping his over 12s at bay.
Ahead of the second race of the weekend a mighty downpour of rain washed out the support races and presented the British GT teams with a greasy track and a host of changes to make before the start of what would be the penultimate race of the 2015 season.
From the start things went well. Joe made a lightning start and had he been able to get a car length further ahead, would’ve taken the lead into the perilous first corner, Riches. The Triple Eight racer wisely opted for caution, as the rival BMW of Alexander Sims (Ecurie Ecosse) was more audacious, running deep at the Montreal hairpin, before getting tangled in a impact with fellow championship contender Rory Butcher as he returned to the track.
Second on the road going into the second lap, nestled in behind the Beechdean-AMR Aston Martin of Jonny Adam, Joe was fighting understeer in the torrential rain, and had a hard-charging Phil Keen in his mirrors. Keen won out by the end of the lap, and Osborne held onto third until lap nine when Matt Bell (TF Sport) and Jon Barnes (22GT Racing) got past, with the Aston Martins relishing the wet weather.
Further rain fell as the race neared its mid-point and Triple Eight called Joe in on lap thirteen. Without any success penalties, Lee resumed in third, having got the jump on the 22GT Racing team Aston Martin, and Johnston, now in for Bell, delayed with a penalty.
The team’s joy was short-lived though as on lap fifteen Lee slid off the track at the Montreal hairpin, having reportedly missed his braking point in the heavy rain. This cost around 10s and saw him concede two places to Mark Farmer (now in the 22GT Aston Martin) and Johnston.
Regaining his composure quickly was vital, and that’s exactly what Lee did, closing in on Johnston and keeping Rick Parfitt Jnr at bay. On lap nineteen Parfitt got past the Triple Eight BMW, only to open up Johnston enough for our Z4 GT3 to sneak by too, ensuring we disposed of the TF Sport Vantage, but holding fifth.
With eleven minutes left to run the race was brought to an early end, with conditions deemed too treacherous to race, following a number of significant crashes and offs for rivals in both GT3 and GT4, and Lee brought home the #888 BMW in fifth place. In doing so, Lee and Joe have setup a ‘winner-takes-all’ four-way shoot-out to determine the British GT Champions this season.
Mathematically the Triple Eight pair can still lift the title, heading to the East Midlands 32.5 points behind leaders Sims and Attard with 37.5 on offer at Donington Park in the 120-minute finale on 12-13th September. However, they will require the Ecurie Ecosse pair to not score beyond ninth and both the Aston Martin squads, Beechdean-AMR and Oman Racing to have a decidedly below-par weekend.
Quotes from Triple Eight Racing drivers post Snetterton:
Lee Mowle: “Overall it was a good weekend and I think I’ve now dried out! I think we could’ve had a podium had it not been for my poor opening lap. Joe and the team did a great job to get me out after the driver change in third. I missed my braking point on my first flying approach to the hairpin and dropped two places when my foot slipped off the brake pedal; it was a real shame. That said, we are heading to the final weekend of the season, still with a good chance of taking the title; I’d have taken that on Saturday night.”
Joe Osborne: “It was a odd weekend. We never quite got the sweet spot but keep our noses clean and came away with a couple of alright results. The car was stronger in the dry for sure, in the wet we have limited knowledge and the car was a challenge. It was annoying to ‘lose’ third place when Lee slipped off the brake. Easily done when getting into a wet car and the brake pedal wasn’t particularly sticky! It’s a long shot for us to win the title, but you can bet we’ll give it everything we’ve got and we almost won the race in 2013 – Lee is now a better driver, I’d like to think I am too, so we should put up a good fight and make it interesting for everyone else!”
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2015 British GT Driver’s Championship
1) Sims / Attard – 143.5 pts
2) Adam / Howard – 141.5 pts
3) Butcher / Griffin – 123.5 pts
4) Osborne / Mowle – 111 pts
2015 British GT Team’s Championship
1) Barwell Motorsport – 200.5 pts
2) Oman Racing Team – 189.5 pts
3) Beechdean-AMR – 141.5 pts
4) Triple Eight Racing – 111 pts