Triple Eight Racing continued its championship-contending form with a second place finish for its #888 BMW Z4 GT3 in the fifth weekend of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Brands Hatch. The team leaves Kent with drivers Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne fourth in the points, but with gaps to second and third greatly reduced.
A presence in the top five throughout practice on the Grand Prix circuit, Mowle and Osborne staged an impressive performance in qualifying on Saturday afternoon, securing a second-place start with a combined time of 2:51.868; a culmination of Mowle’s 1:27.051 and BRDC ace Osborne’s 1:24.817.
Alongside them on the grid was the Beechdean-AMR Aston Martin of Andrew Howard / Jonny Adam, who edged them in qualifying to secure pole-position by just 0.262s. It was a strong pair of laps by Mowle and Osborne, enabling them to out qualify the reigning British GT champion Marco Attard and Alexander Sims in the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4.
Beautiful midsummer weather graced Brands Hatch on Sunday morning, and shortly before the race start, temperatures were higher than at any other part of the weekend. Making a lightning start wasn’t enough for Mowle, the Triple Eight co-owner held off a strong challenge from Ross Wylie’s McLaren, to take second into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time, with Howard marginally ahead.
A fascinating game of cat-and-mouse played out over the opening half hour, with the Beechdean-AMR Aston and the Triple Eight BMW trading times, rarely did the gap exceed 3s. One occasion where the gap rose was on lap seven when Wylie launched a move up the inside of Mowle at left-hander Stirling. It would’ve been audacious if successful, but alas it wasn’t; Wylie made contact with Mowle and the McLaren spun out, tumbling down the order in the process.
Mowle continued and set about overhauling Howard, with some early GT4 traffic enabling the BMW-man to reel-in his rival, reducing the deficit to 2s. A safety car some laps later further reduced the gap, only for Wylie to play a part in our race once more, exiting the pits ahead of Mowle after an unplanned stop. The Scotsman should’ve been held at pit exit until the field passed by, but didn’t hindering Mowle’s ability to pounce on Howard at the restart.
When the pit window opened after 50-minutes, the leading duo pitted together, just 1.4s between them. With the Beechdean-AMR car standing still for longer in the pits, due to a 20s success penalty from the previous round, Osborne took to the track in the lead of the race. He joined the race marginally ahead of Rory Butcher in the Oman Racing Aston Martin, also a title challenger this season.
Following a succession of quick laps, Osborne created a 4s lead over Butcher, who had Sims’ BMW in hot pursuit. A safety car after 70 minutes concertinaed the field, and Osborne’s lead was eradicated. Thankfully, Butcher delayed Sims’ progress with the Ecurie Ecosse driver seemingly helpless to pass the Aston Martin. Osborne was now 4.8s up the road and thoughts of a maiden British GT victory filled the hearts and minds of the Triple Eight crew.
Sims dispensed of Butcher with 38 minutes remaining, and the Ecurie Ecosse man reduced Osborne’s lead by three seconds in three laps. It was a statement of intent and Osborne was ready.
The two BMWs put on a fantastic show, rarely more than 0.5s apart, often with the gap dropping to just 0.1s. Lap by lap, it was a rollercoaster ride; with two clear professionals at the top of their game. Despite this seismic battle, the BMWs continued to keep the Aston Martin of Matt Bell at bay, with Osborne particularly handy in scything through the GT4 traffic, which appeared every lap.
A thrilling race always has a conclusion, and on lap 70, Sims got his chance. Having slipped off line on oil at the exit of Graham Hill Bend, Osborne lost momentum and Sims tapped the Triple Eight BMW, letting his British rival know he was there. In doing so he engineered a gap in the run to Surtees and sneaked up the inside of Osborne.
Having defended for over 25 minutes, Osborne’s tyres were now past their best and the Triple Eight man, realising he was beaten, focused on keeping Bell behind, and the BMW finished 4.8s ahead of the TF Sport driver at the flag, 3.6s off Sims.
It was a magnificent drive, and showed if there was ever any doubt, that Osborne has come of age and is ready to excel to the next level of racing.
The British GT Championship moves to Norfolk for the Snetterton round (22-23 August) and a change of format, a pair of 60-minute sprint races, where the Triple Eight Racing BMW will see to achieve yet more podiums as the title battle reaches its climax.
Quotes from Triple Eight Racing drivers post Brands Hatch:
Lee Mowle: “I had a good start, and everyone seemed to behave themselves. Wylie was there or thereabouts, but I was able to focus on keeping Andrew (Howard) close by, and my aim for the stint was to stay within 1s of him to allow us to make the most of the success penalty they had in their stop. Andrew has been quick all weekend, so it wasn’t going to be easy, but I lost a few seconds when Wylie hit me at Stirlings; I didn’t think he’d make a move there on that lap, because it was going to require too much of a lunge. As a result I had a vibration for the rest of my stint, but it wasn’t terribly exciting! Traffic made things change a lot. Andrew benefitted a bit when I came up behind his GT4 car, which did a good job of holding me up for 2-3 corners. He then extended the gap when I got baulked by another GT4 that he had just cleared, right when the waved yellow flags came out, but when we pitted I think there was just over a second. For me, that was a job well done. The Attard/Sims car was very quick today, but it’s nice to be annoyed to have taken second; it’s a good reflection on where we’ve come in British GT. It’s a shame the only car to finish ahead of us today was the one leading the championship, but we’ve closed in on the Beechdean car a little. We’re quick at Snetterton, so hopefully we can close the gap there and make it an exciting finish to the season.”
Joe Osborne: “It was a proper race. We did a pretty radical setup here following things we learnt at Spa with Dirk Muller, and possibly we ran the tyre pressures too high here. It was far hotter that it had been all weekend, so we made the best decision we could with the information available. I had a few laps to work out where I was strong and he (Sims) was weak. I was actually quite confident; unless I made a mistake, I couldn’t see him coming past. I could stop him enough at Druids so he couldn’t get a run on me, then my car seemed strong enough out the back that he couldn’t get close enough to lunge. I felt I was lucky with backmarkers, I cleared them quite well and cleanly. Then when I passed the Academy car at Graham Hill Bend, I could see the track glinting, and I thought to myself, ‘this isn’t going to be good’; I went in with some understeer, couldn’t get on the power quickly enough, and Alex did a cutback on me. I tried to close the door as quickly as I could, but he was there already and as soon as I felt contact with him, I knew I had to be fair and give him some space. From then on it was just a case of making sure Matt (Bell) couldn’t catch me and put any pressure on me. As soon as Alex was past, I knew with the car I had the race was gone. Second is a good result if you’ve fought your way to get there; when you take over in the lead and the finish second, it always feel a bit of a poor result.”
# ENDS #
2015 British GT Driver’s Championship
1) Sims / Attard – 138.5 pts
2) Adam / Howard – 104.5 pts
3) Butcher / Griffin – 98.5 pts
4) Osborne / Mowle – 91 pts
2015 British GT Team’s Championship
1) Barwell Motorsport – 177.5 pts
2) Oman Racing Team – 156.5 pts
3) Beechdean-AMR – 104.5 pts
4) Triple Eight Racing – 91 pts