Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert secured their maiden British GT4 Championship victories at Rockingham earlier today after Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke, who finished first on the road, were excluded post-race.
That saw the second Century Ginetta of Sean Byrne and Aleksander Schjerpen promoted to second in class while Lanan Racing’s Alex Reed and Joey Foster completed the podium.
In truth any number of crews could, should and would have won the second British GT round of the season were it not for a variety of issues, accidents and penalties throughout the two-hour encounter.
In the end it was Bartholomew and Albert who emerged victorious despite lying 10th before the pit-stop window opened. However, success penalties and problems for others left them best placed to capitalise during an eventful second half of the race. That was despite suffering from a recurring brake problem that caused Bartholomew to spin out of fifth at Deene midway through his first stint.
Freke and Walewska were denied an even more unlikely victory after the latter overtook under yellow flags in the opening laps. A fuel issue during qualifying had seen the car start dead last before Walewska worked her way forwards to ninth before the pit-stops when the crew had to serve a 15-second success penalty for finishing second at Brands Hatch.
Freke therefore emerged with plenty of work to do, but a Safety Car period in the subsequent laps at least accounted for some of the time. Nevertheless, it was his incredible pace that helped the Ginetta move forwards rapidly before inheriting the lead when Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s McLaren was awarded a stop/go penalty.
Indeed, the new 570S GT4 had looked the most likely victory candidate at half-distance after Sandy Mitchell had closely shadowed race leader Graham Johnson over the latter stages of their opening stints. And although co-driver Ciaran Haggerty emerged from the stops with the net lead, the Scottish crew’s fate had already been sealed by not serving the full minimum pit-stop time, earning them a penalty.
That promoted Generation AMR’s Matthew George and Jamie Chadwick into a short-lived lead. But barely a lap had passed after the McLaren served its six-second stop/go when a charging Freke made his move. The Aston’s race ended in the pits and retirement with a brake issue of its own only a few laps later.
The Brands Hatch-winning PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta made a perfect start from pole to lead the opening stint and would have been a podium contender, despite its 20-second pit-stop success penalty, were it not for Johnson’s accident that not only removed him from the reckoning with just under an hour remaining but also triggered the first Safety Car period.
All of that meant Byrne and Schjerpen finished third on the road but second in the final classification after a topsy-turvy race. Byrne started on the front row but was soon passed by more experienced drivers over an opening stint where preservation proved key. His Norwegian co-driver then jumped aboard and steered clear of the drama to take a well deserved podium that ultimately became second.
The rostrum was completed by Lanan Racing who, in similar fashion to the #40 Century Ginetta, kept their nose clean to claim a first British GT4 podium. Foster started 12th in class and was up to eighth just before the pit window opened, but elected to stay out longer than most of his GT4 rivals before co-driver Alex Reed took over. A similarly trouble-free run to the flag earned the team a confidence-boosting third place one week after confirming their permanent switch to Ginetta machinery.
Marcus Hoggarth was another to produce a fine opening stint to progress four places before Abbie Eaton climbed aboard the Ebor GT Maserati GT MC. A lack of success penalty gave them a shot at the podium before a lengthy pit-stop infringement incurred them a 38-second stop/go. Such was the rate of attrition that they still recovered to finish fourth.
The same could be said of Haggerty and Mitchell’s McLaren which came home fifth despite its penalty and subsequent intermittent electrical glitch that saw it stop on track twice, the first of which necessitated a brief second Safety Car period.
The Generation AMR Macmillan Racing Aston Martin of Matty Graham and Jack Mitchell finished sixth, one place clear of the similar JWBird Motorsport V8 Vantage driven by Kieran Griffin and Jake Giddings. Meanwhile, RCIB Insurance Racing’s Jordan Stilp and William Phillips completed the top-eight despite suffering a steering issue.
Freke might have been excluded from the result but he still earned the Sunoco Fastest Race Lap of the Weekend Award courtesy of his blistering 1m23.957s. That was almost a second faster than the next best in GT4 and more than two seconds inside the class lap record for Rockingham’s International Super Sportscar Circuit.
Jack Bartholomew, Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4: “I’m lost for words, really. We were getting excited when Jordan [Albert] got up to third, and then couldn’t believe it when Jamie [Chadwick] suffered her problem, which wasn’t dissimilar to our own, actually. I had a very long brake pedal for much of my stint which meant we couldn’t attack the braking areas. That’s what caused my off at Deene and why we looked down and out at half-distance. Perhaps we were a bit lucky but you’ve got to be there at the finish and a win’s a win, however it comes. And to be leading the championship after two rounds is also unbelievable.”
Aleksander Schjerpen, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “It was an interesting race! Sean did a really good job to avoid everything that was going on and bring the car back in good shape. I got on new tyres and the car felt brilliant, so I was able to push quite hard from the start of my stint. I think one Safety Car worked out for us and the other didn’t, but all in all I’m really happy. It’s nice to be back on the podium again and, of course, it’s also great for Sean. It’s only our second race together so that’s something we can take into the rest of the season.”
Rounds three and four of this season’s British GT Championship take place at Oulton Park on May 28/30.