Optimum Motorsport drivers Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson secured their third podium appearance in the 2015 Avon Tyres British GT Championship today at Brands Hatch, taking a strong second-place finish, having led the race after battling up from a row four start position.
Practice and qualifying saw improved performances from the all-British driver line-up after a series of changes made by the Wakefield team. With the Kent circuit basking in beautiful summer sunshine, the Ginetta G55 GT4 was a more responsive beast, and both drivers were clearly happier behind the wheel.
With sunshine forecast for the entire afternoon, and temperatures looking to hit the late twenties, the race would take place in conditions hotter than at any part of the weekend. This meant it was crucial teams got tyre pressures right and there would be opportunities for improvement for teams that were able to capitalise on this; Optimum once again showed their experience in GT4 and with the Ginetta G55, getting the set-up just right.
Johnson began the race in seventh position and raced inside the top-five for the majority of the opening laps in the Ginetta, before taking fourth from Paul McNeilly’s Ginetta on lap nine at Dingle Dell. The move by Johnson was a sweet one, and McNeilly, seemingly recovering from dropping two positions in quick succession, was wide to the left on the approach to the right-hand corner, gifting fourth to the Professional Motorsport World Expo-backed racer.
As the GT3 racers ahead began to connect and dispose of each other, so the GT4 cars began to enter the top-20 overall runners, and after a brief safety car to recover two GT3s that had contact at Stirlings, Johnson began to advance. Johnson set about closing in on the Lotus Evora GT4 of Ozz Yusuf, who is very much a contender for the 2015 GT4 title. In a matter of laps the Optimum Ginetta was up to third, but not as a result of passing Yusuf; the Lotus remained ahead, but it was the decline of another GT4 ahead that promoted Johnson up the order.
When the pit window opened, Johnson remained on track and inherited the lead as his rivals pitted, handing the car over to team-mate Robinson with a healthy lead as a result of others having to take extra time in their mandatory stops due to successes in the previous round at Spa. However, the Fox Motorsport Ginetta spun at the exit of Druids, and brought out the safety car, right as Robinson left the pits, removing the lead his team-mate had built up over the previous hour.
When the green flags were waived and racing had resumed, Robinson had a lead of just 2.4s from Dennis Strandberg (Academy Motorsport – Aston Martin), Ross Gunn (Beechdean-AMR - Aston Martin), and Gavan Kershaw (Team Issy Racing – Lotus), with 50 minutes left on the clock and thoughts turned to a potential second victory of the 2015 season.
Robinson fought hard to cut through slower GT4 traffic, with the JMB Bird Aston proving particularly adept at ignoring blue flags, costing him almost 1s to the closing ranks. In just under 15 minutes, Luke Davenport’s Tolman Ginetta had eased past Kershaw, Gunn and Strandberg and was now 0.6s off the rear of our Ginetta, and a lap later, as the cars emerged from under the bridge and headed into Clearways, it was the Tolman car ahead.
For the remaining laps, Robinson did as much as he could to keep Davenport honest, while carefully keeping a buffer to the Aston Martin of Strandberg. When Strandberg and Jake Hill had contact at Druids, this eased the pressure somewhat, but enabled the GT4 Championship leading Beechdean-AMR Aston Martin onto the podium.
At the flag, Optimum’s Ginetta finished a comfortable second, with over 6s to Gunn in third, closing the gap on the Beechdean squad in the standings to 42.5 points, with three races remaining and 87.5 points available.
Optimum Motorsport will now seek a second win and a fourth podium of the year at Norfolk’s Snetterton 300 Circuit in three weeks’ time (22-23 August), where British GT will revert to its ‘sprint race’ format, with a pair of 60-minute races.
Graham Johnson: “Seventh to second, I’m happy with that, and certainly would’ve taken it after the last few rounds we’ve had. It felt good to be on the podium and I really enjoyed the race. I quickly got up to fifth, and then we had a bit of a battle with Yusuf’s Lotus early on, before McNeilly lost ground and came down the order. We recovered well though and left it late to stop to avoid the chaos in the pits; this worked well for us and had Mike not had a safety car period when he left the pits, I think we would’ve been one step higher on the podium today. We go to Snetterton in a good position, and we’ll be aiming for more wins there; we need to focus on a good run in all of the final three races now, the rest is out of our control!”
Mike Robinson: “I drove out of the pits, straight into a safety car period, which bunched up the field and undid a lot of Graham’s hard work from earlier in the race. I knew I had the pace over the Aston and the Porsche, but Davenport was really quick today. When I saw him in my mirrors, it didn’t take long for him to catch me up. He made a good move at Dingle Dell, I didn’t put up too much fight there, and opted to follow him and see what I could do. Unfortunately I seemed to get GT3 traffic all the time, and Davenport disappeared, but I was more worried about keeping a decent cushion to the group behind. I’m not sure what happened with the Aston and Porsche; one-minute they were behind me, the next they were gone. It’s frustrating because the Beechdean car would’ve been fifth, but instead it got the final podium spot and we didn’t make as big a dent as we would’ve liked into their lead.”
British GT4 Driver’s Championship:
1. Chadwick/Gunn – 142.5 pts
2. Johnson/Robinson – 100 pts
3. Yusuf/Kershaw – 99 pts
4. Pattison/Davenport – 85.5 pts
British GT4 Team’s Championship:
1. Beechdean-AMR – 142.5 pts
2. Optimum Motorsport – 100 pts
3. Issy Racing – 99 pts
4. Academy Motorsport – 98 pts
5. Tolman Motorsport – 85.5 pts