The 2016 British GT4 Championship has certainly been eventful so far this season for both of the team’s highly competitive pairings.
ith both crews having tasted the champagne at least once so far this season, a return to the podium was certainly a popular target as the championship makes it’s only visit outside of the UK to the famous Spa-Francorchamps, located deep within the Ardennes forest in Belgium.
How the weekend went for #73:
With multiple red flags in Free Practice One and sharing a track with almost 60 cars as the European GT4 Championship also featured this weekend, useful track time in advance of qualifying would be in short supply. As qualifying approached, the skies darkened, and as Anna left the garage for her qualifying run, the heavens opened and soaked a large portion of the circuit. Running on slicks, she was forced to pit at the end of the lap for a change to wets, before going on to secure the ninth fastest time.
Now it was Nathan’s turn for the second and final part of the session. Leaving the pitlane on wets, the falling rain had stopped and such was the heat in the track he felt slicks were the only option and returned to the pitlane for a rapid pitstop by the team. Lighting up the timing screens from there, Freke would end the session as the second fastest GT4 car on circuit, and when combined with Walewska’s time, the pair would start Saturday’s two-hour round six from third in GT4.
A bumper 57-car grid lined up to take the start in warm and sunny conditions on Saturday morning. With lights out just after 12.25 local time, the packed grid burst into the first corner. With lots of action at the first couple of corners, a rather unwell Anna Walewska managed to keep her nose clean during the opening lap to remain inside the top five. From there, it was a case of doing her best to maintain a strong position during her stint at the notoriously challenging Spa-Francorchamps. Just as the pitstop window opened at the 50-minute mark, Walewska dived into the pits to hand the car over to Nathan for the final part of the race.
Bursting out of the pits, Freke set off on a charge to try and work his way back up the order. Having to carefully work his way through the European GT4 traffic, Nathan was up to seventh after the pitstops were complete, closing down a large gap to Robert Barrable in sixth. His charge however was hampered by a number of European GT4 cars in front, who were faster in sector one and making it difficult to close in and find a way past over the remainder of the lap. Finally finding a way past to move directly behind Barrable, Nathan brought the gap down to just two seconds, but as the chequered flag fell, his charge for position was ended as he crossed the line in seventh.
How the weekend went for #40:
A lack of Free Practice running was certainly not the best start to the weekend for Spa-Francorchamps rookie Sean Byrne. However with the benefit of his highly experienced co-driver Aleksander Schjerpen at the Belgian circuit, Byrne did the majority of Friday morning’s running.
Like their sister car, Qualifying became a lottery with the typically mixed Spa weather conditions, with Byrne leaving the pits for his session on wets he finished his run a very credible tenth in British GT4. Handing the car over to Aleksander for the second part, he opted unlike Freke to remain on wets, which initially looked to be the correct call before the track started to rapidly dry and favour the slick shod drivers.
Starting Saturday’s race from 13th in GT4, Byrne was hoping to make a clean break at the start and avoid any first corner incidents. Despite plenty of drama around him, Byrne made it up through Eau Rouge safely and by the end of the opening ten minutes was up to tenth. From there, Byrne found himself in some clear air and settled into a fantastic rhythm to take the car safely into the pits just after the half way mark for Schjerpen to complete the race.
The experienced Norwegian immediately set off on a charge, lapping within just a couple of tenths of his rapid teammate Freke. Focused on the #407 Aston Martin, Schjerpen closed the gap down during the middle of his stint and started into a squabble for position that would last for the remainder of the race. With Jordan Albert at the wheel, he was utilising the Aston’s straight-line speed advantage in sector one to open a slender gap over Schjerpen, but crossing the start finish line; Aleksander had that gap down to just two tenths of a second. However despite several attempts to pass the Beechdean driver, Schjerpen was forced to remain ninth at the end, but had definitely sent out a clear message that he was extracting the maximum from his Ginetta package around the Ardennes circuit.
Anna Walewska - #73 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “So we’ve had a challenging weekend, I’ve not been feeling very well, but the team have been great with me and supported me through it. We knew it would be a case of damage limitation for us, but I know if I can maintain a good top 10 result and hand over to Nathan a strong car with good tyres, then I know that he can do the business. Here at Spa it’s been a really competitive weekend, although Nathan was one of the quickest cars on circuit, the gap between everyone with the European GT4 cars here aswell just made it that much more difficult to get up the order. I’m pleased that we managed to secure a good finish in seventh, but it just means that we really need to push for podiums at the final two rounds in Snetterton and Donington but I know we can do it.”
Nathan Freke - #73 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “Spa is probably the only circuit on the calendar that I have little or no race experience off, in fact my first time to race here was a couple of weeks ago in a historic Austin Healey, so between that and some of the cars around us that are usually faster in a straight line this weekend was potentially somewhat of an unknown. It was hard to get a rhythm going on Friday with such mixed running in Free Practice, but Qualifying was where it all came good. Anna put in a solid run in her session on a very mixed track as rain was falling out the back but the pit-straight was dry! I opted for slicks and that really paid off, getting us up to start the race in third. Anna hasn’t been feeling very well this weekend, so her opening stint in the race was good considering that and she brought the car in at the pit window in eighth. I drove the wheels off the car, but to be honest it was hard to make up places being mixed in with the European GT4 cars. That said we finished seventh which secures a few more points for the championship as we move to Snetterton where I feel we should be strong.”
Sean Byrne - #40 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “We started the weekend with very little testing unfortunately, I got no laps in Free Practice one with all the red flags but luckily I managed to get a few laps in Free Practice two. Qualifying turned out to be a bit of a lottery with the mixed weather, but we made the best of it. The race was long and I’m surprised there wasn’t any Safety Cars. After I got off the line there was a bit of carnage at the first few corners but after that I just got my head down to hand the car over to Aleksander in P10 and he raced really well with the Aston Martin to finish P9. I’m looking forward to Snetterton, I enjoy the track and I’m hoping we can be strong there.”
Aleksander Schjerpen - #40 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “So all in all it’s been a good weekend. Our testing was screwed up a little with red flags in FP1, so we had a lot of work to do in FP2. Qualifying was a little bit unlucky with the tyre choice due to the weather. Sean did a brilliant job in the race, stable and did good lap times. When I got in the car it felt really good on new tyres, so I was able to push from the beginning and do a couple of good lap times. I was really happy with my pace, but the traffic was a struggle with over 55 cars on track. The guys at Century did a great job as usual, and now I’m really looking forward to Snetterton to hopefully get some more podiums.”
Next Round: Snetterton, Norfolk, UK – Saturday 6th & Sunday 7th August 2016.