Surrey-based professional racing driver Ollie Millroy secured third place in the European Le Mans Series GTC class drivers’ standings at Paul Ricard last weekend (September 27/28) to cap an impressive season of international sportscar competition.
With a strong result essential to their title hopes, Millroy and Ecosse regular Andrew Smith were joined for the French event by experienced GT racer Phil Quaife. Friday’s pair of one-hour official practice sessions were spent trying to find an optimum set-up for the car and allowing Quaife to acclimatise to the front-engined BMW, which he had not previously turned a lap in.
Championship regulations dictate that the 2013-specification Z4 GT3 must carry 110kg of extra ballast over its standard minimum weight. Given the car’s low torque relative to its rivals and the resulting lack of straight-line speed, the team would have to use everything in its armoury to ensure a competitive run, especially with no chicanes being used on Paul Ricard’s extremely long Mistral Straight. Indeed, the Z4 was losing two seconds per lap to the more powerful Ferraris, whose maximum speed was some 20kmh higher.
Having made set-up changes following free practice Millroy and Quaife shared Saturday morning’s 20-minute qualifying session by completing three and two laps respectively. Millroy posted the team’s fastest effort on his second flying lap with a 1m58.944s, though it was clearly impossible to compete with the power of the Ferraris which locked out the top five spots in the GTC class and the top four in GTE. As such Ecosse had to settle for seventh on the grid, albeit 1.3 seconds quicker than the rival Z4 of DKR Engineering.
Smith began Saturday’s three-hour race and made good early progress, passing the GTC Lamborghini of Nico Pronk and some of the faster GTE cars on his way to fifth spot, before handing over to Quaife at the 45-minute mark. Following a faultless pit stop by the Barwell Motorsport crew Quaife went on to complete a further 45-minute stint before handing over to Millroy in fourth position at half race distance.
Millroy’s first 50-minute stint would be completed on fresh tyres and a full tank. He quickly moved into third place in the GTC class and, with 30 minutes remaining, pitted to take on a small amount of extra fuel so as to continue until the end. However this allowed the fourth-placed Scuderia Villorba Corse Ferrari to close to within 25 seconds of the Z4. With the Italian car catching at two seconds per lap Millroy was powerless to resist as the Ferrari cruised past on the Mistral Straight, denying Ecosse their fourth podium of the season.
Nevertheless Millroy brought the car home in P4, clinching third place in the drivers’ championship for himself and Smith, as well as third place for the Scottish outfit in the teams’ championship. Meanwhile Ecosse drivers Alasdair McCaig and Joe Twyman took sixth and ninth places in the drivers’ standings, despite having missed two and three of the five championship rounds respectively.
Millroy and the team left France delighted to have produced such strong showings in the highly competitive GTC class during their maiden season competing in the ELMS, and buoyant about their future prospects on the international racing scene.
Ollie Millroy: “This was another very strong performance from the whole team and to finish third in the European Le Mans Series drivers’ championship this early in my GT racing career is something I'm very proud of. The Barwell Motorsport-prepared Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3 has run perfectly all season, so I would like to thank everyone involved in making that happen. They’ve all fought extremely hard against some tough opposition. Hopefully my performances and consistency this year will open doors for me to continue the development of my sportscar career.”