Jon Barnes and James Gornall were crowned the 2008 Avon Tyres British GT Champions this weekend at Brands Hatch in Kent, after taking an emphatic fourth win of the season on Saturday, then bringing their wounded Dodge Viper across the finish line in 7th position in Sunday's race. Jon and James now cannot be caught in the race for the championship, as they have a 23 point lead over their closest rivals, with just 20 points available from the final two races of the season.
Team Trimite Brookspeed woke on Saturday morning at Brands to find clear sunny skies and warm temperatures. Jon was especially eager to get behind the wheel of the Viper, as the Team Trimite car's ABS problems that were encountered at Thruxton had been fully cured and the car had also been fitted with a new 6 speed sequential gearbox for the Brands Hatch meeting, on loan from fellow Viper runners, Team RPM. The gearbox was one of the allowed upgrades on the Dodge Viper for the 2008 season and it was expected to make the Team Trimite car even quicker than usual - a much needed boost for a race weekend where Jon and James could potentially clinch the championship.
James took the Team Trimite Dodge Viper out onto the circuit for the first part of the hour long free practice session. James reported that the car felt good and that the new sequential box felt great and was extremely easy to use compared to the car's old 6 speed manual, road car derived gearbox.
Jon got his turn behind the wheel and after a little work on the car setup, the team decided to end the session early to save the car for the important qualifying sessions at lunchtime. Jon exited the car with a huge grin on his face - reporting that the new gearbox was a revelation!
Jon said, "Wow, the new gearbox has totally transformed the car! Instead of just using 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears like in our old manual gearbox, the closer ratios in the new sequential 'box allow us to make use of every gear from 2nd to 6th and we can change up through the gears in the blink of an eye! Also the engine revs are now kept in the optimum power band, so I expect us to be very fast through the speed traps. The reason we are running this sequential 'box for this weekend is because the other teams have started complaining that we are not running the latest updates on our car - in fact, now that we have them fitted, they enable us to go even faster!"
Jon's feelings were proven when the team got the official time sheets through from the championship organisers after the free practise session, with the Team Trimite Viper solidly at the top of both speed traps!
James jumped into the car for the first qualifying session which, as per usual, would decide the grid for the opening race on Saturday afternoon. The confidence of both drivers was sky high and James proved so by putting in an exceptionally fast lap early in the session. A 1:30.718 was almost a second faster than the car had gone in the free practice session and for a long period of time it looked as though it would be fast enough to secure the first ever pole position for Team Trimite. Unfortunately, right at the end of the session, championship rival Paddy Shovlin in the #15 CR Scuderia Ferrari 430 managed to top James's time by setting a 1:30.654. However, second place on the grid was still an excellent result and was James's best qualifying position of the season.
Jon then took over and rolled out onto the circuit to qualify the car for Sunday's race. After 3 laps, Jon had managed a 1:30.9 and was 6th fastest, but on his 4th lap he eclipsed that time with a rapid 1:30.463. Jon radioed to team on the pit wall to tell them that there was no more time left in the car, and so he brought the car back into the pits to conserve the tyres. Jon and the team were very pleased to finish the session 3rd fastest, at the front of a train of 8 cars covered by just half a second. 3rd position was also Jon's best dry weather qualifying position of the season so far, his previous best being 10th at Knockhill, further highlighting the transformation of the car thanks to the new gearbox.
The threatening dark clouds that had gathered over the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit during the afternoon disappeared and bright sunshine arrived just in time for the start of Race One on Saturday. As the packed field of cars made their way along the Start/Finish Straight, Paddy Shovlin began to squeeze James up towards the edge of the circuit. James held his nerve as the start lights went out, but he dropped back to third position to avoid being punted off the track into the first corner. James then retook second place from the #14 CR Scuderia Ferrari of Michael Meadows down Pilgrims Drop on the opening lap and then on lap 4 he took the lead of the race after a daring manoeuvre down the inside of Paddy Shovlin at Paddock Hill Bend. From there on in, James commanded the race for the duration of his stint, leading the chasing pack of Ferraris around lap after lap.
The team were determined to keep hold of the race lead and so they decided to bring James into the pits early to avoid being overtaken by any of the other cars in the pits. The driver change went without a hitch and Jon immediately got down to a blistering pace. He took full advantage of the early pit stop to set a succession of quick and consistent laps. Jon was amazed to then see the #14 CR Scuderia Ferrari of James Sutton (in for Meadows) exiting the pitlane in front of him at the end of lap 17. The Ferrari was able to get in front of the Viper thanks to a super fast in lap from Meadows and a pitstop duration that was just a second quicker than Team Trimite's. Jon was eager to gain the position back from the #14 car and did so with a ballsy move around the outside at Hawthorns. Jon pushed hard for another 5 laps and opened up a sizeable gap over the Ferrari, only to find the #15 Ferrari of Michael Cullen shooting out of the pitlane in front of him! Jon tried to pass Cullen at every corner over the first half of the lap, with the constant pressure eventually getting to the Ferrari driver when he made a mistake at Westfield, allowing Jon to rocket past on the exit of the corner. Jon once again got his head down and pushed hard to open a gap, a job made easier when a fraught battle began between three cars for 2nd place. Despite a spongy brake pedal in the closing stages of the race and a misfire caused by low fuel, Jon crossed the finish line with over 7 seconds in hand over the chasing pack, and took a fantastic fourth victory of the season for Brookspeed Team Trimite.
Saturday's race win meant that only one car could catch Jon and James in the battle for the championship, that being the #23 Christians in Motorsport Ferrari 430 of Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen, who would need to win every remaining race, with the Team Trimite drivers failing to score, to be able to win the championship.
Race Two came on Sunday afternoon and despite only a single point being required to seal championship victory, it was obvious that Jon was intent on battling hard for yet another race victory! From third place Jon got a great start and passed the #1 RPM Viper of Oliver Bryant at the first corner, he then set off in pursuit of Allan Simonsen in the #23 Christians in Motorsport Ferrari. For 15 laps Jon and Simonsen fought for the lead, until the alternator belt on the Ferrari snapped, sending the car into retirement, thus handing Jon the lead of the race and the 2008 British GT Championship title! However the drama was far from over. Jon pushed hard to consolidate his lead before the driver change, quickly pulling a gap of 4 seconds back to the chasing pack before pitting on lap 18. With James behind the wheel it quickly became apparent that a problem was developing with the car. James radioed to the pit wall to say he suspected a puncture but stayed out for two laps to try to diagnose the problem. When the Viper eventually limped down the pit lane from ninth place it was discovered that the rear off-side wheel was loose due to a stub axle failure, which had machined away the hub of the alloy wheel. A quick wheel change would be enough to get the car to the end of the race. James rejoined in seventh place only to suffer an exhaust failure on the driver's side of the car. The monstrous 8.3 litre V10 was breathing red-hot exhaust gas directly into the left hand sill and cockpit of the car. As the gases circulated, the bodywork, paint & vinyls started to melt away, the fumes and smoke making it very hard for James to see and breath, let alone concentrate! Nevertheless, James brought the wounded Viper home to a very hard fought seventh place and two championship points, further sealing the driver's championship!
Jon said, "It is fantastic to have won the 2008 Avon Tyres British GT Championship, although I must admit that it hasn't sunk in at all yet!"
"It feels a little strange to have the championship sealed up already, we are only halfway through July and still have two 120 minute races remaining at Silverstone and Donington. James and I have set ourselves the challenge of winning those final two races because we would love to end the season on a real high and with 6 race victories overall!"
"I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone that has worked so hard to make this championship win possible, all of my family, friends, supporters and sponsors. This year has been tough and we have had problems both on and off the race track, but that makes me even more proud of what we have achieved."
"From a personal point of view, this is my fourth championship victory in four full seasons of racing. Although we have nothing sorted yet for 2009, rest assured that wherever I race, I will be going flat out to win my fifth championship!"
Jon Barnes is proud to be supported this season by Technart Printers, Headliners Hair Salon, Attley's Roofing, Shredding For Bedding, Warefence, Benchmark Cleaning Services LTD, LA Fitness and Arai Helmets.
The Avon Tyres British GT Championship races are shown in half-hour programmes on Channel 4 Television and in hour-long programmes on MotorsTV. Please check Jon's website for up-to-date broadcast information.