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BGTC: Jonathan Cocker Donington race notes

Barwell makes British GT History at Donington Park First British GT win for Aston Martin in race one First ever 1-2-3 team result in race two "We came, we saw, we conquered" would aptly describe Barwell Motorsport's visit to Donington Park...

Barwell makes British GT History at Donington Park

First British GT win for Aston Martin in race one
First ever 1-2-3 team result in race two

"We came, we saw, we conquered" would aptly describe Barwell Motorsport's visit to Donington Park at the weekend, after we utterly dominated proceedings in the latest two rounds of the British GT Championship. The only podium position out of the six from the weekend that didn't feature a driver wearing green Barwell/Aston Martin DBRS9 overalls was the second place spot from race one. First and third in this race was followed up by an extraordinary 1-2-3 result in the second encounter, and these results move our three driver pairings into the top three positions in the Drivers' Championship (with the lead being held by Guy Harrington and Ben de Zille Butler), along with Barwell Motorsport taking a commanding lead in the Teams' Championship.

This was an incredible overall performance, which featured both the team and all of our drivers operating at the very highest level and extracting the most out of our Aston Martin DBRS9s. We didn't have the out-and-out fastest car at Donington, but the combination of extremely skilled preparation and engineering of the cars from the team and some absolutely faultless driver performances from all six pilots proved just too much for the majority of our opposition. In the end it was our two British GT 'Rookies', Harrington and de Zille Butler that took that first win on Saturday after a stunning performance in only their second event at this level. This was followed up by a superb victory for Tom Alexander and Michael Bentwood on Sunday, but it had been the Bio-Ethanol-fuelled DBRS9 of Paul Drayson and Jonny Cocker that had dominated this race. They were heading for a comfortable historic first victory, but unfortunately for them a communication mix-up on the last lap allowed the Alexander car to nip through and take the win.

Race 1 -- 1 Hour / 49 laps -- Saturday 21 April 2007

The starting grid for race one had an interesting look about it, as those drivers classified as 'A' grade (including Michael and now Jonny) are not allowed to qualify for this race. Hence it gives the 'amateur' drivers a chance to shine against others of similar experience. There was very little to choose between Guy and Ben in terms of pace at Donington, but both of them were not far off our 'pros' and so we knew that either one could get up the front in this session. Ben duly delivered the goods, qualifying second, whilst Paul continued his impressive progress in speed to line up immediately behind him in fourth spot. Tom, meanwhile, hadn't been far off Paul in the untimed practice session, and was thus disappointed to line up back in 15th place after not being able to hook up a really good lap.

Ben made a cracking start and thought about trying to cut across the pole-sitting Mortimer/Ellis Dodge Viper as they blasted down towards the first corner, but it was too risky and so he slotted nicely into second place. Paul was right behind him as they entered the first corner, but got squeezed out wide by the Cole brothers' Mosler and this allowed the Harris/Bryant Porsche and the Jones' twins Ascari to demote him to sixth. This was to prove a very decisive moment in determining the end result of this race...

The leading Viper was being driven quickly by Alex Mortimer, but Ben was putting in a sterling performance as he doggedly hung onto the back of it and kept the gap down to only around a second during the opening 10 laps of the race. These two and the Mosler immediately started to eke out a big gap over the rest of the pack, which was now being held up by the Jones Ascari after the Harris Porsche dropped down with a spin. Paul was right on the rear bumper of the Ascari and clearly had the pace to move ahead, but Jones is a very experienced and wily old fox and made sure that he always put his car in the right place to frustrate Paul's efforts to pass. Soon the Ashburn/Sugden Porsche joined this party, and these three put on an absolutely stonking 13 laps of racing action. Jones somehow always held sway at the head of the trio, but Paul and Ashburn swapped places many times as they each got held up in thwarted overtaking attempts on the Ascari. In was great stuff to watch, and all clean racing -- although Paul was on the receiving end of a rather rude chop from Jones on the start/finish straight, which put part of his car on the grass!

The party got split up on lap 16 when Ashburn dumped his Porsche into the gravel at McLeans, and with Cole's Mosler suffering problems this meant that by this stage Jones and Paul were dicing for third place. Up front, however, Mortimer's Viper and Ben had both put on a metronomic performance and were now a whopping 20 seconds in front of the Jones/Drayson battle. Ben was driving beautifully and the reigning Caterham Eurocup champion's confidence in his Aston is growing with each lap he does. After losing out a bit in the lapping of backmarkers, the gap had risen to just on four seconds by the time Ben came in to hand over to Guy on lap 26, but this had been a very well measured drive from de Zille Butler and he gave Guy a car in good shape for the second half of the race.

A few laps later the Mortimer Viper arrived in the pits, but as Ellis went to power away after their stop the car stalled and it took a few seconds before he fired it up again and was on his way. This was another crucial moment in the course of this race, as Guy flashed past the Barwell pit wall gantry and we all looked down toward the first corner to see where the Ellis Viper would come out. There was a huge cheer as Guy went past the pit lane exit before the Dodge appeared, and the race lead was ours for the first time. Paul's car had come into the pits on lap 20, but unfortunately for the ingoing Jonny Cocker the Jones 'Track Jammer' Ascari had kept Drayson at bay and given Jonny a 22-second deficit to make up to the sister Barwell Aston of Harrington. The Ascari problem was now cured, however, as Cocker had taken over five laps earlier than the other Jones, and was able to lap quickly and unhindered so that he leapfrogged this car when they pitted.

As the race entered its final third it was very clear that it was now down to a battle for honours between the first three cars. Fortunately for us, two of these were Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS9s! Guy was looking very composed in the lead, however, and the Avon tyres were working very well on the Aston as he eased out a useful four-second lead over the Viper. There was now big pressure on the 20-year-old's shoulders, as he was leading only his third ever international GT race and he simply had to keep his nerve to score an amazing victory. He settled down to a good, consistent pace, however, and clearly had the legs on the Ellis Viper. The bigger concern for Mr Ellis with about 10 laps to go was an extremely hard-charging Jonny Cocker...! The irrepressible Cocker really had the bit between his teeth and was taking between 0.7 and 1.2 seconds a lap out of the Viper, and at this rate he was going to be able to have a crack at making it a Barwell 1-2 on the last lap!

Also on a great charge was Michael Bentwood in the #2 Barwell entry. Michael had taken over from Tom with the car in 13th place on the 20-lap mark, and had converted this to seventh place after being at the wheel for 10 laps. He was now right on the tail of the Bryant/Harris Porsche, which is a notoriously hard car to pass due to its traction and slippery shape. A lovely outbraking manoeuvre at the chicane on lap 31 took care of the erstwhile championship leaders, however, and he then enjoyed a competition to set the fastest lap of the race with both Cocker and Ian Flux in the 'works' Mosler. 'Fluxie' just won this by a 1/10th of a second, but Michael's hard work had claimed a solid sixth place for him and Tom.

The Barwell crew had everything crossed as they watched Guy reel off the final few laps, but the youngster had things under control and brought the car home to score an amazing win for him and Ben. These two 'Rookies' had driven quickly right at the sharp end for the entire race without making a single mistake, and thoroughly deserved their historic achievement. Jonny, meanwhile, had fulfilled our expectations and was snapping at the Ellis Viper's heels on the last lap. Time just ran out for him, however, but this was still a fantastic result for the Bio-Ethanol car, which once again hadn't missed a beat.

Race 2 -- 1 Hour (49 laps) -- Sunday 22 April 2007

With Jonny, Michael and Guy lining up second, fourth and fifth on the grid respectively, we knew that we were in with a good chance of some more good finishes and another race win was definitely on the cards. What we couldn't have predicted completely, however, was that both Jonny and Michael were about to put in two absolutely scintillating top-drawer performances, which would underline their status as two of the best GT3 drivers in the World at the moment.

A fairly straightforward start for them meant that Jonny slotted into second behind the Wilcox/Burton Ferrari, and Michael into fourth behind the Fluxie/Riley Mosler. Now Ian Flux is a British motor sport 'institution', having been a professional racing driver for well over 20 years, and is still as fast as anyone in a GT car.

However, on the first lap of this race Mr Michael Bentwood was able to teach this 'old dog' some new tricks.... As they started to climb up the hill on the exit from the super-quick Old Hairpin bend, Michael got an excellent run on Flux but the track was full of Mosler and there is not really any way to squeeze past through the flat-out Shwantz Curve. That's unless you use the grass on the inside of the apex kerbing of Shwantz Curve, that is!! Michael didn't want to waste his superior speed to Flux and so as the Mosler squeezed him towards the inside of Shwantz, he simply turned left onto the grass and drove past at 130mph! This has got to go down as the 'Move of the Century' in British GT racing!

Up ahead, Jonny was definitely in no mood to settle for second place and the 'body language' of his Aston was certainly having an affect on Wilcox in the Ferrari. We had made the smart move of keeping his qualifying run down to just two flying laps, and so Jonny was also able to revel in some lovely fresh Avon tyres during the opening laps of this race. Wilcox was clearly feeling the pressure from the Bio-Ethanol Aston, and as they started lap six he ran wide exiting the first corner and in a flash he had a big green dragon on his right hand side. Wilcox probably thought he was still ok, however, as he had the inside line for the left-hand section at the top of the Craner Curves. Cocker wasn't about to let Bentwood steal all the 'great moves', however, and amazingly he hung on around the outside of Wilcox as they crested the brow of Craner and then plunged downhill. The Ferrari driver then had no choice but to concede his ground and Jonny was through into the lead. Wilcox had only just caught his breath coming out of the Old Hairpin when that Bentwood lunatic did the same 'grass cutting' pass on him at Schwantz as he had done to Flux!

Once established in first and second places, Cocker and Bentwood didn't squander their opportunity. During a series of stunning laps that were all pretty close to their qualifying pace, these two disappeared from the pack in a display of shatteringly quick and consistent driving. Even after 20 laps they could both set times which were within a few tenths of their best, and by the time they both pitted on lap 30, they had built up an amazing 12 second lead over Wilcox's Ferrari and Flux's Mosler -- two very quick drivers in two very quick cars. In short, it had been a Barwell Motorsport/Cocker/Bentwood Masterclass !

Guy Harrington could quite possibly have been able to keep his much more experienced team-mates in sight, but unfortunately a little mistake at the first corner cost him dearly and dropped him down from fifth to eighth. He then spent an extremely frustrating 19 laps stuck behind the Ascari of Erdos/Keating and then the Bryant/Harris Porsche. The Porsche was clearly holding him up, but he just couldn't find a way to get past it and the extraordinary pace of the 'Jonny & Michael show' meant that the chances of Ben being able to claw back the time lost to the sister Astons were becoming minimal.

After all the pit stops and driver changes had worked out, the situation at the front remained the same as Paul (from Jonny) was able to hold onto the lead and Tom (from Michael) got himself into the groove to maintain second. Things had got a little shaken up behind, however, as the Wilcox/Burton Ferrari had plummeted down the order, the Sugden/Ashburn and Bryant/Harris Porsches had suffered time-consuming problems, and then shortly into his stint Ben had easily usurped the Erdos/Keating Ascari to move into fourth place! That Jones Ascari was on his tail, however, and on lap 34 they both honed in on the Riley-driven Mosler as they approached Redgate corner at the end of the start/finish straight. Annoyingly, at the same time a backmarker got involved and delayed Ben for a moment and the Ascari was able to nip past in the confusion. They both then past Riley's Mosler but Ben was now still in fourth and staring at the back of the Ascari -- another car which is very rapid in a straight line and hard to pass.

Up at the front Paul was driving a brilliant race and was coping extremely well with the responsibility of being handed the lead. His times were very consistent and, like Jonny, he was definitely a man on a mission in this race to get the first ever win for both himself and a Bio-Ethanol-fuelled GT car. Whilst he couldn't match Paul's pace, Tom equally was driving his heart out and was having an excellent stint aboard his DBRS9. Although he had been struggling for consistency earlier in the weekend, he found it in time and looked set to score a very good second place. There was a threat from behind, however, as both Jones in the Ascari and Ben were absolutely flying at this stage of the race, no doubt spurred on by their own private battle over third place. It was possible that they would both catch Tom on the very last lap, and so we kept on the radio every lap to keep Tom focused on delivering a 1-2 for Barwell.

Paul, meanwhile, had a commanding 15-second lead and was under no threat whatsoever, as the race went into its final five laps. Drayson continued what is certainly the best drive of his British GT career to date, and the Bio-Ethanol car was running absolutely beautifully.

Aside from the threat from the Jones Ascari, we had another thing to worry about in the form of extremely high fuel consumption around the fast and flowing curves of Donington Park. This was not an issue with the Bio car due to its slightly larger fuel tank, but the standard fuel cars had only just made it to the end in the previous day's race. We had got an Aston Martin Racing (Prodrive) engineer to re-map the engine to give us slightly better consumption for Sunday's race, but such was the pace of the leading Cocker/Drayson car that it looked as though this race was going to run for one more lap than the previous day's distance. This meant that it would be extremely touch-and-go for Tom and Ben to get to the finish line, and their great performances could all come to nothing.

Such was Paul's lead, however, that he could afford to back off and make sure he took the chequered flag after the 1-hour mark so that the race distance would not go up by a lap. With such a commanding lead, it would be normal practice not to do an unnecessary lap in any case. The instruction to Paul to slow down went out over the radio, but precise communications are not always easy in these circumstances, and this was an unfortunate case of this one being 'lost in translation'. Paul then backed off to such an extent that he was unable to get back on the power sufficiently enough before Tom had sneaked through at the final chicane and taken the race victory! In all the confusion, Ben also managed to slide past the Jones Ascari and thus deliver a quite extraordinary (in more ways than one!) 1-2-3 result.

-credit: www.jonathancocker.com

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