BARNES AND GORNALL EXTEND CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD WITH THRUXTON WIN!
A podium finish on Saturday and a race win from 11th on the grid on Sunday, allowed Jon Barnes and James Gornall to extend their lead to 25 points at the top of the 2008 British GT Championship - all at Jon's and Brookspeed Team Trimite's home circuit of Thruxton in Hampshire.
There was no testing on the Friday of the British GT race weekend at Thruxton due to a restriction on the number of test days allowed at the circuit, so Saturday morning's hour-long free practice session was the first chance for the drivers to try the Dodge Viper around the circuit. The drivers also needed to tweak the car setup on the new compound Avon tyres, which had been specially developed for the demands of the UK's fastest track.
At the start of the free practice session when James was in the car, a rear wheel arch liner worked loose, and broke part of the rear diffuser as it parted company with the car. James returned to the pitlane to diagnose the problem while the session was red flagged to retrieve the broken parts of the Team Trimite Viper. Unfortunately there were no replacements for these parts available and so the car would be lacking some rear stability for the rest of the weekend, and this was not to be the last of the team's troubles. In the final 15 minutes of the session, after Jon had been at the wheel for just a lap and a half, the Viper developed an Anti-lock Braking System fault. Due to the high speeds achieved at Thruxton and the fact that the Viper has servo assisted brakes, it made slowing the car down from over 150mph a very difficult task. The net result was slower lap times due to the increased braking distances and the risk of severe tyre damage due to the inevitable locking up of the right front wheel.
With the team unable to resolve the ABS issue before qualifying, James & Jon would have to run without ABS for the rest of Saturday. James took to the track for the first qualifying session in dry and hot weather conditions. A 1:17.55 put James in 6th place for the race that afternoon, a very respectable time given the braking problems.
For Jon's session, a superb time of 1:16.98 placed him 11th for Sunday's grid. Jon felt that there was little time left to gain from the Viper given the braking problem, so he brought the car into the pits after just five laps to prevent damaging the tyres, which still had to complete the hour long race.
From 6th place with a lot of fast cars behind him, James had his work cut out for the first half of Saturday's race in the wounded Viper. In the opening few minutes, James took advantage of chaos ahead of him to run 3rd after just four laps and held position until the predictable Safety Car period to recover a stricken Lamborghini at Club Chicane. The Safety Car stayed on track for over 15 minutes and during this time the pit window opened. The entire field of GT cars, bar one, filed into one of the smallest pit lanes on the calendar. Utter chaos ensued with driver changes taking place in the 'fast lane' of the pits, rather than on the pit apron in front of the garages. The Trimite crew conducted their stop efficiently and were ready to go at the end of the 45 second mandatory driver change, but the Viper had become boxed in by other cars that had stopped all around them. A further ten seconds stationary and then a significant amount of shuffling got Jon out of the pits in third position, behind the Team Modena Lamborghini of Adam Jones and the Christians in Motorsport Ferrari of Allan Simonsen.
At the restart of the race, Jon got a fantastic exit out of the final corner and rocketed past Jones's Lamborghini into turn 1. Jon was able to defend his position into the Complex despite the brake problem and he then set about chasing after Simonsen whilst creating a gap back to the chasing cars. As the race progressed it became clear that the tyres on the Viper were deteriorating and Jon had to brake progressively earlier, affecting his lap times. The ABG Dodge Viper of Aaron Scott was in third position and setting the fastest laps of the race. After an exciting battle, Jon sensibly decided to let the flying Scott past, allowing him to take up the chase to Allan Simonsen in the #23 Ferrari. From 3rd position, Jon had a healthy gap back to 4th place and he was able to bring the car home safely in a very hard fought and well deserved 3rd place.
Throughout Saturday evening and Sunday morning the Trimite mechanics worked tirelessly to resolve the ABS problem. A number of other Viper teams would not be running on Sunday due to failures in Saturday's race and they kindly donated parts to help to resolve the issue. However, nothing seemed to help and it became clear that the fault lay deep in the wiring loom of the car, and was beyond resolution for Sunday's race as well.
In Sunday's warm up Jon took the Viper out to bed in new front brake discs and pads. After three laps the car returned to the team awning to await the afternoon's race.
With a grid position of 11th, Sunday's race would be even more challenging than the day before but it was essential for the drivers to score more points to help consolidate their championship lead. Jon took the wheel for what was to become another memorable race in the 2008 British GT Championship. After just two laps Jon had passed five cars and was up into 6th, a further two laps saw Jon move up to 4th. On the 5th lap yellow flags were waved for an accident at the Club Chicane involving Bradley Ellis in a Ginetta G50, subsequently the Safety Car was deployed while debris was cleared.
It soon became apparent from Jon's radio transmissions and news in the pit lane that Bradley's crash was somewhat more serious and the race was red flagged. The field of cars reformed on the grid while Bradley was taken to hospital and the Ginetta was recovered. After twenty minutes stopped, race control scheduled a re-start and reduced the race time to just 30 minutes.
Prior to the re-start, rain began to fall on the start/finish straight and it seemed like Team Trimite's worst nightmare was becoming a reality, a wet restart on slick tyres and without ABS!
At the race restart, Jon scrabbled for grip in the greasy conditions and dropped down to 5th place behind James Sutton in the CR Scuderia Ferrari. On the exit of the Complex Jon found some grip and used the power of the Viper to follow Sutton past Adam Wilcox in the #12 Ferrari. The rain stopped and after a couple of laps the circuit was fully dry. Jon was still hassling Sutton's Ferrari when the race leading ABG Viper of Aaron Scott was called into the pits due to loose rear bodywork, subsequently promoting Jon to 3rd. The pit window opened but the team left Jon out to continue battling nose-to-tail with the 2nd and 1st placed cars. After 5 further laps, Jon noticed a train of GT4 class Ginetta's in the distance. Rather than getting caught behind the slower cars, Jon decided to shoot into the pits and hand over to James, making Team Trimite the first of the leading pack to make a pitstop. Once all of the leading cars had completed their pit stops, James was in 3rd position and hassling the #14 Ferrari, which now had Michael Meadows at the wheel. One lap later and James had fought his way past the young driver and was catching the race leading Aston Martin of Tom Alexander at 3 seconds per lap. With just 4 minutes of the race remaining James caught the leader, overtaking the Aston up Woodham Hill and into the Club Chicane. From there James was able to hold on to 1st place and take another fantastic victory for Team Trimite in very difficult conditions...
However, as the team crowded around the podium there was one final twist to the story. The race stewards had deemed that James had exceeded the 60 kph speed limit by 4 kph whilst exiting the pitlane. As such, a 4 second time penalty was imposed on the car, demoting Jon & James to 2nd place. After a subdued podium ceremony the Team Trimite management and drivers immediately appealed the stewards' decision, and after using the evidence taken from the Viper's data logging system, the 1st place was reinstated!
With just 4 races of the championship remaining, Jon and James now hold a commanding 25 point lead over the chasing pack of CR Scuderia Ferrari's.
Jon said, "Considering the problems that we had with the car this weekend, I was astonished that we were able to finish on the podium in the race on Saturday! To then score our third win of the season in the second race was unbelievable!
"We knew that Thruxton would be the final circuit on this years' calendar to really suit the Viper, so it was very important to take a big points haul away from this weekend. This now puts me and James into a commanding position, knowing that we could realistically seal the championship victory if we have another successful weekend at Brands Hatch on the 12th and 13th of July."
"I want to take this opportunity to thank my friends, family and sponsors that came to support me and Brookspeed Team Trimite here at our home circuit. The extra support made a real difference this weekend and we hope to go out and make you all proud at Brands in a couple of weeks time."
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.