BARNES'S EVENTFUL BRITISH GT DEBUT WEEKEND Jon Barnes and his Brookspeed Team Trimite team mate James Gornall endured an eventful, but ultimately positive British GT debut at the Oulton Park circuit this Easter weekend. The race weekend began...
BARNES'S EVENTFUL BRITISH GT DEBUT WEEKEND
Jon Barnes and his Brookspeed Team Trimite team mate James Gornall endured an eventful, but ultimately positive British GT debut at the Oulton Park circuit this Easter weekend.
The race weekend began well for Jon. In cold, damp conditions and despite having never driven the awesome 520bhp, 8.3 litre V10 Dodge Viper before, he was able to post the third fastest time in the first of Friday's test sessions, just 0.056 of a second behind the fastest car, the Christians in Motorsport Ferrari F430. Jon, James and the team worked together well throughout the rest of the day, finding a good car setup on very worn tyres and still able to post times inside the top ten.
Saturday morning arrived cold, windy and overcast, with a slight risk of sleet and snow forecast for during the day. This was to be the busiest day of the weekend, with two morning free practice sessions, two qualifying sessions and the first race of the 2008 season all scheduled to take place.
Jon's team mate James is classified as a 'B' grade driver and he therefore took part in the first of the British GT qualifying sessions, which decides the grid for race 1. James had a very good session, and despite catching a slower car on one of his hot laps, he was able to post the 3rd fastest time of the session with a 1:41.194, finishing as top Dodge Viper and just 0.5 of a second behind the two CR Scuderia Ferraris.
Jon then went out for the second qualifying session for 'A' grade drivers which was to determine the grid for race two on Monday. Jon managed his best time of 1:40.829 on his 5th lap of the session, and he finished up as fastest Dodge Viper in 9th position.
Jon said, "I am fairly happy with the time that I managed to drag out of the car in that session, although I am pretty disappointed to only be 9th on the grid. I managed to go over 0.3 of a second faster than James managed in his qualifying session, and 1.7 seconds faster than I had been in the car before, but we are still 2 seconds behind the Ferrari that is on Pole!
"I don't think I have ever qualified so far off the fastest time in a qualifying session before. I hope the Championship organisers keep an eye on these lap times, hopefully they will decide to remove some of the equalisation restrictions that we still have in place on the Viper so that we stand a chance of getting near to the Lambo's and Ferrari's!"
Later there was huge disappointment for the team. During the post qualifying technical checks, the #40 Brookspeed Team Trimite Viper was judged to have failed the ride height test at the rear of the car, meaning the team were excluded from both qualifying sessions and forced to start both races from the pit lane.
The lights went out at the start of the first race of the 2008 British GT Championship, and once all of the field of 30 cars had filtered through turn 1, James was finally allowed to exit pit lane in the Viper. Fortunately for the team, the safety car was called onto the circuit after an accident involving the Team Modena Lamborghini at Cascades. This allowed James to catch right up to the back of the field of cars, and warm his tyres, negating much of the penalty of starting from the pits. Once the circuit had been cleared of the damaged cars and debris, the race was restarted and James soon made his way up into the top ten with some daring overtaking manoeuvres.
After around 25 minutes of the race completed, there was a huge accident involving a GT4 class Aston Martin and Ginetta at Cascades. The race was red flagged and stopped to allow the barriers to be repaired and the burnt out wreckage of the Ginetta to be removed. The organisers decided that the restarted race would be held over 30 minutes duration, with a 10 minute pitstop window which would open after 10 minutes of the new race had been completed.
The pitstop window opened and James had done an excellent job, having managed to fight his way up to 5th position, and within touching distance of the top 3! The team decided to leave James out for an extra two laps, to try to avoid getting caught up in the cramped and crowded pit lane. However, whilst pushing hard on his 'in' lap James selected 2nd gear instead of 4th on his way up Clay Hill, over revving the engine and causing it considerable damage. James slowly brought the badly misfiring car back to the pits and the team decided to complete the driver change and send Jon out, in the hope that he could stay inside the points positions. Jon exited the pit lane level with the Ferrari and Porsche busy battling over 2nd position, but it was immediately obvious that the Viper's engine was on it's last legs, with the car unable to reach over 100mph on the main straight. Jon tried in vane to keep the car inside the points, but with lap times over 15 seconds off the pace, he was back to down in 12th place within 2 laps, so the team called Jon back into the pits and into retirement.
Jon said, "Well, that was pretty gutting to be honest. After watching James doing such a great job out there and fighting his way up into the top 5 from the pit lane, I was absolutely buzzing and desperate to get out in the car! It was an unfortunate mistake by James, which sadly cost us what would have been an astonishing podium finish after starting from the pits. After a promising start, this has turned into a very tough weekend and I just hope that we can get hold of another engine so that we can get out in Monday's race."
After obtaining a spare engine from rival Dodge Viper team RPM Motorsport, the Brookspeed Team Trimite mechanics worked non stop during Sunday and then through the night to get the borrowed engine fitted into the car.
Monday morning arrived and to the relief of Jon and James, the replacement engine was in the car and running. Jon took the car out for Monday morning's warm up session. After some installation laps in the cold and wet conditions, Jon confirmed that the car was running well, setting a lap time that was 8.6 seconds faster than any other car!
On to Monday's race, and in dry and bright conditions, this time it was Jon's turn to take the wheel and start the Viper from the pit lane. Jon exited the pits as soon as the pit lane was opened, joining the circuit in last place. He completed the first lap 17 seconds behind the race leader, having already overtaken 3 cars. Jon continued to work his way past the slower cars and he was able to get up into an excellent 11th position before the pitstop window opened. Again the team chose to use a slightly different pitstop strategy, bringing Jon in for the driver change around 2 - 3 laps earlier than the rest of the field. The driver change was completed flawlessly, well inside the 45 second mandatory pitstop time, giving James time to get comfortable in the car. James got back onto circuit and when all the other cars had completed their stops, he found himself in 10th place. Over the next 10 laps James fought his way past 4 other cars to get the team up into the points positions. After a late race collision involving an Ascari, Lamborghini and a Ferrari, it looked as if James was going to be able to grab 5th position, only for the Ferrari to swerve violently to defend the position up Clay Hill, blocking James from completing the manoeuvre.
As the chequered flag fell Brookspeed Team Trimite were delighted to watch the car cross the line in 6th position, earning the team their best ever finish in British GT's and a well deserved 3 points towards the Championship.
Jon said, "Well, to get the car well up into the top ten and also into the points after starting from the pit lane was a fantastic result. We didn't even have any safety car periods during today's race, which makes getting the car into the points even more impressive. All of the team and everyone that has supported us this weekend should be very proud. We were less than 23 seconds behind the race winner at the end, and starting from pit lane cost us well over 10 seconds, so I believe that a podium finish would have been possible if we hadn't been excluded from qualifying. Still, it has been a very positive weekend and it was a pleasure to work with James and Brookspeed Team Trimite. I am very confident that we will be a force to be reckoned with for the rest of this season. Bring on the next rounds of the Championship at Knockhill!"