Two podiums & 100% Championship Points Success for Barwell Trio Barwell Motorsport's three-car Aston Martin British GT squad enjoyed a highly successful Easter raid on Oulton Park, scoring a pole position (the first ever for a Bio-Ethanol...
Two podiums & 100% Championship Points Success for Barwell Trio
Barwell Motorsport's three-car Aston Martin British GT squad enjoyed a highly successful Easter raid on Oulton Park, scoring a pole position (the first ever for a Bio-Ethanol fuelled car), two runner-up spots and all cars in the points in both races. We were tantalisingly close to achieving the race wins on both occasions, and the Jonny Cocker/Paul Drayson car led the way for much of race one. The three stunning Aston Martin DBRS9s were undoubtedly the stars of the GT show at Oulton Park, with rows of people queuing to get a look into the Barwell garage during Monday's feature day. Fittingly we now lead the Avon Tyres Team's Championship after the first two rounds of the series.
There was controversy amongst the 24-strong British GT field, however, as the newly upgraded Ferrari 430 was run by two teams according to the new FIA Homologated car specifications, and the small amount of 25kgs of weight ballast it carries is woefully short of what is required to bring it into line with the performance of the rest of the GT3 grid.
In British GT each driver completes one qualifying session, with the first session counting towards the grid for race one and the second for race two. Opening the batting for us were Jonny, Tom and Guy respectively, in a session which on balance featured slightly more of the slower drivers in the rest of the cars than the second qualifying outing. With there being nothing to choose pace-wise between Jonny in Paul's Bio-Ethanol car and Michael in Tom's car during free practice, we decided our best policy was to split our two 'pros' up in the sessions to give us the best shot at getting pole position in each. This plan worked well as Jonny set the pace for session one, and secured pole despite his best lap being ruined when the red flags came out for a session-stopping incident. Amazingly, amateur driver Hector Lester was not far off Jonny's best-recorded time in second spot, thus underlining the car advantage that his unrestricted new Ferrari has at the moment. Guy swiped nearly a second off his best lap to date to take a very impressive fourth spot on his GT debut, and needed only another two-hundredths of a second to steal third place off the Bryant/Harris Porsche. Tom Alexander also continued his progress as he posted the 16th best time.
Although conditions for session two seemed slightly slower as the temperature was up, this didn't prevent Tim Mullen showing what this new 'GT3' Ferrari was really capable of, as he flew round to a pole time over a second quicker than Cocker's. Michael, however, was slightly handicapped in his attempts to try and challenge the Ferrari, as the higher temperatures meant he was struggling with the softer brake pads that were in his car. Even so, he held second spot for most of the session until pipped at the very end by the other new Ferrari 430 of Adam Wilcox. Ben and Paul both performed extremely well in a tough session to qualify 10th and 12th respectively, thus putting their cars in reasonable shape for race two.
Overall we were relatively happy with the way things had gone, but most importantly, we had carved out another little slice of motorsport history by putting a bio-ethanol fuelled racing car on pole position for the very first time. This was a fantastic achievement by everyone involved, and a credit to the engineering skills of both Barwell and Aston Martin Racing, who had developed the bio-fuel conversion for the DBRS9.
Race 1 -- 1 Hour (33 laps)
So, the game plan for the Jonny/Paul car was straightforward; Jonny had to 'drive it like he stole it' away from the start and build up a massive lead for Paul to try and protect when he took over. Simple! Sure enough, JC didn't disappoint -- a perfect getaway followed by a lead of nearly two seconds after the opening lap...! Also making cracking starts were Guy and Tom, with Guy moving straight up to third and Tom taking two scalps on the first lap. Jonny was mighty during the opening stages of the race, and the Bio-Ethanol car was running beautifully as he ground out a series of laps over the first eight laps which put him nearly 11 seconds ahead of Lester's Ferrari. Guy had been involved in a little skirmish with the Bryant Porsche that had dropped him to fourth, but he was comfortably holding station in this position, belying his lack of experience at this level. Tom, meanwhile, had moved his Aston up to 14th overall, and was certainly enjoying his first stint of the season.
Everything was looking good for Jonny, and the only thing that could really screw us up now would be a safety car period. Shortly after mutterings to that extent had been made on the pit wall, incredibly the dreaded 'SC' boards and yellow flags appeared on lap nine.... and stayed out for three very frustrating laps. Jonny's hard-earned 11 seconds of track was immediately wiped out, and we knew straight away that this would put Paul under immense pressure later on. Our only saving grace was the fact that a backmarker sat between Jonny's Aston and Lester's Ferrari, holding the latter up slightly at the restart. Cocker was able to get the hammer down again for another eight laps before pitting, but we knew that Paul was going to have to drive the race of his life to keep hold of the lead. Guy had kept both the Bryant Porsche and the Lester Ferrari in his sights from fourth, and had coped admirably with a slightly flat-spotted rear tyre that had occurred during the earlier Porsche incident. He had also been forced to deal with not having any dashboard readout after it mysteriously went down just before the race. This meant he had no rpm indicator, gearshift lights or gear position screen, and under these circumstances his debut drive was all the more impressive.
In the Tom Alexander camp, the Safety Car had had a converse effect on the fortunes of this car to those of the Cocker/Drayson machine. With Tom chasing from lower down the order, the Safety Car period wiped out the advantage of the pack in front, and then at the re-start he pulled off a superb manoeuvre to overtake a Porsche in front as they braked for the first corner. At the end of that lap he brought his car into the pits in 13th spot, but this was a great time to pit as the majority of the field were still jostling for position following the SC period.
Jonny was one of the last to pit as he worked on handing over as big a lead as possible to Paul. As he exited the pits, Paul had a lead of around five seconds over the Bryant/Harris Porsche and the Lester/Mullen Ferrari. With Tim Mullen now at the wheel of the red 430 this car was absolutely flying, and it seemed only a matter of time before he cut his way through into the lead. That was without reckoning on an incredibly stern defensive drive from Matt Harris in the Porsche, however, which kept Mullen at bay as the race entered its last 20 minutes. This battle for second allowed Paul to concentrate on the job of leading a British GT race for the very first time aboard the Bio-Ethanol DBRS9! Drayson responded superbly to the task in hand, and immediately started lapping right on his qualifying pace. He got quicker and quicker every lap, and with 10 laps to go was actually pulling away from the squabbling Porsche and Ferrari behind. The excitement amongst the Barwell crew grew and grew, as it still seemed possible that Paul could pull off a historic victory.
With nine laps to go, however, all of a sudden there was a flash of red Ferrari behind the green Aston as they came into Lodge corner. Having finally dispatched the Harris Porsche, Mullen was on Paul's tail and in his eagerness to get a good exit onto the start/finish straight Drayson got a little too greedy with the throttle and spun his Aston through 360 degrees. He collected the moment and rejoined in sixth place, but sadly all hopes of victory were now dashed. There was light at the end of the tunnel, though, as screaming past Paul's car as he rejoined was Michael Bentwood, who was on the charge of his life. Having carved his way past some of the lower order during the opening stages of his stint, he was up to fifth and had been hunting down the Ashburn/Williams Porsche ahead. When this pitted with a problem he moved into fourth place but had a big empty expanse of track ahead of him, as the third-placed Ascari of the Jones brothers was a long way up the road. Michael then put in a scintillating series of laps that matched race leader Mullen's pace, and with six to go he had hauled himself onto the tail of the Ascari.
Overtaking in a GT car around the fast but narrow curves of Oulton Park isn't the easiest of tasks, but Michael took less than a lap to pounce on the Ascari and caught him by surprise with an outbraking move at Cascades corner. The Harris Porsche was next in his sights, but with its slippery shape the 997 Porsche is a very hard car to pass. Not according to the Bentwood book of overtaking, however! On the very next lap he got a good run coming out of Cascades, and tried to sneak down the inside of Harris as they blasted down the straight towards Island Bend. Harris blocked this move, so Michael switched to the outside line and to the amazement of the Porsche driver stayed right alongside him as they rounded the 4th gear left-hander. Michael was then able to get the inside line for the right-handed Shell Hairpin, and claimed second place after an outstanding manoeuvre!
Michael's second place was secure over the remaining four laps, but the finishing position for Ben de Zille Butler was definitely not done and dusted. Ben had taken over from Guy at the half way mark, and was now out there up against some seriously quick and experienced drivers. Like Guy, the Caterham Eurocup Champion was also in his first ever GT race, and he responded magnificently to the task. Quickly getting down to his qualifying pace, despite worn tyres and no dash readings, he doggedly held onto a top six position -- the target finish for this crew in their first outing. He even managed to repel the 'on-fire' Bentwood charge for two laps, and with two laps to go was running in a solid fifth place. The 'other' Ferrari of Wilcox/Burton was closing him down, however, with experienced GT pro Wilcox now at the wheel. Starting the last lap, Wilcox was right on Ben's tail, and we knew it was going to be a tough one for the Barwell driver. Ben made his Aston a very wide one, however, and then tried to slow the Ferrari down going into the last corner so he could win the 'drag race' to the finish line. A backmarker compromised his exit speed onto the straight, however, and then Ben lost Wilcox in his mirrors as they scrambled towards the chequered flag. The white Ferrari was creeping alongside, but Ben held sway and claimed an excellent fifth place for him and Guy. These two are only going to get better and better as the season goes on....
Paul meanwhile got his head together after his spin and was only passed by the Wilcox Ferrari in the closing stages, thus securing seventh place on the Bio car's debut. Although Paul, Jonny and the crew knew that a podium had definitely been on the cards, this had still been a great performance from both drivers and the team, and an achievement in itself that the Bio-Ethanol converted car had never missed a beat despite only being run for one day's testing prior to this event.
Race 2 -- 1 Hour (29 laps)
It's a team and a driver's worst nightmare -- 10 minutes before the start of the race and it starts to lightly drizzle with rain...not enough to wet the track and mean wet tyres is the easy choice...but just enough to turn the circuit greasy and make life on slick tyres very interesting indeed...! In these sorts of conditions the rear-engined Porsches are better able to put the power down than most other cars, and at the start Michael came under immediate pressure from the Porsche of Richard Williams. On lap two there was then a big accident involving some of the backmarkers, and with crashed cars spread across the start/finish straight the safety car was deployed for four laps.
There was still a slight dampness hanging in the air at the restart, and despite trying his best to repel the Williams Porsche, this time Michael had to surrender third position. The 997 was the fastest car on the track at the time, however, and Michael then concentrated on hanging on to him and keeping the two leading Ferraris of Mullen and Wilcox in his sights. Ben and Paul were having similar tussles with other Porsches slightly further down the order, but were hanging on well in ninth and 11th positions respectively with 9 laps gone. Many other more experienced drivers around them were throwing their cars off into the scenery, but our guys were keeping cool heads despite the frustration of not being able to make further progress up the field.
By this stage, however, the moist conditions were clearly worsening, but without the sky actually bursting into full-blown rain. All our drivers were still reporting traction problems and on lap 11 Ben lost a place to the Campbell/Cole Porsche. By this stage the pit stop 'window' -- the period between the 23rd and 37th minute of the race when you are allowed to change drivers -- was open, and we immediately brought Paul in to change over to Jonny. The issue of changing to wet tyres was becoming more and more of a burning one, but Jonny is a master of damp conditions and has an exceptionally smooth style which gave us the confidence to save the time of doing a tyre change and keep him on the slick Avons. Also, coming in from 11th spot, this had to be the best decision to give us a shot at a decent result for this car.
Three laps later we brought Ben in for his scheduled stop, and just as he was getting out of the car the drizzle turned to proper rain for the first time. The call was made there and then to change this car onto wet tyres for Guy, and the Barwell crew quickly launched into action to perform their customary super-fast wheel change. Shortly after this Michael was called in after another fantastic stint from the local Cheshire man, just at the point where the shape of the race was really starting to change. In extremely treacherous conditions for a big, 550bhp, front-engined Aston beast, Michael had only dropped one further place down to fifth (to another Porsche) at the time of his stop. The #2 DBRS9 was thus handed over to Tom with a realistic chance of staying in a points-scoring position, and was changed onto grooved Avons ready for the final stint.
Whilst the heavier drizzle was good news for our wet tyre-shod cars, it was really giving poor Jonny Cocker some heart-in-the-mouth moments in the slick-tyred Bio-Ethanol Aston. All the team could do was keep telling him on the radio to be patient, and to hang on in there as there was no point in bringing him in again to change to wets at this stage. Amazingly, he kept lapping at a very close pace to the wet-shod cars, and with the time saved by not changing tyres the #1 Aston was up to third place by lap 16. The conditions then ebbed and flowed every lap, but Jonny (on slicks) and Guy (on wets) were clearly the class acts on the circuit, depending on whether it was a slightly drier or wetter lap respectively! Cocker quickly disposed of the Ellis/Mortimer Dodge Viper to take second place, whilst Harrington was now on a massive charge in eighth place and lapping quicker then the four cars ahead of him. Tom meanwhile was holding his own extremely well in fifth spot, and keeping the Ashburn/Williams Porsche on its toes just in front of him.
With six laps to go Jonny had a five-second deficit to the leading Bryant/Harris Porsche, which had started from sixth place and like his car was running on slick tyres. The drizzle eased off and then stopped on lap 26 of 29, during which Jonny took a whopping 1.2 seconds out of the Porsche to close to just 2.8 seconds off the lead. Paul was jumping up and down on the pit wall with excitement at this stage, with anticipation of what was now a very possible chance of victory for his Bio-Ethanol fuelled Aston Martin DBRS9. We then felt the dreaded moisture return to the air, and Cocker's stunning progress was checked slightly in an instant. He was still relentlessly shrinking the gap to the well-driven Bryant Porsche, however, and on the last lap was actually able to get onto its bumper in some of the braking areas. The two cars past the chequered flag with just 8/10ths of a second separating them, and Cocker was gutted as he knew that he would have been able to pass the Porsche given just one more lap. This had been a top-drawer performance from the youngster, however, and a race win is surely not too far in the future for him and Paul and the Bio-fuel car.
Another young man making a big impression on this race was Guy Harrington, who on lap 23 took the first scalp of his charge as he demoted the Lester/Mullen Ferrari from seventh place. On the next tour he had cruised past the Wilcox/Burton 430 and was now running in sixth place. Guy was driving the car beautifully on the wet Avons, and was unfazed by the tricky conditions at one of the country's most demanding race tracks. The Barwell crew then had a nail-biting couple of laps as we had an inter-team tussle between Guy and Tom over fifth place. With only five laps to go, Tom was not about to give up his place without a fight, however, and clearly Guy wanted to make sure that he could get past Tom without any risk to either Barwell car. Whilst Tom put up a stern defensive performance to try and keep his team-mate back, Guy was held at bay for two laps before he managed to sneak through and claim fifth spot. Incredibly, he then cut down the nine-second gap to the Ashburn/Williams Porsche to nothing in just over two laps, and then moved through into fourth place on the penultimate lap of the race. After Tom had slipped behind Guy he was exposed to the Ascari of the Jones brothers and the Lester-driven Ferrari, that both bumped him down by the finish. Eighth place was still a good result for the Alexander/Bentwood car, however, and earns them another Championship point.