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#BritishGT – Optimum’s unstoppable Aston Martin claims victory at Brands while Balfe McLaren wins GT4

Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam claimed the British GT Championship points lead with victory in the penultimate round at Brands Hatch earlier today following a thrilling battle against Sam De Haan and Jonny Cocker’s Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.

The Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin overcame a 10s pitstop success penalty en route to its second win of the season and record-breaking 14th of Adam’s career. TF Sport’s Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim kept their title chances alive by climbing from 10th to third after Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen’s erstwhile championship-leading Barwell Lamborghini retired with an overheating engine.

Elsewhere, defending Pro/Am champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson came through from 13th to claim their first GT4 win of the season, while Ben Tuck overtook two cars on the final lap to hand the Century Motorsport BMW he shares with Ben Green a hard-fought second place finish. UltraTek Racing’s Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman completed the podium.
GT3: JONNY AND FLICK MAKE HAIGH WHILE THE SUN SHINES

Having successfully converted pole into a 12s lead, Flick Haigh’s hopes of overturning Optimum’s 10s success penalty appeared to be scuppered by a lengthy mid-stint Safety Car period. Barrier damage resulting from Mike Newbould’s crash on the start/finish straight ensured racing didn’t resume until six minutes before the pitstop window opened, which left little opportunity to re-establish a suitable advantage.

Nevertheless, Haigh’s rapid restart and three quick laps offered Optimum a glimmer of hope against a chasing pack headed by Graham Davidson’s Jetstream Aston Martin, the similar Beechdean AMR-run V12 Vantage driven by Andrew Howard, and Jon Minshaw’s championship-leading Barwell Lamborghini.

And, sure enough, it was Jonny Adam who emerged just ahead of Darren Turner and Phil Keen, who struggled to find a space amongst the gaggle of cars exiting the pits at the same moment.

With Davidson’s co-driver, Maxime Martin, delayed by a 20s success penalty for winning at Spa, and Team Parker’s Rick Parfitt Jnr/Ryan Ratcliffe similarly handicapped, it was Barwell’s second Lamborghini that emerged as an unlikely leader after benefitting from a clear pitlane. Indeed, stopping a lap later helped Sam De Haan and Jonny Cocker jump from sixth to first as the race entered its second hour.

With Turner unable to match Adam’s pace, the battle for victory soon developed into a two-way scrap between Barwell’s Lamborghini and Optimum’s Aston Martin. Lap after lap Adam tracked Cocker, the gap never more than a second and frequently much less as the Scot searched for a way past. Cocker defended resolutely but, as the race ticked into its final five minutes, Adam finally prised an opening exiting Hawthorns before sprinting away to his 14th British GT victory.

Behind, a five-car battle for third was playing out between Turner, Keen, Nicki Thiim, Yelmer Buurman and Marco Sorensen who circulated together for much of the stint. That was until Keen’s championship hopes were dented by a blocked radiator and subsequently overheating engine, which forced the Lamborghini into retirement.

Thus Nicki Thiim inherited fourth, which became third just before the chequered flag at Turner’s expense. The TF Sport Aston Martin he shares with Mark Farmer started 10th but claimed the final podium place and, with it, retained a chance of winning the title at Donington Park next month.

ERC Sport’s Lee Mowle and Buurman finished fifth, one place ahead of TF Sport’s second Aston Martin shared by Derek Johnston and Marco Sorensen who once again set Sunoco Fastest Lap, while Team Parker Racing’s #7 Bentley finished seventh.

Haigh’s stellar opening stint, in which she pulled a 12s gap on the chasing pack inside just 30 minutes, was also recognised with the Blancpain Driver of the Weekend Award.

As it stands, Haigh and Adam will take a 17.5-point lead over Minshaw and Keen into the final round next month, while Farmer and Thiim are another point behind.
GT4: CENTURY’S LATE SURGE NOT ENOUGH TO DENY BALFE

The same Safety Car period that temporarily halted Optimum’s GT3 charge had a more significant impact on the GT4 result thanks to British GT’s handicap system.

Ben Green jumped Century Motorsport team-mate Dean Macdonald to lead the opening stint ahead of the second BMW, Tolman’s #4 McLaren driven by Charlie Fagg, both Academy Astons of Tom Wood and Will Moore, and Finlay Hutchison’s Equipe Verschuur 570S.

Ordinarily, the additional minimum pitstop time served by all Silver Cup crews is negated by their natural performance advantage over Pro/Ams. But, with the Safety Car reducing their chances of building a sufficient gap, it was all change after the pit window closed.

Instead, Balfe Motorsport’s Mike Robinson – whose co-driver Graham Johnson had earlier rocketed up the order from 13th despite battling understeer – emerged with a healthy class lead ahead of Martin Plowman’s UltraTek Racing Nissan and the Team Parker Racing Mercedes-AMG of Scott Malvern.

The trio began their second stint spread apart but were soon covered by just two seconds. Robinson managed to evade his pursuers long enough for Malvern’s increasing pressure to distract Plowman, whose attention switched from attack to defence.

While that allowed Robinson to re-establish a six-second lead by the chequered flag, Plowman and Malvern were soon joined in the fight for second by the same Century BMW that had earlier led the opening stint. Ben Tuck had already passed Joe Osborne before setting his sights on the podium, and by the final lap he was in position to attack. First up was Malvern, whom he passed at Pilgrim’s Drop, before also relieving Plowman of second on the run to the line. Less than 0.2s covered all three at the finish.

Behind, Osborne completed Tolman’s impressive comeback by finishing fifth after the team endured another very late night – their second in as many rounds – changing the #56 McLaren’s engine. A second PMW Expo Team of the Weekend Award in as many events was fully deserved once again.

Sixth went to HHC Motorsport’s Callum Pointon and Patrik Matthiesen who slightly reduced their deficit to championship leader Jack Mitchell. The Century driver did well to recover from the full 20s success penalty, as well as the extra 30s served by all Silver Cup crews, after co-driver Macdonald handed the BMW over in second place.

Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding were best placed of the Pro/Am runners before contact at Graham Hill Bend knocked their Steller Motorsport Toyota out of contention just before the pitstops. They recovered to finish eighth in class ahead of Tolman’s Michael O’Brien and Charlie Fagg, and ProTechnika’s Anna Walewska and Tom Canning.

Academy’s hopes ultimately came to nought but their pace was rewarded with Matt Nicoll-Jones setting the Sunoco Fastest Lap.

All of that leaves Mitchell 10 points clear of team-mates Tuck and Green, with Matthiesen and Pointon a further 3.5 further back in third ahead of British GT’s Donington decider on September 22/23.
DRIVER QUOTES

Flick Haigh, #75 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “I was worried about the Safety Car because I was in a good rhythm and had built a good gap but then suddenly it was all gone. I was struggling a bit towards the end with the car and heat but managed to pull just enough of a gap again – I was very conscious of the pitstop success penalty. The Safety Car period gave us another challenge to overcome but we responded well.”

Graham Johnson, #501 Balfe Motorsport McLaren 570S GT4: “We don’t know what the problem is but something wasn’t right on the formation lap – it sounded like a bag of tools in the passenger footwell! The noise stopped but then there was a lot of understeer and it sounded like the front of the car was hitting the ground. So it was a case of finding a way to drive around the problem before Mike – who drove brilliantly – got in. It feels great to win again and Balfe really deserve this.”