BEECHDEAN SWIPE BRITISH GT TITLE


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Johnston & Bell took the final silverware of 2015, while Beechdean took the ultimate prize – Photo: Jakob Ebrey

Derek Johnston and Matt Bell lead home a TF Sport’s one-two in today’s action-packed Avon Tyres British GT Championship two-hour season finale at Donington Park where Beechdean AMR’s Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam overturned their two-point deficit to claim the GT3 Drivers’ title by 13 points.

The ninth and final round proved this year’s most incredible with two of the four championship challengers falling by the wayside within the first 30 minutes. TF Sport’s maiden victory also contributed towards its first one-two, with pole-sitters Andrew Jarman and Jody Fannin following the sister Aston Martin V12 Vantage home in second.

Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen’s third place helped Barwell Motorsport claim the Teams’ title ahead of Oman Racing Team and TF Sport, while Silver Cup honours went the way of Ahmad Al Harthy.

With sunny skies overhead, Jarman converted his second pole in as many race weekends into an early lead over Triple Eight’s Lee Mowle, who had to win if he and Joe Osborne were to have any chance of claiming the title, and fast-starting championship leader Marco Attard.

Derek Johnston also passed front-row starter Howard into the first corner, and it was the TF Sport driver who was involved in the race’s first major talking point when he and Attard made light contact at Goddards, resulting in the Ecurie Ecosse/Barwell Motorsport BMW spinning while re-joining.

Liam Griffin was the next of the championship challengers to hit trouble. A charging opening stint had seen the Oman Racing Team Aston he shares with Rory Butcher move up to fourth from eighth on the grid before coming to blows with Mowle at The Loop. While the BMW continued Griffin was forced to limp back to the pits and retire.

Attard’s race didn’t last much longer, a coming together with Beechdean AMR’s GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick at The Loop breaking a steering arm that fired him off into the Goddards barrier.

With just 25 minutes gone, and a Safety Car required to retrieve the terminally damaged BMW, half of the title challengers had bitten the dust. And when racing resumed eight minutes later it was game on between Mowle and Howard, who were down to fourth and fifth shortly after the restart courtesy of Bradley Ellis’ charging RAM Racing Mercedes.

That’s how they remained until the pit window opened after 50 minutes, Mowle immediately pitting to hand over the battle-scarred BMW to Joe Osborne. Howard was in a lap later knowing he’d be stationary for an additional 20 seconds thanks to the team’s Snetterton pit-stop success penalty.

Out front the two TF Sport Astons were locked in a seesaw battle for the lead. Johnston had closed in before the Safety Car only for Jarman to re-establish his three-second advantage. But that was down to just five tenths when the #17 Vantage pitted and Bell climbed aboard. And quick laps immediately after his stop ultimately made the difference in jumping Fannin, who emerged from the pits a net second.

Bell continued to build his lead thereafter, establishing a 12-second lead at one stage before losing radio communication with the team. From there it was a case of managing the gap and his fuel, and although Fannin did halve the deficit Bell came home a worthy winner.

Fannin survived a last lap altercation with Osborne’s BMW to finish 17 seconds behind his team-mate, although the Triple Eight entry’s brief spin into the McLeans gravel helped Keen and Minshaw complete the podium after overturning their 15-second success penalty.

Adam re-joined the fray 10th after his longer-than-normal pit-stop but calmly picked his way through the GT3 midfield to secure a first British GT title with fifth. 10th or a non-score would have handed Ecurie Ecosse’s Attard and Sims the title, but that never looked likely thanks to the Scot’s assured performance.

Benny Simonsen set the GT3 benchmark (and won the resulting Sunoco Fastest Race Lap of the Weekend Award) aboard the Rosso Verde Ferrari he shares with Hector Lester en route to a popular sixth place ahead of Mike Simpson and Steve Tandy’s Team LNT Ginetta G55.

Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer’s 22GT Racing Aston was awarded eighth position post-race following the decision to dock the Andrew Watson-driven Von Ryan Racing McLaren 16 seconds for contact with Silver Cup rival Ahmad Al Harthy’s co-driver Alex MacDowall. Ninth for Oman Racing’s Aston was enough to give Al Harthy the title ahead of Watson and Wylie, who completed the top-10.

Mowle might have missed out on the GT3 crown but he did pick up his second 2015 Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Weekend Award for a battling performance over the opening 50 minutes. Fourth place was also enough to move him and Osborne up to third in the final Drivers’ standings above Griffin and Butcher but below Attard and Sims. However, in the Pro/Am points it was the Oman Racing pair that finished third.

Derek Johnston, #17 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage: “We had a real tough time over the first half of the season struggling with the car, which is very different to the BMW I drove last season. But since Brands we’ve taken huge steps and the intention was to come here and score another podium. I kicked myself for messing up qualifying so wanted to come out today and make amends. I drove my heart out, probably the hardest ever actually, and then Matt did the rest to build a big gap. The team have given their all, too. Switching the car from purple to white at Brands seems to have made a difference!”

Matt Bell, #17 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage: “Finishing one-two here is down to a lot of hard work, which has finally paid off. And, personally, I’m very happy to be back on the top step. It’s been a while! Donington is mine and Derek’s favourite circuit in the country, and Derek’s local track too. You always pick one on the calendar where you want to go well and this was the one for us, so I’m really glad to have made it happen. Having said that it was probably one of the most stressful stints I’ve ever done! We lost radio contact and our fuel consumption was unusually high, so I was having to save it based on pit boards. I didn’t know how much to save or back off, so there was a lot to think about. That stint was like a swan: serene on top but paddling like hell underneath!”

Jody Fannin, #27 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage: “That was an interesting last lap! The gap was big enough over Joe but I knew I’d catch a gaggle of GT4 cars that would compromise my final lap and, at the first corner, had a bit of a wobble trying to pass them. I didn’t know if anything was broken heading down the Craner Curves, which isn’t the best place in the world to have that thought! I couldn’t get by the next car until after the Old Hairpin, by which time Joe was right on my tail. I defended into McLeans and Joe, trying to get the cutback, touched my bumper and spun us both around. But there was no malice in it and he came straight up and apologised after. It’s just one of those things on the last lap. A TF Sport one-two is a brilliant way to end the year after our tough start. I’m over the moon.”

Phil Keen, #63 Team Russia by Barwell Racing with Demon Tweeks BMW Z4 GT3: “Jon drove well after a bad start to make up ground. The Safety Car helped us a bit but we got our heads down and tried to be consistent, which paid off in the end. I think we’ve had the speed all year but just been unlucky. We were taken out of both races at Oulton Park and then again while leading at Silverstone, so we lost a lot of points early on which has made it difficult. I feel sorry for Marco and Alex on the other side of the garage because I think they deserved the title, but at the same time congratulations to Jonny and Andrew. It’s great to have helped Barwell win the Teams’ Championship; hopefully they’ll keep me on for next year now!”

British GT will return in 2016…

Tom Hornsby