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GT Cup

Bute Motorsport GT Trophy, Oulton Park, July 1st/2nd – Full Report
Price & Barff Achieve The Hat Trick

All images © Mick Herring

Fine weather greeted the GT Trophy paddock on the Saturday morning at Oulton Park, with the country-estate setting providing the perfect backdrop for the third GT Trophy race of the season.

The format for the race would again be two one-hour ‘halves’, with a break of an hour between the two. During the intermission, teams would be allowed to work on and refuel the cars, but would not be allowed to change tyres. The grid for the second half would be as per the finishing positions of the first, with the number of laps completed being carried forward, but with any other time gaps being deleted. There would be a free choice as to the start drivers for each half.

Qualifying

Qualifying began at 8.55 and would be of 45-minute duration. Any hopes that this would be incident-free, however, were dashed after we lost one key car and almost lost a second.

The Team Tiger Marcos Mantis of Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore was certain to figure strongly in the fight for the front positions, even if it would struggle to keep pace with the fellow GT500 Ferrari 458 Italia of Leon price and Rob Barff; and indeed it set the third fastest qualifying time. However, the orange car failed to complete its eighth lap and Finnemore was stranded somewhere around the circuit with no drive. The Marcos was recovered after the session, but it was soon apparent that the necessary repairs would take much longer to complete than the two and a half hours available, and the team reluctantly withdrew.

The GT400 MTECH Ferrari set the second fastest qualifying time, but with just five minutes remaining in the session, Michael Broadhurst arrived at Old Hall with his car’s ABS system suddenly refusing to cooperate. With no brakes available, the Ferrari clouted the tyrewall with some force and incurred significant front and rear damage; the driver happily escaping without injury. This brought out the red flag and caused the session to end prematurely, and also ensured that MTECH’s morning would be a hectic one.

Rob Barff took pole in the 458 with a 1:38.434. Michael Broadhurst’s 1:42.969 was the fastest GT400 time, while Colin Broster was fastest in GT350 with 1:48.205 in his Porsche 996 GT3. The sole GT300 entrant was the #95 Ginetta G50 of Lee Mowle and George Murrells, which took sixth overall with 1:46.995. This was the first outing for the car since Mowle had purchased it from Craig Wilkins a fortnight before and was going well so far.

H1

Jonathan Palmer runs a tight-ship at all of his circuits, but the Oulton Park team surpassed themselves by running the timetable 15 minutes ahead of schedule by the time the GT Trophy race began. Unfortunately, this spelled disaster for MTECH, who were still several minutes shy of completing the repairs when the pace car moved off to begin the formation lap.

Rob Barff got an excellent start in the FF Corse 458 and was already half-a-dozen car-lengths clear of the pack by the time he reached Old Hall for the first time.

Behind him, Alex Martin – sharing the GT400 #49 FF Corse Ferrari 430 GT with his father, Rupert – pounced to take second ahead of Gary Eastwood in the GT400 #8 FF Corse Ferrari 430 GTC. Barff ended the first lap 3.336s in the clear, but behind him the positions were already being fought over.

Colin Broster had already moved his GT350 #15 ABG Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3 up into fifth, at the expense of Richard Bramham’s GT400 #21 FF Corse Ferrari 430 GTC, and on Lap 2 took fourth from the GT300 #95 Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G50 of George Murrells.

Bramham also lost out to the GT350 #35 CTR Alfatune Porsche 996 GT3 of Chris Bentley and the GT500 #27 Backdraft Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo of Fiona James before the end of the lap.

Barff was already into the 1:41s by the third lap and began to disappear from view, but several battles were forming up nicely.

In GT400, Gary Eastwood’s sluggish start had allowed Alex Martin to quickly build a seven-second lead, but once he’d stabilised the gap Eastwood started to chip away at his opponent’s advantage at the rate of a couple of tenths per lap. Colin Broster, meanwhile, found himself coming under threat from George Murrells and was forced to up his pace. The gap between the two ebbed and flowed, but rarely got beyond half a second.

After just five laps Barff’s lead had grown beyond 24 seconds and his laptimes kept coming down – it was clear that no-one would be able to catch the #88 on pace alone.

It was at this point that the MTECH Ferrari joined in the race, David Back at the wheel.

Had the race started at the published time, the car would probably have been able to take up its grid place, or, at worst, would have started from the pitlane but on the same lap. Back got stuck in, but the five lap deficit was already insurmountable.   

Further back, Chris Bentley’s mirrors were full of white Lamborghini as Fiona James found more and more pace in the Gallardo. The Porsche stayed ahead, however, and managed to maintain  a one-second gap to its pursuer.

Barff’s searing pace meant that he was soon lapping the backmarkers, but the duels continued right up to the first mandatory pitstops. Eastwood had closed the gap to second to just a second and a half by Lap 15 – a poor lap from Martin and a personal best from Eastwood two laps earlier bringing the gap right down – but was unable to close further after being lapped by Barff two laps later, just before he handed over to Ian Hartley.

Murrells had pushed Broster all the way before pitting after 26 minutes to hand the G50 over to Lee Mowle; Broster gave the Porsche to Dave Rothwell – for his first race in seven years – three minutes later.  Colin and Dave are business partners at FTS Hatswell, so office bragging rights for the foreseeable future were at stake here.

Barff completed lapping the field on his 19th lap and stayed out for another three circuits before handing over to Leon Price.

With all stops complete – 24 laps gone, 20 minutes remaining – the order was 88 (Leon Price), 49 (Rupert Martin), 8 (Ian Hartley), 15 (Dave Rothwell), 95 (Lee Mowle), 35 (Phil Borough), 27 (Simon Atkinson), 21 (Phil Andrews) and 9 (Michael Broadhurst).

Phil Andrews had been one of the earliest stoppers, taking the #21 Ferrari from Richard Bramham, and was soon finding great pace in the FF Corse 430 GTC; unlapping himself from the Ginetta just after the half-hour mark.

Mowle was quickly closing on Rothwell for fourth and had got the gap down to under two seconds with about 15 minutes to go and a change for position looked on the cards; but the timing screens were showing that the Porsche had been given a drive-through penalty for a one-second-too-short pitstop and a pass on track was unnecessary.

Further ahead, Hartley was also closing on Martin in the hunt for second and with 14 minutes to go that fight too was below two seconds. Next time round however the #8 Ferrari crested Deer Leap alone and the yellow car was nowhere to be seen.

It transpired that the elder Martin had had an off in the vicinity of Island Bend and was unable to complete the final few minutes of H1.

Rupert drove the car back after the chequered flag and it was hoped that the car would be able to participate in H2; but the driver was complaining of neck pains following his shunt and the team decided to withdraw.

As Leon Price re-established the #88’s full-lap advantage over the rest of the field, elsewhere there were some very impressive driving performances.       

Despite his insurmountable deficit, Michael Broadhurst put in a simply magnificent stint in the delayed #9 Ferrari GT3, with lap after lap in the 1:45s – a pace that would have seen the car undoubtedly challenging for GT400 honours had it started on the grid.

But it was Simon Atkinson who made the most visible progress in the final stages of the race, setting ever more personal-best laps as he carved his way through the field in the Backdraft Lambo; the white car taking fourth overall on the final lap after an excellent effort.

But it was Leon Price who took the chequered flag as the first hour came to a close, and he would be carrying a full-lap’s advantage into the second half an hour later.

H2

There was a free choice of drivers for the start of the second half, but most cars had the drivers who ended H1 still aboard as they followed the pace car out of the pitlane; the only exceptions being the Lamborghini, which was piloted by Fiona James, and the #21 Ferrari, which had Richard Bramham at the wheel.

During the break, David Back had let slip the tactics that MTECH would be using in the second half; “We’ve told Michael to stay in the car until he gets to second place, and then I’ll get in to take the flag!” he laughed.

The mandatory pitstop times for H2, including success and pro-driver penalties were as follows:

#8 Eastwood/Hartley – 2:07
#9 Back/Broadhurst – 1:57
#15 Broster/Rothwell – 1:57
#21 Bramham/Andrews – 2:02
#27 James/Atkinson – 2:07
#35 Bentley/Borough – 2:02
#88 Price/Barff – 2:12
#95 Mowle/Murrells – 2:02

The cars left the pitlane behind the pace car and would begin the race at the end of that lap. Leon Price had clearly been watching Rob Barff’s start in H1 and did exactly the same; taking the 458 several lengths clear as the lights went green.

As the cars rounded Old Hall for the first time, Fiona James saw an opportunity to get past the Ginetta and went to the outside.

Unfortunately, she went just that little bit too far wide and her left wheels found the grass, which had the effect of sending the Gallardo into a looping spin across the track – the field thankfully avoiding the white car – and heavily into the tyres at the top of The Avenue. Fiona was unhurt, but her car was done for the day and the damage to the tyre wall would take some tyre to repair; so the Safety Car was scrambled.

Having made the perfect start, Leon Price would now have to wait until the race went green again before attempting to once more pull out a gap.

Having lost so much time in the first part – a damaged splitter compounding the delay caused by the drive-through penalty – the ABG Porsche tried a very crafty move and immediately stopped for fresh tyres under the safety car; in the process completing its mandatory stop. This meant that it would gain a minute back at the driver-change stop later in the race.

Unfortunately, the Porsche was adjudged to have again left the pit a second early and Colin Broster would later have to serve a second drive-through penalty. “I stayed out for three laps as I thought they’d misunderstood what we’d done with the earlier stop and that someone from the team would be arguing the toss. Then they told us that we’d served too short a stop. I thought about staying out anyway, but eventually decided not to be a naughty boy.”

The race went green again after two laps under caution and Price immediately went to work building up a gap on his chasers. This time, however, he would have company, in the form of Michael Broadhurst’s Ferrari 430, which stuck with the 458 for lap after lap.

So closely were they lapping, in fact, that there was rarely more than a tenth between them and the South African in the 458 was glad of the company; “He kept me honest!” he admitted. “I had a terrible time in the morning and was very erratic during qualifying, but things went much better during the race.”

Michael Broadhurst enjoyed his race, but was understandably unhappy at the circumstances; “It was a big crash this morning, the brakes failed completely,” he related. “The guys did a mega-job to get the car rebuilt, but it was all for nothing because the stewards brought the race forward and ruined our race.

“But the team gave us a great car today and David did a great job too. We did the race on old rubber but still managed to stay with the 458 in the second race. I have to say that Leon drover very well.”

The fight for second was between the #8 Ferrari of Ian Hartley and the #35 Porsche of Phil Borough and the gap was just half a second when the Ferrari pitted.

Lee Mowle had initially been right behind the fight for second, but had dropped back a couple of seconds by the time he pitted the Ginetta, some three minutes earlier than Hartley; and when Eastwood returned to the track, it looked as though George Murrells would be three or four seconds behind. However, Eastwood looked to be in trouble on his outlap and the Ginetta was through.

On the half-hour mark, both Price and Broadhurst pitted, followed soon afterwards by Rothwell (Colin Broster leap-frogging both Ferraris as a result of his earlier stop). Phil Borough was the final pit-visitor with 25 minutes remaining.

Chris Bentley took the Alfatune Porsche back into the race, only to find the Ginetta right behind him, and he was unable to prevent the G50 from going through to second. With 20 minutes to go, Rob Barff had the best part of two laps on the field (a mission he would complete five minutes later), while Murrells led Bentley by almost seven seconds, with Eastwood a further ten seconds back in fourth. Each of the top four cars was the leader of its class.

Eastwood had by now overcome his earlier problem – although his pace was still some way off what he had been achieving in the first half – and was closing on Bentley’s Porsche; and, with 11 minutes to go, and despite some robust defending, took the place with an assertive move round the outside of Old Hall.

At the head of the field Rob Barff was going faster than ever in the 458, setting a fastest lap of 1:39.302 on his 65th lap. Two laps further back, but running equally strongly, George Murrells was himself setting a string of personal best times as he extended his advantage over Eastwood to more than 30 seconds.

But there was nothing anyone could do about the 458 and Rob Barff took the flag after 67 flawless lap to take his and Leon Price’s third successive win; “We did qualifying and the race on the same set of tyres,” he explained later. “We wanted to see how the car would do on a single set, and now we know!”

“There is so much more in the car still,” beamed a very happy Leon Price.

George Murrells and Lee Mowle took GT300 and second overall after an excellent run – so good that Rob Barff walked over to George in Parc Ferme to congratulate him on his stint – while Gary Eastwood and Ian Hartley took third and GT400 honours.

Amusingly, Gary finished the race in the pits after thinking that it had finished on the previous lap, but the team quickly redirected him to Parc Ferme.

“We’ve only had the Ginetta for a fortnight and this is our first time out in it,” said Lee Mowle, whose entire racing career goes back just two years. “We’ve not had a problem all weekend and we used the same set of tyres throughout.”

“Today’s been really good,” added George Murrells, who is also a relative newcomer to racing (Saxos and Ginetta Challenge/Supercup making up the bulk of his CV) but who on the evidence of today has a lot of promise as a GT racer.

And how had they found the GT Trophy experience? “We’ve really enjoyed it,” said Lee. “It’s a really friendly, relaxed atmosphere here; we had a good day’s testing yesterday and a great day’s racing today – and a lovely curry last night was the cherry on the icing!” 

Chris Bentley and Phil Borough came home fourth to take GT350.

Round four of the GT Trophy promises to be a corker, with a three-hour race around the fabulous Brands Hatch GP circuit on August 20th/21st, and a big entry looks very likely. Definitely one not to be missed.

MH