Ginetta GT4 SuperCup – Brands Hatch Indy 2017
The weekend of the 1st and 2nd April saw the start of a new season and a new challenge for Ian and TCR. Having been so successful during 2016 within the AM category of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge Ian was looking for a new challenge this year, and following a failed attempt to join the British GT championship Grid with his 2016 teammate Matt Chapman, Ginetta convinced Ian to enter the Ginetta GT4 SuperCup that runs as a support championship at 8 out of the 10 British Touring Car Championship events.
This looked to be a big step up in both the competitive challenge and in the performance of the car, which was going to represent a steep learning curve for Ian, especially with such a late decision to enter the championship. The car for this year is the bigger Ginetta G55 in GT4 specification. These are purpose built racing cars with a tubular steel space frame and fibreglass body. The Engine is a sealed Ford 3.7 V6 producing 355BHP, feeding through a Hewland 6-speed paddle shift gearbox onto Michelin slicks. With a total weight of only 1085kg combined with a high level of downforce from the front splitter and rear wing and large Alcon 6-pot brake callipers at the front a 4-pot callipers at the rear, this is a significantly quicker car than last year with the ability to lap most circuits quicker than the front running Touring cars. With so much more power and the addition of downforce, there was a lot for Ian and the team to learn and become a real challenger for the AM category.
The first meeting of the year was at Brands Hatch, on the short Indy circuit, with the weekend starting on Friday 31st March with 2 x 45 minute test sessions. Ian is joined this year at TCR by Reece Somerfield as a Pro entry into the GT4 SuperCup, bringing a number of years experience in the championship and multiple race wins and podiums, which should provide some welcomed assistance to Ian. Having suffered engine failure during pre-season testing, resulting in Ian missing the Media day, and crucial testing at Brands he was on the back foot before he even started.
The Friday testing, unfortunately, highlighted just how on the back foot the team were with both Ian and Reece struggling to get close to their respective classes front-runners. In the afternoon session they tried a number of different set-ups with the car and closed the gap to the leaders, but still not where they wanted to be, so there was a lot of head scratching and discussion on the Friday evening to try to figure out where they could gain time. For Ian, it was as much about understanding the car and where the speed could be carried, whereas Reece needed to make some final adjustments to the set up to get it to where he wanted it.
Saturday arrived overcast, but dry with a forecast of April showers throughout the day. The qualifying session started at 9 am, so first out on track. The session remained dry and although early in the morning the track was dry and allowed them to get the best out of the new tyres.
After the 20 minute session it was Ian who was feeling the better of the two TCR drivers having improved his time by a very credible 1.2 seconds, over a 48 second lap although this still only gave him 16th position overall, it was a respectful 5th in class and only 0.4 seconds off the class leader. Reece hadn’t faired quite so well, not managing to find any additional time from the Friday testing and ended up 10th and a second behind the pole position.
The first of three races for the weekend and one of two on the Saturday for the GT4 SuperCup was schedule for 2:15 pm in the afternoon. The weather was still overcast but it had not rained as yet so the track remained dry for slick tyres. As the drivers formed up on the grid both drivers feeling a little out of position in relation to where they had hoped to have been, it was looking like a tough challenge ahead. Reece made the most of the start and was up to 9th by the end of the first lap. Ian, who was starting for the first time, made a good clean getaway, learning from what Reece had told him, and started to gain rapidly on the two in front who had not made such a good start. This triumph was short lived though as one of the more experienced AMs who had made an even better start from just to the side of Ian came storming through for the same gap, smashing into the front quarter of Ian’s car and sending him spinning into the wall opposite the pit lane. Managing to recover back onto the track it was obvious very quickly that the car wasn’t right with significant understeer and an off centre steering wheel so it was straight into the pits and the first retirement of the year. The end result was a few cracked panels, broken front splitter and misaligned steering, so all fixable for the later race. Meanwhile, Reece continued his fight to progress up the field, but despite being on the tail of the lead group the whole race and finishing within 1 second of 8th place, there was nothing he could do to make any further progress and finished the race in 9th.
Race two of the weekend was the last race of the day on Saturday with a 5:40 pm planned start time. However, following a number of accidents in the Touring Car qualification and a heavy downpour of rain it was looking tight as to whether they would get out or not before the 6:30 pm curfew. The heavy rain that had caused chaos for the Touring car qualification and the following races had pretty much cleared and the track was looking like it may dry but was still wet and slippery. Following advice from the team and comments made by Michelin on the durability of the new wet tyres, Ian decided to take the safe option and run with the wets. Reece was undecided and then believing the track would ultimately dry he decided to gamble on the slicks. With just 5 minutes to go before being called the heavens opened and there was a mad rush as virtually all the teams had to change back to wets, with only one competitor deciding to take the risk and stick with the slicks (which didn’t pay off as he was lapped several times!). So with just 2 formation laps to learn how these new tyres would work it was a leap into the unknown for both Reece and Ian.
Both drivers managed to make good clean starts and made places on the first few corners. But then heading down into Graham hill bend, Ian had a slight tap on the rear sending the car into a spin, dropping him to the back of the pack and a good 20 seconds behind the rest of the pack.
Reece, on the other hand, was having much more joy with the wet conditions and new tyres making steady progress through the field, making his way up to 5th. But as the conditions continued to change and drivers started to push harder a number of drivers had accidents putting out the yellow flags on a number of sections, where Reece was subsequently passed by two drivers under waved yellows, pushing him back to 7th. He fought back past one of the drivers and ended up finishing 6th in class, but after a penalty for the offending drivers after the race was promoted to 5th in the Pro class.
Ian continued to fight back and showed strong pace in the middle of the race, lapping only a few tenths off Reece, and with all of the accidents, Ian was praying for a safety car so he could catch up to the main pack. Unfortunately for Ian as time was running out the organisers decided not to deploy the safety car and then as the number of accidents grew, they called the race complete and red flagged it at ¾ distance, leaving Ian still 5 seconds off the pack, but still 6th in class as a number of AM competitors had spun out during the race, giving him his first race finish and a few points.
The third and final race of the weekend was at 3:00 pm on the Sunday afternoon, just after the second Touring car race, and the team were welcomed to the track by warm and dry weather. With the reverse grid being selected at 5th place this meant Reece would be starting in pole position, giving him a great opportunity to take some well-needed points from the weekend. Unfortunately, the cut didn’t work so well for Ian as all of the Pro cars are positioned before the AM class for the third race, and having finished 6th in class in the previous race he didn’t get any benefit from the reversed grid and ended up starting 17th overall and 6th in class.
Reece got a good clean start and held the lead into the first corner and was able to get up to speed at the front, cleanly holding off the chasing pack. Further back Ian had another solid start and benefitted from a number of the other AM competitors wheel spinning and was up to third in class right behind Jack Minshaw by the first corner. Reece continued to lead the race as they went round into lap two, while Ian was looking to make his way forwards, while fighting off the attentions of Jac Constable from behind. As they came around Paddock hill bend for the second lap, Jack and Ian had a much better run than the Class leader Dan Kirby and Jack was able to get up his inside into Druids. Ian tried to follow but had the door firmly shut compromising his pace slightly and allowing Jac to close in from behind. This allowed Jac to get a good run on Ian heading down the back straight and as they entered Clearways Jac made an aggressive move down the inside, pushing Ian wide and down to 4th. A couple of laps later Jac managed to work his way past Dan and headed off after his teammate Jack Minshaw, leaving Ian to find a way past Dan.
The positions remained reasonably constant for a few laps until an accident just behind Reece brought out the safety car and closed the pack up. At the restart Reece got a clean get away holding the lead, while further back Ian hadn’t faired so well, mistiming the start allowing Dan to pull away and the chasing cars close in, which gave them a run through Paddock Hill bend up into Druids, where he was well and truly mugged by Alex Taylor and Graham Tilley to get through – looked like Ian was being a little cautious with his defence!!
Up front, a couple of laps into the restart and the chasing pack got a run on Reece through Paddock hill bend and opened the door down the inside, where Reece faired worse than Ian with 5 cars managing to muscle their way through sending Reece down to 6th place. With a few scraps and marks to go with it.
Ian was determined to find his way back past Alex and Graham and was pushing hard to make up the places. Then as they came through Clearways, Alex got on the power too early bringing the back end around and dropping a wheel into the gravel, sending his car into a spin right across Graham and Ian, luckily both managed to avoid him and miraculously Alex managed to miss everything hard and carried on behind. However, just ahead of them two of the Pro drivers hadn’t faired so well in what looked like a similar accident and had come together and with the wall sending debris all over the track and bringing out the second safety car.
Reece, now in 6th place, got a good restart and was right on the tail of the leading pack, but just couldn’t find a way past and chased to the end of the race in this position finishing within 0.6 seconds of the car in front and few seconds off the eventual winner George Gamble. Ian made a much better restart this time and was right on the bumper of Graham and after a couple of laps had made his way past and was on the back of Dan again looking to gain 3rd spot. Just ahead of them Jack Minshaw appeared to be struggling with tyres and was coming under increasing pressure from Jac Constable, with Dan and Ian right behind. A small tangle between the Jacks, allowed Jac and Dan to push past Jack, but Ian wasn’t able to benefit from the situation and remained 4th. With time running out Ian was determined to get past Jack and onto the podium and it was clear he was quicker through Paddock hill bend and onto the brakes at Druids. So after a couple of looks and having the door firmly shut, Ian was pushing hard to get the right run, but his opportunity was lost as the chequered flag came out, leaving him 4th in class. With the top 6 in the AM class being covered by only a few seconds it was clear this is going to be an interesting battle over the year.
Not the best of starts for the Team, with both drivers being on the back foot for most of the weekend, but Sunday showed some encouraging pace for both cars and a good platform to build upon. Donington Park is next over the Easter weekend and they will be looking to get both drivers on their respective podiums for that weekend.
Ginetta GT4 SuperCup Driver Standings:
7th Reece Somerfield, 50pts
8th Ian Robinson, 40pts
Ginetta GT4 SuperCup next rounds:
15th/16th April Donington Park
20th/21st May Oulton Park
10th/11th June Croft
29th/30th July Snetterton 300
26th/27th Aug Rockingham
16th/17th Sept Silverstone National
30th Sept/1st Oct Brands Hatch GP