Ginetta GT5 Challenge – Spa Francorchamp 2016
The sixth round of the 2016 Ginetta GT5 Challenge…
…was with the British GT Championship and the only overseas adventure at the legendary Spa Francorchamp GP circuit in Belgium, held over Friday 8th and Saturday 9th July. The TCR team with the 3 cars of Ian, Matt and Dan in the GT5 Challenge made their way over to Belgium on the Tuesday to enable some much needed testing on the Wednesday and Thursday before the actual race meeting itself. There was a little apprehension from the GT5 Challenge team as neither Matt nor Dan had ever driven the circuit, while Ian had only raced once before during last years championship.
Wednesday didn’t start well for Matt who was refused entry onto the circuit for the Track day event we had booked, due to being only 16, with the minimum age requirement of 18. Ian and Dan therefore took advantage of Jonny Adam (current British GT Champion and Aston Martin works driver) who had been lined up to tutor Matt, with Ian using him in the morning and Dan the afternoon. In order to help Matt as much as possible Ian allowed Jonny Adam to take Matt out for a few flying laps in his car, and then had Matt as a passenger himself to give him an indication of the racing line.
Thursday would be the real test of how well the tuition had worked and whether or not Matt had gained anything from the hot laps. It quickly became apparent that the work on Wednesday had been beneficial as Matt went quickest within the first 30 minutes of the session and both Ian and Dan went quicker than before. In the second half hour the Team sent all three cars out together with Matt set to lead them round. Unfortunately Dan got held up in traffic but Ian and Matt managed to work together for several laps knocking more than a second off of Ian’s best time and putting him third on the timing sheets within a second of the front two and nearly a second clear of the chasing pack. With Dan finishing in the top 10 as well there was a lot of hope for a very strong weekend.
Friday arrived and the weather was hot with an outside chance of showers later in the day. It was going to be a busy day with Qualifying in the morning followed by 2 races in the afternoon, so there was no room for errors or mechanical failures. Qualifying was at 11:20am and it was going to be a crowded session as we had the GRDC+ cars out with us again for this meeting, so the team got all three cars into assembly as early as possibly to give the drivers the best chance of some clear track space. Matt and Ian managed to get away together and started to work as a team to provide a tow on the two big long flat out sections. All was working well with the first flying lap with Ian providing a tow for Matt down the main straight, but then a number of small errors dropped Ian too far behind and they had to work for their own space.
It was Matt that made the most of his time and space, setting the fastest time and taking Pole position; some 0.5 seconds quicker than the champion elect Ollie Chadwick. Unfortunately neither Ian nor Dan was able to replicate the times they had achieved on Thursday and ended up back in 5th and 13th respectively.
The first of two races on the Friday for the GT5 Challenge was schedule for 14:50 in the afternoon. The weather was still Hot and bright and most importantly no sign of rain. As they formed up on the grid with Matt in Pole position, Ian on the third row and Dan in 13th, it was looking like another close race in the main pack with little separating 3rd to 10th on the grid. At the start Matt got a clean get away and led Ollie into the first corner. Further back both Ian and Dan had clean get aways and were in the fight with the chasing pack.
At the front Matt was doing an impressive job of keeping the championship leader Ollie Chadwick at bay lap after lap as they battled door-to-door. Coming under increasing pressure, Matt fended off Ollie well but was edged back into second on the penultimate tour. Matt wasn’t to be denied the success he had worked so hard for though, and on the eighth and final lap he got back ahead of Ollie at the chicane and on the sprint to the line managed to grab the win by 0.027 seconds. He also ended the race with fastest lap.
Ian ended the first tour back in 7th place, losing a couple of places to the massive tow down the main straight, but was quickly back into 6th and challenging for 5th. Gaining on 5th place man Jack Minshaw, coming through Blanchimont (flat 6th gear corner) but not quite close enough for a move, Ian was caught out by Jack braking slightly earlier than expected resulting in a minor nudge into the other car, which unfortunately caused the bonnet catches and strap to break lifting the front end up and impeding Ian’s visibility resulting in a pit stop. With the Bonnet fully removed Ian got back out on track, but this cost Ian 2 laps and he eventually finished down in 31st place. For Dan, the race went much more smoothly and from 14th place on the grid he worked his way into a strong 11th position finish. Gaining two spots on lap three, as a result of a two-car tangle ahead, he then moved into 11th place just before the conclusion and took the Am class win.
Race two of the weekend was on Friday afternoon, just under two hours after the finish of race one, so there was a lot of frantic work to get Ian’s car back together before the start. Luckily Matt and Dan had come out of race 1 unscathed so once their cars had been prepared for the race all hands moved to assist Ian’s mechanic, and got him out just in time.
Matt again was starting the race from Pole position with Ollie Chadwick along side, while Dan was back in 11th and Ian a very long way back in 31st place. Matt got another good start and led Ollie into the first corner and this time managed to pull out a small lead in the opening lap. Ollie fought back and by lap three had managed to get in front of Matt. Matt hit back next time around and soaked up huge pressure from Ollie until the penultimate tour when the champion elect managed to get ahead once more. At the flag on lap eight, Matt crossed the line just 0.3 seconds shy of another win and with a fastest lap just 0.002 seconds away from the best of the race.
Behind him, Dan had another solid start from 11th and broke into the top 10 on the opening lap and stayed there to the end of lap four when edged back by Alex Toth-Jones. Staying in the thick of a 6 way battle for 9th place, Dan reclaimed 10th a couple of laps later. Meanwhile, behind Dan, Ian starting 31st on the grid had an almighty challenge ahead but he carved his way through the order incredibly, gaining no more than 12 places on the opening lap. Ian continued to make great progress and had caught Dan’s fight with just over a lap to go and went into the final tour in 11th overall. Moving past Dan at the first corner, pushing him back to 11th where he finished, Ian was then on the tail of Steven Wells in 9th and Jonny Hadfield in 8th, with a good run through the flat out Blanchimont curve leading up to the chicane, this time Ian got his braking right while the other two out braked themselves, giving Ian the opportunity of a cut back and better run out of the Chicane allowing him to out drag both of the cars and take 8th position on the line and the all important chance of a front row start in race three.
The third and final race of the weekend was at 11:55am on the Saturday morning and again we were welcomed to the track by hot and dry weather. With the reverse grid being selected at 9th place this meant that Ian would be starting on the front row in second place with Matt down in 8th and Dan in 11th position.
Ian was along side Steven Wells on the front row and as the lights went out both cars got great starts and went into the first corner side by side, but with Steven on the inside he came out in the lead, but both had pulled a car length or two from the chasing pack. Ian managed to follow closely through Eau Rouge onto the main straight and benefited from the huge tow and went past Steven, but Steven fought back a couple of corners later out braking Ian to retake the lead, but as they came through Blanchimont for the first time Ian had the better run and out braked Steven into the chicane to lead over the line.
Behind them Matt had already made progress moving up to 5th during the opening lap and was in the middle of the pack behind Ian. Dan had also made a strong start and was in 10th place at the end of lap one.
As the leading pack headed up through Eau Rouge and onto the main straight the effect of the tow became incredibly apparent as both Ian and Steven got ‘mugged’ down the straight, and as they approached the 3rd gear chicane at the end there was a group of 6 cars trying to take the lead. Matt was one of the main beneficiaries of this effect jumping from 5th to 2nd right behind Ollie, while Ian was shuffled down to 5th place back behind Steven Wells in 4th and Jack Minshaw in 3rd and then Matt Palmer and Ryan Hadfield right behind. Matt and Ollie started to break clear of the chasing pack with the other 5 remaining bumper to bumper. On the next tour around it was Ian that looked like he would benefit from the tow down the main straight and a good run through Eau Rouge put him right on the tail of Steven but as he pulled out and along side, the yellow flags and Safety car boards came out so he wasn’t able to complete the move. Just behind Ian’s group Dan had managed to get up into 9th and was closing in on Ian’s pack just before the safety car period.
At the restart Matt made the most of it and on Lap 5 managed to get ahead of Ollie for the lead. Just behind the lead pair Ian had made a good run through Eau Rouge again and was closing in on Steven for 4th, but just behind Ian, Ryan Hadfield had had an equally good run and benefitting from the double tow managed to jump both cars leaving Ian ahead of Wells but still in 5th place. Staying right on Ryan’s bumper throughout the rest of the lap Ian was lining up a run through Blanchimont into the Chicane, but as they came around at about 125mph the back end of Ian’s car broke loose sending him around 180 degrees one way and then back 180 degrees the other, miraculously avoiding all walls and other cars Ian ended up facing the right direction and carried on, although dropping back several places.
Further back and earlier in the Lap Dan had been following Jonny Hadfield through Eau Rouge lining him up for a tow down the main straight, but again with the back end stepping out, at about 120mph, Dan wasn’t quite so lucky and ended up hitting the wall sideways. Although taken to hospital for precautionary checks Dan was fine, although the same could not be said for his car! Dan’s accident combined with a second incident on the circuit brought out the red flags, which meant the race had to be counted back to the last completed lap by the whole field, which meant delight for Ian as it put him back into 5th place but despair for Matt as he was pushed back to second place behind Ollie.
With 5th place in race 3 and his 11th Am class win of the year, Ian can no longer be caught in the points by any of the other Am drivers and is the Am Class Champion for 2016.
“We knew we had the pace from the first test Matt did on Thursday, it’s been an amazing weekend for him considering he hadn’t even seen the track before”, said TCR team principal Lee Brookes, “He proved his pace with pole in qualifying and another win and two seconds is great, although we know we had the pace to win all three.
“Two more wins for Ian in his class is fantastic, race one was just unfortunate but he did an incredible job in race two to come through like he did from the back. With Dan’s class win in the first race every driver has come away with some silverware so we’re absolutely delighted. The crash he had in the last race was a big hit, caused a lot of damage to the car, but thankfully Dan is OK.”
With only one round remain there is a nine week gap until the next round, bringing us back into the UK at the Donington International circuit during the weekend of 10th & 11th September.
Ginetta GT5 Challenge Driver Standings (after Rd16)
2nd Matt Chapman, 390pts; Joint 5th Ian Robinson, 242pts; (Champion in Am Class); 14th Dan Collinson, 97 pts (4th in Am Class).
Ginetta GT5 Challenge Team Standings (after Rd16)
2nd Team TCR, 649pts.
There is one more meeting over the year with the following date and venue:
September 10th & 11th – Donington Park International