Johnson and Robinson draw first blood at Brands’ British GT4 season opener
Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson recorded their second career British GT4 victories earlier today after a relatively trouble-free drive at Brands Hatch aboard their PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta. Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke finished second for Century Motorsport while Jordan Stilp and William Phillips made it three G55 GT4s on the podium during RCIB Insurance Racing’s series debut.
In a race characterised by its lengthy Full Course Yellow period and premature ending with 23 of the 120 minutes remaining it was last year’s Brands Hatch runners-up who kept their heads to record a 12-second victory.
Johnson started alongside pole-sitter Walewska but was able to make his decisive move for the lead in the opening laps before holding off a gaggle of GT4 cars over the next half an hour. It was at that point a sizeable accident involving, amongst others, Matty Graham’s fourth placed Generation AMR Macmillan Aston Martin, necessitated the FCY period.
Barrier repairs were continuing when the pit window opened after 50 minutes. And with British GT’s new FCY regulations catching some teams out Robinson was able to rejoin with a 15-second lead that would prove more than enough once racing resumed.
Further back, Freke had taken over the Century Ginetta from Walewska who’d been in the thick of the podium fight before the race was neutralised. And after passing both Stilp and Jordan Albert’s Beechdean AMR Aston Martin in quick succession after the restart, he was able to make small inroads into Robinson’s lead before the red flag.
RCIB Insurance Racing will be delighted with a podium on their British GT debut thanks to the efforts of Phillips, who lined up fourth and remained a fixture before handing over to Stilp. Hustling Freke all the way to the finish helped him record a new British GT4 lap record at Brands - a 1m33.165s - while he and Phillips were also first of the all-Silver pairings home.
Fine stints, first from reigning GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick and then debutant Matthew George, helped the Generation AMR SuperRacing Aston Martin make up nine places from its grid slot to finish fourth ahead of Albert and Beechdean co-driver Jack Bartholomew who gallantly chased Johnson throughout the opening 40 minutes.
Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell, who at 16 years and 41 days became the youngest driver ever to compete in a British GT race, brought the all-new McLaren 570S GT4 home in sixth on its competition debut, while Lanan Racing finished seventh courtesy of Alex Reed and Joey Foster.
Ebor GT’s Maserati GranTurismo MC was eighth after a particularly eye-catching early stint from Marcus Hoggarth who, along with co-driver Abbie Eaton, finished ahead of the JWBird Aston Martin and Stratton Motorsport Lotus Evora GT4.
The race-ending red flag was required to extinguish a fire that had brought the #56 Tolman Motorsport Ginetta’s involvement to an early end.
Round two of this season’s British GT Championship takes place at Rockingham in two weeks (April 30/May 1).
Graham Johnson, PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “The start was quite challenging because I was on the outside of the Beechdean car through turns one and two, but that gave me the inside for turn three so I was able to get after Anna [Walewska]. Then after that it was just a case of trying to build a gap. I lost a bit of time when Ryan Ratcliffe dive-bombed me at Druids, but then we gained a bit under the Full Course Yellow by staying at 80kmh while others perhaps didn’t.”
Mike Robinson, PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “Hopefully we can win a few more. I think we showed good pace in qualifying and the race, which comes from being an experienced pair in the same car. We’ve done a year in the championship and we’re definitely here to fight for the title. I could see the gap behind me back to Nathan, which was decreasing slightly but not alarmingly. I was just managing the car and trying to remain consistent amongst the GT3 traffic.”
Nathan Freke, Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4: “We came into the weekend thinking a podium was possible but we’d only done a couple of days testing before. The car felt great and Anna [Walewska] was posting some quick times, so we did think a win might be possible. Qualifying was difficult with the red flag but we managed to secure pole. Maybe if the race had gone on until the end we might have been able to catch Mike [Robinson]. But we’re a new pairing that’s only going to get quicker. We can go to Rockingham with confidence even if the pit-stop success penalty makes things tricky.”
William Phillips, RCIB Insurance Racing Ginetta G55 GT4: “It’s been really good fun! Coming up from the Mini Challenge into British GT has been great for me. Everyone out there is so consistent and the pace is pretty rapid, too. So to come away with a podium is special. We weren’t really expecting it; top-five and some decent points would have been a good start.”