Optimum’s Wilkinson and Ellis win British GT’s thrilling away day at Spa
Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis converted pole position into their first British GT Championship victory together at Spa-Francorchamps today after their Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin beat Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod (RAM Racing) by 10.5s.
However, their largely serene two hours at the front of the field was in stark contrast to the other 39 entries which combined to produce another classic British GT encounter that ended with TF Sport’s Ash Hand and Tom Canning claiming GT4 victory in dramatic circumstances.
Team Parker Racing’s Ryan Ratcliffe and Glynn Geddie completed the overall podium after seeing off Balfe Motorsport’s late challenge, which featured the Bentley and McLaren plus RAM’s Mercedes-AMG somehow battling three-wide through Eau Rouge without making contact.
Meanwhile, late heart-break for long-time leaders Josh Smith and James Dorlin promoted their Tolman Motorsport team-mates Lewis Proctor and Jordan Collard to second, while TF Sport’s other Aston Martin shared by Patrick Kibble and Josh Price completed the class podium.
Further back, Balfe’s Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien won GT4’s Pro/Am class from Invictus Games Racing’s Steve McCulley and Matt George, and Nick Jones and Scott Malvern (Team Parker Racing).
GT3: OPTIMUM’S ASTON SAILS TO TROUBLE-FREE VICTORY
Bradley Ellis finally ended an 11-year wait for his next British GT3 win by claiming a near-lights-to-flag victory at Spa with co-driver Ollie Wilkinson, who converted pole position into a lead he’d maintain throughout the opening stint.
But while Optimum’s Aston Martin broke clear at the front, the chasing pack were busy tripping over one another during a fraught opening lap that saw Rick Parfitt Jnr penalised for spinning Sam De Haan and championship leader Adam Balon collect a stop/go penalty for his startline infringement.
Michael Igoe also slipped from second to fifth in a shake-up that featured Ian Loggie bursting through from fourth to second, Ryan Ratcliffe remaining third and Graham Davidson climbing six positions to fourth.
Wilkinson’s metronomic pace ensured Optimum’s Aston was never troubled by the chasing pack, which swapped places as the pit window approached. First, Ratcliffe moved up to second at the expense of Loggie who was then also passed by Davidson and Shaun Balfe – another driver who made significant progress over the first hour – when RAM’s Mercedes-AMG was spun around at La Source.
With no Pitstop Success Penalties for the top-two, Bradley Ellis and Glynn Geddie emerged from their stops in the same order as their co-drivers had pitted, albeit with an increased margin over Jonny Adam and Rob Bell whose TF Sport Aston Martin and Balfe McLaren had served 20s and 15s handicaps for finishing first and second at Donington.
Adam’s progress was then further impeded by a 10s stop/go penalty for Davidson’s earlier transgression, which left Bell free to reel in the heavier Silver/Silver crews ahead. He emerged from the pits with a 31s deficit but was right behind Geddie as the race ticked towards its final 10 minutes.
Both had been catching Ellis, whose lead was down to six seconds at one point before the Bentley’s repeated rebuffs of Bell allowed both the Aston Martin to pull clear and Macleod to close in behind.
A grandstand finish was in prospect, and all three played their part in what will be remembered as one of the best overtaking manoeuvres in championship history: Geddie, Bell and Macleod three-wide into Eau Rouge. While all somehow made it through without contact, it was Macleod who picked up two places in the same incredible move to seal second for himself, Loggie and RAM.
Behind, Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim battled back after being spun around in the first stint to finish fifth. Their TF Sport Aston Martin set the Sunoco Fastest Lap courtesy of Thiim, who completed a particularly eye-catching pass on Adam Christodoulou through Eau Rouge. Team ABBA’s Mercedes-AMG, which was at the heart of the action throughout, completed the top-six.
Behind, all seemed lost for De Haan after his opening lap spin sent Barwell’s Lamborghini to the tail of the field. However, his incredible comeback drive – for which he was awarded Blancpain Driver of the Day – helped Jonny Cocker salvage seventh despite also serving a 10s Success Penalty. That, coupled with their team-mates’ retirement, sees the #69 crew replace Adam Balon and Phil Keen on top of the standings by just 0.5 points with two rounds remaining.
A brake issue consigned Davidson and Adam to eighth after the initial stop/go penalty dropped their Aston Martin to fifth. They were followed home by WPI Motorsport and Century’s #9 BMW whose Pros – Dennis Lind and Jack Mitchell – enjoyed a fierce battle.
GT4: TOLMAN’S DISASTER IS TF SPORT’S DELIGHT
Two teams dominated this year’s race at Spa where contact at the final corner on the penultimate lap handed TF Sport its first GT4 class victory since 2014.
But while Tom Canning and Ash Hand also celebrated their first British GT wins, Tolman Motorsport’s Josh Smith and James Dorlin were left to rue what might have been after a punctured radiator ended their hopes four miles from home.
The #4 McLaren led throughout after Dorlin jumped from fourth to first at the start. He was initially tracked by both TF Sport Astons – Hand ahead of team-mate Kibble – Tolman’s second McLaren and Multimatic’s championship-leading Mustang driven by Scott Maxwell.
Jordan Collard underlined the McLaren’s pace by passing both Vantages before tracking Dorlin until the pitstops, at which point his and Lewis Proctor’s Success Penalty dropped the #5 570S out of victory contention.
Instead, it was Canning who emerged as Tolman’s biggest threat after passing team-mate Josh Price post-pitstops. The front two duly circulated together for the final 50 minutes during which Smith’s straight-line speed proved just sufficient to keep the nimbler Aston Martin at bay.
That was until the penultimate lap when Canning, sensing his chance, tried setting up a switchback at the Bus Stop. Smith drifted across to take the next left hander where an innocent collision broke his McLaren’s radiator.
While Smith struggled on until parking just after La Source, Canning breezed past to score an overdue victory despite leading just one lap during the two-hour race.
#4’s loss inadvertently helped the sister car’s championship challenge after second place for Proctor and Collard saw them close in on points’ leaders Seb Priaulx and Maxwell, whose 20s Success Penalty consigned them to sixth overall. Five points now separate the two crews at the top of the table after fellow title protagonists Callum Pointon and Dean Macdonald retired.
TF Sport’s other Aston Martin shared by Kibble and Price completed the podium after starting on the front row, while Balfe’s Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien thrust themselves back into Pro/Am title contention by taking class victory and fourth overall despite running outside the top-10 before the pitstops began.
Patrick Matthiesen and Mike Robinson enjoyed their best race of the season by climbing from 10th to fifth in Optimum’s Aston Martin. They finished ahead of Priaulx/Maxwell and Smith/Dorlin who were classified seventh despite failing to take the chequered flag.
Three Pro/Am crews completed the top-10, but it was Invictus Games Racing’s Jaguar that took the second step on the class podium thanks to Steve McCulley and Matt George. They were followed home by Team Parker’s Nick Jones and Scott Malvern who held off Beechdean AMR’s Martin Plowman late on. A gear selection issue for the latter’s Aston Martin at the pitstops prevented a better result after Kelvin Fletcher led the Am contingent over the first stint. Nevertheless, today’s results mean just 0.5 points now separate Fletcher/Plowman from Johnson/O’Brien.
Elsewhere, HHC’s Macdonald backed up his quickest time in yesterday’s qualifying session by also setting the Sunoco Fastest Race Lap before retiring soon after.
Brands Hatch hosts British GT’s penultimate round of the season in just two weeks’ time (August 3/4) when Drivers’ Championship titles could, theoretically, be decided for the first time this year.