+ #4 Mercedes-AMG extends championship lead with victory in Portugal
+ Johnston and Salkeld score maiden GT4 win with Century
+ Result: Autodromo do Algarve
Jonny Adam equalled the Intelligent Money British GT Championship wins record by taking his third victory of the season alongside 2 Seas Motorsport co-driver James Cottingham in an often wild but also strategy-driven three-hour race at Autodromo do Algarve.
The duo extended their championship advantage by leading home Optimum Motorsport's Mark Radcliffe and Rob Bell after the latter held off Sandy Mitchell - who shared Barwell Motorsport's Lamborghini with Shaun Balfe - throughout the final 30 minutes.
Two Safety Car periods in the first half-hour prompted the majority of teams to make two of their three mandatory driver changes earlier than expected. And when that particular strategy shook out it was Michael Johnston and Chris Salkeld who found themselves on top in GT4.
Century Motorsport's BMW duo scored their first overall class win by 3.3s from Enduro Motorsport's new Mercedes-AMG featuring Darren Burke and Harry George who inherited second place from pole sitters Josh Miller and Seb Hopkins after the latter clashed with Raceway's #55 Ginetta. The unscheduled pitstop for repairs looked set to promote Toro Verde's James Townsend and Mike Simpson to the podium, but their chances were dashed by a puncture at the start of the final lap. DTO Motorsport's Josh Rowledge and Aston Millar therefore finished third.
Meanwhile, Kevin Tse and Chris Froggatt looked well set for their fourth successive GT3 Silver-Am win until a late drive-through handed Barwell's Mark Sansom and Will Tregurtha class victory.
GT3: 2 SEAS TRIUMPH ON THE PORTUGUESE COAST
Adam’s record-equalling exploits will deservedly make the headlines but it was Cottingham’s superb middle stint that helped the pair overcome both a turbulent first hour and their impending 10-second Compensation Time, which ultimately allowed his co-driver to equal Phil Keen’s wins tally.
Indeed, no-one navigated the topsy-turvy opening exchanges better than Cottingham and Adam, who avoided the multitude of mishaps experienced by their rivals.
Miguel Ramos made the most of his pole position to rocket away at the start, with the Garage 59 McLaren leading Cottingham and Ian Loggie in the sister 2 Seas Mercedes-AMG through the early laps. But that was as calm as the opening period got after two safety cars within the first 30 minutes prompted teams to seriously mix up their strategies.
The first was called after just nine minutes when Century’s #22 BMW GT4 plunged itself into the gravel at turn five. With the race neutralised, the majority of the field opted to pit and complete their first of three mandatory driver changes. Optimum decided against the stop and kept Radcliffe circulating to leave their McLaren as a strategic outlier for much of the race.
When racing got underway again Dan Harper put on a superb show by repeatedly pulling some great passes down the pit straight. That moved Century’s BMW up to second behind Radcliffe, but just when the race was settling down Paddock Motorsport’s #7 McLaren GT4 stopped on track after an exhaust issue caused flames to lick from the engine bay.
Cue a second safety car after just 32 minutes and another wave of stops that jumbled the order hugely. Some drivers were delayed at pit exit by the safety car leading the pack around, but RAM Racing pulled a blinder by getting Raffaele Marciello in from seventh, switched with John Ferguson, and the car back out in second ahead of Sansom’s Barwell Lamborghini, Lucky Khera’s RACE LAB McLaren, Matt Topham’s Enduro Aston Martin and Cottingham.
The second hour was enlivened by a resumption of the epic battle between Ferguson and Cottingham last seen at Snetterton, albeit with heat being a far bigger factor. When Sansom fell back and Khera and Topham came together, Cottingham vaulted the lot to attack Ferguson, but once again the RAM Mercedes-AMG put up a determined fight. Only a great around-the-outside move into turn 13 could unlock his defences.
Cottingham then put in the drive that decided the race by pulling the best part of half-a-minute clear as Ferguson acted as the cork in the bottle behind. That gap would prove vital in 2 Seas overturning its Compensation Time and getting Adam back out in the race lead for the final hour.
Although a third safety car – called to retrieve the #56 Raceway Ginetta from the gravel – eroded Adam’s lead to just a few lengths, he still had enough in-hand to stay ahead to the flag.
After gambling to stay out during the first safety car, Optimum made the most of the following ones to elevate Bell into second once the final cycle of stops had worked out. Bell chased Adam hard, but when his mirrors became full of Sandy Mitchell’s Barwell Lamborghini – which had also opted not to stop as early under the first caution period – the pressure was off Adam.
Bell did hold off Mitchell to snatch a second podium of the year for Optimum’s GT3 crew, as Marciello built on Ferguson’s work to come home fifth despite serving the maximum Compensation Time at the final pit stop.
Darren Leung and Harper looked well out of it after the car was handed a 30-second stop-go for overtaking under the first safety car, but the later caution periods helped negate much of that, allowing the Century BMW to take the flag in fifth.
Phil Keen and Ian Loggie rounded out the top six after serving a late drive-through penalty for track limits. Sansom and Will Tregurtha took the Silver-Am victory in ninth aboard their Barwell Lamborghini.
GT4: SALKELD SCORES LONG OVERDUE VICTORY
Johnston and Salkeld’s performances have often gone under the radar this year, despite the duo lying second in Pro-Am’s standings before today’s race. But with British GT’s three-hour format often favouring that particular class, the #14 BMW M4 was a model of consistency through the chaos as the pair came through from eighth on the grid to score their maiden British GT win.
The race itself boiled down to a three-car fight between Century’s BMW, Enduro’s Mercedes-AMG of Harry George and Darren Burke, and R Racing’s all-conquering Aston Martin of Josh Miller and Seb Hopkins, which perhaps could have stolen the overall glory had it not been for drama late on.
As in GT3, the early Safety Car periods prompted the majority of entries to make two of their three pitstops much earlier than conventional wisdom would dictate. The first caution period was caused by Johnston and Salkeld’s Pro-Am championship rival and team-mate Carl Cavers ploughing the car he shares with Lewis Plato into the gravel and out of the race within the first 10 minutes before the Pro-Am ranks were whittled further when Tom Rawlings was forced to stop Paddock’s #7 McLaren.
The two Safety Cars made the first hour unpredictable, giving teams the chance to try alternate strategies that would jumble the order. Both of Raceway’s Ginettas opted to run long, as did the twin Academy Motorsport Ford Mustangs, which meant the true race order would only become clear once those four cars had made their final pit visits inside the final hour.
R Racing’s Aston had topped every session in the Algarve, and duly led the race early on, but it was also one of the first cars to stop under the first Safety Car, meaning Miller and Hopkins ran under the radar for much of the afternoon, as did Johnston and Salkeld’s BMW. The two cars were firmly inside the top six at mid-distance, and then both completed their final mandatory stops without issue to run the entire final hour.
In contrast, both the Ginettas and the Mustangs still owed a stop so, when the four cars finally did peel into the pits and dropped back, it became a straight fight for honours.
R Racing’s Compensation Time from Snetterton, plus the fact Pro-Am pairings enjoy shorter stops overall, meant that Salkeld assumed the overall race lead with half-an-hour to go, with Hopkins some eight seconds back, but gaining fast.
Hopkins pushed as hard as he could and got to within three seconds of the leader when a clash with the #55 Ginetta damaged the Aston’s front-left and consigned him to an extra stop for repairs. Hopkins would rejoin but lost two laps, and a post-race penalty for the contact set the car back further.
That released Salkeld to stroke the BMW home for a first victory in front of a jubilant Ainsley Harriott in the garage. Enduro’s Mercedes-AMG had kept things clean throughout and Burke gladly accepted the gift of second place and the Silver category win from the Aston. But there was more drama to come when Mike Simpson and James Townsend’s Ginetta – which fared best of the strategic offbeats and should have completed the podium – suffered a dramatic blowout as it began its final lap. That handed the place to Josh Rowledge and Aston Millar’s DTO McLaren instead.
Tom Wrigley and Ian Gough’s RACE LAB McLaren Artura was fourth, ahead of Simpson/Townsend and Matt Cowley/Erik Evans’ Mustang which completed the top six.
Freddie Tomlinson and Stuart Middleton lost their chance at the win when Tomlinson beached in the gravel during the final hour.
Brands Hatch hosts the Intelligent Money British GT Championship’s penultimate round on September 9-10.