Great Start in British GT Debut at Oulton Park

Great Start in British GT Debut at Oulton Park

The season opener at Oulton Park proved to be as exciting and eventful as expected with Ben and team mate Guy claiming 5th spot in race 1 on Saturday and 4th in race 2 on Easter Monday, a result which was above the expectations of the team at this stage in the season.

After a positive test day on the Friday in which more than one experienced driver ended up in the scenery Ben was pleased with how the progress was continuing. Despite having missed the teams pre-season test at the Cheshire circuit earlier in the year Ben very quickly got to grips with the car on old tyres and was lapping within a tenth of second of his team mate who had been present at the test, giving both drivers and the team confidence of a potential top six result in both races. With the new rubber being put on for the afternoon sessions both drivers found some more time around the demanding circuit with Guy just the quicker of the two.

The Saturday morning free practice session showed further improvements in the lap times and by qualifying Ben was confident of a top ten start in his GT debut. The format of the championship means that whichever driver qualifies in the first session must start the first race and the second session the second race. With Ben being selected by the team to do the second session – along with the Category A drivers – qualifying in tenth was more than acceptable and completed 2 top 10 grid places for the car - Guy having secured 4th for race 1 earlier in the day.

Guy got the pair off to a great start in race 1 with a move up to 3rd on the opening lap which was later taken back by the Bryant/Harris Tech 9 Porsche, and Guy handed the car over to Ben in good shape for a top 6 result, but the finishing position for Ben was definitely not done and dusted. Ben had taken over from Guy at the half way mark, and was now out there up against some seriously quick and experienced drivers. Like Guy, the Caterham Eurocup Champion was also in his first ever GT race, and he responded magnificently to the task. Quickly getting down to his qualifying pace, despite worn tyres and no dash readings, he doggedly held onto a top six position – the target finish for this crew in their first outing. He even managed to repel the ‘on-fire’ Bentwood charge for two laps, and with two laps to go was running in a solid fifth place. The Ferrari of Wilcox/Burton was closing him down, however, with experienced GT pro Wilcox now at the wheel. Starting the last lap, Wilcox was right on Ben’s tail, and the team knew it was going to be a tough one for the Barwell driver. Ben made his Aston a very wide one, however, and then tried to slow the Ferrari down going into the last corner so he could win the ‘drag race’ to the finish line, but a backmarker compromised his exit speed onto the straight and then Ben lost Wilcox in his mirrors as they scrambled towards the chequered flag. The white Ferrari was creeping alongside, but Ben held sway and claimed an excellent fifth place for him and Guy.

Race 2 saw a team and a driver’s worst nightmare become a reality – 10 minutes before the start of the race and it starts to lightly drizzle with rain…not enough to wet the track and mean wet tyres is the easy choice…but just enough to turn the circuit greasy and make life on slick tyres very interesting indeed…! In these sorts of conditions the front engined Aston Martins find it hard to get the power down and despite making it up to 8th out of the first corner Ben was soon back in 10th after backing off to avoid a sideways Porsche. Then on lap two there was a big accident involving some of the backmarkers, and with crashed cars spread across the start/finish straight the safety car was deployed for four laps. There was still a slight dampness hanging in the air at the restart, and despite many other more experienced drivers around him throwing their cars off into the scenery, Ben was hanging on well in ninth. By lap eleven, however, the moist conditions were clearly worsening, but without the sky actually bursting into full-blown rain. All the Aston drivers were reporting traction problems and by the end of the lap Ben lost a place to the Campbell/Cole Porsche. Three laps later Ben came in for his scheduled stop, and just as he was getting out of the car the drizzle turned to proper rain for the first time. The call was made there and then to change this car onto wet tyres for Guy, and the Barwell crew quickly launched into action to perform their customary super-fast wheel change. With an extra 50 seconds being spent in the pits during the stop Guy returned to the track in 14th place but after the disruption of all the stops had been completed was back in 9th place, where Ben had pitted from. The decision for wet tyres had been the correct one, however, and as the race developed Guy settled into a consistent rhythm as quickest on track and by the end had made his way up to 4th place. Giving the pair a pair of great results in the first 2 races at this level and a well deserved joint 4th in the overall championship standings.

Ben is next in action at Donington Park on 21/22 April.

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