Charge from 12th to 3rd in first 2 hour race at Snetterton

After a disappointing qualifying for the championship leaders which left them with a lot of work to do from 12th on the grid they proved their skill and determination by charging through to take their third podium in a row and maintain their challenge for the 2007 GT title.

With the championship organisers ignoring FIA regulations and allowing all cars to run on the soft compound Avon tyres the team new it was going to be hard to compete with the already unfair speed advantage of the Dodge Vipers, Ascaris and Mosler. However, the longer than normal race length of 2 hours teamed with the superior tactics of Barwell and the strong driver pairing of Ben & Guy their was still hope of scoring good points at a circuit where both drivers had been winners in their Caterhams in 2006.

But the weekend did not start as well as was hoped. After a faulty power steering pump denied Ben of any flying laps in the Saturday morning warm up qualifying provided more disappointment for the championship leaders in the form of 12th on the grid for Sunday’s 2 hour race. With air and track temperatures rising as the morning went on the team and drivers agreed that each driver would be limited to 3 flying laps in the 2 qualifying sessions and with 24 cars on the track neither Ben or Guy managed to get into their usual rhythm and secure a front running time that there were capable of. Both drivers setting a best time within 2 hundredths of each other leaving them in the middle of the pack.

By the time the race started on Sunday the temperatures were high again and Ben & Guy were looking forward to making the most of the conserved tyres as the race went on. With the lights out and racing underway it was not long before the drama began as Phil Burton spun the third-placed Ferrari at the first corner and Guy, who was taking the first stint in the number 3 Aston, was forced to take to the grass in avoidance. Fortunately for Guy other cars had been slowed during the first corner action and by the end of lap one Guy had moved up to seventh place.

By lap five Guy (now up to fourth) was chasing down the Jones’ brothers Ascari closely followed by the two fastest machines on the track – the Daoudi Ferrari and the Adam Jones-driven Lamborghini Gallardo, as these two professional drivers really pushed hard to fight their way through the pack from the back of the grid. A lap later Guy had made his move and was passed the Ascari and closing in on team mate Paul Drayson in the Bio-Ethanol Aston, but with the Ferrari & Lambo hot on hid heels Guy’s attentions were spilt between attacking and defending. For several laps he managed to do both but after a great battle he had to succumb to the Italian stampede, as the superior braking of both the chasing cars was clear to see.

With Guy following the Ferrari & Lambo passed the Barwell sister car of Paul a few laps later the pair were beginning to look capable of taking a podium. Victory at this stage was also a possibility with Ben able to lap at very similar pace to Guy, this combination (the Championship leaders going into Snetterton) was still in a great position to catch and pass the three cars ahead when their slower team mates took over the cars at the half way mark. As the first hour progressed Guy was slowly losing touch with the 3 lead cars as he became caught up with backmarkers and the Jones Ascari also closed in on him as a result.

As the refuelling pit stops approached things got really interesting! All cars had to make a mandatory minimum 90-second refuelling / driver change stop, and then after this change tyres if necessary. Re-fuelling a hot GT car is a very hazardous activity, and any number of things can cause a big problem during this process. With the tyre stops against the clock, every second lost here could also have a drastic effect on the outcome of the race, especially if some of our rivals decide that they can ‘double-stint’ their tyres and therefore avoid a tyre change. Having spent several hours rehearsing these stops the night before we were confident that we would hold advantage over most other teams down the pit lane.

So, the top six race order prior to the first round of stops on lap 42 was Cole Mosler, Jones Lambo, Daoudi Ferrari, Guy’s Aston, Jones Ascari, and Paul’s Aston. He teams pre-determined strategy was to stop the Bio-Ethanol car first (as it is not so critical on fuel consumption), followed by the Tom Alexander car (with Michael then doing the longer stint as the faster ‘pro’) and then Guy and Ben’s car third as with two more equal drivers it is less of an issue to have different length stints. Fortunately for Paul, there was a brief safety car period just as he came in for his stop, which Tom was also able to benefit from. The unfortunate losers in the safety car scenario were Ben & Guy, who then had to make there stop under full racing conditions that cost the car time in the race.

Whilst the Barwell Motorsport crew had performed three absolutely stunning pit stops, with no fuel dramas and ‘hot’ tyre changes in under 20 seconds …many of their rivals were experiencing varying degrees of problems and disasters down the rest of the pit lane…! The Cole Mosler took 20 seconds longer to service than our cars, the Lambo somehow lost a whopping two minutes in the pits and the Daoudi Ferrari suffered a race-ending fire. By lap 50 all of the stops had been completed, leaving the Mosler with a 20-second lead from Jonny in the Bio-Ethanol Aston, the Jones’ Ascari which hadn’t changed tyres, the Harris/Bryant Porsche which had benefited from the safety car stop time, followed by Ben and Michael in the Astons.

Once Ben had dialled himself into a rhythm and warmed up the fresh tyres over the opening lap of his stint he set about rapidly closing in on the Bryant Porsche in 4th position at around a second a lap. As Ben caught the Porsche 7 laps later he was issued the bad news that a drive through penalty had been incurred by Guy under the first safety car just before the pit stops. As this penalty must be taken within 3 laps he chose to come in on the next time past the pits rather than lose any time battling with the Porsche out on track. Once through the pits Ben got back into chasing down the Porsche once more at the same rate as before but 3 laps later the Bryant Porsche blew an engine hose allowing Ben to inherit 4th position. Unfortunately for Bens team mate Michael, the Porsche had left oil into turn one and along with 2 other cars Michael span and hit the barriers. With only the number 2 Aston of Michael being able to rejoin the race (albeit a lap down) the safety car was deployed and Ben was able to gain back the time he had lost with the drive through penalty but those cars behind were also able to close in on him meaning at the restart Ben would need to watch his mirrors as well as what was happening in front.

Unfortunately the safety car intervention had not put Ben directly behind the 3rd placed Ascari of the Jones brothers and at the restart Ben had to pick his way passed 4 backmarkers to begin his pursuit of a podium place. By the time he was clear of the slower cars who had been too busy battling to let the Aston past Ben had a 10 second gap to close down but it wasn’t long before he got into the rhythm and as the laps past Ben nibbled away at the deficit taking away half a second a lap from the Ascaris advantage.

With 75 laps passed the gap was down to a mere 4 seconds and the chance of a podium was seriously on the cards and with the Cole Mosler going off at Corrum from 2nd place the next time round a possible Aston Martin 1-2 was in sight. By lap 80 the gap to the Ascari was just 2 seconds and with over 15 minutes of the race remaining Ben was planning how he was going to make his move when the opportunity arose.

A lap later the bad luck that had started the weekend returned and Ben reported steering problems caused by the heavy use of the kerb as he exited Russell chicane. With instructions to back off slightly to avoid having an accident Ben carefully guided the car round the 1.9mile circuit lap after lap gradually feeling for grip as the steering continued to cause problems. With the gap to the next car on track over 40seconds Ben did not need to worry too much about a challenge from behind and had to accept catching the Ascari was now unlikely and nursing the car to the finish became his priority. Strangely enough 6 laps later the steering appeared to correct itself and Ben was able to return to his impressive pace and begin to reel in the Ascari once more. But time had run out and the gap to 2nd was 6 seconds when the Ben crossed the line for the final time.

Despite the problems that they had seen throughout the weekend Ben & Guy were happy to secure their third podium in a row and with only top 5 finishes so far in their rookie season they remain 2nd in the championship and serious contenders for the title.

“This had been a great drive from both Ben and Guy, and as they are both still getting quicker and quicker they are becoming a consistent threat for victory in every race” said Chris Needell, Barwell Motorports Commercial Director.

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