Back On The Top Step At Thruxton August 26th, 2007

Ben enjoyed a fantastically successful weekend at Thruxton, scoring a double podium in the latest rounds of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship which moves he & team mate Guy Harrington back up to third crew in the drivers’ points.

These great finishes were the result of great performances by both drivers and the Barwell team alike, as we had to contend with extreme tyre wear and fuel consumption issues at the super-fast and abrasive Hampshire circuit. The Barwell engineers made many changes to the Aston Martin DBRS9s during the course of the weekend in their quest for the best set-up, and worked out very detailed tyre and fuel strategies to ensure that all their cars made it to the finish in a competitive state.

Having qualified for race one 5th on the grid Bens aim was to bring the #3 car in for the driver change in the top three and as the lights when out on Saturday afternoon he made his intentions known by immediately harassing the RPM Viper & Lamborghini of Adam Jones on the row in front. As they all approached the complex on the opening lap Ben made the move up the inside of both, but as they exited the left hander the second placed Team Cadena Aston Martin ran a little wide forcing Ben to lift off and let the two cars he had just passed back through. By the end of the 2nd lap Ben had moved back in front of the Lamborghini and was looking for a way past the Cadena Aston being driven very well by Barrie Whight. These two cars shadowed the second-placed Viper of Foster/Redwood whilst the sister Viper of Ellis was establishing a lead up front. A status quo then prevailed at the front as Ben was frustrated in his efforts to move up by the Cadena Aston and the Foster/Redwood Viper, although he clearly had more pace in his car than both of them. Ben was clearly in no mood to be messed around this weekend, and on lap 17 he swept past the Whight Aston on the exit of Church, and two laps went around the outside of the Redwood/Foster Viper into turn 1 to claim second place. The gap to the leading Viper was now 7.4 seconds, but Ben chipped away at that and brought it down to 5.9 as the two cars came into the pits for their driver changes on lap 24.

With another great driver change by the Barwell crew Guy set about catching the leading Viper of Mortimer as the second half of the race ticked by with the Bio Aston of team mate Jonny Cocker in turn chasing him down. By lap 30 the team started to get concerned about the fuel consumption readouts on the dashboards, which were indicating that at their current pace the Astons would be very tight on fuel at the finish. The engineers then radioed to all drivers that they needed to back their pace off. They were especially worried about Guy and called him to back off considerably. At this stage Jonny had slipped past him, and third place was in the bag without any problems. The leading Viper clearly had fuel and tyre wear worries of its own, and by lap 33 Jonny had reeled him in and slammed through at the fast Goodwood bend to take the lead. Guy and the Viper were now both playing a very conservative game, and it was frustrating for Guy and the team not to be able to take the fight to our rival for second place. A non-finish would have been much, much more frustrating, however, and we therefore shadowed the Viper home to claim a secure third.

After race one the team had re-calculated our fuel consumption figures with full race data now at our disposal, and the detailed fuel-conserving measures we had been instructed to use in race 1 had made a bigger saving in fuel than we initially expected. Thus the decision was made to use the first level of fuel-saving we had devised for race two, and thus we were freed up to run a much harder race on the Sunday afternoon. Jonny in the Bio car made the most of his pole position from the second qualifying session to lead the field away around the opening lap, and after only a couple more tours his Aston and the Simonsen Ferrari were pulling out a significant gap over the chasing pack. The Ferrari of Wilcox was at the head of this but was clearly holding up the cars behind, which were closely bunched up in the order of Mortimer (Viper), Michael (Aston Martin) and then Ben’s team mate Guy.

Up front Jonny kept on hammering in incredibly quick laps, with Simonsen keeping him honest, as they pulled further and further away. This was another top drawer drive from Cocker, as he put everything into trying to build up as big a gap as possible to hand over to Paul at the driver change. Michael and Guy were also putting in great performances, and were clearly able to go faster if they had been in clear air. Guy was driving very intelligently, realizing that he would struggle to overtake the cars ahead easily and was looking after both his tyre wear and fuel consumption. Whilst Jonny and Michael were both committed to long stints to give Paul and Tom the best chances respectively, Guy and Ben’s similar pace meant that they could run a more flexible strategy with the driver stints. With Guy unable to use his maximum pace and still stuck in the second pack of cars, the team called him in as early as possible from 6th place to change over to Ben, and give him the best chance of posting some quick lap times in a good track position. After the slight frustrations of the Saturday race the team were confident that they could release Ben to drive a much faster pace without running into fuel problems now that they had more exact data at their disposal. Everyone was really fired up to go for the win, and Ben immediately got stuck into what was going to be an epic drive.

Meanwhile Jonny had managed to build up a small lead over Simonsen, but had thrashed out a 20-second gap to the rest of the field as he approached his pit stop window to hand to Paul. This had taken its toll on the left front tyre, however, and Jonny reported that this tyre could well need changing at the stop. This proved to be the case, but the six seconds it took was nothing compared to the lead he had managed to build up.

Paul duly took over with the car still in the lead, and the initial Ferrari opposition was now out of the equation after a starting problem in the pits had dropped the Simonsen/Lester 430 down the order. The strategy with Ben and Guy had worked out very well as they jumped ahead of both the Wilcox/Burton Ferrari and the Michael/Tom Aston after some consistently quick lappery from Ben. It was going to be close as to whether they would also be able to usurp the Mortimer/Ellis Viper as well, but a slow driver change from the Viper crew cost them time in the pits and Ben was able to sweep past into second place after all the stops had shaken out.

The fight for the lead was now a three-way affair, between Paul, Ben and the Ellis Viper. As the race wore on, however, Ellis didn’t have the pace of the Barwell Aston drivers and slipped away from contention. The last 10 laps were therefore very nerve-wracking ones for the Barwell crew on the pit wall, as they watched two of their cars duel it out for the race victory.

Ben was seriously on a mission and was reeling off extremely rapid laps in succession as he closed in on Paul. Paul meanwhile was pushing hard and keeping up a strong pace, as he had done all weekend and with five laps to go the gap was still around five seconds, but traffic was playing a significant part as both cars carved their way through the lapped backmarkers and both gained and lost in turn. Ben was still closing, but it looked like he might just run out of time before he was able to get onto the tail of the Bio-Ethanol car.

With Paul now in sight, however, the Caterham Eurocup champion dug even deeper to produce two stunning laps on a very worn set of tyres. With two laps to go he was on Paul’s rear bumper as they blasted down towards the first Complex section. “Paul was trying to pick his way through two backmarkers, and as they braked for the Complex he went for the inside line to try and get past the traffic. Unfortunately for Paul I had a better view of what was about to happen so braked later and drove around the outside of Paul into the first right hander.” The two Astons then came out side by side, but it was Ben who had the inside line for the left-hand section and he took the lead with a superbly committed pass. With more back markers enabling Ben to get a margin over Paul over the following series of corners he got his head down and held sway over the final lap to score a great victory 2.5 seconds ahead of Paul.

Chris Needell (Barwell Commercial Director) said, “This had been a great performance from all the drivers and Barwell crew, at a track where we knew we had to maximize the strong high-speed pace of the Aston as the championship heads back to some slower, twistier circuits for the final two events.”

The Championship now heads to Croft in Yorkshire for rounds 11 & 12 on the 8/9 September.

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