A rain soaked Oulton Park played host to the opening rounds of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship last weekend, and proved to be an action-packed season opener.

The incessant downpour which started as the race began, led to the race being started behind the pace car for two sighting laps, after which the United Autosports Audi R8 accelerated away from Andrew Howard’s Beechdean Aston Martin V12 Vantage, Alasdair McCaig’s BMW Z4 and the RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R of Jan Mardenborough.

Phil Burton in the Predator Ferrari 430 Scuderia was the biggest mover in the opening lap, overtaking the entire GT4 and GTC field before entering Cascades.

By the end of the third lap the United Autosports R8 had built a comfortable 3.4 second lead, with Howard’s Aston having slipped into the clutches of the five cars behind him; McCaig, Mardenborough, Duncan Cameron (MTECH Ferrari 458), David Jones (Preci-Spark Mercedes AMG SLS) and David Ashburn (Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R) leaving third place open to any one of the five.

Needless to say it was a hard fought battle and it wasn’t long before Jones and Ashburn soon caught Cameron, who was himself catching the Nissan of GT Academy graduate, Mardenborough, having set a fastest lap early on.

Burton in the 430 Scuderia was flagged by the stewards and told to pit having fouled his diffuser in the battle. As the lead pack entered Hislop’s chicane, Howard slipped up and went straight on down the escape road, thus conceding several places. By now, David Ashburn in the Trackspeed 997 GT3 R was now finding his feet, and the 2010 Champion put in the first sub 1:50 second lap of the day, with a time of 1:49.926.

Novice GT Academy driver Jan Mardenborough was, by now, catching McCaig’s Z4, and things were very close at the front of the field.

Further back, Jon Minshaw in his Trackspeed Porsche had been zeroed in on by Hector Lester’s Rosso Verde Ferrari 458, and on approach to Hislop’s Minshaw appeared to buckle under pressure of the chasing car and went straight on, gifting Lester the position. Hislop’s would be the scene of many an error; Ginetta racer George Murrells also visited the escape road on the same lap.

Continuing with the list of errors in the now near zero visibility, Ron Johnson’s Speedworks prepared Corvette Z06R slipped up at Druids resulting in the safety car being deployed, and eroding Bateman’s now generous seven second lead.

Further back in GT4, leader Fannin gained from this; his nearest rival, Century’s Zoe Wenham (Ginetta G50) was in the lead pack of cars behind the Safety Car and this allowed Fannin to extend his lead significantly.

Despite the teams now being eager to take advantage of the course yellows and pit, there was still five minutes to run before the pit window opened, the cars circling the 2.69 mile circuit impatiently.

By the beginning of lap 12 the race had resumed and Bateman once again pulled away, leaving McCaig, Mardenborough and Cameron to make their way past the collection of GT4 cars that lay ahead of them on the restart. Johnson’s Corvette made its way to the pits unassisted and Minshaw snatched back his position with a bold overtake on Lester. By now Bateman had a lead of over four seconds, benefitting from the clear track ahead of him.

When the pit lane finally opened, cars poured in; Cameron and Ashburn leading a further thirteen cars into the pits.

The Jones’ Mercedes joined Bateman in remaining out on track leaving the audience to revel in the aural delight the SLS’ 6.2 litre V8 engine. Meanwhile once back on track the Audi R8 of Bateman posted a succession of quick laps before pitting on lap seventeen with a twelve second lead.

Charles Bateman leads during Round 1 of the British GT championship at Oulton Park. (©Red Square Images)

At this point, the blue and silver liveried Ecurie Ecosse BMW, now in the hands of Bryant, managed to slip past the No.35 RJN Motorsport GT-R of Alex Buncombe and both returned to the track ahead of Griffin’s MTECH Ferrari. With Richard Westbrook now steering the No.31 Trackspeed Porsche the sector times began to fall leading to him eventually completing a lap of 1:49.223 marking a new fastest lap until he later added a lap of 1:48.561.

The Jones brothers got out in third, just ahead of Buncombe and Griffin, with the charging Westbrook not far behind and the battle between the foursome would provide plenty of entertainment during the remaining laps.

By now the drivers were more accustomed to the wet conditions, and with this, changes in position were being made across the board.

Danish Ferrari ace, Allan Simonsen got past Richard Westbrook and Matt Griffin in a single audacious manoeuvre, and soon took Buncombe’s Nissan GT-R. Griffin followed his fellow Ferrari driver through, but Simonsen had already passed Godfrey Jones’ Mercedes AMG SLS and was after Lester’s Ferrari.

During lap 23, Griffin had a run at Jones, but the pair made contact whilst leaving Lodge corner. Jones spun at the exit of Old Hall and managed to re-join in eighth, which would later become seventh following the Audi’s retirement.

Richard Westbrook and David Ashburn deliver a comprehensive lights to flag victory in the No.31 Trackspeed Porsche 911 GT3 R. (©Red Square Images)

Out in front, Bell was now leading by six seconds, having delicately made his way through backmarkers as Westbrook and Griffin were engaged in a battle for position that would only relent at the chequered flag. The pair eventually finished third and fourth, 1.3 seconds behind second-placed Simonsen.

Beginning the last lap it looked like Bell would deliver a comprehensive lights-to-flag victory for the United Autosports team, only the team’s second victory in British GT since joining in 2010. However, the young pairing were not to be victors, a fuel supply issue on the Audi robbing the pair on Clay Hill, a little over a kilometre short of the flag.

The second place Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4, went on to take the chequered flag – Alasdair McCaig later commenting, “We were hoping to get a podium, but to get a win is just unbelievable. I’m a bit lost for words.”

Oli Bryant added that he “…..thought maybe he’d (Bell in the United Autosports R8) taken the flag the lap before and I’d got it wrong, but I carried on past him, discovering thankfully there was another lap. Not great for them (United Autosports) having led from the start, but good for us. Really looking forward to race two, mixing it with the other guys and dealing with the spray.”

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Race Two

The second race of the day would see Richard Westbrook and David Ashburn deliver a comprehensive lights to flag victory in the No.31 Trackspeed Porsche 997 GT3 R in appalling conditions. Starting from pole, Westbrook crossed the line, and managed to lose Jonny Adam in the Beechdean Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage and the rest of the twenty-five strong pack as he headed into Old Hall.

With heavier rain than the 1st race, Westbrook made the most of the lack of spray ahead of him and drove off into the distance. Adam slipped up on lap two, resulting in the Ferrari pair of Allan Simonsen (Rosso Verde) and Matt Griffin (MTECH) getting past the Aston driver.

Nick Tandy in the Motorbase car started from the back of the grid after suffering a broken radiator, therefore preventing him from qualifying on Saturday. He made a mesmerising start, and by the start of lap three was up to fifteenth place.

The No.33 Trackspeed Porsche 911 GT3 R driven by Jon Minshaw. (©Red Square Images)

A spin for Jake Rattenbury at Brittens’ compounded a poor weekend for him and his Stark Racing by Hepworth colleague, Ian Stinton. Westbrook was still flying, and a lap of 1:50.376 saw the Porsche driver further extend his lead.

Benji Hetherington (JMH Nissan GT-R) manage to pass Tandy for fourteenth, with the Nissan driver experiencing better fortunes than Alex Buncombe driving the RJN managed No.35 GT-R – who pitted due to a wheel issue.

Adam Wilcox in the Predator CCTV Ferrari 430 Scuderia and Matt Bell in the United Autosports Audi R8 LMS both managed come through the pack, working together to overtake those ahead of them.

Behind the squabbling Griffin and Simonsen, Joe Osborne in the No.32 Trackspeed Porsche was pushing Adam into Old Hall, eventually getting past the Aston Martin down Cascades, leaving Adam to deal with Scuderia Vittoria’s Aaron Scott and race one winner, Oliver Bryant.

Despite the persistently awful conditions, overtaking was definitely the order of the day as Simonsen passed Griffin, whilst Hetherington passed Bryant before moving on Scott in the Scuderia Vittoria car.

Alex Buncombe/Jan Mardenborough lead the field at Oulton Park in their Nissan GT-R. (©Red Square Images)

Tandy lost three seconds to Wilcox, and Westbrook, now over six seconds ahead of Simonsen, who bettered his earlier fastest lap with a 1:50.136.

The opening of the pits resulted in unsurprisingly little action, race leader Westbrook opting to stay out with a clear track ahead. The Trackspeed Porsche driver put in a lap of 1:49.672, before Simonsen shaved Westbrook’s effort with a 1:49.568, and thus the fastest lap of the race.

Soon enough Westbrook hit traffic reducing his lead to less than five seconds, whereupon Trackspeed brought him in to handover the car to David Ashburn. Simonsen and Griffin both followed into the pits, and once they’d handed over to Lester and Cameron, the order remained the same.

Poor out-laps from the two Ferrari drivers saw Ashburn take a 27 second lead over Hector Lester, which would soon increase beyond 30 seconds with Jon Minshaw in the No.33 Trackspeed Porsche bringing up the rear.

A brief off for McCaig in the BMW (and McCaig’s third ever wet race) saw John Dhillon (Scuderia Vittoria) and David Jones (Preci-Spark) get past, Jones soon passed Dhillon and further back in eighth place Osborne’s driving partner Steve Tandy was being reeled in by Steve Parish’s No.10 Motorbase Porsche.

Cars enter the spray at Round 1 of the British GT championship at Oulton Park. (©Red Square Images)

Cameron was growing impatient with the defensive work of Lester and made a move on the Rosso Verde Ferrari at Hislop’s chicane. Lester mounted a successful defence until the start of the next lap, where Cameron seeing a gap, went for the inside at Old Hall and the pair clashed. Lester spun off and took over a minute to recover, following some assistance from the trackside marshals.

Elsewhere, Parish took Tandy who was struggling with a lack of traction, and then beat Freddie Hetherington (JMH Automotive) to finish sixth at the flag – the second points finish achieved by the Hetherington brothers in a car they’d only driven a handful of laps in since the previous Thursday.

The Jones brothers recovered well from their spins, finishing in ninth, whilst race one victors, Oliver Bryant and Alasdair McCaig finished tenth to take the final points for Ecurie Ecosse.

Having taken third after Lester’s demise, Minshaw held a five second gap to Danielle Perfetti’s Motorbase Porsche, clinching a convincing podium position in only his second race in the championship.

Duncan Cameron in the Ferrari 458, gave MTECH their second podium of the day, albeit some 27 seconds behind Ashburn and Westbrook’s Porsche.

Next Round: 17th May, 2012 – Nurburgring, Germany.