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Balfe and Smalley win hard fought Silverstone 500 victory

Balfe and Smalley win hard fought Silverstone 500 victory

Garage 59’s Shaun Balfe and Adam Smalley have become British GT’s latest Silverstone 500 winners thanks to a composed performance in challenging conditions that shaped a three-hour race dominated by differing strategies up and down the field.

Further back, McLaren celebrated a double overall victory after Optimum and Jack Brown clinched their second 500 in as many years with the help of Zac Meakin.

GT3’s overall podium featured another Silver-Am crew – Richard and Sam Neary (Team Abba Racing) – while Pro-Am winners Chris Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough (Team RJN) were promoted to third overall post-race following Orange/JMH’s 35-second penalty in lieu of a stop-go. However, the guesting #23 crew might well have lifted the RAC Trophy had it not been for the contact that earned Marcus Clutton a late drive-through penalty.

In GT4, Jamie Day and Mikey Porter shrugged off their 10 seconds of Compensation Time to finish second in Forsetti’s Aston Martin, while Gordie Mutch’s eye-catching around-the-outside pass on Seb Morris helped Mahiki’s Lotus and Ian Duggan complete the overall podium and clinch Pro-Am victory.


GARAGE 59’s glorious win

The battle for outright victory is often difficult to follow at Silverstone due to regulations that promote out-of-the-box thinking. However, a Full Course Yellow or Safety Car period can also scupper best laid plans, and it was just such a situation that ultimately played perfectly into Garage 59’s hands. “No strategy works; you have to react in the moment,” was Balfe’s assessment post-race. And he wasn’t wrong.

Cold, wet conditions remained a feature throughout and prompted Race Control to start the three hours behind the Safety Car. Century and 2 Seas reacted by making the first of their three mandatory driver changes at the end of lap one before the likes of Barwell, Optimum and RAM followed suit next time around.

Poleman Kevin Tse and Balfe elected to stay out, though, and ran one-two when racing began in earnest at the start of lap four. But they were both immediately passed by Giacomo Petrobelli who was up to speed quickly in Blackthorn’s Aston Martin.

The same car and Paddock’s McLaren also stayed out when the first FCY period occurred after 20 minutes. Chasing them down were the Pros, headed by Dries Vanthoor and Phil Keen, who’d taken over on laps one and two, and it was only another 20 minutes until Century’s BMW took the lead for the first time.

Blackthorn’s decision to run an 80-minute opening stint defied popular thinking but did at least burn through Petrobelli’s minimum drive time. He made his first stop on the same lap as Century and 2 Seas were in for their second, which helped Maximilian Goetz – who’d swapped with Tse – jump to the front.

When the pole-winning Mercedes-AMG pitted for a second time it seemed Century’s strategy allied to the pace of its drivers would prove decisive. Indeed, all appeared well when Leung pitted for what should have been the final time as the third hour approached. However, it then became clear the BMW had not taken on enough fuel at its previous stop and that Vanthoor would breach his 100-minute maximum drive time if he climbed aboard. That left the team with no choice but to send Leung again and complete another stop during the final hour.

Subsequent events might have made that issue irrelevant anyway. 

The race was turned on its head with 50 minutes remaining when top six contenders Mark Radcliffe and Alex Martin collided and crashed heavily on the exit of Copse. The resulting long FCY and Safety Car period played perfectly into the hands of teams whose Ams were at the end of their drive time.

Among them were Garage 59 whose McLarens had circulated in the midfield since making their first pitstops after 20 minutes. Now, suddenly, their Pros Smalley and Clutton – who swapped with Balfe and Tillbrook at reduced racing speed – were close behind Rob Collard, Ian Loggie and Tse who all still required one final driver change.

The first lap back at racing speed was predictably action packed as the de facto leaders battled themselves and GT4 traffic. Clutton’s lunge on team-mate Smalley briefly nosed #77 ahead until Mardenborough’s opportunistic dive down the inside helped RJN’s McLaren take the pair of them. But a fairy tale British GT return ended three corners later at Village where Clutton tagged him into a spin. 

That altercation helped Smalley re-take the lead before being closed down and passed by Clutton. But it was fairly obvious the orange side of Garage 59 was about to cop a penalty, and when it arrived Smalley duly moved back into a lead he wouldn’t lose.

Abba’s Mercedes-AMG served a drive-through early on but took full advantage of the strategic circumstances to finish second overall ahead of Orange/JMH’s McLaren on the road. However, a 35-second post-race penalty for contact and a Safety Car infringement promoted RJN’s recovering McLaren to third place.

It was chased home by the recovering Clutton, while the Collards rescued fifth from a race that was theirs for the taking before the Safety Car. They still lie second in the standings, albeit now behind Balfe and Smalley.

Orange and Roche slotted into sixth ahead of Optimum’s guesting McLaren shared by Andrew Gilbert and Fran Rueda. They picked up a place post-race when Blackthorn’s Petrobelli and Jonny Adam were hit with a 30-second penalty for a pitstop infringement.

RAM’s BMW finished ninth, one place clear of Loggie and Keen whose final pitstop under green flag conditions was compounded by the 10 seconds of Compensation Time carried over from Oulton.



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