Dan Harper’s late move on Sandy Mitchell helped his co-driver Darren Leung and Century Motorsport take victory – and lift the historic RAC Trophy – in the Intelligent Money British GT Championship’s blue riband, three-hour Silverstone 500.
In GT4, Optimum’s Charles Clark and Jack Brown prevailed after Raceway’s #56 Ginetta was black-flagged late in the race for failing to serve its stop-go penalty.
A Safety Car in the final hour and drive times conspired to leave Barwell’s Lamborghini out front at the start of the final stint despite Shaun Balfe handing over to Mitchell in 11th. But Harper – whose car had started 18th – wasn’t to be denied in a wheel-to-wheel battle that demonstrated both drivers’ factory status.
Third overall went to Optimum’s Mark Radcliffe and Rob Bell who were top-eight contenders all day and vaulted to the sharp end during the last of three Safety Car periods. It was an incredible turnaround for the #27 crew who sustained heavy damage in opening practice. Optimum’s efforts to repair the car and claim GT4 victory earned them the Intelligent Money Team of the Weekend Award.
Barwell’s Mark Sansom and Will Tregurtha finished sixth overall and won the Silver-Am class.
Further back, One Motorsport’s Ed McDermott and Mikey Broadhurst further underlined the 500’s unpredictably by finishing second overall in GT4 and winning Pro-Am despite their Mercedes-AMG facing the wrong way on lap one.
Academy Motorsport’s Matt Cowley and Erik Evans completed the class podium.
Strategy is an important element of the 500 and this year’s race was no exception, even if Barwell’s decision to prioritise Balfe’s drive time didn’t quite deliver an unexpected win.
The #78 Lamborghini spent most of the opening two hours hovering around the outer reaches of the top-10 and some way behind the likes of Team Abba’s pole-winning Mercedes-AMG, Inception’s McLaren, both 2 Seas Mercedes-AMGs, Beechdean AMR’s Aston Martin and Century’s BMW which emerged as the leading contenders before the first round of pitstops.
They were triggered after just 15 minutes when a Safety Car was required for debris scattered by a combination of Garage 59, Team Parker and RACE LAB whose McLaren had nowhere to go when Nick Jones was tagged by Alex West.
Andrey Borodin briefly led at the restart after Greystone GT elected not to pit, but he was quickly overhauled by a pro contingent now headed by James Cottingham’s replacement Jonny Adam who jumped Sam Neary in the stops. However, 2 Seas’ other entry – shared by Ian Loggie and Jules Gounon – was less lucky after it was blocked and then lost further time due to a faulty wheel gun.
Back at the front, Adam initially pulled clear of Neary who lost second to Ben Barnicoat soon after the restart and then dropped behind both Ross Gunn and Harper within the space of two corners before pitting soon after.
His wasn’t the only Mercedes-AMG struggling, though, as Adam was also dropping back into Barnicoat’s clutches. The Scot lost the lead on Hangar Straight when he was boxed in by traffic, and was down to fourth before the end of the same lap.
This is where strategies diverged a little, which would ultimately prove Inception’s undoing. For while the likes of Beechdean, 2 Seas and Century elected to pit and therefore increase their Ams’ drive time, Barnicoat remained behind the wheel. That helped build the car’s advantage but prevented Brendan Iribe from ticking off his minimum drive time.
The American climbed aboard just before a second Safety Car period – again for debris – bunched the field. Iribe immediately shot clear along with Morgan Tillbrook whose Enduro team had followed a similar strategy to Inception’s, while the likes of Howard, Cottingham, Leung and Radcliffe cleared the GT4 traffic.
However, the intervention of a lengthy Safety Car period following a big impact between Team BRIT’s recovering McLaren and an unsighted Simon Orange turned the race on its head.
Barwell’s crew – who were 11th at the time – had just entered their driver change window so could pit at the very first opportunity while their rivals circulated at slower speed. Mitchell rejoined well down the order but steadily picked up places as the Am drivers ahead completed their minimum stint lengths and stopped.
Inception and Enduro’s chances were effectively ended by Iribe and Tillbrook having to wait longer than anyone else to complete their stints.
Instead, it was Mitchell who started up front when racing resumed with 28 minutes remaining. Adam was initially second but was muscled aside by Harper who’d already passed Bell. And it would get worse for 2 Seas soon after when a stop-go penalty for Cottingham’s earlier contact with a GT4 car dropped the Mercedes-AMG out of contention.
Instead, all eyes were on the big red BMW which was soon tucked up behind the leading Lamborghini. Harper had passed Marvin Kirchhoefer at Brooklands during his opening stint and, after dummying down the outside, he attempted a similar move on Mitchell with 12 minutes remaining. The Scot’s late braking somehow kept the M4 at bay, but he was powerless to prevent the switchback into Luffield that allowed Harper to draw alongside and complete the move into Copse.
Behind, 2 Seas’ penalty elevated Bell to third after his co-driver Radcliffe had made several eye-catching moves across both stints. Optimum’s McLaren took the chequered flag just half-a-second behind Mitchell.
Bell held off Beechdean’s Aston which was one of the losers in the drive-time shake-up. Gunn was undeterred, though, and passed Raffaele Marciello in the final half-hour to salvage solid points for himself and Andrew Howard who looked set to score a podium before the final Safety Car period. Indeed, Gunn underlined their potential by setting fastest lap.
RAM Racing will be pleased with fifth after John Ferguson and Marciello’s afternoon was compromised by damage sustained on the way to the grid.
Just 0.021s separated Barwell’s second Lamborghini shared by Sansom and Tregurtha and Inception’s McLaren on the line. However, Iribe and Barnicoat were ultimately classified 10th after collecting a post-race 30s penalty in lieu of a drive-through for exceeding driver stint length.
Seventh therefore went to 2 Seas’ Loggie/Gounon who have slipped to second in the early drivers’ standings behind new leaders Leung and Harper.
Greystone GT’s Mike Price and Callum Macleod completed the top-eight ahead of GT3 debutants Drivetac, Chris Hart and James Wallis.