In my last report I distinctly remember warning you all. There’s a new kid in town. He’s young. He’s full of ambition. And he means business. He walks confidently through the paddock, yet is barely noticed by the regulars.
The old timers and the high fliers in the British GT series all took him for granted in the beginning, but it’s getting late in the season and Jann Mardenborough and the team at RJN have been sneaking up the rankings. Now, with just a couple of races left, the new kid on the block is looking like a serious contender.
As if to prove the point this past weekend, it wasn’t just the weather that was kicking up a storm. During the first of two races held at Snetterton, Norfolk, the GT Academy winner proved to the establishment that he’s not getting any slower..
Saturday 4th August
Qualifying was cancelled on Saturday due to the heavy rain, resulting in the grid slots being allocated according to practice times. Despite starting from 11th, Mardenborough managed to fight his way up to the front of the pack and even had the audacity to try and slip down the inside the No.31 Porsche 997 GT3 R of championship-leader David Ashburn.
Sadly on this occasion the “inside” wasn’t quite wide enough and Mardenborough ended up doing some damage to the front of his own car and power steering.
A mistake for sure. But one that was bound to shake Ashburn up.
Since the duo won the last British GT race at Brands Hatch, they had a 15-second success penalty to add to their pit stop time in the race.
They also had to wait an extra four seconds after a rather unique penalty had been applied – although Mardenborough has little race experience he’s too fast to be classified as a beginner, so the four second penalty usually reserved for an experienced driver pairing was applied.
After the changeover with Buncombe it was decided that the car should be retired from race one to get a small amount of front-end damage repaired before race two. Nonetheless it was proof, if ever it were needed, that Buncombe, Mardenborough and the RJN team mean business.
Sunday 5th August
The second race of the weekend was not without its own dramas for the RJN team. In an effort to ensure all was working well, team owner Bob Neville sent Alex Buncombe out in the car for an installation lap before joining the starting grid.
Unfortunately after completing the checks the team were given a stop-and-go penalty, since this isn’t allowed in British GT, so despite starting in 5th the No.35 Nissan was destined to lose places as soon as the race began.
As soon as the race got underway he took his drive through penalty, despite having already climbed to fourth place. He rejoined the field in eleventh with a mountain to climb, nevertheless by the time the scheduled pit window had opened Buncombe had once again moved up to a respectable eighth.
I was in the pits as Mardenborough waited for his stint in the GT-R. Cool. As. Ice.
He just stood there, helmet off in the heat of the Norfolk afternoon, limbering up for his drive. He looked more like someone waiting for a bus than a drive in a 500bhp+ GT3 race car. With just a couple of seconds to spare, he donned his helmet, exchanged a few words from the team’s lead mechanic and climbed into the seat vacated by Buncombe.
Within minutes Mardenborough had sliced through the field and regained sixth position, more than 30 seconds behind the lead car.
Not content with sixth, Mardenborough and the team continued to push the car and the opposition before reaching a more than respectable third place at the finish.
Team RJN boss Bob Neville said after the race, “Who knows what would have happened if the race had been a few laps longer……We’re right on the heels of the championship leaders now and with two more events to go we have everything to play for.”
The next British GT race will be held at Silverstone on 9th September, before the season finale at Donington Park on 30th September. Team RJN is now just two points shy of the leaders, setting the scene for an exciting climax to the championship.
For now, it is congratulations to Jann, Alex and the team. But to the others in the championship, it’s time to up your game. Again. Young Mardenborough gets better with every race, and together with teammate Buncombe they make for formidable opponents.
Who would bet against them? We certainly wouldn’t.