It was a drama worthy of Netflix; a bruising encounter of the finest GT cars and world-class driving talent, pitched into a 2-hour battle of speed, endurance and attrition. To the victors, 37.5 points and a very important step towards the ultimate prize of the British GT Championship crown.
But the twists and turns within Rockingham’s magnificent arena were only a precursor to the events that would unfold on, and later, off the track.
The TF Sport Aston Martins had locked-out the front row in qualifying, but it was the Bentley of Rick Parfitt & Seb Morris, the Ferrari of Duncan Cameron & Matt Griffin, the McMillan Aston Martin of Jack Mitchell & James Littlejohn, and the Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen that would trade blows and places over 160 miles of gruelling racing in the battle for the GT3 podium.
Bentley had made solid progress under Parfitt’s guidance, whilst Griffin, Minshaw and Littlejohn were equally rapid in their pursuit of the lead. Hampered by yellow flags and safety cars, by the times the driver changeovers were being made, the race was still there to be won.
It was Mitchell’s Aston Martin and Team Parker Racing’s #31 Bentley, now in the hands of Seb Morris, that looked to have the measure of the chasing pack. Morris set-about acquiring the lead, forcing Mitchell into a defensive error, allowing the Bentley to make the move that looked certain to be the decisive moment of the race. But Griffin in the Ferrari 488 had also forced his way past Mitchell and seemed determined to put the young Welshman to the test.
Exiting the Deene hairpin, the Ferrari gathered pace, ready to try and out-brake the Bentley running into the tight right-hander of Yentwood. Morris could clearly see the Ferrari lining-up a seemingly impossible move and opted to preserve his car by gifting Griffin the space; the Ferrari clattered into the Bentley, then again up the hill and through Chapman, forcing Morris to cede the position as they approached Pif Paf.
Though Griffin now held the lead on track, an earlier 5-second penalty for repeated track-limits offences meant that in reality, he was still third (according to the timing screens), so when the safety car was again deployed (with just 24 minutes to go), it (correctly, according to the rules), needed to pick-up Morris, which meant waving the Ferrari past, which not only allowed Griffin to retain the lead on-track, but more importantly, to very easily overcome the 5-second deficit, and indeed build-up a mighty 25-second lead by the time the flag fell. What had promised to be a nose-to-tail climax ended in gasps of disbelief and confusion.
There are some who, perhaps rightly, argued that the Ferrari had clearly demonstrated the pace needed to take the victory had the safety-car not intervened; and yet there were others who knew that Morris would have taken the race all the way to the line. In the end, the officials determined that Griffin had gained an unfair advantage through his contact with Morris and a 26-second penalty was imposed, resulting in Bentley winning the race, the Ferrari being placed second, and an outstanding drive from Mitchell and Littlejohn to take third from Minshaw and Keen as they crossed the line.
The next round of the British GT Championship (4 & 5) is at Snetterton on 27 – 28 May, and judging by the prize fight around Rockingham it’s likely to be a sequel well-worth watching!
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