GT Cup Brands Hatch – Race Report

Ups and Downs. Literally and Metaphorically.

Brands Hatch GP Circuit can be intimidating to the most experienced of racers with its undulating topography, blind corners and barriers set in your peripheral vision. When faced with a gentleman driver who has only completed 20 minutes on this circuit, in the wet, in a road car, two years ago, you can forgive them for not ‘being on the pace’. And then there is the pro-driver who despite his blistering pace and experience, last raced on the GP configuration of Brands Hatch in 2014 – what could we expect from the weekend?

Saturday morning, as day-glow caps adorned with ‘46’, lined the catch fencing and grandstands (thanks to a certain Moto GP legend making his debut in GT World Challenge) our Gentleman driver Roy is strapped into the 488 Challenge Evo and has just 10 minutes to familiarise himself with the GP circuit and put in a qualifying time reflective of his class win at Donnington last month – a big ask. Too much so for his first outing and he qualifies an uncharacteristically last in class – it can only get better.

Saturday’s sprint race, Roy starts last in class but remains optimistic. “I think I know my way around now, I just need to focus on where to gain the time”. During the 25 minute race Roy takes stock of the 488 Challenge Evo on the demanding GP circuit, learning and analysing his performance with his eyes set on the 50 minute pit stop race that afternoon. Post-race he’s confident and knows what he needs to do.

Up comes Saturday’s 50 minutes pit stop race and starting 22 overall, Roy makes up 5 places over his stint before handing over to pro driver Benny Simonsen who makes up a further 6 places, and taking fastest lap in class, climbing to 3rd in class but a lap later a red flag concludes the race and the result is set to the standings of the previous lap, which classifies us 4th in class – a cruel end.

Sunday races repeats Saturday’s, and Roy is out to qualify again ahead of the sprint race. On his first hot lap, it is all clicking into place and he is two seconds up on Saturday’s time. The sprint race starts under the safety car owning to a Mercedes trying to warm its tyres up, in a barrier, at Pilgrim’s Drop. The incident takes some time to clear and as the race goes green, only 10 minutes remain. As always Roy put in a fast a consistent stint to maintain his position. 3rd in class and 12th overall.

Onto the final race of the weekend – a 50 minutes pit stop race to be shared with Benny and with just 20 minutes until the start of the race, the lingering mugginess in the air final breaks and it’s raining at Brands Hatch. Light rain and a mildly damp surface makes a difficult call for race engineer Jason Cull – do we start on slicks and hope the track dries or start on wets and assume it will keep raining…

As we watch other cars leaving the paddocks, “wets, wets, slicks, wets, slicks…” it seems no one really knows and it’s a bit of a gamble. Roy starts the race and we send him out on wets. The right call but on a quickly drying surface, Roy just needs to hold out long enough on the wets to make it to the pit stop to hand over to Benny who will change to slicks. “I hated every minute of it!” says Roy with a smile. “It was really challenging. Some parts are wet, some are dry. It’s not one or the other which is harder than if it was properly wet.” Nevertheless Roy puts in a solid and consistent stint to hand over to Benny on fresh slicks with just 19 minutes to go. A flawless pit stop by the FF Corse team saw the car exit the pit lane right on the minimum time allowed as set by the regulations however we leave the pit lane 6th in class owing to wet tyres on a drying track.

Benny is on a mission and we watch as he carves his way through the field, again putting in the fastest laps of the class, by some margin. Benny navigates past the slower cars on track and those in our class, climbing the standings to finish 9th overall and 3rd in class. “Perhaps I would have started on the slick tyres but it was the right choice for Roy given his limited running on this circuit configuration, in both wet and dry!” says Benny as he hops out the car. “Car felt good and I think we nailed the pit stop, bang on time. Not a bad result!”

Race and Track Operations Manager Mark Armstrong reports, “I’m delighted for Roy. He’s done a great job considering how little running he’s done on the GP circuit. It’s not an easy track to learn and a harder one to master. I think it shows great promise for the rest of the season.”

“Two podiums out of 4 races is a good result from this weekend. It would have been 3 of 4, had race the second race not finished on a red flag. Roy and Benny did a great job and the team ran the car perfectly. A good weekend for all.” says Development Manager, Ed Barton-Hilton.

As Roy and Benny leave the circuit with a bags full of trophies (including those owed from the previous round at Donington) FF Corse’s Technical Manager, and race engineer for the weekend Jason says, “Today was a good day. Podium and the car is back in one piece. However, we do have a problem…….the opposition beat us packing up the trucks, and that won’t do.”

Next round Snetterton, 11-12 June.