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Video: Gounon and Marciello master the rain in British GT Oulton Park thrillers

The British GT Championship got underway last weekend at Oulton Park as competitors battled the elements. Jonny Adam came out on top on his 100th start in the championship, while Mercedes factory stars Jules Gounon and Raffaele Marciello dazzled

“That was probably the hardest win out of them all.” Jonny Adam is no stranger to winning in British GT, and the four-time overall champion once again stood on the top step of the podium after the opening round of the season at Oulton Park.

But this one possibly meant more than the previous 16 wins – not only was it achieved on the Aston Martin factory driver’s 100th start in the championship, but it was arguably his most hard-fought victory after immense pressure in changeable conditions over the closing laps.

Adam had been gifted the perfect opportunity to win his centenary race, 2 Seas Motorsport team-mate James Cottingham having handed over their Mercedes-AMG GT3 with a healthy lead after dominating the early stages from pole.

His background driving historic machinery paid dividends in the early stages as occasional light rain made for slippery conditions, with some competitors opting for slicks on the damp track. Cottingham’s 2 Seas team-mate and reigning champion Ian Loggie gave chase, the Scot having got the better of front-row starter Kevin Tse off the line, the latter also dropping behind Richard Neary’s Mercedes into Old Hall.

After a brief safety car to retrieve Simon Orange’s McLaren 720S GT3 Evo from the Lodge gravel trap on the second tour, Cottingham and Loggie edged away from the chasing pack while Neary became a cork in the bottle for Tse’s McLaren, Andrew Howard’s Aston Martin Vantage and Morgan Tillbrook’s McLaren.

Tse forced through on the inside of Neary into Old Hall on lap seven but, incredibly, Howard went to the inside of both to move up two positions. Meanwhile, behind, Enduro Motorsport’s Tillbrook had run wide at Lodge and dropped down the order. Howard’s Beechdean machine made further ground in the mandatory pitstops, moving ahead of Loggie’s Mercedes – with Jules Gounon now at the wheel – after the two-time GT3 champion had eradicated the gap over the remainder of his stint.

With Ross Gunn now at the controls of the Aston, a five-second deficit to Adam stood at just 1.6s prior to a second safety car period after Sam Neary – in for father Richard – lost control of his Abba Mercedes lapping GT4 traffic and went off at Druids. The Enduro Motorsport McLaren Artura GT4 of Harry George acted as a buffer at the restart between the leading duo, allowing Adam to pull out a pivotal 2.5s lead by the end of the lap.

Behind, Dan Harper had moved into third at the restart at the wheel of the Century Motorsport BMW M4, but had overtaken Gounon fractionally before the startline and earned himself a drive-through penalty. Marcus Clutton – in for Tillbrook – also got the jump on Mercedes factory driver Gounon but his move was legal.

Initially, he struggled to keep pace with the leading pair but, with rain starting to fall again and all drivers on slicks, both he and Gunn began to make inroads on Adam. With five minutes remaining, the leading trio were together, with Clutton the first to make a move on the inside at Old Hall. But, with the rain getting harder, the McLaren driver began to lose tyre temperature and Gunn retook the position at the same spot on the final tour.

Incredibly, the 2015 British GT4 champion then closed a 1s gap to Adam over the remainder of the lap and looked to the outside into Lodge for the final time. Both ran wide and skimmed the edge of the grass, but retained their positions to the chequered flag as Clutton had dropped too far back to challenge and only just kept Gounon at bay on the line.

Raffaele Marciello finished fifth on his British GT debut after RAM Racing team-mate John Ferguson had been one of the few GT3 runners to start on slicks, while Harper and Darren Leung claimed sixth despite the drive-through.

It was Marciello/Ferguson’s turn to suffer a penalty in the sequel, denying them a well-earned victory. In heavy rain, reigning GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup champions Gounon and Marciello were the class of the field during the opening stint, the latter fractionally quicker of the two before running wide at Island Bend. He somehow recovered, and staying out a lap longer than all his GT3 rivals meant that Ferguson rejoined in the lead over Loggie.

But the RAM Racing pitstop had been 1s under the mandatory time, requiring them to serve a penalty, which dropped them back to second – such had been the dominance over the rest of the field. Marvin Kirchhofer/Alex West finished third having run a solitary race in their Garage 59 McLaren, as Adam/Cottingham, Gunn/Howard and Harper/Leung continued their strong starts to the season by completing the top six in a contest that, remarkably, didn’t feature a safety car.

British GT4: Slicks gamble pays off for Academy Motorsport 

Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang of Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones won opening GT4 race

Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang of Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones won opening GT4 race

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

The decision to start on slicks on a slippery and treacherous track proved an inspired move by Academy Motorsport, as its Ford Mustangs filled the top two spots in the opening British GT4 race. Will Moore and Matt Cowley ran nose-to-tail throughout the opening stint after starting from the pits, scything past their rivals on wet tyres and even led outright briefly as the GT3 field made their pitstops.

The turning point of the race between the two crews came when a safety car was deployed just as Cowley had pitted to handover to team-mate Erik Evans, following Sam Neary’s crash. With Moore stopping a lap later, and the field at a reduced pace behind the safety car, team owner Matt Nicoll-Jones was able to rejoin just before the pit exit closed, essentially giving himself a lap over the sister Academy Mustang.

For the remainder of the race, Charles Clark pressured Evans for second, the Optimum Motorsport McLaren Artura driver having taken over from Jack Brown, who had initially led the opening stages from pole before being passed by the Academy duo.

Clark moved briefly ahead at the start of the final lap over the line, but spun through Old Hall and dropped down the order – eventually being classified seventh – with the Raceway Motorsport-run Ginetta G56 of Michael Crees and Tom Holland the main benefactors and completing the podium.

The DTO Motorsport McLaren of Aston Millar and Josh Rowledge had possibly been on for a podium after running in the lead group, but pitting four minutes too early meant they were handed a penalty, which dropped them to ninth. Contact for Josh Miller in the R Racing Aston Martin Vantage meant he and team-mate Seb Hopkins were an early retirement.

Clark made amends for his spin in the sequel by leading impressively from Tom Wrigley’s Race Lab McLaren, as Tom Rawlings acted as a buffer to the chasing pack in his Paddock Motorsport McLaren.
A shorter pitstop for the Pro-Am pairing of Wrigley and Ian Gough handed the latter the lead, while a problem with his tyres prevented Brown from closing the 5s gap.

He just held on to second at the flag from the charging Millar, team-mate Rowledge having been the first to pass Rawlings, as Hopkins/Miller made up for their earlier disappointment with fourth place. “I’m still pinching myself that I’m a British GT driver,” said Gough, who along with Wrigley and Race Lab, won on their debut British GT weekend.

GB3: Loake and Hedley share the spoils in opener

James Hedley had the beating of race one winner Joseph Loake in a wet GB3 race

James Hedley had the beating of race one winner Joseph Loake in a wet GB3 race

Photo by: Jakob Ebrey

Unpredictability became the norm for the opening round of the GB3 Championship, both in terms of the pecking order and the weather. If picking a pre-season title favourite had been difficult prior to the weekend, then events at the Cheshire venue only further muddied the waters.

British Formula 4 graduate Joseph Loake was the stand-out performer, taking a double pole and winning the opening race comprehensively on his debut. He left Oulton Park with a five-point lead in the standings and a new circuit lap record – a 1m28.619s.

Matthew Rees made it a JHR Developments 1-2 after starting alongside Loake on the front-row and shadowing his team-mate throughout, while fellow GB3 sophomore Callum Voisin (Rodin Carlin) completed the podium in a processional display. The race ended in bizarre circumstances, though, after the stricken car abandoned by Costa Toparis rolled back downhill onto the circuit at Lodge and was just missed by the field before proceedings were halted by the red flag.

Saturday’s glorious sunshine was replaced by heavy showers for Monday’s action, and James Hedley mastered the conditions in a race that began in confusing fashion. With rain falling, half the field pitted for wet-weather tyres at the end of the first of two green-flag laps, before being allowed out of the pits to retake their original positions.

With the rain getting heavier during the regridding, the decision was eventually taken to allow the slick-shod runners to also change to wets on the grid, necessitating another delay. Once the race got under way, Hedley jumped from fourth and into second by Old Hall, and immediately started challenging leader Loake.

A cutback at the exit of Druids on lap two gave Hedley the inside into Lodge and the lead, with Voisin following through three tours later on the exit of Lodge. Despite having his lead reduced, Arden VRD driver Hedley held on to take his maiden GB3 win, with Voisin and Loake completing the podium.

Max Esterson (Fortec Motorsports) added fourth place to go with his seventh from race one, while reigning British F4 champion Alex Dunne endured a difficult encounter. The Hitech driver ran wide at Cascades and finished 13th, having only managed to claim sixth in the opener.

The full-reversed-grid race turned into a non-event, since the nine-lap contest was essentially run behind the safety car for its duration. McKenzy Cresswell stalled at the start and was collected by Lucas Staico, while front-row starter Shawn Rashid and Voisin were knocked into spins at Old Hall, with all four retiring.

Three laps behind the safety car followed, but it was immediately called upon again after Esterson and Arthur Rogeon went off at Island Bend. Despite 10 minutes remaining, the time it took to retrieve the cars meant the race finished under the safety car. Hillspeed’s Daniel Mavlyutov took the win from pole position, with Elite’s Ayato Iwasaki second and Fortec driver Ed Pearson third.

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