TG at the British GT Championship
Silverstone played host to the penultimate round, and a very special treat for a birthday racer…
Posted: 10 Sep 2012
A bit muted, wasn't he? Lewis Hamilton might have pulled out a flawless drive from pole to flag to add the Italian Grand Prix to his tally of all-time great victories, but - bless him - when he got out of the car, his victory celebration looked more like he was heading for detention.
On this side of the pond however, Lewis' Biggest Fan had a beam the size of Berkshire plastered over his face, albeit for a different reason. You see, the sun was bathing similarly hallowed racing turf this weekend as the British GT Championship hosted its penultimate round at Silverstone. And racing one of the front-running contenders - the RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R - was none other than 2011 GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough. Who turned 21 on race day.
A race day packed full of action: a tiny infraction between Team WFR and Beechdean Motorsport on the first corner, a BMW Z4 spewing out oil and smoke and with off-throttle pops rattling out like grenades, a Mazda MX-5 with puncture issues and the rear bumper literally hanging off, spins, drifts, penalties and, sadly, RJN's misfortune.
The team qualified ninth but showed cracking promise during Jann's teammate Alex Buncombe's first stint - he climbed up to second in a handful of laps. Thanks, no doubt, to the pair's weaponry being a pretty serious piece of kit: a GT-R so powerful and aggressive it lunched its own wheel sensor and knocked the ABS out of action, creating something akin to ‘an unpleasant surprise' for Buncombe and Mardenborough. "Everything seemed to be stacking up against us," explained Buncombe after the race. "We didn't get told we were exceeding the track which is a shame, because then we got hit with a penalty." And that kind of summed up the pair's afternoon: monster pace, poor fortune.
United Autosports in their McLaren MP4-12C eventually took the win, that popping, smoking Z4 somehow claimed second, while Motorbase's Porsche GT3 R came in third. And yet, RJN's eighth-placed finish still leaves them third in the British GT Championship standings, and it really is all to play for as the final round at Donington looms ever nearer at the end of the month. There are five teams still capable of winning the title, so - as RJN boss Bob Neville explained, in no uncertain terms - "we just have to go out there and win it".
Easier said than done, right? Well, first of all, you need the right kit. As mentioned, that GT-R is a lightly violent weapon. TG got a taste of the standard car after hustling it around the short, technical confines of the Stowe circuit an hour before the race kicked off to give us a taste of what the boys would be playing with. Seriously, the GT-R might come with a user manual boasting Tolstoy-esque density, but in reality the only words that need printing and sellotaping on the dashboard are thus: point and squirt.
Second, you need some decent drivers. Step forward the birthday boy and his colleague Alex. "We're still in the championship hunt," said Jann, afterwards. "It's closer than me and Alex would like it to be, but we're up for the fight, and it looks like everything is still there for the taking. We're really looking forward to the last round at Donington. That's a proper track." As Le Mans regular commentator John Hindaugh mentioned - on sterling service throughout the day - that last race should be a thriller.
Oh, and there's one more driver who probably deserves a mention: a certain Wolfgang Reip. He's the latest winner of Nissan's GT Academy, and is preparing for his race debut at the 2014 Dubai 24hrs. We found him lurking around the paddock, cautiously eyeing up the machinery and drinking in the environment. "I start my racer development programme now," he told TG, "and it's heavy going because there are more races than weeks." He's also undertaking some heat acclimatisation training - basically exercising in his race suit in a hot room. "It's going to be sweaty," he notes, with a mild alarm. Is he scared about following in Jann's - and Lucas's - footsteps? "I'll be fine," he says, with a little smirk. Watch this space...
Words: Vijay Pattni
Photos: Patrick Gosling