Reigning Avon Tyres British GT4 Team Champions Century Motorsport endured a challenging start to their title defence as the 2015 British GT championship got under way at Oulton Park on Easter weekend.
Suffering from some minor electrical issues in free practice, the Fenny Compton based team used both of Saturday’s sessions to iron out the problems in readiness for qualifying in the afternoon.
James Birch made the best of his time in the car placing the #43 G55 third in GT4 for Monday’s opening race. Aleksander Schjerpen posted the fifteenth fastest time in GT4 for Monday afternoon’s second race, the Norwegian driver struggling to maximize the potential of his time in the car from a lack track time in the morning.
With the traditional Easter Sunday break, the action at Oulton Park resumed on Monday morning with a ten minute warm up. The team, lead by Les Jones opted for a single flying lap each to acclimatise themselves to a number of setup adjustments made during Sunday’s downtime.
British GT convert James Birch started race one by virtue of taking part in Saturday’s Qualifying One. Getting off to a flying start, Birch lead the opening laps of the race before dropping behind the Lotus on lap five. Maintaining this position, the team opted to take advantage of the Safety Car being deployed on lap seventeen to carry out a quick driver change. Sadly however, that quick driver change would become the team’s downfall. The Race Director declared the stop to be too quick by 0.7 seconds, earning the team a stop and go penalty. With Schjerpen now in the car, he quickly took the penalty and set about putting in a sequence of flying laps to climb back up the order. Aleksander appeared to be struggling for grip towards the end of the race, the cause of which later turned out to be a damaged damper stemming from contact while James was defending his position his stint. As the chequered flag signaled the end of the race, Aleksander brought the #43 Ginetta G55 GT4 across the line fifth in GT4.
Starting from fifteenth on the grid, Aleksander Schjerpen was keen to make a solid break up the order early in the race. Moving ahead of the Lotus into the first corner, it became clear from the off that this race was going to be more of a one hour sprint race, rather than a sixty minute endurance. Schjerpen made the most of a now well-balanced Century Ginetta to bring the car into the pits in thirteenth position as the pit window opened. A well-executed pitstop allowed James to return to the track in thirteenth position, but crucially move up to ninth once the pit window closed. Consistently improving his personal best lap time on each passing, Birch was now running in seventh position just inside the final five minutes before crashing into the tyres at Island Bend towards the end of the hour prematurely ending his race just before the flag.
James Birch – #43 Ginetta G55 GT4:
“In what was clearly a highly competitive British GT4 and with pre-season testing limited to just Media Day, I thought we developed very well over the course of the event as a whole and there are a lot of positives to take away. Clearly in qualifying we have to work on finding the extra pace out of the new rubber, however I was very pleased with our third place starting position for race one. We capitalized on this position in the first race and were smart with our strategies all weekend, to pit from the class lead for the driver change. Eventually finishing fifth was a great first result to build upon. Going into race two, we knew we had a lot to do starting from fifteenth and it all seemed to click in terms of the true pace of the car. An off at Island Bend resided us to twelfth in the final result, but I’m happy that we got more points on the board. Overall it was a character-building weekend with lots of positives as we move to Rockingham.
Aleksander Schjerpen – #43 Ginetta G55 GT4:
“We started the weekend with a little bit of difficulty. We had some small electrical issues, but once we got that sorted we got a good setup and found some good pace. Both James and I needed some track time, which we lost during free practice, so we just used qualifying more like a test. Race one was pretty good; we were leading the race after the safety car but then fell down to fifth with the penalty and a small suspension issue. Race two was really tough; we had to treat it like a sprint race. All the other guys out there are just so fast. Unfortunately James didn’t make it to the finish but we now we will focus on having a better run at Rockingham next time out.”
Nathan Freke – Team Principal, Century Motorsport:
“Practice this weekend was a difficult start to the weekend as it was wet in the morning and then we had some teething issues in the second session. For qualifying we got the issues sorted, but I think the lack of track time for the guys really showed. Race one today, James did a really solid job bringing the car into the pits in second. We had a solid pit strategy that put Aleksander out into the lead, but sadly I misjudged the stop by 0.7 seconds that earned us a stop and go penalty and demoted us to fifth where we finished. Aleksander had a steady start to race two brining the car into the pits in good shape for James. He had a really good stint pushing through the field catching the guys in front. However a small mistake at Knickerbrook damaged the car slightly and then a couple of laps later he went off at Island bend as a result of the damage sustained earlier. Slightly disappointing end to the weekend, but on a positive note we have a test coming up soon at Rockingham ahead of the next weekend which should put us in very good shape for round three.”
Rockingham will play host to the next round of the 2015 Avon Tyres British GT Championship featuring a single two-hour race on Sunday 3rd May 2015.