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Challenging conditions for Century at Rockingham for British GT

Easter weekend marked the much-anticipated debut for Century Motorsport’s brand new BMW M4 GT4s at the season opener of British GT at Oulton Park. Treacherous weather conditions led to Race 2 being abandoned after just a few laps behind the safety car on the Cheshire-based track which looked more like a river, leaving the drivers and the team with only one hour of racing experience in the new cars. The drivers and the team headed to the next round at Rockingham (28th – 29th April) with high hopes, after having learnt a lot about the cars despite them only being out for one hour in the wet.

Rockingham race weekend saw the team welcome Century-regular Aleksander Schjerpen to partner with Jack Mitchell in car 43. Schjerpen couldn’t make it to the season opener at Oulton Park and Ricky Collard, BMW Motorsport Junior driver, took the seat for the weekend, getting the car off to a very good start.

The free practice session on Saturday morning at Rockingham was the first time Schjerpen had ever driven the car so he had a lot to learn with very little time due to more wet weather causing incidents on the track with several safety cars out during both practice sessions. Schjerpen and Green never actually got to complete one single lap in the second practice session. Luckily Sunday was forecast to be dry for the race.

Schjerpen improved from practice into qualifying and ended up qualifying eleventh overall (eighth in class) however this position was later dropped by three places due to a yellow flag infringement. Ben Green was also in the first qualifying session. He came out with an impressive third overall (and third in class) but like Schjerpen, his position was also dropped by three places for the same offence.

The second session of qualifying seen Ben Tuck and Jack Mitchell qualify in seventh overall (third in class) and 14th overall (seventh in class) respectively.

The race format for Rockingham consisted of a single endurance race lasting two hours, with one driver change after sixty minutes.

Sunday afternoon just after 1pm, the cars were lined up on the grid ready to race in the blustery winds – Schjerpen in car 43 on row 13 and Green in car 42 on row nine – when the rain started to come down. The race started off in rather greasy conditions with all cars out on slicks however the rain turned to a light drizzle that didn’t last too long.

Green managed to bring the car back up to third place (overall) by the eighth lapand managed to keep it up there after a couple of safety car periods, until lap 25 where a small error dropped him to seventh. He then managed to climb back up to fifth and remained there until lap 40 when everyone had started to pit. The team called car 42 into the pits for the mandatory driver change during lap 41 and Tuck continued the race from seventhplace, where he pretty much remained for his stint of the race, finishing in seventh place overall (fifth in class) struggling to get any higher after the pit stop put them behind with the excess time that is added on for silver-silver pairings.

Schjerpen started the race off for car 43 and slipped back a little after initially maintaining his position, dropping four positions by the sixth lap. He then managed to climb up three positions with the aid of a safety car during the eighth lap and for the remainder of his stint he stayed there or thereabouts. Schjerpen was called to the pit for the driver change during lap 45. After an intense wait in the pits, due to their 10-second success penalty, Mitchell took over and returned to the race during a safety car period, making it very difficult to regain position. He managed to put in a strong stint and ended up finishing 12th overall (eighth in class).

Green:

“Overall the weekend was really positive – we’ve made a lot of improvements with the set up on the car and generally I think we showed we had good a pace. There are things we can improve on in the race. In the wet conditions, we really worked on the car and that’s important because we knew that was an area we needed to work on. I am looking forward to the next race at Snetterton.”

Tuck:

“We have taken a lot of positives away from this weekend and some valuable data for the car in both wet and dry conditions. It’s the first time we have had a proper drive/race stint on slicks in the BMW so we didn’t really know what to expect from the race. I think we expected to have a bit more pace than we actually did but that’s for us to go through the data and work out exactly why and come back better at the next round.“

Mitchell:

“It was a pretty big learning curve at Rockingham. It wasn’t as easy as Oulton Park because in the wet condition we had quite a bit to work with. It dried up during the race and we haven’t really tested in the dry so we learnt as we went along. I think the race pace for me was pretty strong, I was behind the leaders and I was able stay there or thereabouts. I managed to pull away from second but because of the safety car when I came out of the pit lane, it didn’t let me unlap myself. I had to get on the back of the pack so I was in no mans land battling with myself trying to put some lap times in. I couldn’t really gain any pace. I think a lot was learnt and we are ready to go again for Snetterton.”

Schjerpen:

“It’s great to be back with Century – feels like I never left really. The team is doing a brilliant job as usual, helping me as much as possible to get used to the new car, with it being my first time in the car. It was quite interesting starting the weekend off in the rain on the track – it was quite difficult conditions but I think we coped well. Qualifying went ok but we had some work to do for the race. The drizzle in the beginning of the race didn’t do us any good so we struggled a little bit but I think all in all the speed was quite there or thereabouts and the team did a brilliant job with everything. I think we are going to be strong at Snetterton and I am looking forward to it.”

Nathan Freke, Owner of Century Motorsport:

“This weekend was always going to be very tough when Saturday was soaking wet and Sunday was dry. We hadn’t had the luxury of testing there prior to the race weekend, which just made setup decisions for the race tricky. To be in the hunt for the podium at one point with car 42 was really encouraging. It’s easy to forget how strong the grid is this year and to be disappointed to be coming away with 7th shows how focussed we are at winning.

Aleks had a real baptism of fire this weekend, but settled in well and did a solid job in the race. Now that he has a race under his belt, he will only get stronger. With the 10-second success penalty, making a good position in such a strong field is always difficult.

We are looking forward to Snetterton where we should have a little more testing under our belt and be ready to fight for the wins.”

[ Photo credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography ]