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Perfectly timed pit stop allows Century to claim victory at Spa

Well, what an extraordinary weekend for Century Motorsport at Belgium’s picturesque Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Having won the previous round at Silverstone, car 43 was handed a success penalty of 20-seconds extra in the pits for the race at Spa. Also, 17-year-old Dean Macdonald had partnered with Jack Mitchell for Spa and for the final two rounds of the championship, as Aleksander Schjerpen had only signed up for half of the season. Macdonald was new to the car, having only completed one track-day at Donington Park just days before Spa’s 2-hour race. This, along with the lengthy mandatory pit stop time, left the team thinking it would be a bonus to reach a top five spot however when a safety car was deployed just before their pit stop, it gave the number 43 car a huge opportunity to jump ahead of the leaders and go on to claim victory, with the 42 car just missing out on a podium finish!

At least two members of staff from BMW Motorsport in Munich always attend the British GT races, supporting Century Motorsport with a truck full of spares and technical/setup assistance. This time however, there were several other teams who were also fielding M4 GT4s but in the European GT4 Championship, therefore there were even more staff from BMW Motorsport in attendance, making it quite exciting for them when Century claimed victory.

With only 10 minutes of qualifying time per driver and an extremely long track at 4.352 miles, this only allowed for approximately three full laps, meaning they really had to push and give it their all as soon as they got out there. The combined qualifying results put car 42 in fourth and car 43 in seventh. At this point, the team were thinking 42 could go for a podium result and it would still be a bonus if car 43 could finish in the top five.

Sunday afternoon in the sweltering heat, starting the 2-hour race in car 43 from seventh on the grid was Macdonald. The safety car was out for the first few laps however as soon as he got the opportunity to make a move, Macdonald overtook the Ginetta in front, bringing him up to sixth place on lap 8. The majority of Macdonald’s stint then appeared to be a battle with the Ginetta who managed to take his sixth place back on lap 11 and Macdonald struggled to find another gap throughout the remainder of his stint. Meanwhile, the number 501 car retired from the race, promoting Macdonald up to sixth.

Ben Green started the race in car 42 from fourth on the grid. He gained one position off the line and some determined driving kept him on the back of the two leaders. He handed the car over to Ben Tuck in third place, which was very impressive considering he had never been to the circuit before. The top three cars went into the pits for their driver changes during lap 20 and upon exiting the pits, they had all kept their order however a safety car had now been deployed, which was about to really shake things up.

Just as car 43 was called into the pits, the safety car came out. The extra 20-seconds made it a really tense wait however once Mitchell emerged from the pits and re-joined the track, the timing screens shocked those watching, as car 43 flew right to the top, becoming the race leader. Spectators were wondering if there was an issue with the timing screens, but it turned out that the perfect timing of the pit stop during the safety car period, had worked in the team’s favour and Mitchell was rightfully now the race leader.

With track temperatures soaring up to 46.7 degrees, the team couldn’t be certain that the tyres would hold out to allow for a win however with some incredible controlled driving, ensuring that he left no room for anyone to pass, Mitchell took home the win by just 0.387 seconds. 

Crossing the line just three cars behind was the sister-BMW piloted by Ben Tuck. He drove very well in his stint coming perilously close to passing the McLaren in front, but later on had to divert his attention to defending from the Mercedes, which he did brilliantly. Unfortunately due to the number 43 car unknowingly leaping ahead of the other cars in the pits, this meant that car 42 lost its third place in the race, losing out on a podium finish.

Round 7 of British GT at Spa-Francorchamps gave Century a shocking and unexpected result, which now puts driver Jack Mitchell first in the driver standings and Century Motorsport are now leading the team standings – definitely an improvement for the team in comparison to the same race 1-year before, when luck really wasn’t on their side. Car 42 is fifth in the championship however it still has a chance to hunt for the title.

The penultimate round is just 1 week away and will be held at Brands Hatch on 4th – 5th August – be sure not to miss this one!

Macdonald: 

“The weekend went really well. I didn’t quite expect the result to be what it was – especially for my first race with the team! Everyone is so nice and welcoming and they did an amazing job with the car and also Jack was helping me on the circuit as well – it has just been amazing all round team effort. The race was a bit difficult with the safety car at the start due to oil being spilled at Eau Rouge. The 20s penalty also made the race a bit more difficult but it all worked out in the end with the safety car during the pit stop and then Jack did an amazing job holding off the two McLarens at the end.”

Mitchell:

“Spa has been really positive – our pace has improved throughout the weekend. From the start we were really held back with the BoP but helped us out a little bit which gave us a bit of a fighting chance. In the race it started off really well – Deano did a good job. He was battling for sixth position and then it became really lucky for us because in the pit stop the safety car came out and managed to get us a lap in front. I thought it would then be nice and easy and plain sailing but the organisers let the cars un-lap themselves to get them on the same lap as me so then I knew it was going to be a bit of a dog fight towards the end and I knew the McLarens would be fast, they have been quick all weekend. I knew where to put the car along the straights and knew where they were faster and stronger and managed to hold Charlie [Fagg] behind right until the end. I am really happy with the result and the team have done another amazing job and we will keep being consistent for the next 2 rounds.

Tuck:

“The weekend started with some difficult testing – in FP1 and FP2 we struggled with the car but kept chipping away trying to find a better set up. By qualifying the team had done a great job and the car was transformed. I felt really comfortable pushing for a faster lap and with our combined times, we qualified P4. The race went very smoothly from our point of view, Ben made a great start and got up to P3 however in the pit stop/safety car phase, we were bumped back down to P4 which is where I finished. Not a bad weekend but so close to the podium!”

Green:

“The weekend was tough – it was my first time here at Spa and I had to learn the circuit during Saturday morning’s practice. Then it was straight into quali with no experience on new tyres until then. Quali was a learning experience on the new tyres. We then went into the race starting 4th which is a good position. I managed to get up to third on the first lap and maintained this for the entire stint. An unlucky safety car after the pit stops meant that we fell back to 4th and then that is where we finished the race.”

Nathan Freke, Owner of Century Motorsport:

“This time last year we came away from spa with 2 written off cars and zero points. This year couldn’t have been much different! We knew from the outset that it was going to be hard to win round here on pace as we just didn’t quite have the BOP to be quickest. Before the race, we thought that if car 42 could get a podium, we would have achieved the maximum possible. As for car 43, that needed a miracle, or a safety car to have a chance of getting a result due to the 20-second success penalty. Unbelievably, this is exactly what happened  Just as we called car 43 into the pits, a safety car was deployed and it put us 1 lap ahead! It wasn’t easy to keep the lead, but Jack did a great job of managing it. Car 42 did everything it could – technically they achieved the perfect race for them, so it was a tough one to miss out on a podium for all their efforts. We still have both cars in the hunt for the championship so we are still pushing as hard as we can heading into the last 2 rounds.”