Century Motorsport made their official return to the Ginetta GT5 Challenge at Oulton Park, after an absence of two years. Lining out for the team would be Ginetta Junior graduate Max Bird, who would be joined by Finland’s Sami Saarelainen making his car racing debut.
Having both settled into their new mounts well during Thursday’s testing, it was a long wait until Monday to get back on circuit with the spread out Easter weekend programme at Oulton Park. However instantly marking himself out as one to watch, Max Bird lit up the timing screens in a wet Monday morning qualifying. By the end of the session, the Chichester native placed his Ginetta G40 in second, just one second behind his nearest rival. Sami Saarelainen proved that he is improving with every lap as he adapts from Karting to cars. He finished the session in 19th position.
It wasn’t long before the drivers were back on track for the first of three races around the Oulton Park International Circuit. Starting from the front row, Max Bird got a poor getaway and found himself outside the top three during the early part of the lap. However it didn’t take him long to put that right and he had already got himself back up to second as they crossed the start/finish line for the first time. Eager to catch race leader Ryan Hadfield before he broke away, Bird was immense in the heavily wet conditions. By the end of the second lap, he had caught and passed Hadfield to move into an early race lead.
Sami Saarelainen was continuing to improve with every lap, and despite loosing just one place early on, he was now starting to make his own charge up the order. By the midpoint in the race he was back up to 19th and closing rapidly on the places in front.
Out in front however it was a Max Bird whitewash. Crossing the line much to the joy of his Century Motorsport team, Bird had taken the first Ginetta GT5 Challenge win of the year with a margin of almost five seconds over his nearest rival. Sami Saarelainen completed his debut race in fine style securing 15th place at the end in tricky conditions for a newcomer to the championship.
Compliments of his race one victory, Bird started race two from pole position and was hoping to repeat his race one victory. Struggling to get away from the pole position spot, Bird slipped down the order, but by the time he completed the opening lap he had got himself back up to third. Starting from 15th on the grid and hoping to move forward, Sami Saarelainen briefly slipped off on the opening lap, leaving him down in 25th and with it all to do for the remainder of the race.
Out in front, Max Bird was now up to second and started into what would be a race long battle for the lead with Shane Stoney. Swapping places on a number of occasions, eventually it all came down to the last corner, with Lewis Brown now also in the mix. Getting left to the outside of the circuit exiting the corner, it became a drag race to the line with Bird eventually securing third. Sami continued to impress and recovered well after his opening lap incident to finish in 19th.
Due to incidents on track in other classes delaying the event, the third and final Ginetta GT5 Challenge race had to be postponed. Max Bird now sits second overall in the championship standings, just a single point off the top spot.
Sami Saaraleinen – #12 Century Motorsport Ginetta G40:
“The weekend started really well on Thursday in testing. We had a great day and got the most out of three hours of testing. Qualifying was a bit of a mess for me as it was my first time in the wet, but it wasn’t a total disaster. After that I’ve been learning to drive in the wet and learning the car overall. I’ve had a great weekend and now I’m looking forward to the next weekend at Rockingham.”
Max Bird – #44 Century Motorsport Ginetta G40:
“The weekend started well with P2 in qualifying. I didn’t get the best of starts in the first race, but I manged to come through within the first few laps and break away. From there I was able to maintain the speed I had and win by quite a long way. That result meant I started pole for race two and again I didn’t get the best start as I haven’t really practiced them yet, but I still managed to get back up to second. From there I applied the pressure on the leader but in the end I finished third after a small incident at the last corner. It was a shame not to get our third race, but all in all it’s been a really good weekend.”
Nathan Freke – Team Principal, Century Motorsport:
“It’s been the dream return to the Ginetta GT5 Challenge for us really. Max has been on it from the word go and we know how tough this championship can be, so to come in and qualify on the front row and convert that to a win in the first weekend as a newcomer is very impressive. He was unlucky not to repeat his win in race two, but points make prizes so his third place finish leaves him second in the standings by just a point which is fantastic. For Sami it was a pretty big weekend. His first time in the car at a new circuit and then it rained, so it was a lot for him to learn. But he’s done very well throughout and improved with every lap which is all we can ask for, so I’m really pleased for him and hopefully Rockingham will see him pick up where he left off.”
Rockingham Motor Speedway, Corby, Saturday 29th & Sunday 30th April 2017.