Century Motorsport got their 2016 season off to a strong start at Brands Hatch, pole position and a podium finish in the opening race of the season certainly made their intentions clear to those around them. However Aleksander Schjerpen and Sean Byrne had their strong run ended prematurely during Schjerpen’s stint. As the championship moved to Rockingham Motor Speedway last weekend for round two, the team were firmly intent on making sure it would be a weekend to remember for both crews.
How the race went for car number 73:
Saturday morning started to shape what would appear to become a dream weekend for the University of Bolton and Westons supported Ginetta of Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke. Topping the timesheets of both Free Practice one and two, from the outside it looked almost certain that Qualifying was going to become a foregone conclusion.
However, all was not well with their Ginetta G55. Towards the end of Free Practice two, Nathan reported a slight miss in the car, and the team quickly set off in pursuit of the fault.
Hoping the issue had been cleared; Anna Walewska started qualifying in the first of the two-part session. However as she exited the last corner to complete her second flying lap, her Ginetta ground to a halt on the approach to turn one, the team franticly going through a systems check over the radio to try and help her restart the car. To no avail, the team pushed the car back to the garage and quickly set to work on trying to resolve the issue to allow Nathan Freke to take over for his part of qualifying. However in the short time frame, the team was unable to locate the fault, which resulted in a back of the grid starting position for Sunday’s race.
Working late into Saturday evening, the team located and resolved a fuel pump issue, and hoped this would clear any outstanding issues for Sunday. Sadly however, Sunday morning’s Warm-up session would throw up some similar symptoms, resulting in some further diagnoses of the poorly G55.
As Anna Walewska drove to the grid for the start of the second two-hour race of the season, it was a case of so-far so-good in the #73 Ginetta. When the lights went out, Anna got a good start and in the opening laps she quickly made her way up the order.
Walewska clearly had the bit between her teeth and was now running in ninth place. Hoping to climb one further place, Walewska was unable to find a way past the experienced Joey Foster, despite a number of superb moves on the fellow Ginetta driver.
Shortly after the pitstop window opened at 50 minutes, Anna dived into the pitlane from ninth to hand over to Nathan Freke for the second and final part of the race.
Just like at Brands Hatch, Freke was on a mission and undeterred by the mountain still left to climb. A rapid pitstop allowed him to return to the track in eighth place, with a brief Safety car period shortly after giving him the opportunity to close in on those in front.
Seizing the moment, one by one Nathan caught and passed those in front before catching and passing GT4 race leader Jamie Chadwick on lap 59. What seemed like the impossible was now a reality, from starting last to leading the race, Freke moved into a lead that he would extend to a margin of almost 30 seconds as he crossed the finish line much to the delight of the Century Motorsport Pitwall.
However, following much celebration, controversially the race officials excluded the #73 Ginetta after the race, due to a yellow flag infringement during the opening laps. The severity of the penalty was uncharacteristically harsh, and certainly a bitter pill to swallow after achieving what seemed like the impossible before the start of the race.
How the race went for car number 40:
Handling issues hampered the progress of the #40 Schjerpen/Byrne Ginetta during Free Practice one on Saturday. Benefitting from the time-sheet topping data of teammate Nathan Freke in the #73 sister Ginetta, the improvements made ahead of Free Practice two where clearly evident on the timing screens, as the pair shot up the order to complete the session as the fifth fastest crew.
Boosted by their new found pace, the pair were confident going into Saturday afternoon’s Qualifying that there was even more to come as they explored the limits of their new tyre running. Showing his true potential, Sean Byrne set the track alight as the second fastest of the AM drivers before handing the car over to Aleksander for the PRO session. With a brand new set of Pirelli tyres bolted on, Schjerpen set off in sight of complimenting his co-drivers performance. Setting the fifth fastest time of the highly competitive PRO graded drivers meant that when the times were combined, the #40 duo would line up in second position on the front row of the GT4 grid for the second two-hour race of the season.
Following a drama-free morning Warm-up session on Sunday morning, Byrne and Schjerpen were hoping to make the most of their first, front row start of the season. When the lights went to green just after 1pm on Sunday afternoon, Sean appeared to struggle at the start, slipping down the order on the opening lap.
Now running in seventh, Byrne had settled into a good rhythm to maintain his position as the pitstop window approached. Just as the clock struck 50 minutes, the pit window opened and the Century Motorsport team set to work on the car.
A lightning pitstop allowed Aleksander to return to the track fully fueled and on new tyres for his stint to take the car to the chequered flag. Now running in sixth once the pitstops had been completed, Schjerpen started to close in on the lead pack. Benefitting from the class leading McLaren being handed a drive through penalty, Aleksander was handed a further stroke of luck, when the SuperRacing Aston Martin of reigning GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick was forced to retire, promoting the Norwegian to third inside the closing minutes of the race.
However despite looking under control, Schjerpen had to take extra care of his tyres over the final laps to ensure he made it to the end. Unphased by the situation, Aleksander crossed the line after two hours of hard and eventful racing to secure the first podium finish of the season for the new pairing, a deserved reward after the bad luck at Brands.
Quotes after the race:
Sean Byrne – #40 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4:
“The weekend started off a lot better than at Brands Hatch, we seemed to get on the pace a lot quicker and a lot easier. After qualifying we were in a strong position which was great. At the start I struggled a little bit, but after that I think I did OK. I brought the car into the pits in seventh and passed the car over to Aleksander who did a great job to bring the car home. We had a bit of luck along the way but it was all good, delighted with my first podium in the championship.”
Aleksander Schjerpen – #40 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4:
“It was an interesting race really. Sean did a brilliant job bringing the car in, in brilliant shape. I got on new tyres and the car felt brilliant so I was able to push quite hard from the beginning. We were both lucky and unlucky with the Safety Car’s today, as we were catching the guy for second when the second Safety car came out. All in all I am really happy. It’s really nice to be back on the podium again. I am really happy for Sean as well, it’s only our second race together and we are really strong now. I can’t wait for Oulton Park next!”
Round 3 & 4 – Oulton Park, Cheshire, UK, Saturday 28th May & Monday 30th May 2016.