Century Motorsport announced their brand new partnership with the University of Bolton and the Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering last November that would see Anna Walewska team up with former British GT4 runner up Nathan Freke for the 2016 season. The all-new partnership got their season started at the Dubai 24H and won their class, marking themselves out as a combination to watch this season.
Pre-season testing had increased their confidence, with both Anna and Nathan feeling very happy with the balance of their Ginetta G55, prepared and run with the assistance of current students from the University of Bolton as part of their course.
Getting their weekend started with two free practice sessions on Saturday morning, free practice one was utilised to settle into the Brands Hatch GP circuit, before showing their hand in free practice two; topping the sheets by five hundredths of a second.
Buoyed by their free practice pace, qualifying started just after 5pm in what were now dry weather conditions. Initially setting a banker lap, Walewska’s session was split in two with a red flag in the middle, compromising her chances of making a big improvement after the restart. Taking over the #73 Ginetta for the second part, Nathan lit up the timing screens, toping the times on his first flying lap and remained there throughout. When combined with Anna’s best lap, the pair secured their first pole position start of the season.
Sunday got underway with a drama free 10-minute morning warm-up before the first two-hour encounter of the season began. Anna Walewska was nominated to start the race and she continued to show her good pace over the opening laps. Now running in third, Anna was maintaining her position, as the track was placed into a full course yellow at lap 21. Confusion about the new full course yellow rules, which require all cars to reduce to a maximum speed of 80kph, caught out Walewska who slowed immediately upon receiving the call, which controversially allowed those around her to pass for position leaving her in sixth. Looking to cease an opportunity, a good call from the Century Motorsport pitwall brought Walewska into the pits just as the pitstop window opened. A rapid pitstop sent Freke back out onto the track, climbing two places to fourth.
When the track eventually returned to green flag conditions on lap 35, a determined Freke set off in hot pursuit of the GT4 class lead! Despite looking like a sizeable task, the Fenny Compton native was already up to second after two laps, and just 13 seconds back from the class leader with over 30 minutes remaining. As he brought the gap down to 10 seconds, the race was abruptly halted with 20 minutes remaining, robbing Freke of a shot at class victory, but crucially securing the team’s first podium of the season.
Aleksander Schjerpen announced quite recently that he would return to Century Motorsport and the British GT Championship for a third consecutive season, this year however, he would act as the car’s lead driver and firmly intent on scoring some top results from the off.
Joining him in the #40 Ginetta G55 would be Caterham R300 Championship graduate Sean Byrne. The Irish-born UK resident was one of the main contenders in the one-make series last year, but had already impressed the team during pre-season testing; the move to the quicker high-downforce Ginetta not phasing him in the slightest.
The duo started the weekend with some solid running in Saturday morning’s pair of free practice sessions. Qualifying in the afternoon however would turn out to be slightly disappointing for the pair. A red flag split Sean’s session, leaving him unable to improve his earlier banker lap when the track returned to green. Aleksander took over for the second and final part, setting the third fastest time of the session which combined with Sean’s best effort placed the pair sixth on the grid for Sunday’s race.
Following a drama-free morning warm-up, Sean Byrne was designated to start the race for his first rolling start. Despite initially getting a good getaway, Byrne slipped back and avoidable contact on the main straight from the Maserati left Byrne feeling quite unsettled in the car. Following the incident, Byrne initially thought he had a puncture, but as the team readied themselves in the pitlane, it turned out not to be the case and the balance of the car came back allowing him too continue.
Now running in tenth as the full course yellow was declared, Byrne dived into the pits just after the pit window opened. The team had just released Freke back into the race when Byrne arrived, but that didn’t phase the Century Motorsport team and they performed a blindingly quick pitstop to place Aleksander Schjerpen in the car to finish the race. Returning to the track now in eighth position, Schjerpen was able to begin his first competitive laps when the track returned to green on lap 35. However his stint would be short lived, a trip into the barrier left the Norwegian with some heavy damage to the rear of his Ginetta, and despite making it back to the pits, the team were unable to safely repair the car to get him to the end.
Anna Walewska – #73 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4:
“I’m really pleased with this weekend. For this year it’s a new team and a new teammate for me but it works and I’ve got confidence in everyone who are definitely bringing out the best in me. There was definitely some pressure starting from pole for the first time, but I just took it in my stride, did the best I could to ensure I could hand the car over to Nathan in a good position. We got a really good result today and now I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Nathan Freke – #73 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4:
“Coming into the weekend, I thought a podium was a possible outcome, but straight away on Saturday Anna was setting some great times and the car felt great. From there I thought, maybe we could go for a win here! Qualifying was great, Anna’s session was difficult with the red flag and I think she could have gone quicker with a clean session, when I went out I just drove as fast as I could and in the end it was enough to give us pole. In the race, Anna did a great job. The new Full Course Yellow regulations certainly cost us during Anna’s stint, but overall the car was great. It was a shame to be robbed of the final 20 minutes as I think we could have gone for the win. We’re a new pairing but a strong one and I think Rockingham should be good.”
Sean Byrne – #40 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4:
“I’m pleased to get through the first race weekend, learning all the new race procedures that I needed too. I’m pleased to learn everything, not make any mistakes and get through it. I do have some pace to find, but I’m looking forward to Rockingham and hopefully get a bit more on the pace.”
Aleksander Schjerpen – #40 Century Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4:
“Well this is not really the weekend we were hoping for. At the start both Sean and I showed really good speed and we are working really well together, but the race didn’t really work out for us. But we will come back stronger from this and I’m looking forward to Rockingham in two weeks time.”
Les Jones – Team Manager, Century Motorsport:
“Starting this weekend off the back of our class win at Dubai with three of the four drivers certainly put confidence on a high. I’m really pleased for Anna and Nathan today, they put on a good performance all weekend. The new Full Course Yellow rules that still need a bit of fine tuning probably cost us a shot at the win, but finishing second is a great way to start the year. Sean and Aleksander deserved a much better result than they got today. They’ve been really fast all weekend. As a team there is lots of positives, and now we are looking forward to Rockingham for another two hour race in two weeks time.”
Round 2 – Rockingham Motor Speedway, Corby, UK, Saturday 30th April & Sunday 1st May 2016.