Optimum Motorsports’ pair of Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge contenders, Stewart Linn and Dan O’Brien acquitted themselves well in the opening three races of the 2015 season, as Linn finished the weekend leading the championship standings having taken podiums across all three races.
The series is the perfect proving ground for aspiring GT racers, and the 2015 looks likely to be one of the most competitive to date. With Linn an established figure in the one-make Challenge paddock, the 35-year-old has already been singled out as a frontrunner after starring roles in the final weekend of the 2014 season. In contrast, 22-year-old O’Brien is a newcomer to the Ginetta field, having previously competed in rallying and rallycross.
Come qualifying on Saturday morning, Linn’s 2:01.397 lap of the picturesque Cheshire track looked good enough to get him a front row start for race one, and only Ginetta Junior Vice Champion James Kellett was able to beat the time. The gap between the two was a mere 0.027s; with Ollie Chadwick third some 1.4s further back at the end of the 20-minute session. If Linn had shined, O’Brien sparkled. A 2:12.508 lap was a good time for the former rally ace, who finished up 14th at the end of the session on his circuit racing debut.
Tension was high going into race one and it looked like it would be a straight fight between Linn and TCR driver, Kellett, for the win. Positions were held after the first lap, and it was Chadwick who surprised both drivers with some audacious passing to lead at the end of lap two. An off for Kellett on lap four ended the race prematurely, and points were awarded based on the positions at the end of that lap. Linn scooped second and O’Brien a solid ninth place finish.
The grid for race two was formed using the fastest laps of race two, and Linn lined up his 1.8-litre Zetec-engined G40 on the first row, again second to Kellett, with O’Brien down on row seven in 14th place. The second Ginetta Challenge race went the full distance and Linn left it until lap seven to make his move on Kellett, stalking his rival, before taking the lead. Linn looked set for a maiden 2015 win at this point, however, it wasn’t to be. A dogged display by Kellett saw him wrestle the lead back on the last lap; the pair finished the race just 0.1s between them. O’Brien improved yet again and was gifted eighth place when Russ Simpson crashed out with one lap to go.
With Linn alongside Kellett for the third time on Saturday, the Optimum racer knew it would take something special to beat his younger rival, and after leading for the first six laps of the race it looked like the former British GT4 Champion (2008) and Ginetta G20 Champion (2006), was home and dry. However, Kellett retaliated and came back at Linn’s G40, taking the lead on lap seven, leaving the Optimum man to stave off challenge from Luca Hirst and Callum Pointon. O’Brien had a lively race, dropping to eleventh on the first lap and steadily fighting back as the 11-lap race progressed and his understanding of the 150 bhp G40 Challenge car increased.
Optimum’s Team Principal, Shaun Goff was thrilled with both drivers’ performances, but wasn’t surprised to see Linn in such fine form, “Anything Stewart drives he’ll always be there with a consistency to win a championship. We’ve worked together for many years and one thing I know is that while he might be beaten on pace occasionally, he is a consistent performer, so to come away from the season opener with the championship lead is just fantastic. He’s had no pre-season testing unlike some of his rivals who’ve done four or five days, he didn’t do the practice on Friday, so it says something about his quality to be where he is now. I think we need to put a schedule together for him to help him maintain that championship lead now.”
Goff also commented on O’Brien adding, “Dan has tried to put the time in during pre-season testing and has gradually been improving. His ambition was to get into the top-ten by the midway point of the season, so to have successfully done so in his first weekend is great. It shows how far we’ve come together in a short time and our ambitions in the GT5 Challenge this year. We don’t want to just have drivers that are happy running at the back, we want to push drivers and take them on a journey, so they can exceed their expectations and reach new heights. Dan definitely has a lot potential and it bodes well for the year ahead.”
Following a successful opening weekend, Optimum Motorsports’ G40s will head to the Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby (2-3 May), where they will again do battle across three races and support the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.