Dominant performances from Haigh, as Optimum shine at Donington

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Wakefield’s Optimum Motorsport had a weekend of two halves at Donington Park (25-26 April) with Flick Haigh dominating the Saturday, taking a commanding pole-position a win in the opening race, before Sunday’s brace of races delivered a seventh and a DNF.

Saturday morning at Donington was a bright affair, with the East Midlands’ track basked in sunshine and times suitably quick. Haigh, no stranger to the Ginetta G55 GT4, wasted little time setting the benchmark for the GTA category entrants, posting a 1:11.551, before a throng of Ginetta and Lotus powered rivals attempted to topple her time in vein.

Rain arrived ten minutes before qualifying and proceeded to get heavier as the session wore on, creating a monstrous challenge for the 30+ drivers who were attempting to post a quick lap of the 1.97 mile National Circuit.While suitably acquitted with the G55 in dry conditions, qualifying presented Haigh with her first wet running in the 3.7-litre 335bhp Ginetta. Rising to the challenge the 30-year-old from Marlow acclimatised quickly and delivered a 1:23.019 lap, some seven tenths of a second quicker than the Spy Motorsport Ginetta G50 (1:23.775) and over two seconds quicker than the Amigo Motorsport G50 of Rob Gafney (1:25.671).

Closing out the Saturday at Donington was the first race of the 2015 GT Cup season, a 50-minute pit stop race, now taking place in dry conditions once again. Starting from class pole-position, eighth overall, Haigh wasted precious little time showing her ability, leading from the start while her rivals squabbled over the remaining podium spots. As some of the 33-car grid tangled, a safety car was deployed and Haigh had to re-build her lead once again before the pit window opened.

The mandatory pit stop was faultless and Optimum got Haigh back on track quickly, with the former Caterham Champion re-joining second in class, just behind the Spy Motorsport Ginetta of Gary Feakins. On lap 25 Haigh overcame the class leader and proceeded to drop him sharply, creating an 11-second buffer to her fellow Ginetta racer at the flag.Speaking post-race Haigh commented, “I loved that race. It was quite full on and the safety car mixed it up quite a bit. I got on with it though and managed to regain the lead after the pit stop, so I’m really happy with how today went.”

A second qualifying session, to set the order for race two, began Sunday’s track action and Haigh once more proved her worth, taking pole-position in the GTA category again, but improving her best lap of the fast and flowing Leicestershire track to a 1:11.026. This was a mighty quick lap and half a second quicker than her nearest rival the Geoff Steel Racing BMW M3 E46 GTR (1:11.516).

Starting just after midday, the first ‘sprint’ race of the 2015 GT Cup season got underway with a bang, quite literally in the case of our Ginetta G55. Starting from class pole, but sixteenth overall, Haigh had a number of ‘Cup’ class (GTC) cars ahead.

With different power and aero characteristics to the top class GTO runners and Haigh and her GTA class cars, the GTC cars tangled and caused an accident that collected Haigh and dislodged the rear wing of our Ginetta.

Several laps later, with the wing still mounted on one side, the team received a black flag to remove the dislodged bodywork. Seizing an opportunity to lose time and complete the wishes of race control, Optimum brought Haigh in when the safety car took to the track on lap five.

Unfortunately it wasn’t a very long safety car period and Haigh resumed on lap seven well down the order in seventh. With no rear wing, the Ginetta G55 was a different beast and Haigh was unhappy with the balance and handling of the car, which was now bereft of a significant piece of down force.

Haigh battled on to the flag, albeit now 6-7s off the pace and the experienced racer took a measured approach, taking the finish in seventh, 12s off the sixth-placed TF Sport Aston Martin of Martin Johnston.

The final race of the day, another 25-minute sprint, was to be a short-lived affair for the Optimum crew. Starting 20th overall, fifth in the GTA Class; a position based on Haigh’s fastest lap from race two with her rear wing hanging off (!!), the Mugello 12 Hour class winner was positive about a good showing in the third race of the weekend.

After making a good start and rising quickly up to fourth, a collision after thirteen laps of the Donington circuit between Haigh and the Ginetta G50 of John Saunders at the final chicane ruled out any hope of a points finish.

With Saunders over to the right on the way down Starkey’s Straight, Haigh kept the racing line and passed the yellow Ginetta to take third, only for Saunders’ left front to make contact with Haigh’s right rear. The resulting damage ensured Haigh couldn’t rejoin and the Optimum crew packed up early on the Sunday night.

Post-race Haigh commented: “It was a frustrating weekend; Saturday was so good and Sunday was a bit of a let down. I hadn’t driven the Ginetta since Mugello in March and was chuffed to stick it on pole in the wet. To then take the win in the 50-minute race was great. Sunday started okay too, I got pole for race two with a time that was really quite quick, but then things went downhill courtesy of some poor driving around me; two safety cars in one 25-minute race is a bit extreme. That said, I’m happy with my performance though and we’ve shown that we can win races in GT Cup; arguably this weekend I should’ve won all three such was our pace over the others in the class. Hopefully we’ll come back and make more appearances this season.”

Optimum Motorsports’ Team Principal, Shaun Goff added: “I wish we could switch the days around, because it’s never nice to leave a track after a DNF. Flick has acquitted herself well all weekend and has shown she can go and win races on her own. She’s a very capable driver, and with the G55 she is seemingly very happy and fast. Over the course of the weekend she’s achieved a lot, not least driving the car in the rain and taking pole-position. You get good days and bad days in motorsport, but we’re really happy with the weekend and hopefully we can get together to do some more races.”

Optimum Motorsport will be back on track this weekend (2-3 May) in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship and Ginetta GT5 Challenge at Corby’s Rockingham Motor Speedway.


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