GT4 victory 'down the Hatch' for Optimum Motorsport in British GT opener
Optimum Motorsport’s status as one of the world’s top Ginetta teams was reinforced by a convincing GT4 class victory for Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson in Round 1 of the Pirelli British GT Championship at Brands Hatch (16-17 April).
The Optimum GT4 pairing, who finished runner-up in the 2015 British GT Championship, carried supreme pace throughout the weekend and dominantly raced from a front-row grid position to the top step of the podium at the Kent-based racetrack, laying solid foundations for their British GT title push.
However, the first round of the 2016 British GT Championship was “one to forget” for Optimum Motorsport's GT3 racers, Ryan Ratcliffe and Will Moore.
The latter went off on a rival’s oil on only his third flying lap of the weekend in first practice and a mistake from the former saw the #14 Audi R8 LMS GT3 nose into the barrier and sustain floor damage at the Druids hairpin later on Saturday (16 April).
The Optimum Audi subsequently ran without a flat floor in qualifying and a loss of downforce shackled Ratcliffe and Moore to 12th on the grid, although the drivers remained positive and believed they could make progress in the race on Sunday (17 April) afternoon.
Their optimism appeared to be justified; Ratcliffe’s progress was phenomenal during the opening 30 minutes and the Welshman from Llanelli leapt from 12th to eighth on lap one before pushing on to fifth at the expense of Mark Farmer and Alasdair McCaig.
A protracted full course caution followed and it was a full 40 minutes before racing resumed. The entire field carried out their compulsory driver changes during the neutralisation and Moore was at the helm of the Optimum Motorsport Audi in sixth at the restart, only to spin out into the Paddock Hill gravel with half an hour to run.
There were broad smiles on the other side of the Optimum Motorsport garage, as the PMW World Expo Racing Ginetta G55 of Robinson and Johnson qualified second on Saturday (16 April) afternoon and both drivers were convinced that they had the inherent pace to win the race.
That was validated when Johnson snatched the initiative and pulled a healthy gap on the pole-sitting Beechdean Aston Martin of Jack Bartholomew prior to the full course yellow, and this was followed a strong, yet truncated stint by Robinson, who was effective at managing the gap to Nathan Freke in second place.
Johnson said: “The intention is to win the 2016 title, having finished second in last year’s championship. To come here today and win is fantastic. We were unwilling to tempt fate by announcing that we wanted the victory, but we were confident we would be quick. The idea is to keep winning, although the next race at Rockingham will be hard with a small success penalty. The fact is, if we’re consistent and continue hauling in the points and podiums, we’ll be there at the end of the year.”
Robinson said: “I was itching to get going during the full course caution and I knew Nathan Freke would be the main threat and it would be critical to manage the traffic well. I stayed consistent, kept pumping in the lap times and I felt comfortable in the lead when the red flag brought the race to an early conclusion. We’re feeling far more confident with the Ginetta G55 GT4 than last year and we’ve made a lot of setup changes that have made the car easier to drive and more consistent, but we also know that there’s more time to come and that is really encouraging.”
Optimum Motorsport Team Principal, Shaun Goff, said: “We knew we were capable of winning races from the outset of the British GT Championship, but the first objective was to score points. To come away with maximum points is amazing. Graham Johnson did a stellar job to eke out a gap and, regardless of the full course yellow, a slick pit stop and Mike Robinson’s speed meant the win was there. Credit to the Optimum Motorsport mechanics, engineers and drivers. I’m really happy to get a win under the belt!
“Of course, the way the weekend went for Ryan Ratcliffe and Will Moore wasn't ideal. There was some nervousness in the car through the high-speed corners and we will be looking to cure that with assistance from Audi Sport. We don’t want to be removing gravel from the car four or five times every weekend. We don’t have the speed to compete on the straights and the handling issues meant we were heavily compromised in areas where the car should have been strong.”
Optimum Motorsport was also nominated as the recipient of the inaugural Professional MotorSport World Expo Team of the Weekend award of 2016.
A team-specific award that's up for grabs at each British GT Championship round in 2016, it highlights the behind-the-scenes work that might otherwise go unnoticed each weekend and is presented to the outfit that has gone above and beyond, or produced a stand-out act.
A trophy is awarded to each winner at every round before one overall ‘Champion’ is crowned at the end-of-season prize giving ceremony, and Optimum Motorsport's nomination recognises its GT4 class victory and the commitment is showed when it embarked on round trip from Brands Hatch to its base in Wakefield to collect a replacement floor for its GT3-spec Audi between qualifying the raceday.
Round 2 of the 2016 Pirelli British GT Championship will be held at Rockingham Motor Speedway in two weeks’ time (29-30 April).