Linn lucks out but remains in the hunt for GT5 Challenge title
Optimum Motorsport endured a weekend of highs and low at Rockingham in the Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge, with Championship leader Stewart Linn suffering from a combination of bad luck and an electrical glitch in race 2 at the Corby circuit, as James Robinson showed his mettle and enjoyed a positive debut, while Dan O’Brien again established himself firmly in the top ten runners. GRDC+ newcomer Andy Marshall also recorded a progressive weekend of results taking seventh in the final race of the weekend.
Sunshine broke through the cloud for qualifying on Saturday morning, and Optimum’s foursome of Ginettas took to the track for the 20-minute timed session. Going into the weekend Linn was leading the championship from James Kellett by ten points after the pair had dominated proceedings at Oulton Park. With the Corby track a known favourite of the TCR driver, Linn was aware that a strong performance would be required to emerge as Championship Leader on Sunday night.
Kellett was dominant, posting a handful of fast laps, which ensured he would start race one and race two from pole-position. Linn, 35, was quick, but Kellett and Callum Pointon had an edge and locked out the front row for both races, with the Yorkshire man fifth for race one, fourth for race two. Somewhat of a surprise was the pace of Linn’s team-mate James Robinson, who qualified third for both races, showing his fellow Optimum driver the way forwards. O’Brien, still adjusting to circuit racing after becoming an established force in rallying, posted a career best qualifying in the Challenge, taking eleventh and eighth on the grid for race one and two respectively.
If things were competitive in the GT5 qualifying, it was tighter still in the road-legal GRDC+ category where Andy Marshall qualified eleventh and twelfth, but just over three seconds covered the top twelve in both sessions.
With race one taking place late on Saturday afternoon, the drivers had time to relax and review data, with the aim of making a jump forward in the first race of the weekend. It worked for all of the Optimum drivers, bar Linn, who received a hefty whack to the right-side door at the Deene Hairpin on the first lap and tumbled to the back of the grid.
Fighting back from 33rd, Linn was eighteenth by lap 3, and the Invisible Glass-backed racer showed why he was top of the class at Oulton, by reaching eleventh by the end of the race, overcoming 22 cars in just ten laps to finish right behind his team-mate O’Brien, who was up as high as ninth before a last lap move relegated him to tenth.
Robinson took a cautious approach at the start and dropped to fifth, but avoided contact on the first lap. On lap three Robinson made an unsuccessful move for third, dropping to ninth and leaving himself with a lot to do. The Professional Motorsport World Expo liveried Ginetta was soon back on level terms and fighting its way up the order, and an impressive late race move on Ian Robinson and Nick Zapolski, ensured he finished fifth. Marshall was eleventh for the majority of his GRDC+ race, and his consistency delivered a return when Keith Sinclair had an off on the last lap, promoting the 40-year-old barrister to tenth at the flag.
Overnight rain matured into a daytime downpour that flooded the 2.05-mile Corby circuit, creating havoc with some of the other support series on the British GT bill.
With the second Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge race taking place at mid-morning, the rain had eased, albeit not enough for slick tyres to be used. The greasy conditions spiced up the action at the start and Robinson, again opting for caution, dropped to seventh on the first lap, but now with a damaged bonnet that raised every time he accelerated. A succession of clean manouveres saw Robinson rise up to sixth, before a sublime cut-back move on Zapolski at the final corner delivered fifth, just 2s off the more-experienced Ryan Hadfield.
Starting fourth, Linn looked likely to bother the front-runners and challenge for a win, especially given the treacherous conditions on track. However, an electrical glitch on the way to the grid meant he had no electronic dashboard and no lights, which were required for him to take part in the race. Starting from pit lane, the blue and yellow G40 made light work of the overly cautious field and the former British GT4 Champion was eighteenth after the first lap, eleventh by lap seven and a cracking overtake up the inside on Ian Robinson ensured he took tenth in race two.
O’Brien put in a strong race performance too, after dropping to tenth on the opening lap, the youngster showed spirit by overhauling Jason Plumley, and then held off the attention of Ian Robinson and in the final two laps, his team-mate Linn.
The GRDC+ field was the seen of a lot action as the race wore on, and Marshall benefited from the haste of rivals, picking up four places, two by his own doing, over the course of the eight laps. While Marshall could do little about Chris Jones ahead of him, his pace improved despite the slippery conditions and he posted the sixth fastest lap of the race amongst the GRDC+ entrants on his way to eighth.
The final Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT5 Challenge race of the weekend gave Optimum cause for cheer with Stewart Linn getting onto the podium with a third place finish, and Robinson almost joining him having taken fifth. Linn was an assured character and delivered a scintillating drive as he marched up from tenth on the grid.
Meanwhile, Robinson, who was up to third, made a searching attempt to pass Luca Hirst and race leader James Kellett at the Deene Hairpin, opting for the widest line into the tight corner, but Hirst got it all wrong under braking and careered onto the grass and into the barrier, taking Robinson with him and leaving the Optimum racer with nowhere to run.
Robinson got the G40 out of the mess and resumed in seventh, clawing his way back to fifth before the flag fell some five laps later. O’Brien had a good start and held onto tenth for seven laps, before a progressive understeer issue got worse and the 22-year-old from St Albans relinquished his position, dropping to thirteenth at the flag. Marshall completed a solid opening weekend in GRDC+ by taking seventh in class in the third race of the weekend, again proving to have a good race pace with a 1:48.892, seventh quickest in class.
Looking at the standings, all three of Optimum’s G50 Challenge drivers are inside the top ten, with Linn now fourth (138 pts) 38 points off the early leader, Kellett (176 pts). Dan O’Brien is seventh on 73 pts, while newcomer James Robinson is tenth with 60 points from just three races.
In the GRDC+ table, Andrew Marshall is seventh, with 42 points, with four rounds left.
Both series now head to the home of British Motorsport, Silverstone, on the weekend of the 30-31 May, where battle will resume and the Optimum Motorsport foursome will again attempt to topple their rivals.