Optimum keep title hopes alive with Belgian top five
Yorkshire’s Optimum Motorsport made the long trip to Belgium this weekend for round four of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, with drivers Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson still in contention for the GT4 drivers title. A top-five result ensured they kept in touch with the series leaders, but it wasn’t plain sailing for the two former Caterham drivers at Spa-Francorchamps.
Free practice didn’t run as smoothly as hoped for Robinson and Johnson, and a lowly fourteenth (2:38.560) was some way off where the team and drivers expected to be. Early on the Ginetta G55 GT4 appeared to be overheating in the unusual summer climate at the Ardennes circuit, and the team tried to make changes between the tight time schedule.The issue was clearly mechanical and the pair were now at the bottom of the speed traps too, complaining of issues with a loose rear, which limited their ability to get the power down on the high-speed circuit.A minor improvement in the second practice saw the #50 Ginetta twelfth, but ultimately with a far slower time than the earlier session. Work was required and Optimum Motorsport’s experienced team rallied to find a solution.
Qualifying on Friday afternoon saw the Pro drivers go first, and Robinson made a step forward, a 2:37.767, amid a very track of GT3 and GT4 cars. That was still some 4.5s off the quickest man in class, Gavan Kershaw in the Lotus.In the ‘Am’ session, Johnson faired well, his experience of the 4.3-mile Spa-Francorchamps circuit showing, with a 2:38.647 the result, good enough for fourth in class. His time could have even been better had it not been for traffic on the outer reaches of the circuit, which we estimate cost over a second in time lost.
With the overseas round now a single 120-minute race, rather than the normal pair of 60-minute sprints, times would be combined, and the duo’s time were added together, resulting in a seventh place on the grid start for the Saturday race.Another glorious morning in Belgium ensured that the wet Avon Tyres would stay firmly in the back of the garage, and with significant changes made to the Ginetta overnight, Team Principal Shaun Goff was certain all issues had been eradicated.
As the race got underway, it wasn’t a car issue that caused problems, rather that of another driver. Early contact between Johnson and the rival Ginetta of the Twisted Team Parker outfit, saw our G55 GT4 spin right around at La Source, dropping quickly down the order. Following an intense opening half an hour, Johnson was up to eighth in class, and over the next fifteen minutes, the British businessman was up to fifth and closing on the AMD Tuning Porsche 911.
A safety car for an ailing BMW GT3 brought the field together, which suited Optimum, and on the restart Graham looked like he would attack further, however before he got a chance, a pair of GT3 cars came together and a second safety car period occurred.As the restart got underway, so the pit window opened, and Optimum elected to pit and change drivers. Johnson came in fourth in class, and Robinson took over, returning in sixth.
Sixth quickly became fifth, and with just shy of an hour left on the clock, a battle of seismic proportions took place in the GT4 class; if you weren’t trying to pass, you were getting passed.
While lining up a move for fourth place, Robinson got caught by the Ginetta G50 of Jamie Stanley, and relegated back to sixth. While little could separate the two cars over the next half an hour, the Fox Motorsport Ginetta had an edge and Robinson couldn’t get past.
However, with ten minutes left on the clock, good fortune came to the Wakefield-based team as Robinson picked up fifth when the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin was penalised for a pit infringement.
That’s how it finished, with Robinson fifth, giving the British duo a healthy fifteen points. However, while a top-five was a good result, their title rivals finished first and second, and edged out a gap in the points standings, which indicates a victory or two is required to re-gain control of the Championship.
“It was far from an ideal weekend. We had overheating issues with the engine on Friday, and the car was also very tail-happy. I was on for a reasonable result in qualifying, but I lost over a second in traffic and ended up fourth. Overnight Optimum changed as much as they could on the car to remove any chance of the issue reoccurring. In the race, the issue wasn’t the car, but other drivers! I was accelerating off of turn one, but got spun-around having been hit on the side of the right-rear by someone still trying to slow the car down for the corner; he came from about four car-lengths back behind me, I might add!). It dropped us to dead last, with everyone else at the top of Eau Rouge by the time I re-joined. I got back up to fourth place by the time I pitted, but we lost a place under a safety car as a competitor further back was far enough behind to be about to stop the moment the pit-window opened. Mike did what he could, but today wasn’t out day. Shaun and the Optimum guys did a great job to sort the car out ahead of the race, hopefully we can have better fortune at Brands Hatch in August.”