Optimum Motorsport agonisingly close to maiden GT3 podium in Silverstone 500
Shrewd strategic decisions ensured Optimum Motorsport was in the fight for an outright podium finish until the final lap of the Pirelli British GT Championship Silverstone 500, but fifth place was embraced by all at the team at the end of a dramatic and enthralling three-hour race (11-12 June).
Overcast skies blanketed Northamptonshire for free practice and qualifying on Saturday (11 June), but the outlook was relatively bright for Optimum Motorsport’s GT4 contingent.
Class leaders Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson were both satisfied with their car’s performance at the conclusion of free practice and there was a strong belief that their speed and consistency as a pairing would prevail against a bumper 51-car field in Sunday’s three-hour race.
The Professional Motorsport World Expo entry was sixth in British GT4 in the combined free practice classification and the core aim was to qualify as the top Ginetta and ahead of the Beechdean Aston Martin V8 Vantage of Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert.
Exasperated by uncooperative and obstructive traffic, Johnson and Robinson were both relieved to emerge unscathed from a manic qualifying session in sixth in class, Johnson saying: “Traffic was a real problem. It was ridiculous! People were blocking and racing you and we lost time as a result. It really didn’t work and I felt we had the quickest Ginetta because it felt great. Of course, the Ginetta is not the fastest car at Silverstone and we’re some way off in the speedtraps, but Mike (Robinson) and I just wanted to use our experience to take a podium or a top five finish in what we felt would be a messy race."
Ultimately, traffic was the Ginetta pairing’s downfall. Treacherously wet conditions necessitated a Safety Car start and Johnson and Robinson remained at the sharp end of the GT4 field from the moment the race when green until around mid-distance, when a rear-end shunt from a GT3 rival sent them spearing off into the gravel.
In GT3, Ryan Ratcliffe and Will Moore spent their practice time dialling out a pointy front end on their Audi R8 LMS and a couple of innocuous trips over the gravel did little to hamper the teammates’ qualifying and race preparations.
Moore started Sunday’s (12 June) three-hour contest behind the Safety Car in P12 and gained positions hand over fist to lie second overall on the fourth tour of the saturated Silverstone Grand Prix circuit before briefly handing the reins to Ratcliffe during a protracted neutralisation.
However, Optimum Motorsport took a strategic decision to make a second successive driver-change before racing resumed to ensure it was one stop ahead of its GT3 rivals with a 30-second deficit to the leaders, when it takes approximately 90 seconds to complete a pit stop.
A drying line soon appeared and Optimum’s shrewd strategic gamble appeared to be paying off when it switched Moore for Ratcliffe with 80 minutes remaining, the team ascending to P1 on the leaderboard as others made their third and final stops.
Unfortunately, a conservative start to Ratcliffe’s stint meant he came under attack from Gold and Platinum graded Pros in the latter stages, and the slick-shod Welsh Wizard was powerless to defend and took the finish in fifth.
Disappointed not to achieve Optimum Motorsport’s maiden GT3 podium at the end of what he described as “the hardest race of his life”, Ratcliffe said: “The Silverstone 500 was bittersweet because if somebody has offered me a fifth place this morning I would have taken it. We couldn’t have done that without Optimum Motorsport’s brilliant strategy and slick pit stops and an outstanding stint by Will (Moore). It’s the first time I’ve driven the car on slicks in damp conditions and it was hands down the most difficult race of my life. It was a big learning curve for me and I’m happy with fifth, but gutted that we didn’t get on the podium at the same time.”
Optimum Motorsport Team Principal, Shaun Goff, said: “I would have taken a P5 at the start of the weekend and it was strategy and quick decision-making that ensured we were in the fight until the last lap. It goes to show that we’ve got a podium in us if things go our way. We live to fight another day.”