Optimum Motorsport makes welcome return to British GT4 podium at Spa
Optimum Motorsport returned to the GT4 podium in Round 6 of the 2016 Pirelli British GT Championship at Belgium's legendary and evocative Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (8-9 July).
On Friday (8 July), a brief rain shower meant sector two of Spa's 7km lap was particularly wet for the start of the GT4 Am segment of qualifying, but times improved as a drying line appeared towards the end of the 12-minute session.
Wet tyres were switched for slicks and British GT4 title contenders Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson were just three tenths off the eventual combined pole time in third, but the pairing are proven race winners and would do their utmost to move forward in Saturday's (9 July) two-hour race.
With this in mind, Johnson set his fastest laps of the weekend in the 2m36s during the opening phase of his stint, settling into the rhythm that had eluded him and teammate Robinson throughout congested free practice and qualifying sessions.
After the mandatory driver-changes, Robinson sat comfortably in second in British GT4 and fifth in the overall GT4 classification, and it was encouraging that the PMW World Expo driver possessed more inherent pace than class leader Joey Foster.The gap fluctuated incessantly, dipping below ten seconds with 40 minutes remaining and again during the final ten minutes, although lapped traffic stymied Optimum Motorsport's victory charge and the team brought its Ginetta G55 GT4 home in second in the combined GT4 order, safe in the knowledge that its title rivals were some way back in the pack.
"Second place is a good and satisfying result," said Johnson. "I really enjoyed the race, especially as the PMW World Expo Ginetta felt good and there were no problems. I'll be glad to see the back of the European GT4 cars, as it cost us a lot of time and the win, but I was reminded why I love racing today. We said before the weekend that we would be happy with a fifth place, so to leave with a second and silverware is fantastic."
Robinson added: "It was nice to be the hunter, rather than the hunted. More often than not it has been the other way round, where we're in a good position at the end of Graham's stint and I have to fend somebody off in mine. Graham gave some excellent feedback to the guys on the pit wall to say that the car felt a bit loose, so we dropped the tyre pressures in the stop and I had a better experience, so that was a really good bit of teamwork. After Silverstone and Rockingham, we never expected to be on the podium and we'll be delighted to get back to normal British GT racing at one of my favourite circuits, Snetterton."
In GT3, Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe had good pace on used tyres throughout testing and practice, boding well for the race proper, but there was a need to trust that fresh Pirelli tyres would afford sufficient grip for Spa's fastest sections, such as the ascent up Eau Rouge and the Blanchimont left-hander.
Progress was made by both drivers in every session and Ratcliffe was on course for a significant improvement in lap time during GT3 Pro qualifying when rain saturated sector two of the lap and prevented the Welshman from bettering a tenth place starting position.
However, traffic had been a major issue throughout free practice and qualifying and it was clear that chunks of time would be won or lost while negotiating lapped GT4 runners in the race, and it was thought that Ratcliffe's experience of multi-class endurance racing in the CREVENTIC 24H Series would come to the fore.
Sadly, the race lasted only a few laps for Optimum's GT3 contingent, as contact with the Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 severely damaged the #14 Audi R8's steering rack and also led to a post-race exclusion.
Optimum Motorsport Team Principal, Shaun Goff, said: "To bounce back from two DNFs at Rockingham and Silverstone and achieve a second place result is great for Graham (Johnson) and Mike (Robinson), and it's especially positive because our championship rivals suffered relatively low finishes. Four race finishes, three race wins and a second place is a great record and today's result means we regain the championship lead, so I'm looking forward to the next round at Snetterton.
"With the Audi, Will (Moore) felt the pressure to make moves on the brakes and it ended in contact. This happens in racing and it is a shame, but it was always going to be a tough ask as part of a large grid, in hot temperatures. The important thing is that the mechanics have repaired the broken steering and the car is ready to go in the 24H Circuit Paul Ricard next weekend."