Steep learning curve in GT5 Challenge at Spa

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A challenging weekend awaited Optimum Motorsport at Spa Francorchamps for the fifth round of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, however, despite both drivers having no previous experience of the track, they were still able to attain strong results in, or near, the top 10 positions.

Qualifying - #63 RACTLIFFE - P12  |  #76 FIRTH - P10

Qualifying was, luckily, uneventful for both drivers, and saw them consistently putting in solid times before the session was ultimately ended early under red flag conditions. Firth was able to qualify P10, with teammate Ractliffe not far behind in P12.

Race 1 - #63 RACTLIFFE - DNF  |  #76 FIRTH - DNF

The first of three races did not to get off to a good start for either driver. Ractliffe retired on the outlap due to a broken clutch, and, unfortunately, Firth did not fare much better with contact on turn 1 breaking his bonnet latch, forcing him to retire at the next turn due to his view being obscured by the, now loose, bonnet.

Race 2 - #63 RACTLIFFE - P10  |  #76 FIRTH - P11

Ractliffe began the race in P15, but quickly improved to P12 after making a good start on the first lap. This put him directly behind teammate, Firth, who was struggling with technical issues. Ractliffe took the position, quickly widening the gap and finding himself at the back of a large pack of competitors.

With only a short time of the race remaining, Ractliffe managed to fight his way up into P7 before a moment at the bus stop saw him drop back to P9. A last lap move by #35 Mortensen meant Ractliffe finished the race an impressive P10.

Mechanical issues, later discovered to be a problem with the throttle and rear damper, hampered Firth’s race. Despite this, he put in an impressive performance, managing to initially get himself up to P10 from a 12th place starting position. A hard fought race saw him cross the line P11.

Race 3 - #63 RACTLIFFE - P15  |  #76 FIRTH - P10

Ractliffe started the race P10, but a spin dropped him down to P20 after the second lap. From here, Ractliffe made up a considerable amount of time, gaining three positions in a single lap. With two laps remaining he further moved himself into P15, where he ended the race.

Whilst the team worked to fix the issues discovered in the previous race, consequent setup issues would ultimately make the car difficult to drive. Firth, once again, had to battle through it. It was a tremendous effort by Firth, to not only maintain his 11th position, but to improve upon it and finish P10.

Shaun Goff - Team Principal

"It was always going to be a tough weekend with no previous track time for both drivers, so top ten in qualifying on used tyres was what we were hoping to achieve. Race 1, Finlay had a clutch failure on the out lap and Nick had a first corner incident that dislodged his bonnet. Race 2, Finlay did very well to get up to P7 but unfortunately had an oversteer moment resulting in a spin that saw him drop back and eventually finish in P10. Nick struggled with a car handling issue, which prevented him from moving forward.”

Finlay Ractliffe #63

“For race one, I was hoping to make steady progress, learning the circuit from a racing perspective, assessing other drivers weak areas and looking after my tyres for the rest of the weekend. Unfortunately I did not get the chance.Taking a positive attitude, I thought for race two I could attack hard with more conserved rubber, obtain a solid finishing result, which would then place me higher up the grid for Race 3 and recover the weekend with a good result finishing the day.

"Race two was awesome; any Race at Spa has to be! I wasn’t able to make many places after the start, but I consolidated my position and stayed in the game. I managed to get up to P7 and was in a fight for P6, which was very encouraging, but the top runners had put new tyres on which meant I could not keep the pace. I dropped back to P9, but it still put me in a great position for race 3.

"In race 3, I was more aggressive with the start but stayed out of trouble, making a few places up on the first two laps. An unfortunate lock up on a down change spun me out of control and places were lost. From then on I focused on consistent lap times and gained most of the time back, overtaking a few on the way through.

"Overall it was a great weekend, and showed that we had the pace, especially considering our old tyres and having never driven the circuit before Thursday morning, in the rain!I’m looking forward to Brands Hatch. It’s a circuit I love and we should be competitive and will hopefully have fresh tyres to aid the challenge!”

Nick Firth #76

"All in all it has been quite a tough weekend. It was always going to be challenging, as my first experience of Spa was only in the Thursday test session. However, I tried to get up to speed as quick as possible and managed to qualify within the top 10. Race 1 was disappointing as I suffered light front-end damage at Turn 1, which broke the bonnet catches. Race 2 was tough, as the car performed very poorly for the full race. We would later find that we were not achieving full throttle and one of the rear dampers had seized solid. So P11 was a reasonable result considering the issues.

"The team worked really hard between the two races to get the car sorted but unfortunately Race 3 was also compromised with the damper issue. We made quite a few setup changes after Race 2 to counteract the handling problems before discovering the seized damper. So when we did get the damper sorted, we were too far away from a ‘good’ setup. We’ve got to look forward to the next round now, where hopefully we can be back up at the sharp end of the field."

The team now look forward to the penultimate round of the championship at Brands Hatch on 30-31 August.


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