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British GT – Spa Francorchamps – Round 7/8

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July 8, 2014

Podium at Spa Franchorchamps. My maiden season in the British GT Championship has been a great learning curve and full of ups and downs, so to secure our first ever podium at a circuit like Spa Franchorchamps feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Jeff Smith / Rory Butcher Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3

Our practice sessions on Friday morning filled us with confidence as both myself and Jeff felt really happy with the balance of the Aston Martin V12 Vantage on used tyres and only made small changes to the cars setup.
We were pumped up for qualifying and Jeff got us off to a good start, sticking the Oman Racing Team Aston fourth on the grid in the Amateur session, which secured a 2nd row starting position for Race 1 and gave us a fighting chance for a result.

Team mate Jeff Smith handed the car over and I headed out on track for the Pro qualifying session which would count towards race 2’s starting order. I pushed hard over two laps setting my fastest lap on the first, but I encountered a different feeling in car with the new tyres from the practice sessions on the used tyres. On corner entry to mid corner it lacked front end grip causing considerable understeer, which prevented the car from changing direction and led on to a delayed application of the power out of the turn. I ended up 14th overall with my team mate in our sister car, Michael Caine, down the order as well.

It left us somewhat disappointed and scratching our heads after such a positive start to the day.

Jeff Smith / Rory Butcher Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3

Moving onwards to race 1 with some changes to car setup Jeff took the reins and started from his well -earned 4th place.  With a damp but drying circuit, tyre choice was crucial. A wet tyre would be the safe option but with the track drying by the minute – would they last?  Slick tyres were risky as they might lose temperature and grip, making the car virtually un-drivable. The team waited until the last possible minute to make a decision and went against most teams and chose slick tyres.

We were delighted to hear Jeff on the radio during his out lap saying that it was definitely slicks. As he lined up on the grid surrounded by cars on wet tyres it was a great feeling!

Jeff held 4th over the first few laps before making a move on the Nissan GTR of Chris Hoy for 3rd and began to create a comfortable lead over the GTR. With less than 35 minutes to go Jeff pitted and I took over. Jeff’s hard work made my stint very comfortable and I chose to take little risk, hit all my markers and brought the car over the line for our first podium of the season.  It felt absolutely brilliant and the team had a big part to play in this result!

Jeff Smith / Rory Butcher Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3

Race 2 was set to be challenging starting from a 14thplace grid position, but I looked forward to see what we could achieve. We made some substantial changes to the cars setup as I had experienced the same understeer in race 1 which gave me hope that I would be competitive.

We headed towards the La Source hairpin off the rolling start and as everyone bunched up on the inside I sent the car around the outside of the turn making  up one position over a Ferrari. We all made our way down intothe incredible Eau Rouge turn and I managed to get an excellent run on the cars ahead leading on to the Kemmel Straight. I snuck passed the Team Russia BMW Z4 of Johnny Cocker and the Audi R8 of Matt Bell to secure 11th. A battle started to ensue from the Ginetta of Tom Sharp in 4th all the way back to myself in 11th, which included the likes of works Ferrari driver Tony Villanders and ex-GP2 and Indy Car driver Adam Carroll. The changes we had made to the car were a step in the right direction and I felt confident enough to push and make up places. I eventually pitted with 27 minutes to go in 9th place and handed the car over to Jeff. Unfortunately as we released Jeff after our pit stop he was blocked by the Team Russia BMW which was sat stationary in the fast lane. The BMW eventually got moving but it was too late as it cost us 14 seconds and 7 positions dropping us down to 16th. All credit to Jeff as he got his head down and managed to make up three positions bringing it home in 13th.

It was a real disappointment especially since the loss of positions was out of our control and we had made superb progress up until that point.

Jeff Smith / Rory Butcher Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage GT3

However we must look at the positives as we secured a fantastic podium at a prestigious circuit and made the right tyre choice under extreme pressure in race 1. A big thank you to Oman Racing Team/ Motorbase Performance for a great call!!

Next we head on to Brands Hatch in August for a 2 hour event around the amazing Grand Prix circuit – one of my favourite UK circuits!!