Heading into round 3 as British GT Championship leaders came with quite a nice feeling and we aimed to stay there. It was always going to be tough as Rockingham brings so many different challenges, it’s a track that we would class as our bogey circuit!
It’s a unique circuit in many ways as it boasts a Nascar-style oval and infield configuration, it has a very abrasive, yet low grip, surface and it’s the only full time anti-clockwise circuit in the UK. It’s great fun when you get it right but it’s tricky to find the right car set up and even harder to hook the perfect lap together!!
We worked hard in Saturday’s free practice sessions to fine tune the Aston’s set up so it was predictable and kind on its tyres over a race distance and our goal was to qualify the car in the top 3 for Sunday’s race – however we encountered a clutch slipping issue during my run.
I felt lucky to finish my two hot laps!
Despite this issue both my own and Liam’s lap times on aggregate were good enough for a 5th place start – not perfect, but we were certainly in the mix – however we were faced with monsoon rain for Sunday morning warm up, although it was predicted to clear.
Liam was in line to start the 2 hour race and we had to make the tricky decision of choosing what tyres to use. With an hour to go the sun came out and the track gradually dried. It was just good enough for slicks but still very treacherous with many damp patches so we chose to adjust the car set up to work better in this low grip situation. Liam had the difficult job of pushing hard enough to keep the temperature up in the slicks while not making any mistakes!
He held back in the initial laps, allowing the BMW Z4 of Marco Attard and the Astons of Andrew Howard, Ahmad Al Harthy and Derek Johnston battle at the front while he worked to assess the balance of the car and the conditions. He found comfort in the set up once the track fully dried and set a very strong pace, catching the cars ahead, getting by Howard and then Johnston to take third and showed great pace in his final laps which filled me with confidence that we had made the right choice on car set up.
I took the reins with an hour to go and slotted straight back into third with a 10 sec gap to the BMW of Alexander Sims in first and the Aston Martin of Dan Lloyd in second.
Tyre wear was going to be an issue with Rockingham’s abrasive surface so I held back during my initial laps, focusing on hitting all my markers and keeping a smooth consistent pace. The car was feeling great and I started to make small gains on Dan who was ahead.
With 20 minutes to go the safety car was deployed because of an incident at Tarzan corner which bunched the field up again. I had Sims and Lloyd ahead and Matt Bell’s Aston, Adam Carrol’s Ferrari and Lewis Plato’s Mercedes just behind. The safety car period gave our hurting tyres a chance to rest and settle before the final 15 minute sprint.
With 10 laps to go the race restarted and it was time to use what was left in the tyres! Lloyd initially pulled a gap and the Mercedes of Plato made its way into 4th. I closed in on Lloyd and started to turn on the pressure while trying to manage the Mercedes in 4th which was looking a bit racy!
The three of us were jostling throughout the final 5 laps just when the tyres were at their worst and the car was extremely difficult to drive – it reminded me of my Porsche Carrera Cup days where Lloyd and I were sparring partners!! I kept the pressure on until the chequered flag to take third place ahead of Plato.