Oulton Park 2 April 2018 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
Another late decision from us, although we had been in talks with Optimum Motorsport since the end of 2017, we were only able to confirm our entry at the end of February.
This would obviously have an effect on our pre-season testing, we found that the 2 test days prior to Easter weekend were fully booked. And with Geri having not even sat in a Ginetta since Knockhill last August, and with us now working with a new team, not the ideal preparation.
We did manage to get booked in on a track day on the preceding Tuesday, with weather ranging from damp to dry, so we had a little chance to test the car and arrive at what we thought would be a set up. There were only 2 or 3 other GT5 cars out on track and we had the measure of those, but no real indication of where we were. And being a track day of course meant that the GT5 was one of the quickest cars on circuit and having to obey track days rules to overtake - so no real chance to confirm a laptime.
Although we missed the Friday bookings, one of the team kindly offered one of his slots to Geri - so another trip up north for the day and the chance to get in 35 minutes - punctuated by 2 red flags. The majority of the other competitors had also missed the booking boat, it seems an extra session had been laid on for them and although we seemed ball park, 3rd in session behind Scott McKenna and Max Bird, we couldn't compare with the other sessions as track conditions were changing throughout the day. Full details of the Friday testing can be seen here.
After a little bit of fun punting the Elise round Goodwood with the Lancia Motor Club on the Saturday, it was back up north on the Sunday for the 3rd time in 6 days ready for the Easter Monday event. We had qualifying scheduled as second session of the day, with a break for the British GT race before race 1 at lunchtime, then barely a couple of hours before the second race (and take out time in parc ferme and arrival in assembly area and it was plain that any issues in race 1 would not have much time to resolve).
Photos on this page courtesy Jakob Ebrey Photography
Qualifying was wet - very wet. With a massive 32 car entry, getting a clear lap would be a big advantage - despite the car going down to queue for assembly while the drivers were in their drivers' meeting, still we lost out to those who got their @quot;towels on deckchairs @quot; even earlier, lining up around 8th in the queue. Four laps in was the first big crash and a red flag. Geri was sitting 5th at the time, 0.9 from second placed Stoney while Bird was 2 seconds faster! Geri had been out on a stiff set-up, totally diferent to that of team mate Connor O'Brien but it had been Geri's choice after Tuesday testing. It wasn't working, the track conditions were much wetter and Geri had no grip. The red flag gave the team opportunity to make some changes, but then Geri's luck ran out. On his first flying lap he moved up to 4th, 1.2 seconds faster than his previous best. But he had been a long way back in the pit lane queue and only got in the one flying lap - many drivers ahead in the queue managed to get in a second lap, and Geri was demoted to 7th as 8 of the top 9 (the exception was Bird) posted their fastest lap on their final lap.
There was concern that although Geri posted sector times commensurate with his grid position, his speed trap results were 24th, 24th and 26th - clearly the car could have been running better.
Geri lined up 7th alongside Connor Grady but behind 2015 Ginetta GT5 Champion James Kellett, Max Bird, Charlie Digby, Shane Stoney, Connor O'Brien and Alex Toth-Jones. Although he looked to get a good start and momentarily gained on the row in front, as Geri moved across to the inside to cover the row behind, so Connor Grady alongside simply drove past Geri, dropping him to 8th before they had even reached the startline!
On the run down towards Island, Grady was pulling away and Arenham pulled alongside, Geri seemingly having no pace. The front six were already pulling clear and Geri was struggling to stay with Grady, having to defend from behind. On every straight, Grady was simply pulling clear - but Geri was pulling back through the corners. By Lodge Geri was within a length of two but Grady simply blasted away towards the end of the first lap and was 0.5 ahead of Geri at the end of the first lap. But Grady was already more than 5 seconds off the lead and 2 behind the 5th placed Toth-Jones. Geri was being seriously held up.
Despite the lack of power, Geri was plainly more comfortable in the wet conditions, half a second at the line translating into less than 10 feet at Old Hall! A better exit out of Cascades allowed Geri to stay with Grady down to Island, with Geri much later on the brakes he exited Island and was able to dive inside Grady approaching Shell Oil - back to 7th but now more than 3 seconds behind 6th place. Geri had a lot of work to do.
Geri was struggling to make any progress, the next 3 laps were much on a par with Toth-Jones, losing a tenth here and there - gaining a little back on lap 4 but still 3 seconds adrift. And THIRTEEN seconds off the lead pair Kellett and Stoney. Geri pulled half a second back on Toth-Jones on lap 6 and only lost a second to the lead pair. Another half second was gained on lap 6 - while at the front Stoney and passed Kellett. For the final two laps Geri took 0.4 each lap out of the gap to Toth-Jones but finished still 7th while in free air Stoney was running away, 3 seconds a lap faster.
As the chequered flag came out, Geri crossed the line then stopped at Old Hall where the marshalls pushed him into the pit lane. We found that the water temperture gauge had been reading 130 degrees right from the start of the race, this would cause the ECU to back off the timing and badly affect the engine power. Geri was worried he might be causing damage so parked up rather than complete the slowing down lap - as a measure of power being lost, he was now 26th, 27th and 26th through the speed traps but 9th, 9th and 14th through the sectors - the final sector included much of the uphll run to Druids, the long straight to Lodge and another run uphill through Dear Leap, places where the lack of power would really hurt.
The day was already running an hour late, in an attempt to bring the day back on track, the lunch break was removed - we were due back out almost straight away! The team checked the engine, it seemed OK, water levels were fine. In the limited time the only thing to do was assume the sensor was misreading and disconnect.
The rain had abated but the track was still soaking wet. Geri would line up in 7th again, this time behind Stoney, Kellett, Digby, Bird, O'Brien and Toth-Jones. Geri was hoping he could make up some places, while we might not have a wet set-up to rival Stoney, he was plainly quicker than his times were suggesting.
A better start this time, climbing all over Toth-Jones, coming round Old Hall Bird had been muscled out and Geri managed to avoid, then pass him - so up to 6th. A dive down the inside going into Cascades saw Toth-Jones off and Geri up to 5th place. By Shell Oil Geri could legitimately claim to be part of the front 6 chain of cars (Bird was right behind). The rain might have stopped but the track was still wet and some spray was being sent into the air. This was already having an adverse effect - Geri's windscreen was already smearing up. At Lodge at the end of the first lap, Kellett went off from second but rejoined in 3rd place, but sufficiently slowed for O'Brien to pass round the outside at Old Hall. Geri was just unable to follow O'Brien through. So still 5th.
While Stoney was simply driving away at the front, the next four cars were running nose-to-tail, although Geri was now struggling with visibility issues - presumably Kellett's off had caused him to throw mud at Geri's screen and the wiper was just making it worse. By the first chicane, Geri could barely see - he smacked the inner marker post with his mirror, and spent the run up to Druids opening the window to adjust it back. All Geri could see was a vague blur, and despite his best efforts, the pack in front were able to pull away from him.
It was now a defensive job - Geri couldn't see well enough to maintain the chase forwards. By the end of the second lap Geri was now 1.6 behind 4th placed Kellett, with Bird 1/4 second behind. We lost O'Brien at Old Hall and for a moment it looked like Geri was back in contention as he closed up on Kellett towards Cascades - but that was the last attempt as being unable to see anything took its toll. Near the end of lap 3, Bird got alongside Geri coming onto Lodge but was on the outside, and had to concede the corner allowing Geri a little breathing space.
Drama on lap four, with cars closing in on Geri, Bird went into Island too hot and the car wiggled almost in slow motion before spinning round. Toth-Jones, Milner and Arenham were caught up in the avoidance attempts, and while cars further back got through unscathed, they were slowed. This left Geri sat 4th at the end of lap 4, nearly 5 seconds behind 3rd placed Kellett, but equally nearly 5 seconds ahead of now 5th placed Miracco.
On lap 5 we lost Digby from second place, moving Geri up into the final podium position. He had lost more than 3 seconds that lap to Kellett, but more worryingly Miracco had gained 1.4 seconds, a couple more laps at this rate and he would be competing with Geri for that podium place. And Miracco wasn't the only one with Ashley Marshall, Digby, Quinn and McKenna now closed up behind Miracco. Marshall got by Miracco and set about closing in on Geri - but then we lost Campbell-Smith and Palmer, this incident bringing out the red flag. With results taken back to the end of lap 5, it was another win (by a country mile for Stoney) with Kellett and Geri perhaps fortunately completing the podium.
Race 3 was due to run at the end of the day, but after the Ginetta race, weather conditions deteriorated to the point that the second British GT race was started under a safety car and black flagged 4 laps in after the leader aquaplaned off the track, still following the safety car! After much deliberation the entire meeting was abandoned on safety grounds. We assume the missing race will be added to the calendar later in the season.
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See full timing details from TSL here.
With Stoney and Kellett scoring two wins and two seconds respectively, they are already some way clear with 72 and 61 points. Digby is 3rd on 44 with Geri 4th on 42. With minimal testing and a car that is still down on power, we consider ourselves a little lucky to get a podium, and probably more lucky that race 3 was not held - it was set with a reverse grid and Geri would have started 8th. See the full standings here.
We now have 4 weeks to look at the car and complete a little more testing in the hope of being more competitive next time out at Rockingham.