Thruxton 19/20 May 2018 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
Although the Rockingham round would come before Thruxton, there was the small matter of testing. Historically Thruxton "Friday" takes place on a day during April, and it was no different here, so just 10 days after round 1 as Oulton Park there were we at Thruxton for the Official TOCA Test Day.
Curiously, of the 32 car field out at the previous round, the official test only had 9 cars present, with both Stoney and Kellett noticeable by their absence. With Geri having gone so well last year, hopes were high that we would score well at Thruxton.
The test incorporated 2 sessions, and although it was dry (unlike the race weekend a week before), it was still cold, just 8 degrees wth 10 degrees track temperature. The first session gave Geri plenty of time to get a set up he liked, and he topped the times narrowly from Milner, with O'Brien and Toth-Jones around a second further back. Both Geri and Milner were running around 0.25 below Geri's lap record set last year, but it was a much cooler day and engines would be more powerful in the cool air.
In session two, Geri was a tenth slower while Milner managed to improve and take the session by 3/10ths from Geri, O'Brien just 0.25 behind Geri and Toth-Jones in 4th, a further half a second back. Geri was unconcerned pointing out that Milner would most likely get track limits warnings at the chicane - a quick look at her car showed a passenger seat rather than ballast, so probably running 30-40 kilos underweight as well. But we didn't know how Stoney and Kellett would fare.
See all the timing from the Official TOCA test day here.
We then had opportunity for another test at Thruxton the following week, this time temperatures were in the high 20s, but there were only 4 cars out on track - Geri, O'Brien, Kellett and Bird!
There was plenty of time in an all day open session event to fine tune the set-up, and Geri was happy with this by midday - and despite the lack of TSL Timing, we were running consistent low to mid 1.24s against the lap record of 1:24.700. By the end of the day confidence was high for the race weekend.
Better weather for the third race weekend of the season - finally - while not as warm as the most recent test day, at 17 degrees it was good. Geri had taken the decision to run tyres from race 3 at Rockingham on the driver's side of the car and brand new tyres on the left side of the car, his view being that you only turn right twice all lap, and one would be flat regardless of the tyres and the other would be sliding regardless of the tyres! Geri looked up for the challenge early on, setting fastest lap on lap 2, but only 1:25.2 - this would surely be beaten. And so it proved, Toth-Jones getting into the 24s on lap 3, posting a stunning 1:24.028 on lap 5 and then parking up for the rest of the session.
Stoney posted 1:24.6 before Geri ran 1:24.783 on lap 6 pushing up back into 3rd. A couple of laps later Marshall pushed Geri down to 4th, Geri responded with 1:24.781 but lost the lap due to a breach of track limits. He was on it now, two green sectors were looking good for a front row slot beside Toth-Jones, but a spinner at the chicane brought out yellow flags and Geri had to abort his fastest lap.
the session finished with Toth-Jones on pole by half a second, from Stoney, Marshall, Geri, Kellett and Milner, the only drivers in the 24s. So all 4 top drivers in the championship were in the top 5. Geri was feeling confident, while he couldn't have matched Toth-Jones time, he felt he was on the pace and starting 4th at Thruxton is still somewhere to win from.
Race 1 - Saturday:
Geri got off to a flying start, and moved up into second going round the outside at Goodwood and setting after Toth-Jones. But further back there had been a 4 car incident and as the leaders came towards the chicane, the safety car flags were already out - before a lap had been completed under safety car conditions the race was red-flagged and the drivers parked up on the grid in original order for around 10 minutes before another formation lap preceded the start.
While it looked like Geri's good start had been lost, he simply did it again, going around the outside at Goodwood and up into second. This time he was closer to Toth-Jones, at the end of the first lap Toth-Jones led bu 0.15 from Geri, and already there was a second gap to third placed Stoney, then Milner, Marshall and Kellett. The gap between Toth-Jones and Geri stayed relatively constant but Stoney was breaking away from Milner and slowly closing up on Geri, by lap 3 Toth-Jones led Geri by 0.17 with Stoney less than 0.5 behind. Kellett was still back in 5th behind Milner, but moved up into 4th a lap later, but now more than 2 seconds behind Stoney.
Lap 5, Geri was planning a cut back on Toth-Jones but Stoney saw the gap, Geri let him through to minimise the loss to Toth-Jones and the lap finished with gaps on 0.4 and 0.15, Kellett a further 1.8 behind Geri. Geri wasn't going to be happy with third, within the lap he was back in second, one lap later and Geri broke his own lap record by 15/1000th and closed right up on Toth-Jones.
All change on lap 8, Geri got a great exit from the chicane and went to go inside Toth-Jones towards the line. As they disappeared round the corner towards the Complex, Geri now had the inside line and came out in front. By the end of the lap he would be over a second clear, with Stoney now second, then Kellett and Toth-Jones. Geri extended the lead on lap 9 to 1.4 seconds.
Kellett got by Stoney on lap 10 but Geri simply pulled further and further ahead, the gap was now 2 seconds, the win looked in the bag. Then drama, Digby had gone off and parked behind a marshall post but the safety car was deployed (why?) and the field closed up. Geri's two second lead had gone, to show how strange the decision to deploy the safety car was, the lights went out before it had completed 2/3rds of a lap. The race would be back on as a 3 lap sprint.
All pictures on this page courtesy Jakob Ebrey Photography
Geri controlled the restart to lead across the line by half a second with 3 laps to go. Kellett gave chase but Geri was in control and maintained the lead untll the chequered flag came out. A win and fastest lap would pull 6 points back on Kellett - 53 to go!
Race 2 - Sunday:
Race 2 was televised live on ITV4, Geri was wanting to repeat his last year's success during the televised race where he took his first GT5 win in only his second race. And this year he would be starting from pole alongside Kellett, with Toth-Jones, O'Brien, Milner, Marshall, Bird and Stoney making up the rest of the front four rows. And as at the start of yesterday, Geri continued with the Rockingham tyres on the right and another new pair for the left, something ITV4 commontator Paul O'Neill would pick up duirng the race.
Geri got a flying start and looked like he was checking out already, Toth-Jones was side by side with Kellett until Kellett came out ahead through the complex, with Milner up to 4th from Marshall, Bird, O'Brien. Grady and Stoney. But the good news was short lived, Quinn had been helped into a spin, Charlie Martin was unable to avoid the spinning car and a big hit saw the safety car being called out straight away, thus negating Geri's early lead.
Two laps behind the safety car later and the lights were out. Geri had already done one safety car restart the day before, so this wasn't new ground for him. Geri backed up the cars, weaved to keep the tyres warm, and then he was gone timing it just right as he entered the chicane just as the safety car turned into the pit lane.
The front three broke clear, Geri having a 7/10ths gap over Kellett with Toth-Jones climbing all over him before a larger gap back to Milner and Bird. At the end of lap 5 Kellett caught right up with Geri, almost bumper to bumper into the chicane, while Toth-Jones looked to be trying a run down the outside before tucking in behind Kellett. Geri opened up the gap to 4/10ths as they left the chicane, but Geri's pursuers were noticeably quicker round the back of the circuit, lap 6 ending with Kellett trying to go round the outside and just tucking in between Geri and Toth-Jones at the chicane.
Lap 7 and Kellett and Toth-Jones got a big tow and simply drove either side of Geri after Church. At this point the ITV4 team said @quot;this is just Geri putting on a show, he'll come back to win this@quot;! The following lap Toth-Jones squeezed past Kellett to take the lead, now Bird had caught up with the lead trio to make it a lead 4. Lap 9 and Geri dived inside Kellett going into Church, but to no avail and Kellett regained the place going outside Geri into the chicane.
Lap 10 and Geri passed Kellett again, this time coming out of Noble, with Bird following him through to stop Kellett regaining the place. Stoney had appeared from nowhere to close up on the front four. Geri was now closing right up on Toth-Jones, gaps opening out behind back to Bird, another gap to Kellett and Stoney. Coming out of the chicane, Geri took a tight line and got the nose inside Toth-Jones, who in turn ran wide putting Geri back into the lead with Bird all over Toth-Jones. At the same time Stoney had got past Kellett dropping the latter to 5th - this would be a better points catch-up for Geri who was looking good for the win.
Bird moved into second at Goodwood but Geri was away. Starting lap 12 Geri led by 8/10ths, Kellett got past Stoney and back into 4th.
Starting lap 13, Geri was now 1.3 seconds clear, with Toth-Jones climbing all over Bird. Three laps to go, Geri's lead was now 1.6 but then disaster. Geri came up behind a backmarker who was white lining slowly around the outside of the complex before cutting across the track and hugging the inside of the circuit - but in doing so, Geri had to lift off big time where he should have been flat exiting the complex. Bird closed right up, just 4/10ths at the end of the lap, 2 laps to go.
Geri had the inside covered after Church but Bird got the tow and simply drove round him. Bird led with one lap to go. Through the complex Geri was all but touching Bird, but Geri couldn't take advantage of the tow to repass. Kellett was back in third all over Geri, so Geri had to stay tucked in behind Bird as they arrived at the chicane, or would have lost a place to Kellett. Geri tried to cut inside Bird coming out of the chicane and was pulling alongside, but the finish line arrived too soon and Geri was beaten by the narrowest of margins, 0.09 seconds, or about 2-3 feet.
So a win and a second but Geri felt he had won the race and lost due to the backmarker getting in the way, the backmarker having taken the first sector when he was caught some 5 seconds slower than his norm. On the plus side, we still pulled 4 more points back from Kellett and have moved into second place overall.
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See full timing details from TSL here.
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Next time out is Silverstone on 09/10 June.