Doningon Park 22-23 June 2019 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
See the official pre-race preview.
With McKenna having won the previous two rounds at Silverstone it was time to push on again. Geri has not sat with an instructor since his GT5 debut back in 2017, plenty of time for small errors to creep in. So we brought in Jody Fannin for an evening track day on the Wednesday, setting Geri in good stead for test days on both the Thursday and the Friday. We felt we needed the extra track time as Geri didn't get to test on the International circuit last year, mechanical issues preventing him from seeing the track before qualifying.
All photos on this page courtesy of Jakob Ebrey
Geri has always gone well at Donington, having had a double light to flag win in the Fiesta Juniors days, his Ginetta results have not always shown how well he has gone. Time for something different!
Traditionally Geri has gone out of the blocks and set the early pace, this time he resisted the temptation despite having been first to the assembly area and thus having good track position. A couple of slow laps before Geri went straight to the top of the times with 1:45.942, the first driver to break into the 1:45s. The following lap was just 2/1000ths slower before he then lowered the target to 1:45.831. A fourth sub 1:46 followed 2 laps later before Geri backed right off. And then went purple in sector one, at this point Mutch completed his lap just 4/1000ths shy of Geri, but Geri would go lower again with 1:45.802. It looked like Geri was on for a double pole.
Geri came round to complete his final lap, still on pole but just before red flags came out, so McKenna posted a lap more than a tenth quicker to deprive Geri of his first Ginetta pole. We would still have pole for race 2 with McKenna starting back in 7th, so all in all a good session.
Race 1 - Saturday:
Late in the afternoon, Geri on the front row at Donington for the first time since his final Junior race here, the grid lining up as McKenna, Geri, Mutch, Malin, Smalley and Grady. The front pair got a great start but Geri had to concede the entry to Redgate to McKenna. but cut back tighter and faster and was all over McKenna as they exited the first corner.
Down Craner Curvers nose to bumper, McKenna went defensive at Old Hairpin allowing Geri to cut inside. The two cars were side by side through Schwantz, but Geri's greater momentum carried him through into the lead. Better still for Geri was that Grday who had started 6th, followed Geri through dropping McKenna to third. Before the reached the chicane, the yellow flags were out for a safety car as del Sarte needed recovering from the Redgate gravel trap.
There were two laps behind the safety car and then it was up to Geri to restart from the championships first safety car of the season. He let the safety car go, backing up the pack and then he was off, launching up to Goddards and crossing the line 0.5 in front of Grady, McKenna just 3/10ths further back before a 7/10ths gap to Malin, then Mutch.
McKenna soon got past Grady and back into second, at the end of the first flying lap the gap was 0.8. The following lap the gap was down to 0.6, McKenna visibly quickly on the uphill run out of Old Hairpin, looking to run alongside but unable to make the pass around the outside before McLeans. A lap later the gap was down to 0.26, McKenna now piling the pressure on. On lap 7, McKenna got around the outside at Coppice giving him the inside line into the chicane, but Geri retook the lead coming out of the chicane. The gap was now a little over a tenth as they started the final lap.
Final lap, again McKenna got the better run out of Old Hairpin but took until Coppice to get by, again around the outside. This time McKenna defended harder, Geri was all over him but could find a way through. A third consecutive win for McKenna, a second consecutive runner-up spot on the podium for Geri. The title lead was down to 12 points, but Geri would start the next race on pole, McKenna would be back in 7th.
Race 2 - Sunday:
A bright early start to Sunday, Geri on pole from Mutch, Smalley, Malin, Harrison, Grady and McKenna. Geri got a great start, far enough ahead of Mutch he could take the wide racing line into Redgate, with Malin following behind and giving chase. Indeed the gap after the first lap was just 0.265. A lap later Malin had gained 9/1000th, so evenly matched did the front pair seem, but Geri loked like he was controlling the pace.
On lap 3. Geri was 3/100ths quicker, on lap 4 another 3/100ths as the gap opened out to 0.317. Geri seemed to lose ground through the first sector but gain it back through the second. The pace was frenetic at the front, with the leaders posting laps more than 0.5 ahead of the qualifying pole time. Malin pulled back 7/1000ths on lap 5, before Geri extended his lead by 5/100ths on lap 6, and a couple of tenths on lap 7. It looked like Geri had finally broken free, but Mailn had other ideas and posted the fastest lap of the weekend on lap 8 - 1:44.978 - closing the gap right up to less than 2/10ths, the closest they'd been since the start.
One lap to go,. and drama as Mutch who had been just 4/10ths behind Malin at the start of the lap, found a way past into second. This allowed Geri to break free and go on to win a lights to flag race by 0.96 seconds from Mutch and Malin. 4th placed Smalley was a second further back, the Harrison, McKenna and Grady making up the top. Not only had Geri ended the McKenna winning streak, he was now 29 points clear with a pole start in the final race of the weekend.
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And then drama.
In post-race scrutineering checks, while carrying out a routine check on wheel bearings, the eligibility scrutinner noticed there were washers between the crash structure and the bonnet. Not standard Ginetta parts by the strict letter of the law.
Geri and tean owner Richard were called to the Clerk's Office. It was explained that after a crash at Spa last year, Ginetta had the car back to repair the chassis. On its return it was found that the bonnet wouldn't close when refitted. Rather than send the car back to Ginetta, it seemed simpler to add washers to move the bonnet back into alignment - with hindsight, maybe not the correct decision, but an entirely innocent mistake and totally non-performance enhancing.
The letter of the law said we had to be disqualified, and while the Clerk was not obliged to meter out this punishment, he chose to do so. An appeal was placed wth the stewards of the race event, and though they expressed some sympathy, their view was to uphold the Clerk's decision.
The loss of the race win and the 35 points that came with it was painful, but not the end of the world. Being forced to start the last race from the back of the grid bar the DNFs meant starting from 28th so would struggle to collect a big haul of points.
The sting in the tail was the final part of the punishment, a loss of a further 70 points, the equivalent of two wins. This would have the effect of leaving Geri more than 70 points off the lead, and likely to lose further ground in the final race of the day!
Race 3 - Sunday:
Who knew the grid went this far back? Starting 28th meant starting back behind some very unfamiliar names, and with so many cars on the grid, the likelihood of someone ahead spinning or coming together was high.
But Geri was on a mission to minimise the damage, get the full 9 laps in and top ten should be in reach, top five or six a possibility, and if things kicked off at the front, maybe there would be a podium to inherit if Geri got far enough forwards.
A typical Geri launch from so far back meant threading his way through a crowded grip, through people not accustomed to someone coming through in a hurry. Geri delivered - lights went out and Geri was off. Abbi Pulling alongside was left in Geri's wake, straight to the outside as the next row (Khera and John) were dispatched, then past Sidhu who had fallen back behind Budd - and then inside to go between Budd and McGarty. Ten seconds from take off and already six places gained.
Before arriving at Redgate, Geri, now in the middle of the track went past Morris and Albutt, just before they would touch and send Albutt into a spin, right behind Geri. Eight places gained before even turning into Redgate. Going round Redgate, past Townsend as he ran wide and outside the kerb, then inside Milner who was next up. Halfway down Craners before turning left, Geri went past Charlie Budd and as Halstead, next up, went round the outside of Pearce at Old Hairpin, so Geri gave Pearce the very gentlest of love taps, just enough to jar the bonnet but not enough to mark it, nor break a bonnet pin.
Geri was nose to tail with Pearce through Schwantz before throwing a dummy, moving out to the left hand edge of the track and diving inside Pearce the moment Pearce braked. Past Ellesley on the inside of Coppice, Geri then tried to outdrag Steed along the straight, but could not get fully alongside before having to concede he wasn't going to pass, this allowed Ellesley to repass on the inside going into the chicane.
Ellesley went defensive on the run down to Melbourne Loop, but it didn't matter. Geri had got the better exit and simply drove down the ouside, cutting across in front to make the apex. Next up was Saarelainen who, despite running wide on the exit, managed to come across in front of Geri. Geri moved from side to side looking where best to pass before going to the right and try the pass round the outside of Goddards. Almost predicatbly that didn't work, and Saarelainen made it across the line at the end of lap one 0.23 ahead. But Geri was in 14th place - that is 14 places gained on the first lap having to overtake each and every one of them.
On to lap two - running alongs the outside edge of the track, Geri waited for Saarelainen to brake and then dived inside, breaking later and harder. Three car lengths ahead was Ashley Marshall. Geri carried so much more speed down Craners that he was again to dive inside at Old Hairpin to gain yet another place. Another gap up to Bowers became no gap at all by Coppice. And predictably Geri took a tighter line but got the exit to outdrag Bowers in plenty of time before the chicane. Through the chicane, another late braking exercise into the apex saw Geri past Steed. But as Geri exitted Melbourne he saw a yellow flag on the outside of the track. The move had been completed going in, but Geri wasn't totally sure that he hadn't missed a yellow going in, so gave the place back.
The yellow flag denoted a safety car - the last thing Geri needed. Two laps in and he was up to 11th (fleetingly it had been 10th, and after we were able to confirm he didn't need to give the place back!). Pearce had spun and needed recovering, his car stranded sideways at McLeans, half on the track and half off. As they came up to McLeans on the second safety car lap, Pearce's car was being towed clear by the tractor. Surely the safety car would come in this lap?
But no - for whatever reason, the safety car lights did not go out, and round they went again. Three safety car laps not only meant three laps of the expected nine that Geri couldn't make any progress. And about that nine laps, the 15 minute clock for the race duration meant it was touch and go whether there would be three more laps (8 in total) or maybe just two more!
Malin up front nailed it out of Melbourne and the race was back on. A chain of at least 11 cars rounded Goddards all scrunched up. Geri had been practising his overtakes all arce, so it came as little surprised when he dived inside Steed into Redgate, and although they ran side to side to Hollywood, Geri was in front going down Craners. Maxted was next, Geri chased him up through Schwantz and was carrying so much more speed that he just drove inside Maxted before McLeans. Up to 9th now. And as Geri crossed the line, he set fastest lap of the race.
The cars in front were beginning to spread out, the front three had broken clear of 4th placed Grady who (as far as Geri was concerned) was doing a great job of keeping McKenna behind him. Next up for Geri was Dyrdal, but there was quite a gap to him. Quite a gap was down to 0.25 as they ended lap 6, only the third racing lap. And of course 0.25 became behind Geri as Dyrdal joined the list of dcrivers outbraked into Redgate. By Old Hairpin, Geri was closing fast on del Sarte who was getting increasingly ragged as Geri closed in, kicking up dust out of both Redgate and Old Hairpin. Geri chased through Schwantz, and then took a tight entry into Mcleans to dive inside del Sarte. And now it was 7th.
Harrison was next up, but 1 second up the road by this time, and climbing all over McKenna and Grady. The gap was made up braking into Melbourne loop, Geri exitting right on the tale of the Grady, McKenna, Harrison group. Was lap 7 going to be the last lap? It was going to be close - but Malin made the line with seconds to spare - and Geri set a new fastest lap of the race.
Last lap, could Geri gain any more places? The front seven were now in a train of cars. Any number of places could be gained - or not! Geri was closing in again, by McLeans there was less than a car length in it. Into Coppice and the job was three feet. Through the chicane right on Harrison's bumper - and it started to rain! Harrison hugged the inside white line dpwn to Melbourne forcing Geri to take the long way round. Geri was within 6 feet of McKenna's rear bumper, but Harrison was still on the inside, slightly behind Geri. Harrison used all the track, Forcing Geri to brave it out on the outside; on the grass. And although geri kept his foot in, the chance to pass Harrison was gone, Geri fell short of 6th place by just 0.5 while remaining 0.8 ahead of del Sarte despite the excursion onto the grass.
Seventh from 28th with only 5 racing laps, Geri had made the best of the situation, with fastest lap only dropping three further points to McKenna. The punishment means Geri has fallen to 6th in the championship, 81 points behind McKenna with 3 rounds and 8 races to go. It's going to be a tall order to come back from this, but be sure that Geri and Quattro Motorsport will give it everything in an attempt to do so. Next time out is a trip to Zandvoort.
See the full live timing from Donington Park here.
See the full standings here.