Brands Hatch GP 1/2 October 2016 - Ginetta Junior
And here we are, not only the final round of the season, but also the final round for Geri as a junior driver. After this, it wull be all about playing in big boys' racing. So we were hoping to go out in style with good results. Our original hopes of competing for the championship had not quite worked out, instead we were competing for 5th place. Indeed, for the first time this season, we were technically in 5th place alone (we finished Oulton Park level on points for 5th) with Dan Harper just one point behind. However, with the two dropped scores being taken into account, we were 11 behind Harper. Poor results at Silverstone combined with our JHR teammate Priaulx having his best race of the season turned what seemed a safe sixth into just a 3 point gap. It looked like we would probably finish tyhe season somewhere between 5th and 7th, although a pair of bad scores could leave us catchable by Harry King too.
We were unable to test at Brands Hatch on the GP circuit, test days here seem so few and far between. Last year we had been able to do a track day on the preceding Monday, but this time round there was nothing showing in the calendar. So we packed Geri off to iZone for a couple of hours earlier in the week, time he thought was well spent as a couple of things were picked up on.
Friday afternoon was sunny and dry for the first 30 minute session, but track time was short lived. First time out Geri managed an outlap, then the red flags came out during the first flying lap when Harry Dyson beached at Paddock. Next there was just time to get in two laps before Wood went off bringing out a second red flag for the session. Geri ruined the first of this after letting Caldwell past after the start line, and we were looking well off the pace. Finally we got back out, Geri put in a better lap before yet another red flag brought the session to a halt. Not the start we wanted, back in 11th place and two seconds off the pace.
The second session didn't go much better. After a red flag 5 laps into the session, Geri went out and put in three consecutive laps within 13/1000ths of each other, the first two just 3/1000ths apart. But this was as good as it got as Geri then reported that the engine was intermittently cutting out meaning a couple of stays in the pitlane while the team tried to find the issue. We ended the session in 12th although this time only 1 second off the pace. Plainly there was still work to do, not to mention finding the cause of the cutting out.
See all the Friday test time information here.
The team worked late into Friday night changing over components in the hope that this would cure the engine cutting out. Saturday morning free practice brought its own challenges. Rain had fallen all through the night and the track was now very much damp.
WIth a wet track it was hardly surprising that cars were falling off left, right and centre. Johnson didn't make Druids first time round but span through the gravel and backwards onto the track preventing the need for a red flag. Other drivers were not so lucky and Digby got stuck bringing out the first red flag. At this point Geri was 14th and 6 seconds off the pace. Then worse, Geri didn't get back to the pits during the red flag stoppage. The engine was still cutting out, and at one point he parked up out back of the circuit. The marshal came over, and the conversation went something like this:
Marshal: "are you alright?"
Geri: "yeah, you?"
Geri was pushed up to safety, got out of the car, then mindful of Croft last year, got back in to find the engine would restart so he limped back to the pits while the track was still under red flag conditions. A clue would be that he had hit a kerb hard when the engine cut - maybe there was a bad connection?
All pictures on this page courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography
Back out on track, Geri went green for four consecutive sectors, alas the first of this was the final sector of the outlap. Still, this was enough to lift Geri up to 7th, albeit 2.5 seconds off pole. But Geri had to slow for two separate yellows during that lap, and the engine still cut out. There was time in the session for one more lap, but with 3 seconds remaining, there was a final red flag so Geri lost the chance to go faster.
The team had found that that was a problem with the starter motor shorting out causing the engine to cut. It was swapped out, but the replacement wasn't living up to it's name and Geri would need bump starting! But at least he could be confident of a fair run in qualifying.
Once again the damp conditions would catch out drivers. There was only time for one flying lap before the first red flag came out. While in the pitlane, Geri asked for his car to be set back to dry settings, the track was all but dry now where it mattered. Back out and a couple of better laps but still some way off the pace, Geri had lost track position with his team while in the pitlane.
With time running down, Geri back out to wait for someone to come round. Wooder and Grady came through along the Cooper Straight and Geri tagged on behind. With time for one lap remaining, Geri was still down in 14th place but a final lap saw 4 green sectors, and 2 out of three green speed trap results. Even this was only good enough for 10th place, 0.98 off pole. One again, qualifying was letting us down. Priaulx had qualified 4th, and with Harper 6th, both Geri's main competition were in front.
Race 1 - Saturday:
Race time was scheduled for 17:30, but there had been heavy rain through the previous two or three races and the schedule was falling behind. By the time the race was started it was gone 18:00 and the track was streaming wet, rain still falling heavily. It was a recipe for disaster, we had confidence that Geri would keep out of trouble and such a slippery track would surely help gain places.
Geri got a cracking start, leaving Collard standing and straight between Fagg and Middleton, the row in front. Fagg was passed cleanly, as was Perez from the third row. Middleton came back and held on to the inside line as they went into Paddock Hill. Geri had already gained 4 places. Up front, Wooder had lost the rear, spun right around and was facing the wrong way. Right in front of Geri, Harper took to the gravel to avoid crashing into Wooder, Geri followed him through, his rear bumper being pulled clean off as he did so. Harper and Geri rejoined the track on the other side of Wooder, but Caldwell, Fagg and Wood had all been able to go inside WOoder and come out in front of Geri.
Wood went straight at Graham Hill, across the grass and lucky to stop before the barriers, rejoining at the back. Geri passed Caldwell before Surtees and set about chasing Harper, at which point bthe red flags came out. There had been a big impact as Dineen and Digby collided with the stationery Wooder. All three cars were badly damaged but worse, Wooder was badly concussed and later taken to hospital as a precaution, the other two drivers were deemed concussed and all three were unable to continue racing that weekend, although all three were up and about watching the races on Sunday. Another testament to tbe strangth of these cars.
Race 1 - Sunday:
While the absence of Dineen and Digby would not affect Geri, Wooder missing from pole did, the effect being that everyone moved up one place on the grid. So now Geri would start from ninth place behind Brown, King, Priaulx, Perez, Harper, Middleton, Fagg and Collard with Caldwell now sat on the same row.
Fagg was in front of Geri on the grid and didn't get away well allowing Caldwell to pull ahead on the outside while Geri ran into the back of Fagg before lifting momentarily befoire even reaching Paddock Hill Bend. Caldwell was clear in front of Fagg, but up front it went wrong for Priaulx who took too much inside kerb and spun round across the track. Eveyone went outside, Caldwell running a bit wider than the rest but Geri emerged the other side still in 9th place, Caldwell having rejoined in front of him.
Collard and Fagg were bumping side to side along Cooper Straight blocking off Caldwell and Geri, Fagg finally passing into Surtees. Caldwell's car was quick down the straights and was able to hold Geri off until the Safety Car boards came out before Dingle Dell, Johnson had gone off at Paddock and was stuck in the gravel. The safety car was picked up on the start finish straight but quick work at Paddock meant that Johnson's car was already moved to a safe place. One full lap behind the safety car and the racing was back on.
Caldwell went past Collard out of Druids, Collard muscled his way past Harper at Sheene Curve and Geri tried to follow through but didn't quite get past. On the following lap, Harper dived inside Collard into Druids, Geri followed him going round Druids, Collard fought back and led into Graham Hill but Geri cut back inside and took the place along Cooper Straight.
By Ginetta Junior standards the cars were getting strung out, but Geri was much quicker on lap 7 and pulled a second or more back on Fagg, King, Caldwell and Harper. Now it was back to a 5 car contest for third as Geri caught back up. Going into the final lap, Caldwell was leading the rookie class but stayed too wide into Paddock, King, Harper and Geri needed no second invitation as they all dived inside. Geri was now all over the back of Harper, even bumping him along the run to Pilgrim's Drop. Caldwell started to attack back meaning Geri had to go defensive and settle for seventh place, one place behind Harper and two in front of Priaulx.
With one race to go Harper had a 13 point lead over Geri, who in turn was now 7 points in front of Priaulx.
This time Geri lined up a row further forwards than for the first race, behind Middleton, Brown, Perez, King, Fagg and Harper with Caldwell alongside again. Fagg got off to a better start, Harper was unable to move to the inside with Fagg alongside him and Geri sat right on Fagg's bumper passing Harper before Paddock. Caldwell also passed Harper and tried to run outside Geri as they went through Paddock Hill, but Geri ran out to the kerb and Caldwell had to back out and tuck in behind. King gave Perez hip and shoulders going into Sheene Curve, Fagg and Geri followed King through. Geri was up to 5th.
Further back, Dyson came flying into Stirling and straight across the gravel where he remained, cue the almost obligatory Ginetta Junior safety car! Geri almost caught Fagg going into Druids on lap 2, the safety car joined along the Cooper Straight after the cars had passed through so took the short cut through to take position on the start/finish straight. The safety car boards themselves came out after Surtees.
One full lap behind the safety car and it was go again. Geri got closer to Fagg in front than Perez was to him. The front three were now trading places everywhere while Fagg and Geri kept a watching brief. As they crossed the line at the end of lap 4 barely half a second covered the front 5 cars while there was over a second gap back to now sixth placed Harper.
Lap 5 and the front four all went tight inside very early leaving Geri little option but to run down the outside into Druids. Straight past Fagg and Middleton on the entry, but unable to hold off Middleton going round, then Fagg was able to retake the place as Geri was eased out towards the grass at the exit. Unfortunately this allowed the cars behind to close up the gap, by the end of lap 5 1.3 seconds covered the front 8.
The cars behind were closer than Geri thought, while Fagg stayed tight to the wall, Geri moved up causing Fagg to move up. Too late, as Geri went to dive inside to find that Harper, Wood and Priaulx all came through dropping Geri back to 8th. Perez tried to go outside at Druids but Geri managed to hold him off.
Wood and Priaulx pushed past Harper at Surtees, Geri followed them through on the exit but Geri was having to cover off the fight back from Harper and slowly fell further back from Priaulx. With two laps to go, Brown, King and Middleton were covered by 1/4 second! Fagg was 0.8 off the lead, with Wood and Priaulx a further 0.8 behind Fagg, then Geri and Harper just 2/10ths apart and 0.8 adrift of 5th place.
Geri set a flying lap on lap 7, one which would prove to be fastest lap, his first such lap in Ginetta racing. He had extended the gap back to Harper by half a second and closed right up on the front 6, the 7 cars including Geri now just 0.8 apart. One lap to go and the front seven cars running nose to tail - anyone's guess who would finish where.
Priaulx covered off the inside at Druids late, Geri giving him a little tap going in. Fagg was now ahead of Middleton and in third place. Middleton and Wood were both on the grass existing Sheene Curve, but recoved going into Stirling and both went inside Fagg as Priaulx went round the outside dropping Fagg from 3rd to 6th in an instant. Worse was to come for Fagg, Geri got a better run out of Stirling and drove past Fagg completing the move before moving over to cover the inside line into Clearways. In the melee at Stirling, Priualx had also got by Wood and up into 4th. The cars crossed the line Brown, King, Middleton, Priaulx, Wood, Geri, Fagg, Perez, Harper and Grady, the latter joining in the front train right at the end.
The gap between 6th and 9th was just 6 points, add in another point for fastest lap and Geri had gained 7 points on Harper. Not enough to take 5th place, but by staying within two places of Priaulx, Geri ensured that 6th place was his along with being top JHR driver. Priaulx and Geri both beating Harper also ensured that JHR held Douglas off for second place in the team championship.
Geri finishes his final season of junior racing with a record of 25 starts, 25 finishes, 21 top ten places, 5 top five finishes including a win and third at Knockhill. Maybe not quite as good as we had hoped for, it is easy to make excuses with bad luck certainly costing front row slots at Donington and Thruxton and a possible early podium at Donington lost by one error in judgement, that may have been a huge confidence boost. We now start the planning for next season, if at all possible we would like to remain on the BTCC package, so that realistically means either moving up into the Ginetta Supercup, or the Renault Clio Cup, both of which are a huge financial jump from junior racing. Watch this space for news on 2017!
See the full TSL timing from the weekend here.
Check out the final Ginetta Junior Championship points standings.
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