Brands Hatch 4/5 April 2015 - Ginetta Junior
And now we are here - on the TOCA package. A whole new level of everything for us - professionalism, competition, you name it, it will be different this year. Teams were setting up in the Paddock on Wednesday, every trailer in its allocated space parked inch perfect - or else! We got allocated a spot at the top of the Paddock right next to the toilets, convenient!
All pictures on this page courtesy Ashley Bryant Photography
Free Practice 1:
A cold start to the season and very cloudy, and a lot of moisture in the air. And two 30 minutes free practice sessions on Friday afternoon for the Juniors. The first of these was at 14:45 although we had been at the circuit all day by now.
Early signs were good, Geri seemed right on the pace, 4 laps in we were down to 57.598 and 3rd on the timing sheet behind Winter Series champion Jamie Caroline, and newcomer from Germany, Sophia Floersch. On the downside was that we didn't improve on that time while others got up to speed and we finished the session back in 12th place and 0.8 seconds off Dan Zelos who led the times. Clearly we had work to do.
Free Practice 2:
10 minutes before the session and it started raining, although the Ginetta Junior cars are restricted to Michelin Pilot 3 road tyres, so we don't have to worry about tyre choices - but we do have to worry about suspension settings, so changes were made to account for the wet track. Changes which were done so late that the team forgot to turn on the camera in the car as Geri went out on track.
Once again, Geri was straight out of the box and on pace, even topping the lap charts after the first flying lap. Once again, his best lap was put in on lap 4, but the following lap Geri locked the brakes coming into Paddock Hill, ran across the gravel and as he turned very wide in the gravel, just brushed against the tyre wall, before managing the escape from the gravel and rejoin the circuit and continue. The car seemed to run just fine although it now had a few scratches - to be fair to Geri he was about the 4th driver to run through the gravel at Paddock and then get out again.
Senna Proctor was not so lucky a few minutes later, suddenly spinning through 180 degrees coming in towards Paddock, and then rushing backwards into the top corner of the gravel trap. And so came the first red flag of the session. The team made a nmber of changes to Geri's car all of which took time, so when the session went green again, Geri was still in pit lane. Almost straight way, there was another red flag break for another car stuck in the gravel at Paddock Hill.
This time Geri came back out but before completing his first flying lap, yet another red flag for another stricken car at Paddock Hill. The session went green with just a minuite to go, so although the cars came out again, they didn't complete the outlap before the clock ran down. We did learn from the restricted running after the changes had been made, but they didn't affect the timing board where Geri finished 9th, a little over a second shy of Caroline and Dave Wooder.
Full details from TSL for the Friday can be seen here.
If Friday was cold, Saturday seemed even colder. But at least the scrutineers come to you on the TOCA package, and the team were able to ask various questions to ensure we were compliant. The Ginetta Junior cars use one set of tyres across a weekend, so everyone starts with 4 brand new tyres for the Free Practice session, and changes to one of two spare brand new tyres only allowed if you get a puncture or tyre damage.
Thankfully free practice ran without any red flags, but the level of competition was such that Geri finished 3/4 second off pole (which we would have been reasonably happy with) but 14th of 25 cars that started the session. A familiar pattern, Geri is fast out of the blocks, a legacy from having to get the best from his tyres on his Fiesta last year. So 4 laps in and Geri sits in 4th place. Although he did get faster during the session, he also slowly fell back down the order. The session finished with Geri still in 14th despite recording his fastest time on his penultimate lap,
The session started with a red flag after just one lap, and ended with another. In between Geri got down to 57.545, his best of the weekend so far. At one point he could almost not believe his pit board which showed he was +0.4 but in 14th place! And 14th is where we finished, disappointly as the onboard sector times showed he was 0.3 up on his final lap which was aborted when the second red flag came out. A measure of the competition was that 12th place was 1/4 second off pole, so even that last lap might only have improved a couple of places on the grid.
A long day turned longer. The Ginetta Junior race was set for 17:45 start time, but a big first lap crash in the precdeing Clio Cup race, sadly involving Geri's 2014 team mate Tom Grundy, and the long time taken to get the drivers out of the cars and clear the track meant it was more like 18:10 when the cars were called from the assembly area in the Paddock as the Clio race was called off.
Geri's first start in a Ginetta since last November, and to compound this the start-finish line at Brands Hatch is on a slope, and the Ginetta has no handbrake. In covering the brake, Geri didn't get the best start and lost a place as Seb Perez got by on the run towards Paddock Hill. Will Tregurtha, Geri's old sparring partner from the Rogue Racing days got his nose in front but Geri was on the inside at Paddock and managed to keep that place. So down to 15th before the first corner. Surprisingly perhaps, everyone made it through unscathed.
With Perez and Wooder going at it down towards Graham Hill, Geri managed to pass Wooder and up into 14th but Wooder repassed on the left at Surtees, with Tregurtha trying to follow him through. Wooder passed Perez on the inside of Druids on lap 3, Geri tried to follow him through but had to back out at Graham Hill. On lap 4 Wooder pushed past Esmee Hawkey on the run up to Druids, Perez and Geri followed him through so Geri was back up to 14th.
Lap 5, Geri got a good run through Paddock and stayed out wide left before diving inside Perez into Druids and up into 13th - Wooder passed Matt Chapman at the same time so Geri was now right behind Chapman. Going into Surtees, Wooder pushed past Caroline, Chapman following him through as Caroline was hung out side. Geri went to follow through, Caroline tried to close the gap but Geri went through between him and the pit wall, and up into 12th. Lap 6, a four car train in front of Geri, Lweis Brown at the head with Zelos, Wooder and Chapman in close attendance, and Caroline right behind Geri.
Caroline got back in front of Geri at Surtees, Geri had been having problems there all race long. Zelos got pushed wide out of Druids on lap 7, now the 4 car train in front was 11 with Geri sitting in 6th of the 11 and staying with Caroline. Geri tried to go inside Caroline at Paddock at the start of lap 8, but Caroline dived right, went inside Chapman and Geri was unable to follow him through before Chapman shut the door. Lap 10 and its still Brown, Wooder, Zelos, Caroline, Chapman and Geri - but at Clearways Wooder had a big slide towards the infield, Caroline went outside, Chapman tried to go between them and was squashed allowing Geri to go outside and past Chapman, before passing Wooder into Druids. Caroline's bonnet was open a few inches, Geri tried to force a gap inside coming out of Druids, Caroline was having none of it. Wooder got to Druids first, but on the outside so Caroline went back through with Geri tapping his bumper to hurry him along and allow him through too.
Geri was having to defend from Wooder, this allowed Caroline to eke out a gap. Unbeknown to anyone this would prove to be the last lap. With the 18:30 curfew approaching, the decision was taken to put out the chequered flag after 10 laps rather than the scheduled 14. Another wide entrance into Clearways saw Wooder take advantage and come on the inside = Geri being to much of a gentleman to squish him into the pit wall lost the drag race to the line by just 7/100ths. Behind Geri, 5 more cars crossed the line within a second of him.
At the front Billy Monger had taken the lead from Patrik Matthiesen on lap 2 and controlled the race to take his first Ginetta race win from Matthiesen and Senna Proctor.
A change from the 2014 season in that race 2 grid positions are now based on race 1 finishing order rather than on second fastest laps during qualifying. The rationale for this was that it promotes a "must finish" attitude during race 1 - although strangely the BTCC guys have done the reverse change on the basis that misfortune in race 1 does not then affect starting position in race 2. Hmm!
So we lined up 12th on the grid for this one, a place further ahead than in race 1, alongside Wooder and directly behind Caroline who had Zelos alongside him. At least Geri would have someone to try and follow charging through the pack.
Geri got off to a good start pulling clear of Wooder, but they turned into Paddock Hill, Geri was still on the outside with Wooder inside and back level. There was a big queue on the inside run to Druids and a clear track outside, so Geri simply went round the outside and came out 9th, ahead of Zelos. Behind him there had been a big accident at Paddock. It looked like Alex Day caught the back of Rowan Bailey who was spun round going down from Paddock Hill. Perez just managed to avoid the spinner by taking to the gravel and got back out again after. Further back, Hawkey had been sandwiched between Ben Green and Frankie Bird, which had allowed Bailey, Day and Perez to get past her - when she came round Paddock she was unsighted as Perez and Day swerved left of Bailey, had nowhere to go and smashed into the rear of Bailey.
While the race was still running, Floersch passed Brown into Graham Hill on the inside with Geri touching bumper to bumper trying to follow her through. Brown tagged Floersch coming out of Graham Hill and she spun round right in front of Geri who took avoiding action steering onto the grass on the outside, and just brushing her as she span round, Geri dropping back to 11th as he rejoined the track. But as the cars came round Clearways the race was red flagged, just too late for everyone to stop on the grid, so they drove slowly past the scene of the accident and back round to the grid where they were lined up in original order for a restart - so Geri back to 12th again. Some cars had some safety maintenance carried out, mostly taping down bonnets!
Luckily both drivers involved in the accident were fine, if a little shaken, but the restart would go on without them - Floersch was able to rejoin and have her bonnet taped down, it had fully opened in the incident with Brown. So another green flag lap behind the safety car as the cars lined back up on the grid.
Another good start from Geri as he both outdragged Wooder and passed William Stacey before tucking in on the inside line at Paddock Hill with everyone else, only Stuart Middleton was on an outside line about half way across the track up in 4th place. Middleton had scuffles with Proctor and Jonny Hadfield on the Cooper Straight, but all drivers made it through the first lap, Geri up to 10th place, with Zelos in front.
At the start of lap 3, Floersch went into Paddock too hot and spun ropund ripping her bonnet wide open again, before it all but came off completely on the run into Druids where a marshall helped pull off the bonnet so Floersch could continue. This promoted Geri to 9th now although with Floersch seemingly limping up to Druids, there was the worry of another safety car. With Floersch continuing without her (Easter) bonnet, the safety car was not needed. Geri was all over Zelos but had Tregurtha and Stacey all over his rear too.
Middleton spun out of 4th place at Surtees, Geri lost places to Tregurtha and Stacey just passed this, but repassed Stacey going down the inside into Paddock Hill - Geri was back up to 9th but under heavy pressure, now with Stacey and Wooder in main pursuit. Hadfield spun to the inside of Clearways on lap 6 and Geri was up to 8th place. In the words of Paul O'Neill "Nicosia fending off about a million
different coloured cars" as he exited Druids. Lap 9 and Wooder who had just pipped Geri to the line in race 1 went into Paddock Hill to quick and spun right round, team mate Chapman taking to the gravel to avoid a similar accident to that on the first start. And out came the safety car - this helped bunch up the pack again.
A very late dive into the pitlane from the safety car who barely had time to put the lights out, caught out some drivers. Certainly back in 8th place Geri couldn't see it and Monger at the front took full advantage pulling out a big lead with just 2 laps to go in this now 11 lap race. Proctor lost second place to Caroline coming out of Paddock Hill, Geri tried to get inside Tregurtha at Druids to no avail, almost letting Stacey through instead. They touched coming out of Graham Hill, Geri managed to control the slide and keep the place and the pressure on Tregurtha.
Last lap, Geri had another go at Tregurtha into Druids, this time they went round side by side with Geri about a foot in the lead, but with Tregurtha having the inside line at Graham Hill, it was not enough. Going through Surtees, Caroline dipped inside Monger and as Monger came back they touched, Monger ending in the gravel, and Proctor able to take advantage and take the lead just before running onto the start-finish straight to take the win. Just as in the first race, Geri was caught from behind as a driver came round the inside, this time it was Kyle Hornby who passed Geri as he took care not to hit the rejoining Monger. Three positions lost during the race avoiding somneone in front of him - the last one alone put him back to 8th place but also cost him the 3rd place Rookie trophy which went to Hornby.
Full details from TSL for the race weekend can be seen here.
Next time out is Donington Park in two weeks, hopefully we can continue to move up the grid.
Check out the Ginetta Junior points standings.
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