Oulton Park 20-22 April 2019 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge

Ginetta GT5:

We didn't know what we would be doing in 2019, then a chance meeting in the bar at the Ginetta Awards evening found us chatting with the Quattro Motorsport guys. It wasn't long before the conversation started with "what are you doing this year" and ended with "we've got a car, why don't you come and race with us". So here we go again!

After a week of testing 4 days out of 5, (see News) including the GT5 Challenge launch day, there was a week’s break until Easter and the first round of the season. We had down a shakedown of the car at Oulton Park back in March on a track day, so Friday would be the first chance to see how we were going. The day was split into sessions and although TSL Timing was available at extra cost, you only got your own – so the team had to manually time other drivers who we thought might be quick. Early indications were that we were maybe 0.5 off the pace, other drivers who had tested on Tuesday thought the track was 1.5 seconds slower on Friday than the Tuesday So all in all, although we had our own times, we didn’t really learn much!

All photos on this page courtesy Jakob Ebrey Photography

New for this year, and new for us completely, was that qualifying would define the grid positions for both race 1 (fastest time) and race 2 (second fastest time), so there was a need to put in two consistent good laps rather than just the one. Even with the full International circuit being in use, a 30 car entry (we had lost one to a crash in Friday testing) ensured traffic would still be an issue.

Geri was certainly struggling, bouncing up and down the timing sheets as the laps went on, but needed a fast final lap (the 11th one) to set his best time. We would be disappointed at being 8th on the grid for race 1, and just half a second off pole, but this shows the competitiveness of the GT5 Challenge this year – reigning Ginetta Junior Champion Adam Smalley was a late entry, double GRDC/G40 Cup champion Tom Golding was an unknown quantity at this level, but was fast in qualifying, and the quick returnees Scott McKenna, Gordie Mutch and Connor Grady had all got quicker over winter.

On the plus side, Geri qualified 4th for race 2, and would fancy his chances of a good result and thus a good grid position for the final race of the weekend.

Race 1 - Saturday:
Lining up 8th on the grid meant Geri was on the outside running down to Old Hall – but Saarelainen had run into issues and could not take up his grid position, so there was a gap where 3rd on the grid should be. Still, we had McKenna, Smalley, gap, Golding, Ruben del Sarte, Mutch and Max5 champion Josh Malin ahead on the grid.

Geri is known for his lightning starts – and he didn’t disappoint his new team as he launched into 5th behind del Sarte going into Old Hall. He maintained position for the first lap but which time news came through that McKenna had false-started and given a 10 second penalty. On lap two Geri set up del Sarte getting a nose inside at Shell Oils and then pulling alongside on the run to the chicane, keeping his line and forcing del Sarte to concede the position. Up into 4th – and by the time Geri reached the start line and his pit board, the board was showing 3rd. Only Geri didn’t know who in front had been penalised of McKenna, Golding and Smalley.

Lap 3, Geri was gaining on Smalley and Golding, as they came out of the Hislops chicane, they came together, Golding was spun across the front of Smalley’s car causing some damage, and then back to the grass allowing Geri first to pass Golding, and then out-drag Smalley up the hill. With McKenna some way ahead on the road but some way behind on time, this meant Geri had gone from 8th to first!

The lead did not last long, Geri led into the double-apex Druids, but at the second apex Smalley went in too deep, his view obscured by a rising bonnet and Geri was forced along the grass for the first part of the straight. This allowed Mutch to take the lead on time with del Sarte also passing Geri – so back to 4th having led for a couple of hundred yards!

Geri was now stuck right behind Smalley crossing the line 0.25 second behind. It took until the exit of Hislops for Geri to get by and back into third place as Smalley ran a little wide – he would pit that lap with a puncture and rejoin the race to finish in 26th place, and 20th in Pro class, securely what may prove to be a valuable point. But getting past Smalley had taken time and allowed del Sarte to open up a gap of over 2 seconds on Geri, with Mutch 0.5 further ahead. It had also allowed Connor Grady to close right up on Geri.

Four laps to go, McKenna was 4 seconds out front on the road, but with a time penalty was not in the equation – Geri still did not know who had a penalty in front, only that he was showing as P3 on his pit board. He gave chase, started to pull away from Grady and was slowly gaining on del Sarte, on lap 6 Geri set fastest lap of the race while chasing down the lead pair, but he could only get the gap down to a second, and as del Sarte started to defend, so Mutch pulled a couple of seconds clear and go on to win the race, with del Sarte, and Geri joining him on the podium. Grady finished 4th two seconds down on Geri with Malin a second behind. McKenna’s time penalty took him back to 6th and Mutch took fastest lap from Geri on his final lap.

Race 2 - Monday:
After a relaxing day off – for the drivers at least – on Sunday, it was back in the action on Monday. Smalley would be the main beneficiary of the qualifying change and started on pole from McKenna, Mutch and Geri with Malin, Grady, Saarelainen and del Sarte behind. Now sitting on the outside of the second row, Geri was confident that another of his starts would take him into contention for the lead.

And so it was, while it looked like a run down outside of McKenna might work, Geri chose to dive inside and looked to pass between Smalley and McKenna who closed the gap just enough for him to not be able to go through. But McKenna ran wide onto the astroturf exiting Old Hall and Geri was able to cement 2nd place behind Smalley. They ran down to Shell Oils nose to tail, but already McKenna was too close to Geri for comfort. As they came into Hislops for the first time, Smalley had eked out the slightest advantage and Geri could see that protecting second place was going to be a bigger priority than going for the win.

This meant that as early as the end of lap 1, Geri was backing McKenna into the pack which allowed Smalley to open up a 1.5 second gap, that far would cover the gap from Geri through McKenna, Golding and Grady to Saarelainen. By lap 2 Smalley was 3.3 seconds ahead, the gap back to McKenna was a tenth of that! 1.5 seconds now covered the gap from Geri back to Malin with McKenna, Grady, Golding, Saarelainen and del Sarte between.

The race continued in this fashion, Smalley was pulling away at a second or more a lap as Geri backed up the pack behind, driving very defensively with no hint of a mistake which would allow his followers to gain. Mutch and Katie Milner were making their way through the pack, the former having lost multiple places from his second row start. And still the gap back to McKenna remained a constant tenth or 2 at best as they crossed the finish line, McKenna would close right up approaching the corners where Geri would slow, the accelerate away to open up a gap again.

All change on lap 7, Mutch had pushed his way past McKenna taking Grady with him – for the first time all race Geri could see something other than yellow and blue stripes in his mirror. Smalley was now 8.5 seconds up the road. Mutch was now trying to do something McKenna had not managed in the first 6 or 7 laps, and try to make a move on Geri. He was gaining on the run out of Cascades and although Geri reached Shell Oil first, Mutch took advantage of the banking and went to run outside. Through the slight right hander before Britten’s and Mutch was almost alongside. Geri gave him room but held the inside line doggedly going into Britten’s and as they came out Mutch was bouncing across the grass allowing McKenna and Grady to resume their positions behind Geri.

The race finished with a commanding 10 second win for Smalley, from Geri, McKenna, Grady, Mutch and Milner. As the only driver bar Geri with a clear track in front, predictably Smalley took fastest lap. After 2 races Geri and Mutch were tied for the championship lead on 56 points apiece.

Race 3 - Monday:
The end of the day and with other races running late, especially with carnage in the previous VW race, their was just going to be enough time to run the GT5 race – an improvement on the past 2 seasons where the final race had to be cancelled. This time Geri started on the front row and was confident he would come out of Old Hall leading. And once again, Geri launched away to pass Smalley, with Grady following him through. Geri tried to make the break from Grady who now had Smalley and McKenna all over him, but it became apparent Geri didn’t have the pace to break free. This was looking to be another long race defending for the whole 8 laps. The first lap ended with Geri a third of a second in front of Grady and just under a second ahead of fourth placed McKenna – the opening lap had been at a pace sufficient to drop 5th placed David Ellesley to 1.8 behind McKenna, with Mutch once again having lost a bundle of places from the start.

Lap 2 and disaster for Geri as first Smalley at Cascades, then McKenna entering Hislops managed to get past Grady – Geri knew Connor wouldn’t make a lunge on him so was under less pressure. Geri led Smalley by a quarter of a second over the line at the end of the lap, on lap 3 just 0.35 covered the gap from Geri back to third placed McKenna. With Grady just a further .4 behind, then a gap back to Ellesley. By the end of lap 4, fifth placed Ellesley was within a second of Geri as he backed all the cars up driving as slowly as he could to maintain his lead.

It all went wrong on lap 5, Nicosia was looking comfortable at the front despite having Smalley and McKenna snapping at his rear bumper. This time McKenna made a late lunge from third at Smalley into Hislops – he bounced off Smalley pushing the latter across the grass left of the chicane, and then clattered into the rear of Geri’s car, spinning him right round and with Geri narrowly missing the recticel on the first apex of the chicane. A full 360 later, Geri rejoined the race down in 10th place, directly in front of Mutch – while Smalley now led from McKenna.

Geri was up to 8th again by the end of the fifth lap, with Smalley, McKenna, Grady, Ellesley, Milner, Saaralainen and Golding ahead, Mutch having followed Geri through to 9th. While moving as far forwards as possible was the aim, Geri also needed to keep Mutch behind him as they were tied for the lead prior to the race start. Geri got a run on Golding coming out of Lodge on lap 6 after Golding took to the grass in a tussle with Milner, with Saaralainen having fallen back this moved Geri up to 6th with two laps to go, but 1.2 behind 5th placed Milner.

Geri passed Milner on lap 7 and closed up on Ellesley, shortly to lap the first of the backmarkers. A good run out of Cascades saw Geri pull alongside Ellesley and then pass on the inside as they kinked left towards Shell Oil – almost immediately after Ellesley got into a tank slapper which threw him into the recticel on the inside, then back across the track almost wiping out Golding. This ensured there was now a large gap behind Geri who was now up to 4th, where Geri would finish, about 7/10ths shy of Grady.

After the race, Geri’s 4th became another podium as McKenna was given a 4 second penalty for his part in Geri spinning out – the 15 points deducted from his championship total would prove even more painful. Geri leaves Oulton Park with 82 points and the championship lead from Mutch (76), Grady (74), Smalley (72) with McKenna on 53, but equally rueing the lost opportunity for a first win of the season and an even larger gap.

Check out the full results for the weekend here

The championship now moves on to Thruxton with the BTCC package on 18/19 May.

Post event it was found that Geri’s engine was down on compression on three of the cylinders, and the left rear damper was leaking. Hopefully this might indicate where the perceived lack of pace came from, and should be all sorted before Thruxton.

See the full standings here.

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