Thruxton 6/7 May 2017 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
Although it seemed a late decision to enter the Ginetta GT5 Challenge for the two rounds that were part of the BTCC weekend, actually we came up with the thoughts for our "minimum" commitment long before the season started. One it became apparent we could not fund a full Ginetta Supercup championship effort, we made our suggestion to JHR Developments and they bought into it, even turning us into a 2 car entry. With the Supercup not running at Thruxton, Seb Perez didn't have much else to do so joined us in a GT5.
It wasn't a smooth start, although the team had access to Junior cars, the GT5 ran an upgraded engine, different ECU and diff, and slick tyres. And guess what - the team couldn't lay their hands on the parts needed. So much so that Geri missed the official Thruxton test day on April 20, although at least Seb Perez did get out for some laps. Coming in the aftermath of Billy's accident at Donington, that the team even attended the test day was impressive enough, there was no enthusiasm fo doing much more than bringing all the cars home unscathed and regrouping.
It was as late as Monday 24th April when we got the call. Ginetta had loaned their show car as displayed at the 2017 Autosport International Show - and it had never been raced. So it looked very pretty - no pressure on returing the car just as pretty! But it was unproven - step up the team who took the car apart and put it back together to their race standards, and ensured everything was ready to go.
A trip to iZone proved helpful as Geri got to grips with running on slicks without wearing any out. Or crashing the car for real, for that matter!
On Friday Geri went up to the team workshop to make tea, and to be fitted to the car. Seat needed moving, pedals needed moving, steering wheel needed changing - and all this before corner weighting could take place. But all very necessary, and just 4 days later we arrived at Thruxton for an exclusive test day. On the plus side, no-one could see how we were progressing and Geri could get used to slicks (this was the first time he ever drove on them) without pressure. On the down side, there was no official timing and no-one to compare against. We knew how Seb had run on the test day, and we knew that 2016 Champion Ollie Chadwick had eventually posted 1:23.5 without really knowing what state his tyres were in, etc. And being about 10 degrees warmer, there was no way to compare the times anyway.
Geri started out on a used set of slicks, there was no point bolting on a new set, or playing with set up changes until he had got used to driving on them. By the end of the day he had used up that set, and a new set, and covered approximately 90 laps. We weren't sure quite how qualifying would go at the weekend but we felt confident we had good race pace.
Saturday arrived, no free practice session for the GT5 crowd, straight out into qualifying on brand new slicks, and an even hotter day than last Tuesday. We had planned to get Geri and Seb to the front of the queue in the assembly area in the hope they could maintain track position while warming the tyres, then tow each other to the front of the grid. Best laid plans eh, we were 2nd and 5th arriving.
Geri started off like he was on a mission, top of the charts on lap 2 with 1:25.112 and a second clear of anyone. We knew he wouldn't stay there with that lap, but it was a sign of intent. Lap 8 and Geri had dropped to 7th, having only narrowly improved to 1:25.026, 0.9 oiff pole and 0.8 slower than 4th placed team mate Perez. But then Geri went purple through the first sector, green through the second and the commontator was saying Geri had a clear run to the chicane. But still only 1:24.3, 0.188 off pole and despite their efforts to find a tow late in the session, Geri and Seb finsihed 5th and 4th. Looking at Geri's data after the session showed he lost 0.2 in the first (purple) sector having to lift in traffic, so now we knew the pace was there.
All pictures on this page courtesy Jakob Ebrey Photography
The first race was conversely the final race of the day, although temperatures remained high. The grid lined up as Za[polski, Chadwick, Lewis Brown, Perez, Geri and Stoney at the front. A fairly even start saw Geri drop to 6th going into Allard as Stoney came through but up to third as the cars exited Cobb, behind Chadwick and Zapolski. But Briown was sat alongside Geri and used the inside line to take back third, with Perez following on his bumper - so back to 5th again. Perez went flying off stage left, across Geri's bows at Church leaving Zapolski to lead at the end of the first lap from Chadwick, Browon, Geri (1 second off the lead), Traves and Wilkinson.
Geri was attacking Brown at Campbell but couldn't quite get through. Chadwick edged inside at Church and ran side by side at the back of the circuit to make the move finally stick. Brown tried to follow through at Woodham Hill, but Geri got the big tow and drove straight past Zapolski and Brown, right up on Chadwick's bumper. Lap 2 and now it was Chadwick leading from Geri (by 0.35) from Wilkinson, Traves, Zapolski and Brown.
Geri narrowly posted fastest lap on lap 3, gaining just 26/1000ths on Chadwick but Wilkinson was now a second behind Chadwick. The front pair were trading faster laps as the gap went 0.362, 0.187, 0.388, 0.176, 0.337, 0.159, 0.233 up to lap 10. Wilkinson had slowly gained as the front two concentrated on each other, by lap 10 he was now 33/100ths behind Geri. Zapolski was also on the move, a new fastest lap on lap 8 helped bridge a gap from more than 3 seconds to Geri on lap 6 down to 1.4 on lap 10.
Zapolski was now the fastest man on the track, lap 11 the order was still Chadwick, Geri, Wilkinson, Zapolski - the relative gaps being 0.254, 0.54, 0.31. Geri had been trying everything to get past Chadwick, time and again the tow would leave him much faster along Woodham Hill such that he would have to run outside or back off - and time and time again he got his car's nose ahead of Chadwick, but not by far enough to make the move stick before the chicane. Lap 11, Wilkinson was now that close and gaining with the tow that Geri had to back out just enough to stay on Chadwick's bumper, if he had gone outside, he would have lost a place at least.
Last lap, and same again. Geri played defensive coming towards the chicane figuring a sure second place was better than losing out. so the race finished with Chadwick ahead by 0.5, the largest gap all race, while Geri came home second, Wilkinson thired and Zapolski 4th, less than 0.5 behind Geri.
So the season continues, 3 races, 3 podiums, and each successive result being as least as good as the previous one. No pressure for the final race of the weekend then!
The second race of the weekend would be on Sunday after lunch - and this time would be live on ITV4. Geri would start on the front row, the grid positions decided on finishing position in race 1. So Chadwick, Geri, Wilkinson, Zapolski, Stoney and Traves.
Another OK start but Geri played cautious as the drivers went through the complex so although he briefly led trough Allard, Geri would come out in 4th place by Seagrave - but drama right behind as Traves spun sending cars everywhere in an effort to avoid. This of course meant the safety car would come out at the end of the lap, Geri having plenty of time to retake third from Wilkinson at Church as the other driver went it too tight. As they crossed the line to hook up with the safety car, Chadwick led by 0.27 from Zapolski with Geri a further 1.2 behind - but the safefy car would soon close all the drivers back up.
Two laps behind the safety car as the carnage was removed from the complex, the lights went out and Chadwick was away. To be fair he didn't really dump Xentec team mate Zapolski making the line just 0.7 behind, Geri was 3/10ths further back and already moving clear of 4th placed Wilkinson. Geri chased Wilkinson around for another lap, gaining just a tenth as Chadwick extended his head to 0.9. Lap 5 was the one that mattered - Geri needed to get by Zapolski before Chadwick got too far ahead. Geri had been climbing all over Zapolski, this time the pressure told as Geri managed a tighter line round Saegrave before passing through Noble. Zapolski tried to ease Geri right over to the right but he went straight across the inside kerb and made the pass stick. Now to set about Chadwick - despite having to pass Zapolski and miss out on a tow, Geri only lost 3/100ths to Chadwick that lap, so 7 laps to go and 1.25 behind.
Geri was now on a mission, a new fastest lap of the weekend (1:24.813) pulled 7/10ths out of Chadwick on lap 6. Better was to come, Geri was gaining fast. By the complex Chadwick was in his sights. A fast run through Noble saw Geri right up behind at Church. Through Brooklands nose to tail, Chadwick moved to the right to cover off an attack into the chicane - and Geri simply drove round the outside of him, leaving Chadwick powerless. Across the line and not only was Geri now leading a Ginetta race for the first time, he had taken 9/10ths out of Chadwick in one lap and set a new lap record of 1:24.700.
Chadwick wasn't going to give up so easily, on the next lap he was alongside Geri at Campbell but Geri shrugged off the challenge. Chadwick was gaining just a couple of 100ths a lap, Zapolski was holding on, aided by a slow lap 8 from the lead pair, but they were straight back on it and by lap 10, while the gap at the front remained just 0.36 as Geri eked out a few hundreths, Zapolski had been broken and was now 2 seconds behind Geri but with 4th placed Brown a further 4.5 behind, looking fairly safe for the final podium position.
Lap 11, Geri and Chadwick posted almost identical times with Chadwick 1/1000th faster. Zapolski was now 2.3 behind Chadwick. On to the final lap, Geri had held off Chadwick for 5 laps now, just one more needed. Then more drama, Geri appeared to take a small tap coming out of Cobb, his car unsettled enough for Chadwick to pass and retake the lead with half a lap to go. But Geri was visiblly the quicker of the two, tucked in right behind Chadwick following in his wheel tracks until suddenly Chadwick went in a fraction too hot at Church. No drama, Geri was gaining, but Chadwick surely had it covered. Geri waited to the last possible moment then dived inside Chadwick before he could cover off the move, blasted through back into the lead and held off Chadwick to the line by 0.18! Geri had added a GT5 win to his Junior win at Knockhill last year, but this was so much sweeter as it was won on the track, live on TV, not hours later in the Clerk's office. And Geri had also kept up the team's record of having won in every support category of the BTCC package - and this in only their first GT5 round and second race.
So what next? We will be doing the Knockhill round again in the GT5 - but we are working hard to get Geri out somewhere before that. So watch this space and listen for the announcements.
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See the full timing details from TSL here