Zandvoort 6-7 July 2019 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge

Ginetta GT5:

With Zandvoort having been named as an F1 circuit for 2020, there was added interest in our trip out there. A long drive out there on the Wednesday culminated with driving the motorhome onto the circuit joining at Turn 14, driving along the straight to the pit entrance, then along the length of the pits before turning back into the paddock behind. To be fair to the Dutch organisers there was plenty of space in the paddock – we parked up right next to the team – and full power and water facilities laid on for free. British circuits, please take note of that.

We were booked into a track day on the Thursday, but it was almost exclusively race cars, with probably a couple of actual road registered cars and a handful of track day cars. Geri commented that with some of the stuff out there – hot Porsche race cars, the mid engine Megane Trophy car, let alone the GT5s, he would be scared in a road car

Obviously there was no official timing and as usual on a track day, getting in clear laps was as much luck as judgement. Nevertheless, we knew that 2 years ago when the GT5s last raced here, fastest lap of the weekend was 1:56.7, so when Geri got down to this on old tyres we were feeling optimistic we could get the title challenge back on track. More so when we timed the other main competitors and they were not quicker.

Friday came, two official Ginetta test sessions. There were still traffic problems, the G40 cars were a few seconds off the GT5 pace so would possibly compromise laps, but at least now everyone was a race driver in a fairly similar race car. We were sitting comfortably in third until late in the first session, still running on old tyres, and ahead of championship leader McKenna, but late on he fitted a new set of tyres and ran off an impressive set of laps culminating in 1:56.0 – probably about right for a new set of tyres. We still felt comfortable we would be on the pace.

All pictures on this page courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography

In the second session we ran into problems, the car was slow before eventually stopping on circuit. A blown fuse was found and replaced before Geri was sent back out again, but we now seemed to be well off the pace, only capable of running in the 1:57s, and back in 9th place. Post session we found two main issues, there was a break in the engine wiring loom and the alternator was not charging. Cue some expense with Ginetta to buy a new alternator and loom (ouch!) and lots of work for the team to change them over to the new parts. At least we knew why the fuse had blown, and that we should be ready for Saturday morning qualifying.

We had planned to run with just two new tyres for the weekend, but when we realised that McKenna was running four new tyres, we had to follow suit. Our championship hopes depended on pulling back points from him, so no point saving loads of tyres for the final rounds if we are too far back.

After a couple of laps of circulating slowly, and this applied to everyone, the drivers speeded up. Geri got into the 1:56s but was surprised to end the lap only 4th fastest, just pipped by Grady, and with McKenna on 1:56.5 – but the real shock was Mutch in the 1:55s – no-one saw that coming.

While Geri’s times slowly came down, McKenna joined Mutch in the 55s on lap 4, Smalley joining the club on lap 5 before Mutch blew everyone away with a 1:54.958! Geri got his fastest lap in on lap 7, 1:56.6 being only good enough for 6th place just before the red flag came out. This was particularly unfortunate as Malin had just gone through a nice distance in front of Geri so looked like we would get a tow and maybe could get up to 4th – the front three had posted times we thought were out of sight.

Although it seemed that the session was over, there was time for one more lap – again bad for Geri as he lost another place to del Sarte. We would be starting 7th on the grid – and if that wasn’t bad enough, Zandvoort was using the F1 style 1x1 grid so the cars were far more spaced out than usual – 7th place being around where the 7th or 8th row might normally be – this would most likely negate any great start that Geri is known for.

Pre-race we were in for a treat. The GT5 race was the headline event for the weekend, a Festival of British Car racing. As such, the organisers opened up the track for a public grid walk. So for the first time, we were able to accompany Geri down on the grid – and also see first hand just how far away the pole sitter was, let along how far away the first corner was.

Race 1 – Saturday:
With the grid now cleared, it was time to start racing. Ahead of Geri were Mutch, Smalley, McKenna, Grady, del Sarte and Harrison. With Geri needing to regain points on the front three, not lose more, a good start was going to be vital.

And a good start was what happened, Geri got past Harrison straight away, and as del Sarte covered off the inside on the run down to Tarzan, so Geri carried on outside, going round the outside of Tarzan (with del Sarte kindly leaving him room when it would have been simple to ease Geri out wide) and up into 5th place.

So the order was Smalley (who got the better start), Mutch, McKenna, Grady, Geri – the front three being slightly ahead of Grady, but all within a couple of seconds. Almost as the race started, so did very light rain, although this never did more than manifest itself as raindrops moving across the windscreen.

Three laps in, and despite some jockeying for position, nothing else had changed. Geri set fastest lap of the race on lap 3 at 1:56.55 and was beginning to close the gap to Grady from a solid car length to less. By lap 5 Smalley was beginning to eke out a gap at the front but it was all bets off for the places behind with Malin, Harrison and del Sarte all involved in an 8 car train.

On lap 5 McKenna looked to try a move at the chicane on Mutch but as he switched back on line so Grady had to brake a little harder to avoid contact, Geri taking advantage by diving to the right and running right across to take the inside line exiting the chicane. One placed gained – finally.

Smalley was getting away, McKenna was climbing all over Mutch, with Geri up next. McKenna looked to be getting the run on Mutch into Tarzan, but Mutch held his nerve and the inside line, this allowed Geri to close right back up on the battle for second. Tis continued to lap 7 when finally McKenna made a move on Mutch diving inside at Turn 9, the tightest hairpin with Geri trying to go round the outside of both. But Mutch had the inside line into Turn 10 and managed to get back ahead of Geri. Into the final two corners of the lap and the pair in front got a better launch onto the start-finish straight, as they had every lap, but then Geri would close into Tarzan.

Last lap, Smalley was up the road, he would win by 16 seconds, but second and certainly third was all to play for. Geri tried to get Mutch into the chicane but it was covered off. Geri got a much better run through the final corners and onto the straight, coming right up behind Mutch as the line approached. Geri pulled out to pass as he ran right to the Mutch rear bumper, but the line came too soon and Geri missed the final podium place by 0.122, and just 07 off second.

Race 2 – Sunday:
As has been the case every round so far this season, Geri’s race 2 qualifying position, based on his second fastest lap, was better than his first. So for race 2 he would start 5th, this time behind Mutch, Smalley, McKenna and del Sarte. The start took on a familiar pattern – Geri got off to a great start and stayed wide going into Tarzan, went round the outside of del Sarte who again, kindly didn’t ease him off the track, and this time up into 4th place. This time Mutch had managed to cover off the inside before Smalley could pass him so the front three lined on the inside.

By the time the drivers reached Mastersbocht, McKenna was already having to defend from Geri, while ahead, Mutch was defending from Smalley ensuring the lap times remained slow. At the end of the first lap, Smalley looked to get the run past Mutch into Tarzan, and Geri was alongside McKenna but also on the outside – too easy to defend just by staying on the inside! On the exit, all four cars lined up with barely a gap between.

At the end of lap two, McKenna left a small gap on the inside and Geri tried to pass into Tarzan, but couldn’t quite make the gap big enough. Smalley dived inside Mutch at Mastersbocht, McKenna went out wide and temporarily we were four abreast jockeying for position. Coming out of turn 9, Smalley now led Mutch from McKenna, all three nose to tail and on the left side of the track, with Geri right on the rear of the pack but staying right for the better entry into Turn 10, but McKenna came across to cover off any move.

The race was falling into a familiar and steady pattern, the front four had broken clear and were stretching out along the start-finish straight, concertinaing up at Tarzan. On lap four Geri thought he had made the breakthrough, getting fully alongside McKenna on the inside of turn 10 only to have to back out due to a yellow flag being waved where someone was being recovered on the run to the chicane. Smalley was still being defensive so the drivers would keep closing right up. By the end of lap five Geri seemed to be falling back from the front three.

Mutch tried to go round the outside of Smalley at Tarzan, this allowed McKenna to come through into second place on the inside while Mutch was stuck outside Smalley. Geri had been more than a second behind the lead three, but once again closed back onto Mutch’s rear bumper at Mastersbocht. Will all four cars queued up on the inside of the track approaching Turn 9, del Sarte appeared from nowhere on the outside and went sailing past Geri and alongside Mutch. They rounded Turn 10 side by side and ran down to the chicane with Geri right behind. As they approached the chicane, del Sarte was on the left, Mutch went central and Geri aimed right to take the inside line in. To complicate things further, del Sarte was closing fast on McKenna.

As they turned in, Mutch seemed to hit the inside kerb and suddenly spear left, forcing del Sarte off the track to the left – the impact straightening out his car and putting it back on line on the inside of the chicane exit, thus preventing Geri from taking advantage. With two laps to go, Smalley stopped defending and tried to outrun the pack. This had the effect of stretching out the gaps between the lead four, although once again Geri had closed up by the chicane exit, it became apparent how when he set fastest lap of the race with 1:56.5 again (for the third race running since the washer debacle!).

One lap to go, could Geri maintain the momentum and gain another place? The answer was no, the four ran together as one with no changes in position, Smalley taking the flag from McKenna, Mutch and Geri. But drama post race as Smalley’s move on Mutch was deemed inappropriate (harsh in our humble opinion), and he was given a half second penalty demoting him to third McKenna to take the win from Mutch, with Smalley then Geri – and just 0.7 separating them! Malin was 5th, 3 seconds behind Geri, del Sarte’s off track excursion (deemed as a racing incident) dropping him to 10th.

Race 3 – Sunday:
With two fourth places Geri really needed to get on the podium and stop losing points to the front three. The grid was based on race 2 final positions, so Geri started 4th – and thus on the inside of the track this time – behind McKenna, Mutch and Smalley. Despite a good start, the grid gaps left Smalley enough time to move over and cover off the inside run, leaving Geri forced to run outside. It looked like Geri was going to make it, exiting Tarzan he was certainly alongside and slightly ahead, but then had to back out before Hugenholzbocht as Smalley wasn’t going to be so generous as del Sarte with track space.

McKenna had maintained his lead from Mutch so it was the same four as before at the front. It would be a familiar story as Geri struggled to exit corners as fast as Smalley who would pull out three or four cars length before the gap shrunk back at Turn 9 and the chicane.

Going into Tarzan at the start of lap 2, McKenna went defensive, Mutch tried to sit as did Smalley who was catching back up – Geri finally rejoining the party at the apex. Once ouit of Hugenholzbocht the front three started to gap Geri again, taking until the chicane for them all to be nose to tail again.

Lap 3, McKenna and Mutch continued to joust at the front into Tarzan, but no change to the order. The front three were pulling a few lengths clear again, at Turn 9 McKenna and Mutch took a wide line in, Smalley going tight and coming out in second place. Geri got a nose alongside Mutch exiting the chicane, but then was simply left behind again.

Smalley was now pressuring McKenna, the front four had closed up yet again, with Malin catching Geri. With the front three all going defensive at Turn 11, Geri could take a wide line in and slingshot down the chicane, but couldn’t get far enough alongside Mutch before the chicane.

Smalley was all over McKenna but despite the defensive lines, they didn’t seem to ve slowed, the front four only closing up at the chicane, then again into Tarzan on lap 6. Stretching out, closing up at Turns 9 and 10, then again at the chicane, then stretching out to close up again at Tarzan. The race was following a familiar pattern, exiting to watch but nothing was changing.

Geri posted his fastest lap of the race on lap 7, but over half a second adrift of those posted in the previous two races. This brought him just that bit closer, going into Tarzan for the last time there was just that chance of a late lunge down the inside of Mutch who looked to have the space to take a wide line in, while the leaders stayed tight and defensive once more. But not quite enough, Mutch came across just inches from Geri’s bonnet to hold onto third place. With a countdown clock on the start-finish gantry, the drivers would be aware this was the final lap

Mutch and Geri went wide to the outside line out of Turn 9 while the leaders remained tight. Mutch was alongside Smalley but still not enough to take the place into Turn 10. Back to fours cars nose to tail with half a lap length, and Malin closing in to make it a top 5. There were four different lines used going into the chicane, and while Geri got alongside Mutch’s rear wheel, that was as close as there was to a change.

Smalley pulled out to pass McKenna in the race to the finish line, failing to pass by just 0.064, Mutch third 0.3 back, and then Geri 0.2 behind Mutch and 4/10ths ahead of Malin. The front five covered by less than a second.

Small consolation for Geri, his fastest lap in Race 2 was the fastest race lap of any GT5 race that weekend, so Geri was awarded the Sunoco Challenge Fastest Driver of the Day award, meaning he did at least make it to the podium presentation.

All in all, a bad weekend even if 21 other drivers would have swapped results gladly – 25 made the trip to Holland. Despite being less than 2 seconds off the lead on aggregate over the three races, we still only managed 3 fourth places. We have lost ground on the top three in the championship, and with now being 113 points behind McKenna, it’s not looking good for Geri’s championship hopes – the debacle at Donington costing too much to be able to make up. Without that, we would still be leading the championship and would view the results differently. And so onto Snetterton to join up with the TOCA package for the second time this year.

See the full live timing from Zandvoort here.

See the full standings here.

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