Knockhill 12/13 August 2017 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
After a successful round in the Pro-Tyre Ginetta GT5 Challenge at Thruxton, it was time to return to the BTCC Support package wiith another GT5 outing. We figured that what worked well before should be followed, so we started out with another trip to iZone was arranged a couple of days bofore our trip uo to Scotland. And once again, Ginetta kindly loaned their demonstration car again.
JHR Developments had an exclusive test booked for the Monday of race week, so of course we were part of that, along with Seb Perez who was also having a run out with us. Weather was surprisingly un-Scottish on the whole - on the drive up on Sunday it really did start rainiing within a couple of miles of crossing the border, and had continued to do so some way into the evening. Geri had taken advantage of this, a track walk late Sunday afternoon in the pouring rain gave opportunity to see where water would settle on the track. This was surely to prove invaluable come race weekend!
Anyway, the track was still damp on Monday morning, so Geri went out for a few laps on wet tyres but soon came in to the pits declaring it not wet enough to use wets, and figured waiting another 30 minutes, the track would probably be ready for slicks. Sure enough, the track dried quickly, Geri got up to speed on an old set of slicks, once ready we bolted on a new set and carried on with the testing. A sharp shower at 12:30 saw the track get very wet again, but it was almost lunch time and by the time action resumed, the wind had dried the track out and slicks were still the order of the day. In all, Geri got in over 100 laps in the dry, finishing within 8/1000ths of Seb's best time which had been set on better condition tyres. We were fairly confident with one caveat - the GT5 cars had never raced at Knockhill so we could only guess what a decent time would be! Looking at best Ginetta Junior and Clio lap times from previous years, we reckoned 57s would be possible on a rubbered in track, so with both drivers posting 57.8s on worn tyres and a green track, we thought we would be thereabouts.
While the Juniors had an official test day on the Wednesday, no such luck for the GT5 drivers. We had to wait until Friday. And guess what - Friday was WET. Drizzle all day with occasional heavier showers. The day was broken into 2 sessions, at lunchtime and later in the afternoon.
Although their Monday testing had been in the dry, Geri and Seb got up to speed straight away, sitting 1-2 (in Geri favour on lap 2, Geri dropping to 1:02.596 on lap 3. Wilkinson went faster on lap 5 but 2 laps later Geri was back on top, now with 1:02.272. Wilkinson dropped the time to 1:02.111 on his lap 10, championship protagonists Stoney and Brown were now up to 3rd and 4th. Geri responded immediately with the first lap in the 61s, 1:01.602.
Drivers were pitting for new tyres, Geri had been running an old set all session and saw no reason to burn a set of tyres to make a point. Stoney now upped the ante, posting 1:01.374 with 15 minutes of the 45 minute session to go. Geri got with 0.19 the following lap, before Stoney found another tenth later in the session. These would remain 1-2 for the session. Perez finished 3rd with 1:02.000 (!), Geri and Stoney had posted 17 laps in the 61s between them, 10-7 in Geri's favour. Looks like we knew where Geri's biggest competition was likely to come from.
Another 45 minute session later in the afternoon, the track was definitely less grippy than at lunch time. This time Stoney set the early pace, posting his best lap as early as lap 8. Geri was getting closer, but only threatened in his final session, after his third pitstop (red flags) when he was on a mission. This time Geri did use a new set of wets that we had left over from Thruxton, the weather forecast for the weekend was good and we didn't expect to be running the wets again. Hmm! He posted 62.405, 62.384, 62.498, then 62.236 to take the lead by 3/1000ths. Three laps later, with one lap remaining, Geri dropped that by a further 9/1000ths. So 1-1 wiith Stoney for heading the free practice sessions.
We did seem to be down on outright speed though, Geri being only 13th and 11th fastest through the speed traps, against posting second, third and third fastest sector times!
See the full timing details from TSL here
The big surprise for Saturday morning was that it had rained all night and as first session going out in the morning, there was no chance of the track buying out. We still had 2 new wets left over, the sets used on Friday were thought to be too worn for the conditions, so we had to buy two more first thing.
It looked like qualifying would follow Friday in being a battle between Geri and Shane. Shane was first into the 61s on lap 2, Geri posted 61.871 on lap 3 to head the grid, there having been a red flag on the opening lap which cost Geri the track position he had set up. Traves stunned everyone on lap 4 with a 61.243, a lap no-one would get close to. While Geri would improve slightly on lap 5, the track was getting greasier and track position wasn't going his way. Another red flag late in the session would see a final two lap effort to improve, Geri could only post his second and third best laps of the session. We qualified in 6th place in the end, behind Traves, Brown, Stoney, Zapolski and Wilkinson with Perez and Hadfield just behind. A little disappointing, but then we remembered that Geri won his Ginetta Junior race here last year - starting from 6th.
By the time the race began in the afternoon, the track had dried out and it was warm and sunny. Geri got a decent start and straight away moved over to cover off Wilkinson - already up to 5th. As the drivers ran down to Duffus, Brown led from Traves, Zapolski, Stoney and Geri. By the chicane Geri was right on Stoney's rear and gesticulating to him to get a move on! But drama right behind Geri at Duffus saw Perez spin and with cars flying off left and right, Fender and O'Brien were unable to avoid Perez in the middle of the track. Perez and Fender were unable to continue and the safety car was called for before the first lap had even completed! O'Brien would be forced to pit for repairs while the other 19 cars came round to line up behind the safety car. On the run uphill to the start line, Zapolski ran into the back of Traves, unsettling his car such that it fell behind Stoney and Geri, but correctly resumed his position before the bridge.
All pictures on this page courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography
Laps 2 and 3 were run following the safety car, at the end of lap 3 Brown and Traves pulled out a second gap on Zapolski who was caught napping. Geri crossed the line at the resuming of racing just 3/10ths behind Zapolski, with Stoney between them. Lap 4, Geri chased the two down through Duffus Dip, at McIntyre Geri suddenly went outside Stoney who in turn had been trying to get past Zapolski on the inside - Geri made the move stick and followed Zapolski across the chicane before diving inside at Clark. From 5th to 3rd in three corners - watch the video here. Brown and Traves were up the road, Geri was 3 seconds behind leader Brown, Traves just 8/10th behind Brown - but word was coming through that poleman Traves had false started and was given a 10 second penalty. After the final 2 rounds of the Juniors last year had seen the poleman judged to have false started - incorrectly in Seb Perez case - maybe pole wasn't the place to be?
Geri set about chasing the leaders, on lap 5 he had closed 6/10th on Brown and more tellingly 1.5 seconds on Traves while pulling out a gap behind of a second to Stoney who had now passed Zapolski. And it was raining! Just lightly at first, enough to need occasional use of the wipers, the slicks plainly had enough warmth to find grip - Geri set fastest lap on lap 5, which lasted just a lap as Stoney went faster on lap 6. Geri caught up with Traves at McIntyres on lap 6, set him up out of Clark and ran down towards the hairpin before going to the outside and then cutting back inside going up the hill - watch Geri take 2nd place here.
Following Traves had cost Geri time, so 4th placed Stoney had gained 3/10ths by virtue of his new fastest lap, but even with passing Traves, Geri had pulled another 6/10th on Brown. Six laps in of 20 (2 laps had ben added due to the safety car), Brown was 1.76 ahead of Geri, and 0.8 clear of 4th placed (on the track) Stoney. Stoney cleared Traves on lap 7 but lost a second to Geri while the latter gained another 3/10ths on Brown.
Lap 8 and the chase was on, just as the drizzle started up again. With the wiper on for most of the lap, Geri momentarily went purple with 57.774 but Stoney crossed the line 1.8 seconds later and bettered the time by 3/1000ths. More to the point, the gap ahead to Brown was now just 3/4 second. And the rain was getting heavier! Geri chased down Brown, getting ever closer, Brown braked cautiously for the hairpin, Geri didn't need a second invitation, this time went inside and outdragged Brown up the hill to cross the line in the lead - from 6th to 1st in 9 laps - watch Geri take the race lead here.
The rain was falling more and more heavily, now it was affecting lap times. On lap ten Geri posted 1:00.104, almost a second faster than Brown who wasn't as confident in the wet conditions - on slicks. Brown took a tenth off Geri on lap 11, but after that Geri started to pull away at 4/10th a lap. By lap 13 the lead was up to 1.8 despite Geri having to lap Greenwood (custodian of @quot;his@quot; race number) out of Clark. As Stoney caught up with Brown on lap 14, Geri increased the gap to 3 seconds, although lap times were now in the 64s!
The rain was getting very heavy now, the drivers were still out on slicks and there was plainly not enough time to swap to wets. The Sunday track walk was now paying dividends, Geri knew where the water would settle and was able to avoid the puddles. Geri lost 7/10ths to Brown and Stoney on lap 15 as he came up behind Halstead at the top of Seat Curves, just as Geri was about to lap him, he turned across so Geri had to back out and wait until McIntyres where Halstead stayed wide and let Geri through. Stoney passed Brown for second on lap 16, Geri opened up the gap to 2.8 seconds before backing out a fraction to control the race over the final 4 laps, short shifting and keeping well away from the kerbs. After letting Stoney bring the gap down to 1.5 seconds with 2 laps remaining, Geri just upped his pace enough to match that of Stoney and take his second consecutive GT5 victory, from Stoney, Brown, Hadfield and Traves who finsihed 5th despite a 10 second penalty. As a measure of conditions, the final lap times were in the 67s, almost 10 seconds adrift of the fastest lap!
Race 2 would be the live televised race, as winner of race 1 Geri would line up on pole from Stoney, Brown, Hadfield, Traves, Katie Milner, Wilkinson and Zapolski. Geri was wary of the start, pole sitter Traves had false started yesterday, in last year's Junior races Perez (incorrectly) and Brown had been judged to false start. So it was no surprise that Geri was very cautious from the start, Stoney moved off just before Geri, but Geri launched in a cloud of clutch smoke and was already fully front of Stoney as they turned right and down to Duffus Dip. Hadfield had got the better of Brown and moved into 3rd.
Stoney left the door open at McIntyres, Hadfield lunged to the inside, but Geri was up the road and gone, by the time he exited the chicane he was already a second clear of now second placed Hadfield, and it looked like the race was already over.
Except - right at the back of the grid there were spinners coming down Duffus, it looked at first like they would all continue on their way, but Mike Jarvis moved only a few yards before parking up just on the inside of the track. As Geri came up to complete the first lap, the safety car boards were out, although the car itself wasn't on the track. So Geri led the pack round so they could pick up the safety car at the start of lap 3. And the safety car would only lead for the single lap, at Clark on lap 3 the lights went out and Geri started to back up the pack ready for the restart.
This was Geri's first ever safety car restart from the lead, he got away cleanly enough and looked like he might pull clear again. But Hadfield made a massive gain under braking for the hairpin allowing him to close up. Coming down Duffus towards McIntyre, Hadfield dived inside, Geri played cautious and allowed him through, but Stoney also followed Hadfield dropping Geri into 3rd place, Brown now right on Geri's bumper as he moved back on line to cover off any more places lost. By the end of the lap, the front four appeared to split into 2 pairs, although Hadfield and Stoney were only 4/10ths ahead of Geri and Brown!
Stoney was jinking all over the place trying to find a way past Hadfield, Geri set fastest lap of the race on lap 6 with 57.717, but it was only 2/10ths faster than Brown, with Hadfield and Stoney even closer to that. Geri was visibly the fastest driver through the chicane, onl lap 7 he was closing right on Stoney before Stoney got alongside Haffield approaching the chicane, then actually got in front before losing the place again under braking! Going up to the line, Stoney actually crossed the line first but Hadfield was on the inside at Duffus and resumed the lead, the front four all but bumper to bumper.
Start of lap 9, Traves was now catching the front four. Stoney went inside Hadfield coming up the hill to the line, as they came down Duffus on the other side, Hadfield didn't make the turn and used all the green bit on the outside, coming back across the track with Stoney side by side still, the inevitable happened, Stoney had no room and was forced to cut McIntyres across the infield grass, rejoining just in front of Traves but having lost speed, so Traves was able to pass before the chicane, and Zapolski was now part of a top 6. At the chicane it was Hadfield, Geri, Brown all bumper to bumper, then a small gap to Traves, Stoney and Zapolski. With better exit frrom Chicane, Geri lined up to attack Hadfield on the run to the chicane, he went outside thinking he could make the move stick, but Hadfield's car appeared quicker at the top end and he was able to hold Geri off, stuck on the ouiside at the hairpin, Brown diving inside to take 2nd place. Stoney outdragged Traves up the hill to regain 4th place, and the front 4 again started to pull away. At the end of lap 10, Stoney followed Geri out of the hairpin and simply outdragged him on the outside up the hill, Geri now down to 4th.
More drama - at McIntyre Hadfield lost the back of his car and span off to the outside. Brown following close was forced to run outside and through the gravel to avoid hitting the spinning car, while Stoney and Geri passed through on the inside to take first and second. Brown managed to get through the gravel and rejoin, but had fallen back to 8th. The drivers lined up behind the safety car as Stoney, Geri, Traves, Zapolski, Wilkinson, Max Bird, Milner and Brown. There then followed 3 laps behind the safety car as Hadfield was dragged across the track to the infield, first the tow strap broke, then the tractor ran over one of the advertising signs! Finally the lights went out and the race was back on, now extended to 21 laps from the original 18. There were 6 racing laps left to go.
From the restart, Stoney and Geri made the break, another good exit from the Chicane by Geri looked like setting up a move into the hairpin, but couldn't quite make the pass. As they came across the line, Stoney went purple, Geri doing so 2/10ths later with a new fastest lap of 57.519. Geri was gaining, gaining, gaining. Another good launch through the chicane and this time they were almost touching. At Clark Geri went inside, they travelled through side by side, but this time Geri would have the inside line at the Hairpin. Geri got enough of an exit this time to maintain the lead across the line and onwards to the next lap.
And even more drama, no sooner had Geri taken the lead than Stoney was given a 5 second penalty for track limits, he was second on the track but back to 8th on time - crucially Geri was not aware of this and believed he was still racing Stoney. The gap slowly increased over the next couple of laps, Geri dragging Stoney round to gain places on time. With one lap left, Geri had posted the second, third and fourth fastest laps of the race back to back and finally broke Stoney's resistance and was 3 seconds clear of Traves, third on the track but second on time.
As he came round the hairpin for the final time, Geri had plenty of time to short shift, wind down the window and stick his arm in the air as he took the chequeted flag for the second time this weekend and third race in a row.
That is probably it for the season now, 6 races 6 podia, the final three being wins, with Geri also now holding the Ginetta GT5 lap record at both Thruxton and Knockhill. We are now concentrating on plans for a full championship tilt in 2018 - whioch championship has yet to be decided.
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See the full timing details from TSL here