Donington Park GP 14-15 September 2019 - Ginetta GT5 Challenge
The final round. We came into Donington 102 points behind McKenna, and 45 behind Smalley - in the real world of course we would be 26 ahead of McKenna and 83 ahead of Smalley, and in a good position to take the championship. But we are where we are - to overhaul the gap to McKenna would need him locked in a box all weekend while Geri would stil have to win all three races! But the gap to Smalley, if we won all three races then three top 5s for Smalley would secure him second place - but one poor race could turn that on its head. On the other hand, we were only 2 and 7 points ahead of Mutch and Malin so 3rd placed still needed to be consolidated before we worried about trying to get second. And besides, after what happened last time out at Donington, we had unfinished business.
First up was Friday testing. We didn't have any new tyres left in our season allocation, so there was no point in testing on new tyres. In fact we picked our 6 best tyres from the 18 we had raced with and held those over for the weekend, then picked the next best 8 (i.e. pretty worn out) to use for Friday testing. We spent some time on Friday debating on whether our previous Donington setup was the way to go, or the different setup as used at Snetterton, but the Donington setup was tried and trusted here.
All photos on this page courtesy Jakob Ebrey Photography
There was no TSL Timing in place for the Friday, and while we thought McKenna might be a little quicker, we were running on tyres deemed too old to race with, and we could still get consistent quick lap times. We were comfortable we would have good race pace, even if one lap speed might not quite be there.
End of season meant a few changes in the grid - some regular drivers were missing, some new ones appeaed to take their place, but there was still a 25 car grid, not quite as big as earlier in the season, but still pretty crowded.
With no need to bed in new tyres we had expected to be quick out of the box, and on the first flying lap, Geri was quickest, but a 1:47.8 was hardly going to stay top for long. The next lap was slower, and a run wide caused it to be disallowed for track limits anyway, the next one went even worse. Geri got it all wrong coming into McLeans, and after a bit of a wiggle, went off and towards the wall before slowing the car and driving around the outside of the gravel - as far as we can recall, this was Geri's first competitive error all season!
Back on the case the following lap, and into the 1:46s but by now Mutch and McKenna were someway ahead, Mutch already 9/10ths up on Geri. A red flag on the following lap gave us time to think and regroup. Geri responded with two quicker laps, then a breather lap before posting his quickest lap on the final lap - 4/10ths adrift of Mutch, but only 4/100ths adrift of third placed Malin, with McKenna in 2nd. As per all season except Snetterton, where Geri's qualifying places were the same for both races, he was nearer the front in race 2 where he would line up 3rd.
After qualifying, Geri was complaining the car was undriveable with the rear being very snappy. He wasn't confident he could run a complete race without making a mistake somewhere, so changes were made in the hope of taming the rear without slowing the car.
Race 1 - Saturday:
The grid was a bit mixed up - at the front it was Mutch, McKenna, Malin, Geri - but after that it was Firth, Steed, Harrison, Drydal with Smalley way back in 11th place having suffered clutch problems all through Friday, and an overnight clutch change seemingly not solving them.
Geri got away to his usual good start and having cleared Malin went across to the inside ready to move by McKenna, but the latter closed the door, with them just touching as he did so, leaving Mutch, McKenna and Geri all hugging the inside approaching Redgate. Rather than join the queue, Malin did the opposide and went from right to left initially getting the overlap on Geri as they rounded Redgate, but then finding his path blocked by McKenna (another tap!) which allowed Geri to regain 3rd place. At the top of Craners Geri was right on McKenna's bumper, McKenna already going defensive at Old Hairpin. With a 57 point lead over Smalley, and Smalley starting way back in 11th, any half decent finish would give McKenna the championship - but guess he didn't want to be beaten by Geri.
Coming out of Coppice, Mutch took a wide line which allowed McKenna to cut tight at the second apex and make a move. Geri stayed outside as he closed on Mutch, once he could see McKenna was edging past Mutch, Geri went right, carrying a lot more speed and all but pushed McKenna by as Geri moved into 2nd place. McKenna had the inside for the chicane and had taken too long passing Mutch for there to be enough straight left for Geri to challenge. Coming into Melbourne Loop, again McKenna too a defensive inside line, while Geri was clear enough of Mutch and Malin that he could take the outside line. This of course meant Geri could try the cutback on the exit of Melbourne Loop, and sure enough McKenna remained over to the left as Geri pulled alongside on the right heading to Gerrards.
The same happened at Gerrards, McKenna on the inside line, Geri outside and cutting back, this time with enough space to make the move just as they crossed the start line, Geri comfortably in the lead by the time he reached Redgate and able to take the conventional fast wide line in.
Foot down and off went Geri pulling clear of the following McKenna, Malin, Steed and Mutch. The gap was up to 6/10ths but the yellow flags were out at Melbourne and onwards, as Geri rounded Gerrards he could already see the McLaren safety car parked up at Redgate, so crossed the line and immediately short-shifted, slowed and started weaving to keep heat in the tyres.
Near the back there had been an incident which left Budd, Bowers and Pearce stranded in the gravel outside Coppice and in need of recovery. It seemed like Donighton only had one recovery vehicle, certainly it was taking forever to recover the cars and was being done one at a time. Gradually we realised that if we were lucky the race would be a one lap sprint, then the last lap board came out while still behind the safety car! And at that point Geri knew he would be following the safety car across the line to take the win. And with only one flying lap throughout the race, Geri also got fastest lap, his 6th in the 7 races since the washer debacle. Such a strange race meant Geri felt totally flat with very muted celebrations, but a win is a win!
McKenna's second place was enough for him to secure the championship, we wouldn't see him out again all weekend as he wanted to protect against any possible penalties. Steed had moved up to third on lap 2, leaving Mutch and Malin 4th and 5th, with Smalley having only moved up to 9th. 36 points to Geri, 12 to Smalley and a 45 point gap was down to 21, with Geri starting race 2 from 3rd, Smalley back in 8th.
Race 2 - Sunday:
With McKenna having been declared champion and electing not to race, Mutch had the front row to himself for the second race of the weekend. And while Geri would be starting 3rd, he too would be on his own on the second row with Danny Harrison unable to take the start due to mechanical issues. Behind Geri were Firth, Pulling, Maxted, Smalley, Milner and Dyrdal with Malin back in 11th place.
Another storming start from Geri saw him drive straight past Mutch and into the lead before the pit lane exit. Not quite far enough in front to take the fully wide line into Redgate, but a cautious mid track line saw Geri safely through unchallenged. With a clear track in front Geri was off, Mutch staying close behind. As Geri exitted the chicane, there were yellow flags out, as he exitted Melbourne he could say the safety car had been deployed again, so backed right off before even reaching Goddards.
Unknown to Geri there had been complete mayhem back at Old Hairpin. From the start, Smalley had launched from 8th spot on the grid past Pulling and was outside Firth going round Redgate. They continued side by side into Craners almost touching, coming into Old Hairpin they did touch pushing Firth just to edge a back wheel on the grass. Then the carnage started, Firth's car being rotated left into Smalley taking them both into the outside gravel trap. Malin had already come through the pack and emerged from behind the now stranded Firth and Smalley into third place. Just behind, Steed turned into Dyrdal who careered across the inside of the circuit and backwards into the wall, not a great introduction to the Quattro Motorsport team. And when Milner arrived on the scene unsighted, she ran wide into the gravel where she too was stranded.
To the credit of the trackside personnel at Donington, this time the carnage was cleared quickly and the race was resumed on lap 5, albeit with time for just three racing laps. As the race resumed with Geri controlling the restart, he went early barely allowing the safety car time to exit into pitlane. By Redgate the front three were pulling clear of what now became the second three, Maxted, Pulling and Grady. With Geri not having the benefit of a tow, a larger gap became a smaller gap approaching the chicane, forcing Geri to be defensive into Melbourne while Malin was also attacking Mutch from behind, getting his nose alongside the rear wheel.
Two laps to go, Geri crossed the line just .3 ahead of Mutch and .8 ahead of Malin with a safe gap back to 4th. With Smalley out, Geri had to make the most of the situation and bag a large points haul. Mutch closed right onto Geri's bumper through Schwantz leaving Geri no choice but to defend into McLeans. This gave Mutch the better exit, but Malin too was closing and running up the outside of the track towards Coppice, Geri again having to stay tight and defend. Just in time Mutch pulled left in an attempt to go round the outside of Geri at Coppice, he got 95% past, but as they ran down towards the chicane Geri braked later and regained his first place. Geri was able to take a less defensive line at Melbourne, Mutch tried to follow but Mutch almost took advantage again getting his nose inside, while Mutch ran into the back of Geri mid corner. Out the other side and up the hill, Geri led the following pair who were still side by side.
With one lap to go Geri had upped the gap to .6 from Mutch, Malin was just .2 further back. Maxted had closed up on Malin while al the defending was going on. Although closing right up on Geri in the tow to the chicane, Mutch wasn't close enough to make Geri defend, the latter happy to stay to the right of the track and take the fast line through. Running down to Melbourne, Geri took a mid track position, Mutch was also having to be wary of Malin right behind him - anyone could have come out in front. Into Goddards, Mutch looked at turning in early but Geri covered it. Mid corner there was barely 3 inches between them, but it was enough for Geri to come out and cross the line ahead for his second win of the weekend and third consecutive win having also triumphed last time out at Snetterton.
Another 35 points with Smalley not scoring meant Geri was now up to second in the championship despite the penalty handed out earlier in the season. He had also extended the gap behind him to Mutch and Malin having beaten them in both races. We figured a top 6 finish would guarantee 2nd overall, maybe 5th might be needed if Smalley won from the back in race 3.
Race 3 - Sunday:
Final race of the season, Geri starting on pole from Mutch, Malin, Maxted, Grady and Pulling with Smalley starting 21st. Noone had won 4 consecutive races in the past couple of years at least, in fact Geri had just been the first to win three consecutive races after coming so close last year winning at Rockingham, Thruxton and then missing the hat-trick by a couple of feet. And of course to win all three races at a meeting would be very special - yet at the same time, Geri knew he still had to finish well to gain second in the championship, and the gap in prize between 3rd and 2nd meant that was a more important result than a third race win of the weekend.
Not that such thoughts showed, Geri launched straight into the lead with yet another of his trademark starts. Far enough ahead to move over to the outside of the track and take the fast line into Redgate. Maxted had initially threatened to challenge Malin, but by mid corner it was Mutch on the inside, Malin on the outside. Geri looked to be checking out, a good 5 car lengths clear of Mutch and Malin by Old Hairpin, and already the front three had broken clear of the rest.
By Coppice Geri's lead had been halved, but Mutch still had Malin climbing all over him.
And by Melbourne they were nose to tail and touching. Geri led across the line by just .3, and only .5 ahead of Malin. Already the gap back to 4th was another 2 seconds from Malin as the front three embarked on their own private race. On lap two Grady pulled off the circuit on the outside before McLeans - surely not another safety car? Not this time, it seemed his car was safe where it was and the marshalls managed to get it out of harm's way before the cars came round again.
Two laps in and the gap to Mutch remained consistent, Malin had dropped a whole two tenths - but fourth place was now 4 seconds adrift. Surely these three would take the podium positions unless there was a collision? It was just a matter or what order. Another lap and Mutch was edging closer, the gap now down to .23, with the front three running in the 1:45s, almost 1.5 faster a lap than the next placed drivers.
Coming into McLeans Geri was taken by surprise as Mutch lunged inside forcing him right out across the grass on exit. They ran up to Coppice as Mutch took advantage of the inside line into the first apex and took the lead. Geri went for the cutback and with Mutch running just a car's width from the inside of the straight, Geri went to move alongside Mutch. Geri's bonnet was alongside Mutch's back wheel as he moved across the track pushing Geri onto the grass as they braked from 115mph. This left Geri unable to turn into the chicane, so as Mutch turned, so Geri cut passed the chicane across the gravel trap and grass at nearly 80mph rejoining the track right on Mutch's rear bumper and barely any further ahead of Malin. Geri had to defend from Malin into Melbourne, leaving Mutch to cross the line .5 ahead of Geri and .8 ahead of Malin.
That gap was a lot less by Redgate, by Craners it was a car length, by Old Hairpin Geri was jinking left and right all over Mutch. Geri tried to go round the outside at McLeans but couldn't get far enough alongside, then a dummy outside at Coppice before diving inside. This time Geri was fully alongside Mutch with the length of the straight to go. This time Geri got the end of the bonnet in front, but Mutch had learned from race 2 and braked later, taking the line into the chicane while Geri tucked back in behind and just in front of Malin. Mutch had to defend into Melbourne but the order remained the same as they crossed the line with six minutes still on the clock, 4 more racing laps for Geri to find a way back through.
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At Redgate there was a foot in it, Geri was lining up Mutch for the pass. Just as Geri went purple through the first sector, the safety car flags came out, Mutch slowing abruptly out of Schwantz such that only quick reactions from Geri stopped him running into the back of him. They drove slowly round the circuit under full course yellows, when they finally reached the safety car at Redgate, it was apparent it was no longer needed - Grady had been winded when leaving the circuit and an ambulance had been called so the safety car was deployed even though the ambulance didn't join the track. The net effect of this was to turn the race into a one lap sprint to the end.
Mutch broke very late for the restart, Geri tried everything as he threw the kitchen sink at Mutch, but to no avail. Geri got half his car past Mutch going into McLeans but he was on the outside, and even though he braved it out all the way up to Coppice, the inside line gave Mutch the advantage. Mutch spent the whole back straight weaving from side to side trying to break the tow, Geri going side to side to try and pass, and all with Malin pretty well pushing him along. Mutch defended into Melbourne, Geri was fully alongside on the outside but a small lockout and a back end slide gave Mutch the breathing space he needed to bring the car home for the win, from Geri and Malin.
So we didn't quite make the triple win but a 101 point haul was not to be sniffed out. Geri cemented his second place in the championship, 14 points ahead of Mutch and a further 12 in front of Smalley. Without the summer washer debacle, which actually cost us 128 points) we would have won the championship comfortably, we weren't going to drop 32 points to McKenna in the final two races if he had taken part. It's a little consolation that there's no-one in the paddock, save maybe a couple of team owners, who doesn't think Geri was hard done by and is the true champion. We'll have to settle for that. We finish the season with 5 wins (1 taken away), 6 seconds (so more top two finishes than anyone), a pair of thirds and 4 4th places. The only finish outside the top 4 was of course the summer roudn at Donington where Geri was forced to start from 28th rather than from pole, and still got to 7th in just 5 racing laps! We also took 6 fastest laps, all after the washer disqualification, so a fat lot of good they had been :-)
We'd like to end the season with thanks to Richard, Sarah and all at Quattro Motorsport without whom we probably wouldn't have raced this season let alone come so close to winning the title. And of course congratulations to our team mate Dale Albutt who did what we should have done by winning his (AM) class championship. We now wait to see what next year holds.
See the official timing for the weekend here.
See the final standings here.