It’s 365 days since a young Welshman was crowned GT Academy champion, and it could be argued it’s taken only 12 months for him to come of age. 262,800 seconds since Jann Mardenborough became a professional racing driver, he became a race winner – by two hundredths of a second. He was handed the lead by Alex Buncombe, and showed presence of mind to hold off a late charge from Jonny Adam to win the race – the first GT3 win for Nissan.
Qualifying was a close affair. After a quiet period while the ‘am’ halves of each pairing completed their mandatory three laps, the session exploded at the end. Stephen Jelley, again on form for Motorbase, stormed to pole despite a loss of power steering in his Porsche. He edged Matt Griffin’s MTech Ferrari into second and Jonny Adam’s Aston Martin third. In GT4, Alex Osborne went to the top in his APO Sport Ginetta, with Lotus’ Phil Glew and WFR’s Warren Hughes, with a similar Ginetta, following up.
The race did not start ideally. With the five minute board on the grid, rain briefly showered down, leaving a greasy surface for the largely amateur starting drivers. They did at least get two chances to look at it before the race, the starter unhappy with their formation as the cars rolled toward the line and forcing another pace lap.
As the race got underway, there was immediate drama. Steve Parish, starting the Porsche placed on pole by Jelley, and Duncan Cameron’s Ferrari, qualified by Griffin, were fine but behind them John Dhillon and GT4 polesitter Alex Osborne both suffered contact and spun. Though they rejoined, their challenge was blighted early.
Parish led across the stripe onto the second lap, heading Cameron and Daniel Perfetti, the second Motorbase Porsche making good early ground. Making even more progress was Alex Buncombe. Having started his Nissan tenth, he was fourth after one tour, while Charles Bateman (United Autosports Audi) and Riki Christodolou (WFR Ginetta) were both making big gains too, up to eight from 13th and 15th from 24th respectively.
It wasn’t a good start for the Predator Ferrari, the torrid season getting worse for Phil Burton. He pitted the black car with significant frontal rearrangement.
With the drizzle rescinding, Buncombe wasted no time taking the lead and beginning to take advantage of his experience. As one of the few ‘pro’ drivers taking the start, the strategy was clear – build a gap to hand to Jann Mardenborough. It was a clever alternate strategy from RJN and one that had nearly paid off at Rockingham. The Nissan was followed by the two Motorbase Porsches, Perfetti trailing Parish by a small margin.
GT4 saw the Mazda showing its promise, leading the class with Mark Ticehurst from Warren Hughes and the impressive recovering Osborne.
He may have had the championship lead, but Duncan Cameron was not showing championship form. Having dropped from second, he was soon fifth behind Luke Hines’ Optimum Ginetta and then spun, rejoining 19th. Another Ginetta making progress was Stark’s, with Jake Rattenbury rattling in a lap three seconds faster than anyone on track.
With Buncombe now seven seconds clear it was key for any challengers to make themselves known and Hines did just that, forcing his way past the two Porsches and on after the Nissan, lapping faster. Into fourth was David Jones’ Mercedes and Bateman had made his way to sixth debuting the new R8 LMS Ultra. Benji Hetherington was underlining the improvements in the Nissan by bringing his JMH car into sixth.
Paddock Hill Bend is one of the toughest in the UK and one of the least forgiving of a mistake, so when contact between Hector Lester (Rosso Verde Ferrari) and Cameron put fluid on the track almost all the leading pack went through the gravel. Cameron retired with radiator damage and Buncombe suddenly found his seven second lead was half a second from the charging Hines.
The safety car was briefly launched to remove debris and when it was withdrawn Sailesh Bolisetti, not on the pace in his Lotus, retired with damaged suspension. Also in trouble was Rattenbury, a puncture delaying him. In trouble with the stewards was Christodolou, getting a drive through for a yellow flag offence.
It had been going well for Benji Hetherington but a mistake on a wet curb at Stirlings was his undoing. The white Nissan took a heavy hit, the bonnet landing in a tree – but the driver was fine. The safety car was scrambled again, and returned to the pits just as the pit window opened.
Dhillon was first in but both leaders stayed out, Buncombe continuing to hold a slim gap over Hines. The impressive Olly Bryant was now onboard the Ecurie Ecosse BMW and charging. With Hines and Buncombe pitting, the GT4 leading pair briefly led overall – Alex Osborne no doubt enjoying the brief moment of glory. Pitstops over, and again Century Motorsport were given a penalty for mistiming a pitstop – twice in a row.
Bryant’s charge had the BMW up to second, behind Mardenborough (who had taken over from Buncombe in the RJN Nissan).
The Rockingham winners, Steve Tandy and l’e columnist Joe Osborne, were forced to retire after earlier contact from Cameron’s Ferrari. They were soon joined by the Speedworks Corvette and the Stark Ginetta, with propshaft failure and alternator trouble the reasons.
The top three were bunching up, Mardenborough ahead of Milroy, who led the now charging Jonny Adam. Fourth was Nic Armindo (in for Westbrook, on Grand Am duty) and George Murrells was fifth. Sixth was Aaron Scott, ahead of Allan Simonsen. Fourth to seventh would be the same until the flag.
Fifteen minutes to go, the gap was just ten seconds – a handful of minutes to go and Adam was on Bryant’s bumper. Having set the fastest lap, the Aston Martin man was not to be denied, though it took some luck to do it. Coming up on the Mazda on the penultimate lap, Mardenborough breezed past but Bryant was blocked. Adam didn’t need another invitation and passed the BMW, locking his sights on the Japanese machine ahead.
Tension mounted with the two cars so close on the Grand Prix loop, out of sight, and as they returned the Aston Martin was tucked within inches of the Nissan. Coming out of Clearways for the final time Adam leapt to the gap around the outside, but it was not quite enough – Mardenborough’s GT-R denied him by 22 thousandth of a second.
“This is so weird,” beamed the Cardiff born and bred youngster. “This time last year, 365 days to this day, I won GT Academy – so it’s mega to get my win here today. The guys did a great job with setup. Our car isn’t the quickest over a lap, but we set it up to give us the best race pace we could achieve and that proved right!”
“On the radio it was like a second, a second and a half per lap and then when I saw the Nissan and the BMW I thought well there’s not enough laps, but I kept pushing on through,” explained Adam. “It was like qualifying out there for me, lap after lap just on it. Near the end the Nissan had a moment on the last corner and I thought I had a chance, but it was just so close. I thought we had it, but another 100 yards and we would’ve been there.”
Winners in GT4, once again, were Jody Fannin and Warren Hughes, the WFR Ginetta pairing proving peerless again. James May and Alex Osborne were second for APO and the Jota Mazda’s progress was underlined with a first ever podium in the hands of Mark Ticehurst and Owen Mildenhall.
David Ashburn and Nic Armindo’s fourth leaves the veteran pilot leading the standings from Griffin and Cameron going into the next round, at Snetterton on August the 4th and 5th.
Words: Jake Yorath
Images: Adam Pigott