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Video: Mitchell/Balon hold on after race-long British GT battle

Half a second was all that split the winning Barwell Lamborghini from the pursuing Garage 59 McLaren after three hours of flat-out racing at Silverstone that ran uninterrupted for the duration.

As Sandy Mitchell and Adam Balon banished the memories of a tricky British GT season opener at Oulton Park, the pair needed an inch-perfect drive to beat a guesting Marvin Kirchhofer and Alexander West in a race determined by fine margins.

“If we’d lost one or two seconds throughout the whole race then [the win] probably wouldn’t have happened,” said Mitchell, who breathed a sigh of relief when Kirchhofer resumed the race after his third and final stop on lap 68 narrowly behind. Mitchell admitted that he likely wouldn’t have passed Kirchhofer, on four-lap fresher rubber, had he rejoined ahead for the final 35-minute dash. The pair proved so evenly matched that they set identical times on the penultimate tour.

“The McLaren’s straightline speed is pretty strong compared to us as well, so I think it would have been extremely difficult to overtake,” explained the 2020 champion. “I had to defend two or three times, but thankfully he never got side-by-side.”

Mitchell’s stunning qualifying effort, 0.693 seconds faster than anybody in the Pro session, allied with a strong fourth place for Balon, had secured them pole. But Balon soon had fastest Am qualifier Alex Malykhin (Redline Lamborghini) looming large in his mirrors, and the lunge came as they went into Club on lap three. Contact was made and Malykhin was issued a drivethrough penalty, limiting him and James Dorlin to an eventual fourth.

West had started 10th, but ended the first lap third after “one of the luckier starts I’ve seen”. After being rebuffed by Malykhin for second into Becketts, James Cottingham was challenged into Stowe by Richard Neary. The pair ran side-by-side into Club, where the Abba Mercedes went deep into the left-hander, allowing Cottingham to get back alongside entering the right. Neary then clouted Cottingham into a spin, causing race-ending damage to the right-rear corner on the 2 Seas Mercedes, which was then clipped by Ian Loggie’s RAM Racing example.

“The wishbone was so bent they couldn’t get to some of the fixings properly,” explained team boss Dan Shufflebottom of the lengthy repair that left Loggie and Callum Macleod to finish a distant 15th in GT3 with steering still askew. Neary continued, fighting back from the tail end of the pack to finish fifth on the road, before being excluded when a door was removed under parc ferme conditions. Kevin Tse (Sky Tempesta) had inherited third, then spun at the Loop, completing a terrible opening lap for Mercedes.

Once Malykhin had served his penalty, Balon returned to the lead but soon had his mirrors full of a flying Morgan Tillbrook, who had started 13th in the Enduro McLaren he shared with Marcus Clutton. Up to seventh on lap one, he’d passed Mark Sansom (Assetto Bentley), Shaun Balfe’s Audi, Nick Moss (Optimum McLaren) and West, then ran longest of anybody with a 66-minute opening stint that took him to lap 32, 11 further than Balon.

Puncture put Adam Carroll and Shaun Balfe's Audi out (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)

After a right-rear puncture for Adam Carroll (in for Balfe) had ended his pursuit of Mitchell and put the Oulton winner out, Clutton rejoined fifth as Mitchell led Kirchhofer, Sam Neary and Jamie Caroline (RAM). Another long stint from Clutton appeared to set the crew up for a podium, only for a fire extinguisher to go off in the cockpit as Tillbrook climbed aboard, which robbed the car of power.

Mitchell again pitted before Kirchhofer, and the German overturned a 5.7s deficit in his laps against Balon to give West an 11s lead. But Mitchell returned the favour against West, who was left to lament traffic “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. “But, after qualifying, if somebody had asked if I’d take second place, I would have done, no doubt,” he added.

Moss and Joe Osborne made it two guesting McLarens on the podium. After Moss had matched Tillbrook’s marathon opening stint, Osborne rejoined 11th but brought the car back into contention over the next hour. A short second stint from Moss consolidated third spot.

Behind Dorlin, Jonny Adam chased Neary to the line and took fifth with Flick Haigh – another to run long early – on their first weekend in the 2 Seas Mercedes as a stop/go penalty for a short pitstop and a subsequent vibration dropped Caroline and John Ferguson out of contention, promoting Sansom and Will Tregurtha to sixth.

No success penalties were served, pending the appeal into the Oulton Park race-two result. The Silverstone order therefore remains provisional and points have yet to be appointed. But, whatever happens in the courts, Barwell’s win will be unaffected, and its championship challenge is back on track.

“A lot of the guys that did well at round one haven’t had such a good weekend,” said Mitchell. “Now the door’s wide open again.”

British GT4: Silverstone success again for Turner/Topham

Turner and Topham came out on top of three-hour Silverstone race again in GT4 (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)

Newbridge Motorsport Aston Martin crew Darren Turner and Matt Topham repeated their 2021 Silverstone victory in GT4 with a long-running strategy that took advantage of the Pro-Am pair’s shorter pitstops.

Their second consecutive win was founded on keeping clean, as fancied Silver rivals hit strife, and spending 14 seconds less in the pits for each of their three mandatory driver changes. They romped to victory by over half a minute from Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding’s pole-winning Steller Audi.

Turner admitted to being disappointed with qualifying only sixth as the Audi checked in 1.4s quicker on aggregate times than nearest challengers Marco Signoretti/Matt Cowley (Academy Ford Mustang). But, in the chaotic early laps, survival was the name of the game.

Will Burns (Century BMW) punted Signoretti wide at Stowe on lap one, before Josh Miller (R Racing Aston) turned Williams around at Village on lap two. Burns thus led Miller – who would be penalised for that contact, and a refuelling infringement – and returnee Jordan Collard until a right-rear puncture for the Speedworks Toyota dropped him and Tom Edgar from contention. Meanwhile, an undamaged Williams began his fightback, rising to third behind Burns and his team-mate Tom Rawlings before making his first stop on lap 10.

As Burns pulled away, Rawlings held back Ross Wylie’s Valluga Porsche and the recovering Signoretti, Topham keeping a watching brief behind. Content to set his own pace and not get involved in scraps, Topham ran longer than anybody in the opening stint, pitting 18 tours after Williams on lap 28.

Newbridge and Steller’s strategies diverged again thereafter, the Audi squad completing its driver changes five laps before the end of Turner’s long second stint. The three-time Le Mans class winner picked off Chris Salkeld (in for Rawlings) and Cowley, then closed on Wylie’s impressive co-driver Matthew Graham before pitting.

Following a seven-lap burst from Topham, Turner took over again, rejoining 20s clear of Jack Brown (in for Burns). Losing half a minute in his final stop to a refuelling problem put Fielding back behind Graham in fourth, but he eventually worked an opening to claim third on the road – which became second when a post-race 40s penalty for Burns/Brown dropped them to fifth.

“It was just a clean, non-dramatic race in terms of strategy,” said Turner. “We just need to learn how to get these tyres to work in qualifying.”

GB3: Granfors grabs the initiative to top standings

A win and second place at Silverstone helped move Granfors to the top of the points (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)

Fortec Motorsports’s Joel Granfors moved to the top of the GB3 Championship standings at Silverstone, as three different drivers scored maiden series triumphs.

Granfors continued his strong pace from last month’s Oulton Park season-opener by taking a double pole on the Grand Prix circuit. He converted the first of those into the lead, pulling out an early two-second cushion over Hitech GP’s Luke Browning, who had passed Elite Motorsport’s Tom Lebbon on the opening lap. Browning picked up the pace late on to close the deficit, but came home 0.721s behind.

Lebbon finished third, ahead of Douglas Motorsport’s Max Esterson, who gained two places at the start to score his best result so far. Lebbon’s team-mates James Hedley and John Bennett completed the top six.
Elite’s strong weekend continued in race two as, starting from the inside of the front row, Lebbon took advantage of a low downforce set-up to out-drag Granfors on the run to Maggotts and snatch the lead. The Briton then controlled the remainder of the 10-lap contest to take his and the team’s first GB3 victory.

“I just managed to get a run on Joel coming out of Copse,” said Lebbon on his race-winning overtake. “He was carrying a lot more wing than us, so I knew we would have the straightline speed advantage. I managed to get alongside and it was done from there really.”

Granfors came home a close second to further reduce the points deficit to Browning, who was third, while Esterson started and finished fourth to repeat his race-one result. Single-seater rookie Callum Voisin overtook his Carlin stablemate Roberto Faria late on to finish fifth.

Lebbon took maiden win in GB3 Championship (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)

It was another rookie who starred in the fully reversed-grid race as Hitech’s Cian Shields, who moved straight into GB3 this year from karts, triumphed having passed polesitter David Morales at the start. Morales, who missed most of testing due to illness, also lost out to Hillspeed’s Nick Gilkes before Copse. Gilkes then applied pressure on Shields throughout, but it was the latter that held on to win by 0.434s.

“It was quite nerve-wracking having Nick [Gilkes] on my tail the whole race, but over the moon to come out on top,” said Shields. “Coming straight from karts it was obviously a big jump. We didn’t expect to win in only the second weekend in the car.”

His team-mate Bryce Aron completed a double-overtake on Morales and Douglas Motorsport’s Tommy Smith into Brooklands early on to score his first podium in third.

Early contact hampered Browning from 18th on the grid, with the resulting damage leaving him down in 17th at the flag. Granfors, meanwhile, passed half the field from the back to finish ninth, giving the Swede a three-point advantage.

“In F4 I had to be sliding the car a bit, and that’s not really my driving style,” said Granfors on his impressive start to the season after moving up from British Formula 4. “I think this car just suits me more and feels better to drive as well with more grip.”

GB4: Title rivals collide in thrilling contests

Taylor took a brace of wins, the second after colliding with rival Walker (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)

The GB4 Championship provided its most exciting weekend to date at Silverstone, with drama in the title battle and two teams on the podium for the first time.

Hampered by poor starts at the opening two rounds, Fortec Motorsports’s Nikolas Taylor (leading above) made amends with a brace of wins. Points leader Alex Walker took pole for race one ahead of his Elite team-mate Jack Sherwood, but the latter made a poor getaway, allowing Taylor to claim second into Copse.

On the second lap, Walker tried to defend from Taylor on the Hamilton Straight but the latter squeezed into a small gap to the inside before completing the move into Abbey and then held his rival off until the end. Hillspeed’s Max Marzorati kept Fortec’s Elias Edestam at bay to record his fourth podium.

Marzorati grabbed the lead at the start of race two from Taylor, who then fought back on the Hangar Straight but they were both beaten into Stowe by Walker. Having reclaimed second, Taylor tried to retake the lead later in the lap around the outside at the Loop, but contact dropped him to fourth while Walker retired on the spot with suspension damage.

“I tried it around the outside,” said Taylor on his incident with Walker. “He tried to push me wide and I couldn’t go anywhere.”

Walker retired from second GB4 race after contact with Taylor (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)

Taylor passed Tom Mills and Megan Gilkes following a brief safety car period and drew alongside Marzorati into Becketts, before Mills capitalised to sneak past the pair of them. But, hampered by straightline speed issues all weekend, Mills was unable to prevent Taylor from getting the lead back into Copse.

Mills’s team-mate Jarrod Waberski climbed from fifth to finish in second behind Taylor, while Marzorati scored another third place as Mills eventually limped home in ninth. “I’d say we can put it down as a character-building weekend,” he said. “We can’t find the problem, and we’ve been working so hard for it.”

Another driver suffering similar issues earlier in the weekend was Logan Hannah. An intercooler problem left her down on power in qualifying, but she bounced back to deliver Graham Brunton Racing’s best performance of the season in the full reversed-grid race.

Hannah grabbed the lead on lap one by sweeping past team-mate Chloe Grant into Becketts as series debutant Lucas Romanek was soon into second for Oldfield Motorsport. Grant was then involved in a three-car collision and dropped to the back having tried to defend against Waberski into Club, as an over-ambitious move up the inside from Taylor resulted in him being launched over Grant’s car, putting himself and Waberski out.

Hannah resisted pressure from Romanek until half-distance, but a small mistake exiting Chapel allowed the latter to sweep by at the end of the Hangar Straight and eventually win by two seconds. A first podium finish left Hannah delighted after a difficult start to the season, while Sherwood finished third.

Reports by James Newbold and Steve Whitfield. Photography by Jakob Ebrey Photography/Motorsport Images. Want more reports from the world of national motorsport? Subscribe today and never miss your weekly fix of motorsport with Autosport magazine

Hannah took maiden GB4 podium in full reverse-grid race (Photo by: Jakob Ebrey)
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