Weighty issues at Rockingham
Macmillan Racing’s qualifying efforts for the third race of the 2017 British GT Championship were hampered by the extra weight carried in both the GT3 and GT4 machines,
a legacy of their Silver-status driver line-ups.
GT3 – Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3, no24
Grid position; 9th:
Running the heaviest GT3 machine that has ever been fielded by any Aston Martin Racing team cost James Littlejohn and driving partner Jack Mitchell dear in qualifying at Rockingham Speedway.
The duo – who lined up third-fastest for the season-opener at Oulton Park less than two weeks earlier – got off to a good start, however, with Jack going second-fastest in the first 10-minute session.
“Coming into qualifying was a bit of an unknown,” said the Kent driver, “because I hadn't done a new-tyre run but straight away the fresh tyres transformed the car and I was shocked at the grip. I managed to get 2nd in my group, despite a few mistakes and to be just over a second off with a big weight disadvantage isn't bad going.”
Then it was down to James to try and consolidate that result, as the nominated ‘Pro’ in the Pro-Am classification of the Championship.
“You really only get one good lap on the new tyre at Rockingham,” confided the man from Warwick, “as a front-engined car like ours works the front-right pretty hard. My first flyer was pretty good, right up until the last corner. Then I had a bit of a moment, lots of opposite lock and the time just disappeared. I was able to go a little bit quicker on my next two laps but that ‘new-tyre’ edge of performance was gone and wasn’t coming back.
“All-in-all, a little disappointing but the half-second or so I lost wouldn’t have put us much further forward. Tomorrow, we should be faster than a few of the cars who’re ahead of us on the grid, so we’ll look to move forward from the start.”
GT4 – Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4, no 42
Grid Position; 11th:
Will Phillips opened the batting for the GT4 team, setting the 8th-fastest time in the first of the two sessions in the no.24 Vantage GT4. The British GT qualifying system uses an average of the fastest lap set by each driver in a car, to decide it’s qualifying time, versus its rivals and thus, its grid position.
Like their GT3 team-mates, Will and driving partner Jan Jønck are classified as Silver-status drivers and – in the Pro-Am format of the Championship – are effectively seem as a Pro-Pro pairing. Thus, their car is forced to run with extra weight, in the form of ballast, to slow their pace, compared to their Pro-Am rivals.
“That brings all sorts of problems,” says Will, ‘because a heavier car accelerates more slowly, takes a greater distance to slow down and uses its tyres up faster… think of your road car versus a heavy van...
“Aston Martin don’t have much experience of running the cars as heavy as we are, so we’re really charting new territory, at every track, which means that time we could be using to perfect our driving technique to get the most out of ourselves and the car, is spent working out how to make the car handle well and still survive a long, possibly hard race.
“And when you need every fraction of a second in Qualifying… well, being heavier than many of your rivals isn’t your ally – and that really showed today.”
“We’ve been struggling with the rear of the car a little,” said Jan, “but I think we’ve made progress. We ended up in 11th place after qualifying, which isn’t too bad and I think we have better race-pace than some of our rivals.
“Obviously, we didn’t get everything we wanted to, out of the car today. On my first flying lap - which is always the one where the new tyre is best - I had a spin, so my theoretical best was a lot quicker than the lap I managed and we could have been a little further up the grid.
“I think we’ll have a good race tomorrow. It’s going to be the first long race of my career - my first pit-stop with refueling - which will be a lot of fun. In Oulton Park, in a one-hour race, we managed to go from 8th to 3rd. Tomorrow, we start from 11th but the race is twice the length, so hopefully we can make the same sort of progress.”
“Rockingham is the first of the longer races on the calendar,” said Team Principal David Macmillan, “which – hopefully – means that qualifying should have less of an effect on the overall result than in the shorter, one-hour, sprints - like Oulton Park.
“Choosing our driver line-ups, we knew that we’d pay a penalty for having two all-Silver pairings. Being new to the GT3 car and having no data to refer to from AMR to guide us in setting up a car as heavy as we’re running, naturally meant a little more work than we’d have ideally liked went into optimizing race performance.
“But they only award points on Sunday and I think the engineering team have got a good handle now on the car’s operating window. The two-hour race format gives all of our drivers the chance to make a really big contribution and I’m confident that they’ve got the pace needed.
“It’s going to be the biggest challenge yet for the team - to handle the strategy for both cars, monitor our rivals, judge caution or Safety Car periods and try to make the best calls for pit-stops and on tyre use. But that’s why we’re here: to be the best, you have to beat the best and that’s what we’re aiming to do every day.”
Round 3 of the British GT Championship fro Rockingham will be shown live on Frontrunner TV, on Sunday April 30th.
The live build-up begins at 12.20, with cars taking the green flag to start the race at 13.10.
Frontrunner TV is available via Freeview channel 91 or Sky channel 468.
COPYRIGHT MACMILLAN RACING 2017