The twisty and challenging Rockingham Raceway greets the British GT Championship for the second round of 2015 and new to the grid, after considerable success in Britcar, are Anna Walewska with new co-driver Rob Garofall, in the University of Bolton/Westons Removals Ginetta G55 run by RLR msport.
Speaking to the drivers before the race, Rob says: “we opted not to use the Sunday morning warm-up session in the horrendous conditions”. Anna says: “the Avon wet tyre compound is harder than the Dunlops so they should be able to continue using the tyres on a drying track without fear of them becoming too soft, idealy we will be out on slicks if the rains stops”. Sunshine is breaking through as the team makes final preparations for gridding up means tyre choice becomes more of a challenge. The decision can be left right to the grid with the GT3 cars whose centre-lock wheels allow for a faster change, but the GT4 cars retain studs and a wheel change is a much longer process. Rockingham dries fairly quickly in the wind, so a decision to stay on wets can lead to an early unscheduled stop for slicks, loosing valuable time. The decision is to start the race on slicks and a set of Avons is quickly retrieved from the tyre warmer and wheeled out to the waiting car just before its called out to join the grid.
Anna takes the first stint, as mandated in the championship regulations – the amateur driver has to go in first allowing Rob to take the flag – but even before the first lap is complete a collision between the two McLarens (Ross Wylie & Salih Yuloc) at the chicane brings out the safety car, giving Anna and the GT4 cars behind her a chance to catch right up with the rest of the pack. The #12 McLaren is later disqualified for avoidable contact. By 15 minutes into the race, Anna is up to P7, setting new fastest laps that were bettering some of the cars in the top five places. The #32 Ginetta of Steve Tandy pits twice in quick succession with problems that had persisted since Friday, leaving Anna P9 in GT4. With the faster GT3s coming up to lap for the first time, Anna loses a little pace in traffic and a slow puncture, unbeknown to the team, starting around 15 laps into her stint lead to a difficult handling car to manage until the driver change pit stop. Graham Coomes in the #49 Stratton Motorsport Ginetta then spins and quickly recovers but only a single place behind Anna; Paul McNeilly in the Fox Motorsport car however gets past taking the advantage back. Just before the one hour mark, Anna enters the pits for two dump-churns of Sunoco fuel. Co-driver Rob Garofall jumps in for the second half of the race. Before you can blink, Rob is back in to the pits with a punctured and almost destroyed front-right tyre. Looking at lap times, and how Anna said she felt the car had been behaving, it looks like the tyre had already started to loose pressure during the latter laps of her stint. As soon as the new set is on, Rob’s times immediately tumble and he sets a new fastest lap of the race of 1:34.104. The #62 Academy Motorsport Aston beaches itself into the Tarzan gravel with 25 minutes left and the field gathers as the Lotus Evora safety car is deployed once again. With the stranded Aston recovered and safety car recalled, Rob’s times drop again, benefiting no doubt from the newer tyres, and he is soon closing on #53 Nash. Traffic really bunches up in the final laps and Rob steals two further places to finish 11th in GT4 – later judicial decisions don’t affect their first finish of the season. With points in the bag and only minor damage to the car, the season has therefore begun in trying conditions and both drivers are already getting use to the car, with Anna’s fastest lap less than 0.4 seconds shy of Rob’s. Anna concludes “I am so pleased with my pace and with a test it will be even better. I had a slow puncture for 70% of my stint – we didn’t know until Rob went out and came back with a puncture, all in all its been a great weekend thanks to sponsors The University of Bolton and their super students that were working with the team all weekend, Westons and Team RLR”. The next round is at Silverstone on 30/31st May on the full GP circuit. The long straights will give the Bolton University/Westons Ginetta G55 a chance to really stretch its legs but may also give the more powerful Astons an advantage.