Sam De Haan and Patrick Kujala recovered from a first corner spin, to win the three hour endurance race. Collard and Matthiesen win the GT4 spoils
Spinning at the first corner is never the conventional way to win, but that is what happened to Ram Racings Sam De Haan. After going for the lead fighting with James Baldwin out of Redgate, De Hann span down the order, behind there was drama for Michael Igoe as he was tagged into a spin ending up in the gravel. The safety car period meant another twist as Adam Balon pitted to allow Phil Keen to take over the Barwell Lamborghini.
James Baldwin initially converted pole position into an early lead over Rob Collard who spent most of the opening stint holding off Optimum’s Lewis Proctor and Angus Fender (2 Seas Motorsport). The Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren enjoyed a 17s advantage by the time World’s Fastest Gamer Baldwin pitted after 47 minutes.
Further back, De Haan was able to re-join the tail of the field thanks to the Safety Car before embarking on a stellar comeback over the first 45 minutes. Indeed, the Mercedes-AMG was already up to sixth by the time Kujala climbed aboard for the first time.
Barwell opted to run their #78 Lamborghini with Rob Collard at the wheel as long as possible before stopping for the first time. Sandy Mitchell jumped aboard after 65 minutes but was forced to make an unscheduled stop just 20 minutes later to replace a slow puncture. The compromised strategy allied to a 20s Success Penalty served at the third and final stop effectively ended #78’s podium chances.
RAM were the chief beneficiaries of Jenson Team Rocket RJN’s 15s Success Penalty, as well as the time spent bottled up behind the long-running Wilkinson. De Haan and Kujala were both able to take time out of the #2 McLaren before the Finn made what would be the decisive move on O’Brien at Redgate with 33 minutes remaining.
Having established an eight-second advantage, Kujala was now out of range for Keen who quickly homed in and passed silvers Jack Mitchell and O’Brien after Barwell’s final pitstop. Just 3.4s separated the top-two at the finish.
All of that leaves De Haan and Kujala nine points clear of Mitchell and Collard but also with the caveat of serving the maximum Success Penalty in Snetterton’s first race next time out. Balon and Keen are a further 8.5 points behind with three races remaining.
With no pit window restrictions, GT4 featured a multitude of differing strategies, but it was HHC’s more straightforward approach that ultimately paid dividends in what was a fascinating endurance outing.
While they hadn’t topped the times in any of the previous sessions, Matthiesen and Collard had shown great pace all weekend and were already in a strong position when they qualified the car second behind Academy Motorsport’s Ford Mustang of Matt Cowley and Jordan Albert, which would have to serve an extra 20s at its final pitstop following victory last time out.
A turbulent start to the race was the first factor in creating the tactical battle. When Michael Igoe’s stranded Lamborghini summoned the Safety Car TF Sport was the first to react, immediately ordering both of its cars – started by Connor O’Brien and Dan Vaughan, respectively – to stop at the end of lap one with the race at reduced speed. TF was the only team to make that call, so the twin Astons would run out of sync with the rest of the pack for the race’s entirety.
Things soon narrowed into a three-horse race when the championship-leading HHC McLaren of Bowers and Chris Wesemael was hit with a stop-go penalty for a short pitstop, and then had that compounded by a drive-through for a pitstop infringement, which dropped it well out of the fight and to an eventual eighth.
It became a fascinating strategic battle over the final half, with the rapid pace of Albert/Cowley always threatening to pull the Mustang clear as Matthiesen/Collard played their strategy straight, stopping like clockwork almost every 45 minutes to stay within striking distance of the Ford. And then there was O’Brien/Kibble’s Aston, which rotated the lead across the pit cycles and would make its final stop inside the last half-hour.
Academy were the first of the three to make their final stop, aiming to give Albert the entire final hour to claw back the 20 seconds the car would have to lose. HHC reacted shortly after, bringing Matthiesen in for Collard knowing they could jump the Ford with no penalty to serve.
Heading into the last 45 minutes, O’Brien lead but still had to make a final stop, while Collard found himself just ahead of Albert. When O’Brien finally peeled into the pits for the last time with just 26 minutes left, it became a straight fight between the McLaren and Ford.
However, Collard drove superbly, fending off heavy pressure from Albert to eventually secure a first win of the season for the crew.
Second place was still a fine result for Cowley/Albert, who had 10s in-hand over O’Brien/Kibble.
The next event is at Snetterton for two one hour sprint races as the championships start to heat up.