Strong Zandvoort weekend sets up thrilling British GT title decider for Ecurie Ecosse
By Mel Fabrikant Monday, September 09, 2013, 04:02 PM EDT
Bryant and Attard’s previous outing aboard the Barwell Motorsport-run BMW Z4 GT3 saw the pair take a hard-fought podium at Brands Hatch, their third of the season following a superb victory at Silverstone and a season-opening third place at Oulton Park.
The Zandvoort weekend began in earnest with two tricky qualifying sessions held in changeable conditions. Attard's first flying lap before rain hit was good enough for fourth on the grid, which became third when the 888Optimum BMW was handed a grid penalty for not completing the mandatory three laps. In the Pro driver session Bryant took time to adjust to the drying track and posted his quickest lap on the final tour, with a 1m40.75s securing sixth on the grid.
At the start of race one Attard immediately passed David Ashburn's Trackspeed Porsche into Tarzan corner and set off after poleman Ahmad Al Harthy. He then quickly gapped the chasing pack by five seconds, the margin required to negate the pitstop penalty due to be served by the Ecosse squad as a result of their Brands Hatch podium. Unfortunately an accident for the GT4 championship-leading Ginetta resulted in a lengthy safety car period which wiped out this advanatge.
When racing resumed Attard remained on track for an extra lap to avoid a congested pit lane, and after a swift stop by the Barwell Motorsport crew handed over to Bryant. Frustratingly, the Z4 had to be held for a further three seconds to allow two cars in the fast lane of the pits to pass before it was finally released.
Falling in behind this pair, Bryant joined a pack which soon caught the leaders and formed a five-way battle for top spot. Keeping his cool, Bryant fought off the challenge of Phil Keen's Trackspeed Porsche behind to bring the Ecosse machine home in fifth, scoring a valuable 10 championship points in the process. In a remarkably close finish, the top-five cars were separated by just 1.7 seconds at the flag.
In race two a cautious start by Bryant saw him lose ground before settling into a good rhythm with the United Autosports Audi of Matt Bell and the 888Optimum BMW of Dan Brown. He then lost time in traffic, narrowly avoiding contact after an optimistic lunge from the Mercedes of Benji Hetherington. A lap later the 888Optimum BMW made contact with a back-marker, sending both cars into the barriers, and while Bryant guided the Ecosse machine through the carnage unscathed it cost him further time.
Another perfect pitstop by the Barwell crew allowed Attard to resume on the tail of championship rival Andrew Howard and a frantic battle soon erupted, with Attard applying firm pressure as the pair caught the scrap for fourth, fifth and sixth. The Beechdean Aston Martin driver defended robustly into Tarzan and Attard was forced to try the outside line on several occasions. Howard then passed Lee Mowle's Z4, with Attard following through a lap later.
Howard next made his way past the AF Corse Ferrari of John Dhillon, but while Attard fought hard to do the same it was to no avail. Now under pressure again from Mowle, and despite a tap from the similar Z4 on the final lap resulting in a near spin, Attard managed to keep the Ecosse BMW firmly on the rear bumper of Dhillon's Ferrari. He would cross the line in sixth position, ensuring yet more championship points which put the Ecosse squad firmly in the title battle ahead of October’s season-closing Donington Park race.
Oliver Bryant, Ecurie Ecosse: “With a new circuit and mixed conditions it was a difficult weekend, but the car was faultless, the team did a great job and Marco drove well as always. As such I'm very much looking forward to the season finale at Donington.”
Marco Attard, Ecurie Ecosse: “We got a great start in the first race and I couldn’t believe our bad luck with the safety car! But overall this was a positive weekend with some good points, and I'm looking forward to the final push at Donington.”
Mark Lemmer, Barwell Motorsport Team Principal : “We had a very solid weekend at Zandvoort which puts us just half a point off the championship lead going into the Donington finale. Without the safety car we would undoubtedly have finished on the podium in race one, which was frustrating but completely out of our control. Olly and Marco both enjoyed some incredibly close battles and, critically, stayed out of trouble. Now the gloves are off and it's a straight fight for the title at Donington!”
Before focusing on their British GT title decider the team head to the Hungaroring for round four of the European Le Mans Series (September 14) where they will seek to extend their GTC class lead with drivers Ollie Millroy, Alasdair McCaig and Joe Twyman.
2013 British GT Championship – GT3 Drivers’ Standings (top three after nine rounds)
1. Andrew Howard (Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage GT3) 107.5 points
2. Oliver Bryant / Marco Attard (Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3) 107 points
3. Jonny Adam (Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage GT3) 101.5 points