Barwell Motorsport was in action in the United Arab Emirates last week, contesting the second running of the Gulf 12 Hours event at the stunning Yas Marina F1 GP circuit in Abu Dhabi. Our weapon of choice for this superb event was an Aston Martin Vantage GT4, which was being driven by international GT racing debutant Jan Andersen, professional sportscar star Tom Kimber-Smith, and Barwell team principal, Mark Lemmer. Although the results are counted after 12 hours of racing on track, the race is actually split up into two six-hour parts with a 90-minute break in-between. We were lying in third place in GT4 at the end of the first ‘period’, and were the ‘winners’ of the second six hours (which went from daytime into the night). However during the first half of the race we lost a number of laps to the two leaders, and were unable to recover all of the ground lost during the second half, thus leaving the Ascend Group-backed Barwell Aston in third place in the final results.
The 5.5km Yas Marina track is quite a technical challenge even for professional drivers, so it was definitely a case of being ‘in at the deep end’ for Jan as he made his debut in international GT racing. He applied himself well to the task in hand in the free practice sessions prior to last Friday’s race, bringing down his lap times significantly during the course of the week. By the time of official qualifying the Dane was matching the lap times of his rival ‘amateur’ drivers amongst the cars of our main opposition, which was going to be key in order for us to compete for a podium finish. Neither Tom nor Mark had been to the track before either, and with one of our rivals being an Aston Martin Vantage driven by three of the circuit’s own racing school instructors and run by the Yas Marina circuit team, we certainly had our work cut out! Also not in our favour were the Balance of Performance rules for this event, which dictated that we had to run our Vantage GT4 significantly heavier than the very similar but slightly older cars fielded by the Yas Marina and Gulf Racing Middle East squads.
Tom set the second fastest lap time in GT4 during the official qualifying sessions, but the grid positions were determined by the average of the best qualifying times of all of the drivers. This dropped us back to third on the grid, whilst the Nova Race Ginetta GT4 (which was fastest overall with its pro driver aboard) would be second behind the (unsurprisingly on average...!) pole-sitting Aston of the Yas Marina instructors ‘house’ car. The fastest drivers of each car had to take the start, and this set-up an enthralling battle during the early laps as there was a three-way dispute for the lead between the Nova Ginetta, Yas Marina Aston and Tom in the Barwell Aston. These three cars were going at it hammer and tongs as if it were a 12 lap race rather than 12-hours! The Yas Marina car was leading and its driver using his extensive circuit knowledge to put up a very robust defence against the Ginetta, which in turn was swapping 2nd place back and forth with Tom. This highly entertaining but slightly nerve-wracking (for the team anyway!) action prevailed for five laps, before Tom unfortunately had to leave the party and head to the pits after one of the Aston’s front wheel arch liners had been ripped off by some debris on the circuit. Tom saw a huge cloud of blue smoke come from the front of the car and rightly went into the pits for the crew to check it out. With the reason for the smoke then diagnosed and only very minor damage done, we sent Tom back out without having lost a lap on the leading GT4 pack.
The race then settled down during the opening three hours, and we were able to regain third position after a strong first round of stints from Tom, Jan and Mark. With the leading Ginetta due to come in for an extra pit stop after encountering brake light issues and the Yas Marina car needing a brake pad change, we were well poised to take the GT4 lead as the race entered its second quarter. However we then suffered some highly unfortunate issues of our own, as a fuel pick-up problem left our car stranded out on the circuit, and to compound our misery it was then hit by a Ferrari 458 GT3. We were then powerless to do anything but to wait for the officials to recover the car back to the pits, and lost a total of nine laps due to the recovery operation and the time taken to resolve the situation and check the car for damage once the Aston was back in our pits garage. Whilst we were able to stop this situation occurring again for the remainder of the race, we would now require our main rivals to have further problems if we were to be able to challenge for victory.
Although we had got back into third place by the end of the first six-hour period, we were at this stage nine laps behind the leading Ginetta and seven adrift of the Yas Marina Aston. All we could do in part two of the race was get all three drivers to go absolutely flat out to try and make up lost ground, and hope that our rivals encountered some lap-sapping problems! The part of the plan that was in our hands went faultlessly, with the Barwell Aston getting the upper hand over the Yas Marina machine in the early stages and Tom then enjoying a great wheel-to-wheel duel as he fought the Ginetta over two full laps for the ‘lead’ of part two! Jan, meanwhile, was really getting his teeth stuck into the race as he became more and more confident as each stint went by. He was also learning that the factory Ferrari & Porsche GT3 Pro drivers take no mercy as they go past, and he coped well with a few hairy moments as they dive-bombed him into some of the faster corners!
As night closed in and Yas Marina became lit up by both the circuit lights and the multi-coloured roof lights of the amazing Yas Viceroy hotel which straddles the circuit, the Ascend Group-backed Aston looked stunning in its black and white ‘zebra’ livery. With the Yas Marina Aston falling away from contention after another brake pad change in the ninth hour (allowing us to gain two laps on them), the contest for part 2 glory became a straight fight between us and the Ginetta. After extremely rapid and consistent drives from both Tom and Mark, which kept us firmly in the hunt, Jan took over for the final hour of the race. In a highly impressive final stint, Jan then reeled in the Ginetta, passed it and pulled away to claim part 2 ‘victory’, and secure our third place in GT4 over the full 12 hours of racing