The Triple Eight Race Engineering team dominated the Brands Hatch round of GT Cup this weekend (17/18 May) winning all three races courtesy of a meticulous showing by the BMW Z4 GT3 and a trio of strong performances by the talented new driver pairing of BRDC Rising Star Ryan Ratcliffe and former GT Cup Champion, Derek Johnston.
Participating in GT Cup for the first time, the 22 times British Touring Car Champions and British GT team arrived at the Kent circuit intent on accruing valuable mileage and knowledge of the mighty 2.433 miles GP loop, a former home to the British Grand Prix between 1964 and 1986, alternating with Silverstone. The driver pairing of Ryan and Derek was new too, but both drivers have worked together already throughout an intensive testing programme this year.
Saturday saw three track sessions; practice, qualifying and the first race of the weekend take place in superb summer conditions at Brands Hatch. After going fourth quickest in practice, the twenty minute qualifying session brought out the best in the Triple Eight drivers and Derek completed a run of three quick laps, any of which would’ve given him the top spot, but it was a 1:26.985 that secured Triple Eight’s debut pole in the popular GT series. Derek’s time was over half a second (0.612s) quicker than his nearest rival, the Ferrari 458 of Shaun Balfe.
The first race of the weekend was the 40-minute event with both drivers taking part. Derek started on pole, but Shaun Balfe got ahead early on. The Geordie gentleman racer who is growing in confidence and stature with every race, fought hard and kept the Ferrari 458 GT3 of Balfe close by before handing over to Llanelli’s finest racing talent, Ryan. With the Ferrari having an extended stay in the pits to receive a success penalty from the previous round, Ryan got the jump on Balfe and led home a comprehensive victory, never letting the Ferrari or the chasing McLaren MP4-12c of Jim Geddie get within a sniff of the win. At the flag Ryan finished over 12s ahead of Jim Geddie’s United Autosports McLaren, with Balfe’s Ferrari further back in third.
Sunday would see Derek and Ryan drive solo in a pair of 20-minute sprint races. Watched by a huge crowd of race fans in attendance for the headline Blancpain Sprint Series event, Derek wasted little time in finishing where he left off the day previous. Starting from second on the grid (as a result of posting the second fastest lap in race one), the 52-year-old who sits third in the British GT championship put in yet another convincing performance to finish 14s ahead of the Geddie’s McLaren, with Balfe again third. This wasn’t quite a lights-to-flag win, as Balfe got ahead in the early stages, before Derek forced the Ferrari driver into a mistake as the pair encountered back-markers.
The third and final race of the weekend was played out in searing heat as temperatures hit 25 degrees Celsius and track temperatures rocketed. Feeling an element of pressure following the earlier two Triple Eight victories and with the team keen to lock out all victories, Ryan put in a spirited and composed performance to take the win from pole, coming home over 40s ahead of Geddie after the McLaren driver took the lead on the opening turn. Ryan, the reigning British GT4 Champion making his debut in GT3 racing this weekend looked every inch the professional as he waited for his moment to pounce. Pounce he did, and the Welshman streaked away setting fastest lap after fastest lap on his way to a dominant win.
The results mark a strong debut showing for the Greatworth-based team and further underline the capabilities of both Derek as a gentleman driver, and the rapid development of Ryan under the Triple Eight Driver Development (TEDD) programme.
Next week (24/25 May) sees Triple Eight make another race series debut, this time at the team’s home-track Silverstone, for the second round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, where a grid in excess of 40 GT3 cars competing in three classes will do battle at the home of British motorsport and the British Grand Prix. Derek and Ryan will unite again in the sublime BMW Z4 GT3, this time aided by Lee Mowle, as all three drivers mark their debuts in the series too.
Derek Johnston, Driver
“It was hard work, but really good fun. In practice I was a bit slow and didn’t get it hooked up quite right. We looked at the data from that and I saw where I was adrift; I went out in qualifying and stuck it on pole though so I guess I got it right in the end. The Ferrari was really quick in a straight line all weekend and in the first race I had a gap on him, but when we hit back markers I got held up a lot and he reeled me in. I got the word to change the traction control setting and as I fiddled with that Shaun got alongside me and through, but we got him in the end. In the second race he (Balfe) started making mistakes as we approached traffic and I saw he was in panic mode. I was flashing my lights trying to distract him and I hoped it would just be a waiting game, and it worked. It was a very pleasing weekend, it was great to go back and win convincingly. It was good to work with Ryan. He’s a nice lad, he’s not any hardship, and he just comes along and does the job, which is what you want. All in all it was perfect, everyone was smiling and it was really enjoyable.”
Ryan Ratcliffe, Driver
“It’s been a really enjoyable weekend. The team did a great job with the car; it was fantastic. Derek is a great guy and good to work with, he’s quick and he knows how to use the data you get over the course of a weekend. It was cool to put into practice everything I’ve been learning with the team through TEDD, and there is no doubt in my mind that I’d not have had the initial pace in the car or the consistency had it not been for my work so far this year. Race one was a case of getting into the race immediately and getting going. I didn’t know what position I was at first, it was a case of keeping the pace and maintaining a gap, the car was great; it didn’t fade or handle differently as the race progressed. The third race was good fun. I initially passed him (Geddie) under yellows, so let him through again and then got him at Druids under braking. It was good to get the win, and it sets us up nicely for next week.”
Source. Triple Eight Engineering/Photo. Jack Mitchell