Reigning British GT4 champion Ryan Ratcliffe drove a faultless race at Brands Hatch today, claiming his first GT3 points on his debut in the top class of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship. Derek Johnston was hit and subsequently retired following a flakey move by the current GT3 champion Andrew Howard, with Warren Hughes and Jody Firth suffering a mechanical-related retirement on their race debut with the team.
The points finish at the picturesque Kent circuit marks an impressive twelve months for the 21-year-old from Llanelli, who took over the car in thirteenth place after yet another steely drive by Triple Eight co-owner Lee Mowle, up from seventeenth. Ratcliffe, a BRDC Rising Star was embroiled in a near stint-long battle with former F1 test driver Adam Carroll for ninth place. The Ferrari of Carroll had better pace, but a determined Ratcliffe successfully kept the Northern Irish driver at bay for almost half an hour, eventually succumbing to the Ferrari star’s intentions ten laps before the end of the 120-minute race.
After a positive return to track action on Saturday saw Derek and team-mate Joe Osborne guide the #888 BMW to eleventh, Sunday brought misfortune and a second consecutive retirement for the MSW-backed Z4. Following a cautious start to the race, Derek fell to fifteenth, but fought back swiftly, working through the order behind the AF Corse Ferrari of John Dhillon. Johnston tried to pass the Ferrari driver time and time again, but couldn’t work his way past due to the BMW’s lack of straight-line power, relying solely on a move under braking.
On lap 23, with team-mate Mowle behind in the #88 Triple Eight-run BMW, Johnston’s race unravelled. Reigning British GT champion Andrew Howard passed Mowle into Surtees and as Johnston rejoined the ‘Indy Loop’ section of the 2.43 mile GP track, was creamed into submission by Howard’s Aston, spinning the BMW, beaching it in the gravel in the middle of Clearways. A safety car was deployed to aid Johnston’s exit from the gravel and the experienced team made an immediate decision to retire the car, after losing almost five laps waiting for assistance.
Starting as the fastest qualifier (P10) from the burgeoning Triple Eight stable, Jody Firth and Warren Hughes were confident of worrying those ahead and securing a season-best podium result on this their debut with the Greatworth team. After a lightning start by Firth, which included two audacious moves on the opening lap on both series returnee David Ashburn and champion elect Marco Attard, things looked good, this was despite the cumbersome addition of 75 kg of ballast for running a Silver/Gold driver partnership.
Having inherited fourth when Colin White explored the flora and fauna on lap six, Firth terrorised Jeff Smith in Oman Racing Team’s Aston Martin, but pitted before completing an overtake on the third-placed man due to a lengthy safety car period caused by team-mate Johnston’s misfortune. It was here that the issues for the #8 BMW began and following a swift handover to Hughes, it became clear all was not well with the Prism Media-backed Z4. At the tricky Westfield corner, the left rear wheel parted ways with Hughes and the Z4, forcing the car into retirement immediately.
The Avon Tyres British GT Championship heads to Donington Park in a fortnight (September 13/14) for the final round of the season, another two-hour race, which Triple Eight Race Engineering hope will allow all three cars to finish the season on a good note, ahead of an exciting winter GT campaign.
Ryan Ratcliffe, driver #88
“I’m chuffed to bits, it’s been a really special few weeks. I spoke to Adam Carroll after the race and he said, ‘that was the hardest I’ve ever seen anyone defend ninth place!’ For me, it didn’t matter if that was for first or tenth, I would’ve driven the same way. It was a great battle and to finish in the points on my debut is a dream really. The level of competition in the series is so high; I knew that, but that race really brought it home. I really want to thank Lee for the opportunity and for giving me a chance to show what I can do. Triple Eight have been fantastic and this year I’ve really gone on a big journey with them. I can’t believe how far I’ve gone since winning GT4 last October. Bring on Donington, I think we can push for more there.”
Lee Mowle, driver #88
“It’s a great result for Ryan and the boys, I’m really happy for him and for Triple Eight it shows the value of our driver development programme, TEDD. We’ve moved Ryan on and given him the tools he needs to be successful, which for us is really quite a proud moment. In terms of my race, I had a good start, but the cars in front backed up and I got passed around the outside into Paddock Hill Bend. I fought back and got behind Derek and was sitting back waiting for him to pass the Ferrari. The move by Howard was never going to work, but he came and apologised to Derek, which is something. It’s frustrating to see the other two cars not finish, but we go to Donington confident after our performance last year, and hope to cause an upset – or three!”
Derek Johnston, driver #888
“I’m disappointed with Andrew for the contact. It was unnecessary, but I’m not angry, it happened and it’s just one of those things. He didn’t mean to do it, just like I didn’t mean to hit Pasin (Lathouras) at Snetterton, but I got a severe penalty, and he should too. I started the race calmly and got boxed in by Gary (Eastwood)’s Ferrari a bit, which is why I dropped down the order. I’m actually more annoyed with John (Dhillon) than Andrew. He backed me up and invited contact lap after lap, and in the back of my head was the penalty I had at Snett. If it wasn’t for that, I probably would’ve pushed it a bit more. We’ve got Donington next and it’s my home circuit. I’m not going to hold back, I’ll be going for it there, that you can be sure.”
Joe Osborne, driver #888
“It was a frustrating end to the weekend, but I’m happy to move on and go to Donington. Derek did a good job all weekend and we could’ve really got him some more points here.”
Jody Firth, driver #8
“Overall we had a good race car underneath us today, despite the weight penalty. I got a good start and quickly made up some places, it was really good fun. I don’t think we had the car completely dialled in here this weekend, but it was a promising debut and we’ll go to Donington with every intention of getting a podium.”
Warren Hughes, driver #8
“It’s really unfortunate. I left the pits and when I got to Druids I felt the rear was a bit loose, but thought it could’ve been the new tyres. When I got to Hawthorns I realised it was affecting the power, so naturally considered it could be driveshaft related. Ian (Harrison – Team Principal) was on the radio and said it was a puncture, but it didn’t feel like it. The wheel broke loose and well, we know the rest. It’s disappointing for several reasons, but Jody put in a fantastic drive and I think that could’ve been a podium for us today.”
Source. Triple Eight Race Engineering/Photo. John Patterson