Geordie drivers Johnston and Bell break TF Sport's podiums duck at Brands Hatch
Derek Johnston and Matt Bell broke TF Sport’s podium finishes duck with a third place in Round 6 of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship on the world-famous Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit (1-2 August) and champagne has never tasted sweeter for the Redhill, Surrey team.
A post-Spa test day at Donington Park yielded an optimised base setup that made both TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantages more driver-friendly and predictable and that translated into quick lap times during free practice at Brands Hatch.
As a result and in contrast to previous rounds, TF Sport and its quartet of drivers were overtly confident and, while their leap in form wasn’t particularly evident over a single lap in qualifying, the team felt it would be capable of flexing its muscles in the weekend’s headlining two-hour, points-and-a-half race on Sunday afternoon.
The #17 machine of Geordie drivers, Johnston and Bell, which boasts a refreshed livery with MSW branding, went fourth fastest in first practice, with Andrew Jarman and Jody Fannin going fifth in FP2 and sixth overall in qualifying, in which the top eight were separated by less than a second.
As a result, expectations soared along with the ambient temperatures for Sunday’s race and TF Sport’s high hopes were justified when Jarman progressed to fourth, in hot pursuit of the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 GT3 of Marco Attard and Alexander Sims for the final step of the podium.
Three tenths of a second covered the third and fourth-placed runners after 15 minutes of intense racing, when a failed passing move resulted in light contact that sent the Eurostar-liveried Aston Martin spinning out into the Clearways gravel.
Johnston, meanwhile, stuck his elbows out to keep a grip on ninth position during a typically frenetic opening lap but duly picked up where Jarman left off by reducing his deficit to the brawling BMWs of John Minshaw and Attard in fourth and fifth respectively by the completion of his 50-minute, Safety Car-interrupted stint.
There was a hive of activity in the Brands Hatch pit lane as teams switched drivers and a swift, clean stop by the well-drilled TF Sport crew propelled the Redhill, Surrey-based outfit from sixth to fourth in one fell swoop.
Bell made good use of clean air to chip away at the top three drivers’ advantage, but a second Safety Car intervention ultimately put him on the tail of the fight for third involving Sims and Oman Racing’s Rory Butcher, who curiously faded away when the racing resumed.
Having been released, Sims reeled in and passed the leading Triple Eight Racing BMW of Joe Osbourne and Lee Mowle, while Bell was ultimately prevented from attacking for second position by lapped traffic.
Nevertheless, Bell received the chequered flag in third position to break TF Sport’s British GT podiums duck in 2015, to the delight of all concerned with the official Aston Martin Racing Partner Team
“We’re absolutely delighted to finish on the podium, ending a long run of misfortune,” said Bell. “I don’t think you can expect anything from the Avon Tyres British GT Championship with it being so competitive, but we thought we’d progress and we were one of the fastest cars here this weekend. The base setup change we made in testing at Donington Park put us in a strong position straight out of the blocks, as we were all happy with the car from start-to-finish.
“There’s more to come in qualifying, but race pace was really good and I was able to push hard while in on-track fights or in clean air, although I didn’t have a good rub of the green in lapped traffic and that stopped me attacking for second place. I pushed so hard for P2, but we are all delighted with a podium and hope to continue on an upward trend.”
Johnston added: “I put this podium down to two things; firstly, I haven’t been able to drive this car properly and we made some changes that worked and, secondly, we’ve changed the colour on the ground that the purple one wasn’t bringing us any luck! I still can’t believe what we’ve achieved. Maybe I’ll get my head around it after my second bottle of wine tonight. My stint was hectic, with plenty of cars to dodge and no time to rest. In fact, the whole race was full on, but the strategy worked and Matt (Bell) and I drove perfectly.”
TF Sport Director, Tom Ferrier, said: “We eventually succeeded! Derek (Johnston) and Matt (Bell) drove really, really well. I’m sad for Andrew (Jarman) and Jody (Fannin) in the Eurostar car, but to come back from that and reach the podium with the sister car makes it very satisfying. It has been a long time coming, because we’ve been skirting this sort of result. We’ve changed the cars a bit and those alterations should work everywhere. It’s fantastic to break our podiums duck and I naturally hope to continue in this vein for the remainder of the season.”