TEAMS AND DRIVERS CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD EXTENDED BY 1-2 FINISH AT DONINGTON
TF Sport left Donington Park sitting 1-2 in the drivers championship, and leading the teams standings by 18.5 points, after scoring a victory and second place in the Intelligent Money GT Championship two-hour enduro.
Last weekend saw the first ever British GT double header made up of a two-hour endurance race, followed by a one-hour sprint, as opposed to the usual two one-hour battles.
Returning to the circuit where the team had claimed the GT3 and GT4 championship titles back in September, the TF crew had great expectations for their pair of Vantages at rounds three and four of the season. Free practice set the tone when both machines sat within the top four for both sessions ahead of qualifying.
The qualifying format meant that race one would be decided by an aggregate of both drivers, and race two positions would be set by the second qualifier. Patrick Kibble set the pace straight out of the box and posted the fastest GT4 time in his session, closely followed by Dan Vaughan in P5. Combined with the P3 position set by Caroline, and the seventh from O’Brien, #97 and #95 would begin the first race in fourth and fifth respectively.
Due to the heavy rain early doors, race one began under safety car procedures. A stellar start was had by Caroline as he shot to the lead by the second flying lap and was then, unusually, held up by a lethargic GT3. Once the GT3 began to catch up to it’s class ahead, Jamie wasted no time in pulling a gap to the pack behind and was consistently running as the fastest GT4 on track, by quite some way. Caroline reached a 20 second lead, but this was marred by rear end contact from the #6 Mercedes of Loggie, which caused heavy damage to Caroline’s V8 Vantage. Behind, Kibble made light work of getting ahead of Kell in the Toyota and then had a great battle with the #58 McLaren. It was an impressive run around the outside of the Melbourne Hairpin which saw Kibble claim second position. Unfortunately, Patrick made a small mistake braking for the next corner which dropped him down to fourth. Disappointed with his error, he dived down the inside of Kell at Goddards and then again, overtook the HHC McLaren at the hairpin to reclaim second, before boxing to hand over to O’Brien.
With the #95 having a DNF at the previous race, they had no success penalty to serve, whereas the sister car had to remain in the pits for an extra 15 seconds. Despite Caroline’s superb effort to create a comfortable lead, the contact from the GT3 meant that he came in for his stop 13 seconds in front of Kibble, leaving O’Brien to jump up to the lead out of the pits, followed by #97’s Vaughan. It was here the duo remained, taking the team to a 1-2 triumph at the flag.
Knowing that both cars would have to serve success penalties in race two, the aim was to score as many points as possible, whilst pushing to recover from the penalties - something deemed to be more challenging in the shorter races. Changing weather conditions threw a spanner in the works up and down the pit lane, with some teams taking a gamble to send their cars out on slicks, but most, including the TF crew, remained on wets. It was O’Brien’s turn to impress at the start, as he carved his way up three places to third, however, Vaughan reclaimed his starting position and then began to hunt down the #58 McLaren. The HHC car defended heavily and had the upper hand on straight line speed, making Vaughan’s job even harder, but an outstanding move down the inside at Goddards saw the #97 start a new lap in second place. Unfortunately, contact from behind whilst soaring down Craner Curves dropped Vaughan to fifth, with O’Brien just ahead in fourth.
As the track started to dry, those who took the slick tyre gamble paced rapidly through the pack, all O’Brien and Vaughan could do was hope for the rain to restart and wait patiently for their call to the box. Both Vantages boxed on the same lap and the TF crew carried out a swift double-stop. Due to the penalties, both cars had fallen down the order, so with heads down, they began their fight to the highest points possible.
Both Kibble and Caroline proved their pace throughout their stints and in the closing stages they were approaching the Mustang of Cowley. Caroline reduced his gap to the Mustang by seven seconds in the final two laps, which saw him take the flag in fifth, P4 in class. Kibble had caught up to Cowley but needed one more lap to make a move, so crossed the line in seventh, P6 in class.
Not only do the second race finishes place the sister cars solidly first and second in the championship standings, it means neither car will have any penalty to serve going into the next round.
Next round - Brands Hatch 29-30 August
Mike Pickup GT4 Team Manager - “All four drivers have performed incredibly well this weekend. You can’t ask for much better results than in race one and from then, we knew the second race was going to be a compromise. Scoring as many points as possible is always the focus and we’ve achieved that with an increased lead in the teams championship, and our Astons are only 1.5 points apart in the drivers standings.”
Connor O’Brien #95 - “Thrilled to score our second win in three races! I didn’t maximise my tyres in qualifying which I was disappointed with, but Patrick did a great job to boost our aggregate time for race one’s starting position. I felt I had a mega stint in the first race and enjoyed battling my way up to P2 before handing over to Patrick. We did what we needed to do in the second race and now only being 1.5 points off the sister car leading the championship is a great place to be at this point in the season.”
Dan Vaughan #97 - “Maintaining our championship lead was the ultimate goal of this weekend, which we achieved. It was a shame not to win the first race, but the success penalty from the previous round and the contact Jamie received made that pretty difficult. The car felt amazing in the second race and now I’m looking forward to Brands Hatch where we have no penalty… A win is the next goal!”