Rob Bell, driving the #22 Balfe Motorsport McLaren 720S GT he shared with Shaun Balfe, took the chequered flag to win the final round of the 2019 British GT Championship at Donington Park, the first victory of the season for the #22 crew. Bell crossed the line 2.728 seconds ahead of the #6 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Ian Loggie and, driving the second stint, Callum Macleod.
Completing the overall podium positions was the #9 Century Motorsport MW M6 GT3 piloted by Angus Fender and Jack Mitchell.
It was, however, the fourth place that had the most significance, taken, as it was, by the #69 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 driven by Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker. 18 points for the position meant that Cocker and de Haan had provisionally won the 2019 overall drivers championship on 128.5 points, half a point ahead of the #47 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 driven by Graham Davidson and Jonny Adam who had finished, on track, in sixth place.
The championship had been provisionally won in controversial circumstances after the #18 WPI Motorsport Lamborghini, driven by factory driver Dennis Lind, made contact with Jonny Adam’s #47 Aston Martin while the Fife driver was in fourth place in the closing laps, causing the championship contender to fall back with damage and allowing Johnny Cocker’s #69 car through into fourth place. A post-race investigation, however, penalised the #18 car, meaning that Davidson and Adam had won the 2019 British GT Championship drivers title.
“Yesterday this seemed like a distant dream with the way the car was behaving,” said Graham Davidson. “To qualify on the second row, it was tricky. We wanted a front row start to build the gap but the team turned the car around and got it handling much better. The safety car start was a missed opportunity to make a pass but I just focused on keeping (my drive) clean and consistent and hoped that that the usual scenario of the ‘Donington Decider’ and everyone making mistakes and sure enough, steady good pace, keeping out of trouble worked for us.”
Victory in the GT4 battle went to the #29 Steller Performance Audi R8 LMS GT4 piloted by Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding who completed a lights-to-flag first win for the team. Fielding in the #29 car finished just over 1.5 seconds ahead of the #15 Multimatic Motorsports Europe Ford Mustang GT4 with Seb Priaulx at the wheel. Completing the top three in the category was the #97 Ash Hand / Tom Canning-crewed TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage GT4, the 22.5 points securing the GT3 drivers title to the young duo.
Shaun Balfe, at the wheel of the pole-sitting #22 Balfe Motorsports McLaren 720S GT3 led the field away from the grid but additional formation laps were required after contact involving the #66 Team Parker Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4. As a result, the two-hour race started behind the Safety Car as debris was cleared from the circuit.
As the race went green, Shaun Balfe quickly started to pull out a gap to Adam Balon in the #72 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini. Ian Loggie, starting in third in the #6 Mercedes, was putting pressure on Balon and passed the championship contender on the sixth lap.
Graham Davidson almost found a way past in the wake of the #6 car but Balon defended well and kept third place.
With seven laps run, Angus Fender in the #9 Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 moved past Davidson.
Balfe in the #22 McLaren led with little pressure and set the fastest lap to that point of the race with a 1:28.347 while increasing his lead to over 8.5 seconds.
There was drama however for Balon’s #72 Lamborghini when contact with a GT4 car in traffic caused damage, allowing Graham Davidson through to take fourth. Balon then started slipping down the order and by the fourteenth lap the #72 car was languishing back in eighth. The incident, involving the #32 X-Bow, was to be investigated.
After 30 minutes of racing, Shaun Balfe was over 16 seconds up the road with Graham Davidson sitting comfortable in fourth and Adam Balon in eleventh. Davidson was not resting on his laurels as he continued to push and after 25 laps was less than .4 of a second behind Angus Fender in the #9 BMW. The critical gap back to Balon in the #72 Lamborghini was now in excess of 20 seconds, the success penalty for the #47 car’s victory at Brands Hatch in the previous round.
Davidson moved into third as the race approached the 55-minute mark and set about reeling in Angus Fender in the #9 BMW.
Richard Neary was served with a drive-through penalty for an earlier collision and brought the #8 Mercedes into the pit lane, exited the car and seemingly retired from the race.
As the driver change window approached, Shaun Balfe had extended his lead to over 25 seconds from the second-placed #9 BMW with Graham Davidson just 2.29 seconds further back in third.
Davidson was the first of the front-runners to stop to hand over to teammate Jonny Adam, the Scots driver exiting the pitlane ahead of the #69 Lamborghini, now driven by Johnny Cocker. With the success penalty, this could have probably the defining moment of the race.
After the driver changes had cycled through, Rob Bell in the #22 McLaren held a 15.613 second lead over Callum Macleod in the #6 Mercedes. Jonny Adam in the #47 Aston held fourth.
There was massive disappointment for the #72 crew when Phil Keen slowed to a crawl with an issue with the right rear wheel. The Lamborghini factory driver returned to the pits and returned to the track well down the order, the damage being attributed to Adam Balon’s earlier contact with the #32 X-Bow.
A Safety Car was called with less than 35 minutes remaining after contact between the #35 Optimum Motorsport GT4 Aston driven by Connor O’Brien and the #23 RACE Performance Ford Mustang piloted by Aron Taylor-Smith at the exit of Turn Four. Racing resumed with 22 minutes remaining.
As the race approached the final five minutes, Rob Bell’s lead had reduced to a little over 1.5 seconds over Callum Macleod’s #6 Mercedes. Jack Mitchell held third in the #9 Century Motorsport BMW and Jonny Adam in the #47 Aston Martin was in fourth.
There was massive disappointment for the TF Sport camp, however, after contact between Adam and Lind saw the #47 starting to fall back. The risk of a penalty meant that Adam could still win the championship but after the fact, rather than on track.
“We didn’t come with any permutations for championships,” said Rob Bell. “We had a good car. It was engineered fantastically and I said to Shaun (Balfe) at the beginning ‘Get your head down. We’ve got a 15-second penalty to overcome and you’re going to do it. Shaun did a brilliant job.”
“I think Rob said: ‘Don’t look back. Get your head down!” said Shaun Balfe.”The safety car took away that risk at the beginning and I guess that was a bit of luck but you’ve still got to use.”
Richard Williams in the #29 Steller Performance Audi R8 LM3 GT4 held to his pole-sitting lead and Tom Canning in the GT4 championship-leading #97 TF Sport Aston Martin was unable to close the gap to less than .8 of a second.
Canning had found a way past Williams after 30 laps and as the driver change window approached had a gap of 3.679 seconds to the now second-placed #29 Audi.
Canning pitted the #97 Aston late in the driver change window, handing the championship-leading GT4 car over to teammate Ash Hand.
With 20 minutes remaining, Ash Hand was in third place with Seb Priaulx in the #15 Mustang having passed for second.
As the race approached the final ten minutes, Priaulx was catching the class leader, Sennan Fielding in the #29 Audi, with the implication that a win for the #15 car and third place for the #97 Ash Hand / Tom Canning Aston Martin would give the championship to the #15 Mustang crew.
Fielding held on for the win, however, and Hand and Canning were crowned GT4 champions.
Full race report to follow.