Oulton Park was the scene of a thrilling opening race for the 2022 Intelligent Money British GT #Championship as Adam Carroll, at the wheel of the pole-sitting #22 Audi R8 LMS Evo 11 GT3 he shared with Shaun Balfe, took the chequered flag just under half a second ahead of Jules Gounon in the #6 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3. Ian Loggie had driven the opening stint in the #6 car.
Completing the overall podiums was the #40 Fox Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 of Nick Halstead and, taking the chequered flag, Jamie Stanley.
Audi made it a double victory with the pole-sitting #42 Steller Motorsport R8 LMS GT4 of Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding winning the GT4 class, beating the #23 R Racing Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT4 of Jamie Day and Josh Miller to the line by just over five seconds. The #51 Valluga Racing Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 RS CS completed the class podium positions.
Shaun Balfe in the #22 Audi led the field away from the grid for the opening race of the 2022 British GT season but Richard Neary, at the wheel of the #8 Team Abba Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 had the grip off the line to take the lead at Cascades in the opening seconds.
Balfe continued to struggle and by the end of lap one Richard Neary held a lead of over half a second from 2019 GT3 champion Graham Davidson in the #2 Team Rocket RJN McLaren. Pole-sitter Balfe was back in 6th.
After four laps, Neary continued to lead with Graham Davidson less than half a second behind and Morgan Tillbrook in the #77 Enduro Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 in third.
The Neary – Davidson – Tillbrook battle continued until the trio hit traffic on lap 13 allowing the Team Abba Racing pilot to pull out a gap to the 2019 champion. A move, however, by Graham Davidson on the race leader saw contact between the two, resulting in the #2 McLaren taking to the grass and making contact with the barrier at Clay Hill. The damage meant that Davidson, and the #2 McLaren, were out of the race.
Neary pitted as the driver change window opened, handing over the #8 Mercedes to son Sam as qualifying lap record holder Jules Gounon took over the #6 RAM Racing Mercedes from teammate Ian Loggie and was immediately on the pace and pushing hard. Gounon passed Phil Keen in the #18 WPI Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 on lap 16 and set about chasing down Jamie Stanley in the #40 Fox Motorsport McLaren.
Sam Neary, holding on to the overall lead after the driver changes, was over three seconds ahead of Lewis Williamson in the #4 Mercedes with Adam Carroll in third with a gap of over 10 seconds from second place.
However both the first and second placed cars were noted as having not achieved the minimum pit stop times with the result that penalties were inevitable. Seconds later it was announced that Neary’s #8 Mercedes was being served with two penalties, one for the pit stop time and one for contact, meaning that it was highly unlikely that the #8 car could contest for the victory.
Stanley and Gounon, 4th and 5th respectively, were enjoying a titanic battle with Gounon struggling to find a way past, despite having what appeared to be the quicker car. Gounon found a way past using GT4 traffic exiting the pit lane to open a gap for the French pilot.
With less than 12 minutes remaining, Adam Carroll in the #22 Balfe Motorsport Audi held a lead of .274 seconds ahead of Jules Gounon in the #6 Mercedes, Gounon being the quickest driver of the race with a 1:33.857.
As the race entered the final five minutes, Gounon was just off the rear bumper of Carroll’s Audi but could not find a way through. Meanwhile, the battle for the final podium position was heating up with Jamie Stanley in the #40 McLaren being chased down by Phil Keen, Lewis Williamson and Euan Hankey.
As the leading pair entered the final lap, Gounon pulled alongside Carroll but the Audi pilot had the inside line for Old Hall Corner. That was the RAM Racing driver’s final opportunity to take the lead as Adam Carroll took the chequered flag to win the opening round by less than half a second.
“I knew once he got to me, he still had to pass me,” said Adam Carroll. “It’s such an intense track, it does not take much to make a mistake especially when the GT4 traffic is coming your way. That was absolutely flat out!
“With the GT4 car (at the start of the final lap), he (Gounon) maybe didn’t see it and that was why he could get the run so if the GT4 car hadn’t been there, he wouldn’t have been able to get where he was but, yeah, it was super-close!”
“It was a great race,” said Jules Gounon. “I think we had a bit of damage on the car so I was struggling with understeer and oversteer but I’ve been talking to Ian during the winter and I said ‘look, I’m going to give a 110% for you’. Finishing second was a bit close to the wind but I had a great fight with Adam Carroll. I was watching him as a kid. But I’m happy. It’s great to see so many fans at the circuit and I hope we put on a good show!”
Race Two gets underway at 16:10 on Monday April 18. Full race review to follow.