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Podium and pace aplenty as Barwell stars in British GT at Spa

24 June 2024 Podium and pace aplenty as Barwell stars in British GT at Spa

Barwell Motorsport put on a star showing during the fifth round of the British GT Championship at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend with its twin Lamborghini Huracan GT3s finishing third and fourth, keeping the team at the head of the championship.
 
Rob and Ricky Collard defied the odds to scorch through to third place at the legendary Belgian track, despite their Black Bull/Collard Group-backed car starting back in 12th after a penalty. Likewise, Alex Martin and Sandy Mitchell impressed by finishing right behind in the Dextra Commercial Lighting-supported Huracan, even though they had to serve the maximum additional time during their pit stop following their win in the previous event at Donington Park.
 
Martin and Mitchell’s recovery to fourth means they still hold a three-point lead at the head of the GT3 Drivers’ Championship, with the Collards just five points back. Barwell Motorsport is 44 points clear at the head of the Teams’ standings.
The start of the Spa weekend was typical of the microclimate that surrounds this section of the Ardennes, with persistent rain making the opening free practice session largely a washout. Both cars completed laps to check setup and systems, but there was little to learn in the soaking conditions, especially with the race forecast to be dry.
 
The first signs of Barwell’s pace came in Pre-Qualifying, when Rob Collard put in a sensational time to top the session outright as the wet start to the session gave way to a few laps of dry running late on. Collard’s best on slick tyres was almost a second under the old race lap record, ramming home the potential of the Barwell-prepared Lamborghinis.
 
Qualifying looked to be following that trend, when Rob again topped the first half in mixed conditions going 0.3s faster than anybody, while Martin kept the #78 inside the top five. Ricky backed up Rob’s good work to place the car on the front row on combined times, but an unfortunate yellow flag infringement meant the #63 was hit with a 10-place penalty for the race, meaning it would start 12th, but with every chance of moving forward. Mitchell ensured the #78 would start fourth on combined times, which then became third after the grid drop for the #63.
 
Although Sunday’s race was run in warm, sunny conditions, it was also heavily disrupted by a multi-car accident at the start forcing a lengthy red flag stoppage, yet all Barwell drivers showed remarkable consistency and cool heads to come through the chaos unscathed.
 
When the lights went out Martin was delayed in the middle of the pack running toward La Source, while Rob Collard enjoyed an incredible launch, pulling a superb move around the outside of the first turn to make up multiple places. Behind, contact on the run toward Eau Rouge sent cars scattering off the track, heavily damaging the barrier and requiring the race to be halted.
 
By the time of the stoppage Martin ran fifth, with Collard right behind after his rocket getaway shifted him to sixth. When running resumed, the race was reduced to 75% distance, and both Barwell cars got stuck into the action.
 
Martin and Collard engaged in their own duel on track, with the twin Lamborghinis racing hard but fairly before Collard eventually found a way past. He then pulled a fine move on Matt Topham’s Aston Martin to climb to fourth before stopping to hand to Ricky.
 
With a podium in sight, Ricky lit up the timing screens, eating into the advantage of the Garage 59 McLaren driven by Adam Smalley in front. The fight took on even more importance when the Aston Martin that had been running second was forced to retire with an engine problem. Ricky closed to within striking distance of Smalley in the closing stages, only for traffic to deny him the chance to pass, meaning third was the limit. However, it was a mighty performance to score the Collards’ second podium appearance of the season and keep up their record of not finishing lower than fifth. They are currently the sole pairing in the championship to have scored double-digit points in every race so far.
Rob Collard at the start of the race at Spa
 
But it wasn’t just the Collard show: Martin and Mitchell’s fourth was a superb display of damage limitation, despite the car being forced to serve the maximum additional time on its pit stop. Martin kept things clean in his stint, stopping for Mitchell from sixth. Once the car had served its compensation time, Mitchell rejoined seventh, and proceeded to put on an overtaking masterclass.
 
First he breezed past Josh Rowledge’s Aston Martin, then pulled superb moves on both Phil Keen’s Mercedes and Marcus Clutton’s McLaren to bring the car home just outside the podium places. This result was vital to keep the crew at the head of the championship, and means they head into the next event at Snetterton with no success penalty and every chance of fighting for a third win of the season.
 
Rob Collard said: “We came here not knowing what to expect, but the car’s been super-quick from the start. The grid penalty was a real shame for us, but we knew we could move forward from it. The start was key. I found some space, avoided the madness and we came out of it in a great position. The fight with Alex on track was great, we were both being really careful and picking our moments, then I found a gap and went. We’re racing the #78 in the championship, I think they’re our biggest competitor, so we really needed to get ahead in this one. It’s a great result for Ricky and I.”
 
Ricky Collard said: “We showed the true pace we have in this race. Obviously, the penalty was a setback, but from then it was about putting everything together and bringing home the result for the team, and I’m really happy we did that. Dad made a fantastic start, and I had great pace… it’s just a shame the traffic got in the way when I was closing on the McLaren as I think we were on for a grandstand finish. But it’s great points and we go again at Snetterton.”
 
Alex Martin said: “This round was never going to be easy with the maximum pit stop time, so I probably would have taken fourth if it had been offered at the start of the weekend. I’m happy with what we achieved here, and to still be leading the championship, and felt I drove well in my stint. I had some trouble at the start by not being able to see the lights as the Lamborghini is quite low and I couldn’t get sight of the gantry over the rear wing of the tall Aston in front, so we lost out a bit there. After that we had good pace and kept things clean, then Sandy did what Sandy does. Now we go to Snetterton with no compensation time and everything to play for.”
 
Sandy Mitchell said: “That’s a good result for us, especially with the success penalty. It’s really positive. We got a bit of luck with cars ahead of us hitting trouble but Alex did well to keep us in the mix and when I got in I just pushed and took every opportunity we had. The car had superb pace and I could get my head down and make progress from the minute I got on track. I’m really looking forward to this next week now, and being part of the team for the 100th CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa and seeing what we can achieve together.”

Barwell Motorsport team principal Mark Lemmer added: “What a way to turn things around! The penalty for Rob and Ricky after qualifying was a hard one to take, but I’m proud of how the drivers accepted it and got on with the job at hand, and what a performance… such a well deserved result for them and the team. Likewise, Alex and Sandy knew this weekend would be tough with the compensation time from Donington, so to come away with fourth is a great reward for their hard work. From a team point of view, we executed a very tricky race as best we could, took home yet more silverware, and run one-three in what is a very tight championship. Now our focus turns to the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, where we’ll be aiming to put on a show in the world’s biggest GT race.”
Barwell Motorsport now enters the second part of its Belgian double-header with two cars running in the centenary CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, a counting round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup. Both cars will join the traditional parade into Spa city centre on Wednesday, before the main track action begins on Thursday.
Alex Martin leads the Collards' car at Spa

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