So another season, another six championship titles… you know how it is !! Just when we thought that 2020 was going to be hard to beat… we only went and did it again, and with even more success to celebrate too. After an incredibly competitive British GT season we successfully defended our overall titles in both the Drivers and Teams standings, and in Europe we took four new crowns in the forms of the GT World Challenge Overall Pro-Am Drivers & Teams and Sprint Cup Pro-Am Drivers & Teams titles. These achievements on the continent were all the more satisfying as it was our first time doing both the Endurance and Sprint Cups together, and it was one of the most fiercely contested Pro-Am classes for many years. To add to this we also secured second place in the Endurance Cup in both the Drivers and Teams points, as well as third in the British drivers standings thus making it a clean sweep of all cars finishing in the top three of all championships we contested!
With British GT outlawing the Silver Cup driver pairings for 2021, our champions from last year Rob Collard and Sandy Mitchell were unable to continue together to defend their title. Sandy however was made a fully fledged Lamborghini Squadra Corse factory driver, and we drafted the ‘baby-faced assassin’ back in to partner up with Adam Balon for the season. Making a return to BGT in our other Huracan was Leo Machitski as he was keen to add the overall title to the GT3 class crown that he won back in 2006 (when GT2 was the main class) in his venerable Barwell-run Aston Martin DBRS9. Joining Barwell’s ‘resident Russian’ was ultra-fast and spectacular Dane, Dennis Lind.
The season had a Covid-induced late start and calendar shake up, and eventually got underway at Brands GP in May. But prior to that we managed to sneak in a little ‘warm up’ event as we joined the GT Cup series for its visit to Brands Hatch. This was primarily to get some highly valuable extra track time on the Grand Prix track there, but both Adam and Leo got stuck into the race action and came away with podium finishes! Returning to the Kent venue for BGT Round 1, both of our challengers showed they were going to be serious championship players from the outset once again. Adam was very unfortunate to get ‘RAMmed’ by a Mercedes when he was running very strongly in the opening stint, and this zero score (in a 2-hour big points race) meant him and Sandy would have to play catch up for the rest of the season. Leo and Dennis meanwhile were able to notch up a useful podium in third place to open the scoring for the Barwellians.
The second round was the Silverstone 500 3-hours, and it was here that our two cars produced one of the most exciting (and nerve-wracking!) inter-Barwell on-track scraps of all time. Although the fight was over the maximum (winning) points score for the championship, it ended up being for second on the road as annoyingly British GT had accepted a highly questionable (in terms of driver line up and perhaps more…) one-off 2Seas Mercedes entry which wasn’t scoring points, had no success penalty and finished a few seconds ahead of us. It wasn’t until the final hour that the race started to come alive, with our two Lambos having been on different strategies and Leo having to stage a heroic comeback after a high-speed lap one spin! As the pros got into their respective cars for the final stints, Dennis was ahead on track but with older tyres than Sandy who thus had superior pace but a chunk of road between him and the Dane to try and eat up. The young Scot closed him down relentlessly and as they started the last lap was right on his tail… but Dennis wasn’t going to make this easy… But then they came across a GT4 car right in the middle of Becketts and Lind lost a fraction of momentum going onto the Hangar straight. Sandy was able to get alongside on the outside and then nearly gave us all heart attacks as they went side-by-side through Stowe! However both of them showed a lot more professionalism than certain F1 drivers we won’t mention, and after the slightest of touches of bodywork they both came out the other side with Sandy ahead. Phew!
This result put Leo and Dennis into the lead of the championship and was the perfect kick-start to Adam and Sandy’s campaign after the body blow of Brands Hatch. The next two rounds were a bit of a rollercoaster ride, with Leo getting taken out as an innocent victim of a first corner kerfuffle at Donington but then bouncing back superbly at Spa to produce a stunning drive and set up a dominant victory for him and Dennis, which restored them to the head of the Drivers points. Adam and Sandy had to take the ‘success penalty pill’ at Donington but still managed a useful fifth place, and then at Spa Balon was embroiled in a great fight for second as he worked on making it a Barwell 1-2 but a time-sapping spin in the heat of battle meant him and Sandy slipped back to fifth in Belgium.
With three rounds to go the title battle was shaping up to be a four-way affair, with Leo/Dennis holding a slender margin at the top, followed by the RAM Merc of Ian Loggie/Yelmer Buurman, the WPi Lambo of Michael Igoe and our old mate Keeny, and with Adam and Sandy keeping themselves nicely in the hunt in fourth spot. Next up were the two weekends of the season that feature 2 x 1-hour races, at Snetterton and Oulton Park respectively, which witnessed some extremely challenging wet weather races on both occasions. The standout performances during these came from Adam who revelled in the tricky conditions, scoring a couple of second places and even indulging in a spectacular but harmless ‘showboat’ spin at Oulton on the way!
Over the course of these four races Leo and Dennis managed to extend their points advantage marginally but all four Championship contenders had scored well and so it was all still to play for going into the Donington finale. Adam and Sandy basically had to win the race but would need misfortune to hit the others as they had a 15 second success penalty to overcome. Leo and Dennis needed to be third to guarantee the title, even if nearest rivals Loggie/Buurman won the race, and so they were certainly in a very strong position going into the ‘Donington Decider’. Fast forward one hour into the race, however, and things weren’t looking quite so rosy…. The 2-hour encounter had started under treacherous slippery conditions which seemed to suit the Mercedes and McLaren runners much more than the Lamborghini-mounted drivers. One title rival was out of the equation after a disastrous opening lap for Igoe in the WPi Lambo, but Loggie was flying in his Merc as Leo struggled for grip and slipped back to fifth place behind Adam. This became a distant fourth for Dennis after Sandy had to serve his extra success penalty time in the pits, but meanwhile up front our worst fears had become true as Yelmer Buurman had taken over from Loggie and was soon into the lead so as it stood at that stage they were now in a position to steal the title away from us. Our knight in shining (made in Woking) armour came in the form of Marcus Clutton and his Enduro Motorsport McLaren, however, who was in hot pursuit of Buurman and then pounced when the Dutchman ran wide on the way into the hairpin to take the race lead ! This put Leo and Dennis back ahead of them on points, with fourth being enough if the Merc duo were only second. We then had a nail-biting half hour until the finish, when the whole Barwell garage erupted in celebration and relief!
On the GT World Challenge Europe front it was all change from 2020, with Leo switching his full-time focus to the British programme and a competitive Silver Cup car proving too hard to put together again. Our international challenge thus switched to a Pro-Am campaign in both the Endurance and Silver Cups, spearheaded by Portuguese duo, Miguel Ramos and Henrique ‘Henry’ Chaves. Miguel was of course well known to us from previous seasons, and he brought with him highly talented young Chaves, with whom he had won the GT Open crown in 2020. Plan A was that Adrian Amstutz would then join them for all the Enduro rounds bar Spa, where Leo would take his seat and we would add Sandy into the frame as the extra Pro for the 24 Hours. This plan got slightly skewered however when Adrian went over to Portugal for a little bonding session with Miguel, they went out on an off-road dirt bikes excursion where Adrian crashed and busted his knee! So the poor guy was forced to miss the Paul Ricard round and Leo was drafted back in to replace him for that one too.
Doing nine events out of the 10 in continental Europe this year was an incredibly tough challenge, with highly complicated logistics and constantly changing Covid restrictions/travel requirements, having to get all the crew tested in the right timescales and then managing all of the Covid regulations and circuit entry stipulations and checks (all of which wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of the fantastic Barwell ‘back room’ staff stationed at base camp). It was tough, and sometimes it has to be said not that much fun in terms of the Covid stress and the hoops everyone had to jump through, but these difficulties made our on-track success all the sweeter.
The Sprint Cup was new territory for us and featured three tracks we had never raced at before as a team, in the forms of Magny Cours, Misano and Valencia. Zandvoort we had been to once before when it was a British GT event funnily enough, and the other Sprint round was on Barwell’s ‘home turf’ around the Brands Hatch GP track. The racing format was very familiar though, with two one-hour races over a weekend where both the Am and the Pro would drive a stint in each, a la British GT. The racing against our top Pro-Am rivals was always very intense, and at the new tracks with very limited running time we were certainly in at the deep end, so it was a fairly outstanding achievement for Miguel, Henry and Barwell to come away with winning no less than 50% of the races and as debut Sprint Cup Champs.
Winning one of the races at each of the first three rounds at Magny Cours, Zandvoort and Misano kept us in the mix for the lead of an incredibly tight championship battle. But then we came home to Brands and absolutely dominated proceedings, we had comfortably the fastest Lamborghini there, Miguel was driving beautifully and Henry, despite never having seen the place before, took to the ‘Old School’ track like a duck to water. Our Pro-Am rivals were powerless to stop us taking a clean sweep of both race victories and thus put ourselves in a strong Sprint Cup championship lead with one round to go. The main target at the final round at Valencia was of course to wrap up the Sprint title, and with this in mind it was the only track where we didn’t record a race win at. Henry had to follow a ‘no risk’ strategy in his incredibly intense battle for the lead with Andrea Bertolini’s Ferrari, which probably cost him the race victory, although he did manage to pass the Ferrari only for it to very dubiously retake the lead by going wide off the track onto the run off area and thus still getting a fast exit onto the straight. There was no penalty forthcoming from the race director however and thus we had to settle for second in race one, but this combined with third in the final race of the weekend meant we clinched the title.
The GTWCE Endurance Cup was, as always, an extremely tough challenge and although it yielded no further race wins, a second place, two thirds and a fourth (plus the points for leading at the six-hour mark at Spa) from the five rounds was enough to secure second place in Endurance and the Overall combined Pro-Am title for Miguel and Henry (which adds the Sprint and Endurance points together). In Endurance we also had to contend with the slightly ‘strange’ fact that Sky Ferrari driver (and eventual champion) Chris Froggatt was still given a derogation to be a Bronze Am graded driver for most of the season, even though he had to be Silver in Sprint and was then put back to Silver for the last two rounds of Endurance! We kick started the season nicely with the Portuguese pairing plus Adrian taking a podium at Monza, but then suffered some cruel fate at Paul Ricard where Leo was taken out by a Silver car during the opening hour of the race. This proved to be very costly to our title campaign, as we were looking good for another podium at least and this incident possibly robbed us of a race win in France.
Then came the ‘big one’ at Spa and having won there for the last three years in a row, expectations of getting another top result were naturally high. The first half of the race was a topsy turvy affair which saw us move up and down the leader board like we were in a game of snakes and ladders! We led at the six-hour mark but had slipped back to fourth by half distance. Yet again we found ourselves in a dog fight against the might of the factory Ferrari team, and this year we had no less than three of them to contend with. As usual the Italian marque had been extremely canny in their pre-race sandbagging and come raceday all of the Ferraris had searing pace that hadn’t been seen before. This combined with their standard Spa 24H driver derogation shenanigans meant we really had our work cut out this year. So this battle became more and more intense throughout the race, and we took the fight to them with some good strategy calls and by using Sandy and Henrique (who made a very confident and impressive Spa 24H debut) for the majority of the night stints, thus keeping us on the same lap as their leading car in either second or third place up until the final six hours. Also impressing during the night was Leo, who felt that he put in one of his best and most satisfying Spa 24H driving performances ever. His consistently strong pace combined with some very sold stints from Miguel also played a very big part in keeping us in the hunt for a podium.
We knew then however that in the final six hours we had more Bronze driver stint time to use up and so our main focus would be to hold onto third spot ahead of Froggatt’s ‘Sky Tempesta’ Ferrari that we had fought for much of last year’s race. With one hour to go we had just slipped behind them but then had Sandy ready to go back in for the final stint versus their Pro, Edward Cheever. With the heavens looking like they might open and dump a lot of rain on the circuit we made the bold move to put Sandy out on wet tyres at our final stop, and this proved decisive as a monsoon then hit Spa-Francorchamps and turned the track into a river. With the Ferrari having just changed to slicks it had to limp round on the wet circuit before it could make another pit stop to fit wets, and so we jumped ahead again, as the race then became a 30-minute straight fight to the finish after a Safety car period. In treacherous conditions Sandy was as cool as a cucumber and although Cheever closed in initially, when our tyre pressures were back up the young Scot pulled away again and was lapping on the same pace as the overall race-leading Ferrari. It was another nail-biting final hour, but in the end another very well-deserved podium.
After a solid fourth place at Nurburgring we then went to the season finale at Barcelona, and although it wasn’t possible for us to win the Endurance title, we only needed a single point to secure the Overall GTWCE crown even if our chief rivals the SPS Mercedes won the race. It was Adrian who then saved the day very early on in the race at Barcelona, as he started from fourth place in Pro-Am but on only the second lap had to take evasive action as a car spun in front of him. Despite going for a wild sideways ride through the gravel trap Adrian kept the car under control and out of the barriers, before having to pull off another amazing feat of avoidance just a few laps later as two cars collided right in front of him and blocked the racing line! With our main title rivals Pierburg and Baumann eventually winning the race in the SPS car, it was critical that we had to finish the race in at least 10th place and so a retirement would have cost us the Overall championship by half a point! After dropping down to 8th spot due to the earlier incidents, Miguel and Henry proved that they are truly worthy champions with two great stints that brought us back up to second in the race and an Overall GT World Challenge title that we can be very proud of.