Silverware aplenty for Barwell in Portugal

24 July 2023 Silverware aplenty for Barwell in Portugal

After a hot, but windy, few days at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portimão, the breeze disappeared to leave a scorcher for race day at the fifth round of the Intelligent Money British GT Championship. 


The combined efforts of Mark Sansom and Will Tregurtha put the #72 Black Bull Whisky-liveried Lamborghini Huracan Evo 2 on pole in the Silver-Am class, while regular Lamborghini factory driver Sandy Mitchell, teamed once again with veteran Shaun Balfe, looked a candidate for the overall pole before disruptions in their respective sessions meant that the #78 Barwell car would line up a slightly frustrated fourth. 


Come the start of the race on Sunday afternoon, air and track temperatures had increased sharply, making driving conditions trickier than they had been all weekend. However, a clean start — with no dramas despite the typically-packed BGT grid — kept both cars in contention for a podium in the early stages. 


Both Balfe and Sansom demonstrated great early pace, with the former matching the leader's lap-times before an untimely appearance by the safety car — which, crucially, resulted in a slightly-later-than-planned pit-stop for #78 machine — dropped the Balfe-Mitchell tandem down the order. Sansom, meanwhile, fared better and, during a full-service stop, was able to successfully hand over to Tregurtha, who immediately set about regaining positions as Mitchell maintained the #78's previous pace in an effort to climb back up the order.


A second safety car procedure just a matter of laps later caused further confusion, with the #78 car pitting but this time being caught out by a mechanical problem... for the safety car! Race organisers decided to cover the unexpected event by switching to a Virtual Safety Car scenario, requiring each car to reduce pace to 80kmh, but the move benefited those yet to stop — including Barwell's #72 entry, which jumped to P2 — as the field lapped slower than they had been behind the real SC. 


Once a new safety car had been procured, it remained on track for some time, before the pack was finally unleashed under green flag conditions with an hour and 54 minutes remaining. Sansom, back at the wheel of the #72, produced perhaps his best-ever stint behind the wheel as he found himself in a three-way battle for the outright lead. Despite being squeezed and dropping briefly to fifth on the road, he thought smart, knowing his opportunity to continue the battle would come, and duly moved back up to P3. The scrap raged for some 40 minutes as Sansom fought hard, and swapped places, with Matt Topham, staying with the Aston Martin driver throughout.


Despite the #78's recovery from the middle of the pack having been affected by the switch to the VSC period, Balfe still found himself in the battle for the overall podium after showing mega pace and commitment during a long stint behind the wheel. Benefiting from penalties ahead of them and gaining enough time to sit just two seconds off the top three brought the #78 right back into contention ahead of the final driver change that would put Mitchell back in the cockpit. 


As the final pitstop cycle unwound, Mitchell produced a sterling drive, overcoming drivers clearly battling with the energy-sapping heat. Had there been a few extra laps to his stint, the #78 would have had a legitimate shot at taking P2 by the chequered flag but, as it was, Mitchell and Balfe had to settle for a creditable third. 


A little further back, and despite being handed a drive-through penalty for exceeding track limits, Tregurtha kept on pushing the #72 car while running P2 in class. Hearing that the Silver-Am leader then had a penalty of his own to serve, Tregurtha pushed to cut the gap further, doing enough to just beat his rival as he emerged from the pits before going on to claim an unexpected class win and close the championship gap to just 14 points with two rounds remaining.

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