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Balfe/smalley dance through the rain to win

SILVERSTONE

BRITISH GT

27-28 APRIL

Garage 59 claimed a shock Silverstone 500 victory as various British GT teams were left ruing what might have been with costly errors preventing them from winning the three-hour event.

Shaun Balfe and Adam Smalley rose from fourth to take the chequered flag with their McLaren 720S GT3 Evo, just 5.3 seconds ahead of fellow Silver-Am runners Richard and Sam Neary, the father-son pairing having started 15th. Another Silver-Am crew crossed the line third, but Simon Orange and Tom Roche were then given a post-race penalty promoting Chris Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough, on his return to British GT, onto the podium.

“[It was] all a bit of a blur,” said Balfe. “The priority was to be well placed in our category, so it was a real bonus and massive surprise so early in the season to be overall [winners] in GT3.”

Garage 59 initially appeared to have made a strategic error when, unlike others, the team failed to pit Balfe during the safety car start that took place because of the extreme wet conditions.

Balfe claimed the team had to “stick to” the strategy it had planned prior to the race, with 2 Seas also opting to do the same by keeping polesitter Kevin Tse out. When both cars pitted after 21 minutes, Maximilian Gotz, in for Tse, rejoined eighth, with Smalley 15th as their rivals lost less time under the safety car.

The advantage swung to Century Motorsport, as series debutant Dries Vanthoor and reigning champion Darren Leung had moved up the order into third and held the net lead aboard their BMW M4. Ahead, Blackthorn’s Giacomo Petrobelli and Paddock’s Mark Smith were yet to pit but they finally stopped and changed drivers after 80 minutes, when the weather forecast predictions proved wrong.

Instead of drying, rain continued to fall meaning both teams could no longer try and hold out for a switch to slick tyres as they has planned. Both cars dropped out of contention, and Century’s lead M4 proved dominant as Leung led second-placed Rob Collard by 37s approaching the final hour.

But disaster struck when Leung pitted for what should have been the final time and, although everything appeared fine, a radio problem caused Leung to lose communication and he was unaware that Century had underfuelled his car.

 

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