University Team take on British GT

The pairing of ex-Britcar endurance racer Anna Walewska and experienced European driver Rob Garofall are this season contesting British GT in a G55 Ginetta GT4 run by the University of Bolton’s Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering. Their unique partnership with Team RLR means Bolton CAPE students get the best possible preparation for a career in motorsport engineering.

Having missed the first round at Oulton Park, the team tackled Rockingham last month and this weekend took part in the “Silverstone 500” three-hour race.

As with their previous round at Rockingham, torrential rain was a feature of Friday’s test day and repeated red flags meant it wasn’t worth trying to take the car out and risk the car.

Into Saturday and a new set of Avon slicks (one of five sets available to the team for the weekend under regulations) were on the car for the second Free Practice session and Rob headed out first for around 25 minutes on the busy GP circuit. Anna’s times are were second up on earlier sessions but again traffic was a factor in putting in faster laps. Rob, fresh from the team’s first LMP3 win at the Imola European LeMans Series race just a week before in the brand new Ginetta/Nissan prototype (only launched at this year’s Autosport show in January), manages to post a one-off best lap of 2:15.9 and Anna was putting in 2:19s consistently through the session.

Ten minutes per driver is all the time allocated to the Saturday afternoon qualifying sessions and both drivers struggled for pace. Rob posted a best time 0.7 seconds up on FP2 but Anna’s pace was similar and thus the car was to start a disappointing P15 in class on Sunday’s race grid. Afterwards, Anna said “yes, disappointed with our pace, even though both of us were quicker than FP2. We’re still learning the car and it could be that we need to experiment more with the setup”.

Sat on the grid in steady drizzle meant the decision to begin the race was the right one. Tremendous spray limited visibility but the entire pack made it through the first lap without serious incident. It seemed however that the rain was already causing issues with some cars: another GT4 Ginetta, the #55 Optimum Motorsport, suffered an electrical problem and retired after just two laps, immediately gifting the BoltonCAPE team a place. Anna kept her position for a few laps but soon the two GT4 Evoras had made it past. A little later and the other Optimum Ginetta pitted with a faulty steering wheel that meant the driver was unable change gear.

Even though the rain eased off, the track remained extremely slippery and all drivers had to be so careful applying power out of the corners, trying widely different lines to find the best grip. The Maggotts/Becketts complex seemed the worst, claiming a few spinners even among the most experienced GT3 drivers.

Anna entered the pits after just over the half hour mark during a long safety car period – a result of Gary Eastwood’s Ferrari hitting the just-spun #17 Aston at Stowe corner – and a number of the teams also decided to use this as their first stop. Rob was in the car next but there was a problem with the refuelling rig and he chose to exit back into the safety car train for a lap while the team fixed it. He re-entered the pit on the following lap but the regulations meant he had to get out and get back in again to allow the refuelling to take place.

The rain had now ceased and enough of a dry line had starting to appear, so after a few more laps behind the safety car the remaining teams made the tactical decision the switch to slicks – fresh and toasty from their tyre heaters.The safety car finally peeled into the pit lane with 2 hours left on the clock and now back on track, Rob took advantage, moving the Team RLR Ginetta up the lap board to P13 in class after 15 minutes.

Rob had done just over an hour and it was time for Anna’s second stint and we were soon seeing a much improved performance; grabbing two places within a couple of laps put her a very impressive P7 in class (21st overall) – their best position of the race. But then there’s a big crash down at the new pits complex as the #11 Aston GT3 hit the new pit wall exiting Club corner, rebounding across the track spreading coolant and fragments across the tarmac. Recovery of the wreck brought out the safety car again and having suffered a puncture at Rockingham that may have been down to debris on the track, there was concern for the car so Anna pitted immediately to let the team to make checks and allow Rob his second stint (in a three-hour race each driver is required to do two each). With refuelling, the pitstop had put them back to P13 but there was just over half an hour left on the clock for Rob to regain a place.

Rob took the flag in P12 but post-race a pitstop infringement dropped the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin back a place leaving the Team RLR Ginetta P11 in GT4 and a very respectable 23rd overall from a field of 35 starters.

The team head to Spa in Belgium next for a 2 hour race on 10th/11th July.

Words and photos: Chris Valentine.


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