The FF Corse pairing of Gary Eastwood and Rob Barff took a comfortable victory at Rockingham after some fine driving and deft strategy work for the #18 Ferrari 458 Italia pairing in the second round of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.
The duo had left the opening Oulton park round with a damaged car and penalty points for both drivers, however the two-hour endurance at the Rockingham Motor Speedway proved to be far more welcoming as the FF Corse squad capitalised on a long first stint for Eastwood and a safety car period to make their driver change and even absorb a drive-through penalty for a pit lane traffic light indiscretion.
This left Barff leading comfortably from the otherwise closed-packed field with the on form duo of pole-sitters Marco Attard and Alexander Sims leading the chase. Attard delivered a perfect opening stint to lead from rolling start to mandatory pit stop, with Sims rejoining the field in sixth.
"The safety car ruined the gap, we pitted and surprisingly came out sixth," said Sims." It was a big gap ahead of us and the second safety car helped and pulled us close. The Ferrari pitted ahead, I did my overtaking, thought I was ahead, but the team told me I was second, and couldn't catch Rob Barff. So it was a case of holding the place."
Taking overall and GT3 class third on track was the AF Corse #29 Ferrari 458 of Pasin Lathouras and Richard Lyons, however the car was to receive a post-race penalty of ten seconds added to its race time for Lathorous driving in a manner incompatible with safety for contact with the #33 Trackspeed Porsche of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen with the former at the wheel.
The penalty for the Ferrari dropped the #29 to P7 and elevated the #888 Triple Eight BMW Z4 of Derek Johnston and Luke Hines to the final podium place.
Whilst one Triple Eight car benefitted from the Race director's vigilance, the other didn’t with the #8 Lee Mowle / Joe Osborne getting the same ten second addition for the same misdemeanour to drop them from P9 to P11. Mowle was at the wheel and the victim the #12 Trackspeed Porsche of Jody Firth and Warren Hughes with the former driving.
No such concerns for the victors however, and the top step podium both FF Corse drivers were eager to praise each other.
“Gary and the team did all the hard work - I just had to drive around carefully for about an hour,” said Barff. “It’s a really good result and great to bounce back after a horrible Oulton Park.”
Eastwood was equally happy with Barff’s efforts.
“That was a fantastic drive by Rob,” he said. “He did what he had to do, which was hold the pace and keep the gap. He knew exactly what he was doing and it was a perfect drive by him.”
The GT4 class saw quite an ebb and flow for the lead over the two hours. The #42 Century Motorsport car of Rick Parfitt Jnr and Tom Oliphant put in a fantastic long first stint with Parfitt pitting from the overall top ten. Oliphant took over, but the bad luck which characterised the team in the season opener returned as a lengthy visit to the pits was required.
"In two out of the three races so far and we've had component failure,” said a deflated Parfitt. “It's a fact Ginetta build a good and strong car, but it doesn't seem to be ours! It's gutting when we had the win looking sealed, but this just seems to happen to me at Rockingham."
The #407 Aston of Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings inherited the GT4 lead, however the Beechdean squad hadn’t managed to fill the car with sufficient fuel on its mandatory stop, meaning a refuel return for and loss of class lead for the car.
"When we did the fill up of fuel on our first official stop, the breather was blocked and didn't allow air to escape," said Giddings. "It's only a gravity fed tank, it was slowly filling up and wasn't at the usual rate. So we weren't at the right levels of fuel."
The #55 Academy Motorsport Ginetta of Oli Basey-Fisher and Matt Nicoll-Jones left the winners of the Rockingham race.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” reflected an elated Basey-Fisher. “It’s the second round of my debut year in British GT and to actually come away with the win here is more than I could ask for, especially after mechanical faults at Oulton."
Team-mate and team manager Nicoll-Jones was pretty happy too. “Fantastic,” he said. “We’ve had a hard few weeks leading up to this but Ollie and the team did a great job. The car was awesome and didn’t miss a beat.”
The two-stop Beechdean took second whilst the #49 TF Sport Aston of Andrew Jarman and Devon Modell took class third.
The ‘Driver of the Weekend’ Blancpain Gentleman Trophy was presented to Triple Eight driver Derek Johnston for his sterling efforts in the #888 BMW Z4 over the opening stint before handing over to team-mate Luke Hines, who finished an eventual P4.
Avon Tyres British GT Championship stays in Northamptonshire for the next round, the Silverstone three-hour endurance race which promises the biggest grid of the season on May 31 / June 1.