More success for Ramair’s Jamie Sturges in the Golf TCR

In stark contrast to the sprint race format at Castle Combe, our second race in the Golf TCR was in the unlikely company of the GT3s and GT4s of the Aston Martin Owners Club at Brands Hatch. Here, at the shortest circuit in the UK, we would be faced with the longest race of the season at 50 minutes, with a compulsory pit stop.

With Friday looking like a washout we skipped testing and prepared for qualifying Saturday morning, on what we hoped would be a dry track. A drizzly start to the day left us with a dryish but very “green” track with no rubber build up and little real grip, so the plan was simple – don’t throw it in the gravel! 25 laps later and we were sitting safely in 7th position, but the session had ended with times a good second or so off the anticipated pace.

With a diverse field of cars taking to the grid, from Aston Martin Vantages and a Porsche Cup car to Ginettas and even a Noble, the Golf, with its huge muscular arches, stood out like a sore thumb and sat there looming over the other, svelte GTs like a bouncer at a ballroom dance.

With the suspension and differential now fully set up by Zest Racecar Engineering, including some special asymmetric tweaks for Brands, the long race would gave Jamie the perfect opportunity to really find a rhythm and understand the new car’s dynamics, over what turned out to be an epic, 56-lap event.

From 7th on the grid, we had the inside line for Paddock Hill bend and shot into 5th from the rolling start. The race quickly settled down and minor battles became established as all of the drivers found their natural pace. However, hotter track temperatures than qualifying and a 65-litre fuel load meant rapidly rising front tyre pressures, and increasing understeer, so as soon as the pit window opened at 10 minutes, we made a very early stop to lose some pressure during the mandatory stationary minute. Re-joining the track a lap down, we hooked straight onto the back of the battle for 3rd place between the two Aston Martin Vantage GT4s of Murphy and Jarman & Akane.  Although faster at first, lap after lap the “humble” Golf closed back in and hounded the immensely powerful GT cars. The lap times tumbled until both Astons pitted, leaving a clear track to exploit.

Once all the pit stops were complete, the real race order was evident and Jamie was closing on the GT3 Class-leading Porsche of Speed and Winter in 4th place. A divisive move under braking into a rapidly shrinking gap at Druids hairpin gave us the place, a clear track again and the chance to chase some real lap times with a reducing fuel load. Soon, the third place Aston GT4 of Jarman and Akane was in sight, but it would take two laps of feints and dummy moves to force a small error. So often a move starts many corners before, and it was Clearways where the Aston was forced wide leaving it vulnerable on the straight, defensive into Paddock Hill, and ultimately, leaving the door open for another Druids move into third.

Then it was time to stretch out the gap and have a bit of fun with the Rauchmann & Becker Aston Martin driven at this point by Becker – Aston Martin’s head of chassis design – which had un-lapped itself with four laps to go, setting the fastest lap of the day in the process. Jamie decided to chase back after it for no real reason and in doing so set his fastest lap of the day on the very last tour of this wonderful Kent circuit, secured the podium position along with the Open GT Class win, and even got an unexpected bonus of the “Driver of the Day” award.

The race was won by Guess and Hilliard in their Ginetta G55 GT4 with the Aston GT4 of Chris Murphy in second.

The weekend gave us so much more data to use, and a feel for the new car, that we can’t wait for the next outing at Castle Combe. See us there for the GT Championship double header on 7th July.