TF Sport notched up a brace of podiums in the Pirelli British GT Championship’s double-header at Snetterton (6-7 August), but the results are tinged with disappointment after the team relinquished the championship lead for the first time this season.
There was a podium apiece for the #11 entry of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes and the #17 car of Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam, and the battle for the 2016 British GT Teams’ and Drivers’ titles between TF Sport and Barwell Motorsport now goes down to the wire at the ‘Donington decider’ next month (10-11 September).
A slight disparity in conditions between a recent in-season test and the start of free practice at Snetterton necessitated a few setup tweaks, but TF Sport possessed great speed from the outset.
Title combatants Johnston and Adam set out their stall early by going fastest in FP1 and both TF Sport Aston Martins could be found inside the top four in second practice, but it was Farmer and Barnes who led the way in qualifying.
The purple patch continued for the Spa winners, who translated the form that took them to the top step of the podium in Belgium into pole position for the first of two races at Snetterton, although the pair expected to be severely impeded by a ten-second success penalty carried over from their victory in the British GT ‘flyaway’.
Third and second was all Johnston and Adam could muster after a slide delayed the latter on his quickest attempt, but it was all to play for and Johnston made good progress at the start of race one before being punted wide onto the grass at the Agostini hairpin.
A determined recovery from ninth saw a fired-up Johnston complete his driving duties in a strong fifth position, which Adam consolidated while harassing Seb Morris’s Bentley Continental GT during his 30 minutes behind the wheel.
Farmer, meanwhile, kept his nose clean and the #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen at arm’s length until the driver-change, when TF Sport served its ten-second success penalty while also servicing the #17 entry.
The strength of Farmer’s stint was validated when Barnes emerged from the pits in third and a collision between the top two runners soon brought TF Sport into play with the Barwell Lamborghini, but the order would remain the same at the flag.
However, question marks hung over the top two; AmDTuning.com was under investigation for Joe Osborne’s forceful acquisition of the lead and Barwell for passing under yellow flags, and the former was quickly served with a drive-through penalty, while the latter escaped punishment and kept the win over TF Sport.
During the interval TF Sport was busy calculating its approach for the remaining race, as it had to work out whether it could afford to finish outside of the top three with the #17 Aston Martin to avoid a time penalty in the season finale at Donington Park.
The team had lost the initiative in the title race and had no choice but to take a no holds barred approach into the second Snetterton encounter, which featured an enthralling head-to-head battle with championship foe, Barwell Motorsport.
Adam and the rival Lamborghini of Keen went into Riches as one and emerged from the corner in grid order, but Keen was unable to make a break for it as Adam lit up the timing screens with consecutive fastest laps.
In fifth, Barnes set about bridging the gap to the leading quartet and the 32-year old was fourth and ahead of the hard-defending Osborne on the approach to the compulsory driver-changes, but TF Sport was required to serve another success penalty and the time loss ultimately resigned it to a fourth place finish with the #11 car.
Unfortunately, TF Sport’s push for the race win unravelled in the stops. Tangled shoulder straps caused a delay and the AmDTuning.com BMW then stood between Johnston and the leading Lambo.
A dogged drive yielded a second place result, but TF Sport was still ‘strapped for points’ because of its blunder in the pits and Johnston reflected on the weekend by saying: “I’m gutted about losing the championship lead at this critical point of the season. We lost way too much time in the stops and we had some tough battles today. The TF Sport boys have done a great job and the car feels better than ever. We have less of a success penalty to take to Donington, but we’re 11.5 points behind now so we have to shoot for a win at Donington Park, which is my best circuit. It’s going to be close.”
Farmer added: “To get P2 with a ten-second penalty in race one is astonishing and I don’t think any of us expected that. Fourth in race two was also good, given that we had another, albeit shorted pit stop penalty to serve. It has been a decent weekend all-round and it seems we have some momentum on our side since Spa.”