The GT Cup series travelled to Snetterton for their final round, with 130R Performance-supported Tom Rawlings and his teammate Moh Ritson involved in a GTH class battle to decide whether they would finish second, third or fourth in the final standings of their rookie season with Paddock Motorsport.
The GTH class has been a particularly hard fought category all season long, with several other customer-run McLaren 570S GT4 cars being involved in the battle for top honours. Tom and Moh headed into the weekend lying fourth in the overall standings, and though mathematically the top spot in the championship was now out of reach, the goal had shifted to finishing in the runner up position. The pair therefore needed a strong final weekend to jump ahead of two of their key rivals in the series, and cap off what has already been an impressive season of multiple podiums and wins for the two young drivers.
A win in Saturday’s first sprint race had already moved the duo up to P3 in the GTH class standings, with Moh capitalising when the car leading had retired from the race with a technical fault. The afternoon endurance race then started off in torrential rain with Tom reporting back to the team that he could hardly see the car in front, even with the rain lights on. Despite this, he pushed as hard as he could in the atrocious conditions and negotiated a couple of safety car calls before the pit window opened and the car was handed over to Moh in P2. Unfortunately there was now a 15 second success penalty to be applied following a podium last time out at Donington, meaning that the second stint got underway with Moh at the wheel joining down in P8. Before he could make any progress back through the field, within one lap the safety car was called out and the race was red flagged due to the dangerous conditions with standing water and risk of cars aquaplaning.
The team went into Sunday’s race day sitting just one point behind the number 90 car of Balfe Motorsport and that target of second place in the championship. Tom had managed to qualify in P3, and the Balfe car was right behind in P4, so it was going to be a good old scrap!
The sprint race got underway and by turn three Tom had been able to grab the class lead but was already being pushed hard by the leading GTH car of Jackson & Orange. Tom found that he had to drive in a very defensive manner as the following car had more straight line speed which was a concern, but he managed to hold them off until the last corner on the final lap when unfortunately a slight mistake allowed the other McLaren to get by. Despite the initial disappointment at a lost win, the points for P2 were more important as the main rival Balfe Motorsport car had an accident and was not able to finish the race. This put Tom and Moh into that crucial P2 championship position as they headed into the final pit stop race of the 2021 season.
After getting away to a great start and holding station for most of the first stint, Moh received a five second penalty for track limits. This was something to be monitored closely, as the Balfe Motorsport car was once again hot on the heels to reclaim that P2 in the overall standings. Tom took over for the second stint and in his own words, just pushed as hard as he could trying to maintain a top three finish (which was what was needed, and crucially to finish in front of the number 90 machine). Driving confidently and with one eye on the championship standings, Tom managed to bring the car home in P3, and more importantly in front of their main rival car from Balfe that had only managed to finish in P5 at the chequered flag. With that the team had accomplished their mission and had gone from P4 at the start of the weekend to finish runners up in the GTH class, and runners up in the GT Cup Sport challenge. To make the accomplishment even sweeter, Tom was also awarded the Driver of the Weekend award for his mature and battling drives across the course of the whole event.
I have had an absolutely fantastic rookie season in GT racing, and I cannot believe what we have managed to achieve. I want to thank each and every one of my sponsors for their continued support. It truly is amazing given what you guys have gone through in these very difficult times to still want to partner with me, I am truly blessed.
Although Snetterton officially marked the end of Tom Rawlings' 2021 race season, there will be little time to celebrate and reflect on the season’s accomplishments just yet… He’ll be returning to the MINI Challenge JCW series at Donington Park this weekend for a one-off guest appearance in their penultimate round. If you've been following Tom's career progression you'll know that the BTCC-supporting JCW championship is where he scored multiple podiums and a win during a formative two seasons in his motorsport career in 2019-20. Although ostensibly just for fun, Tom will be out to bring home more results and show the ultra competitive MINI Challenge grid what he's learned in his debut season of endurance racing. We'll have more content from this special one-off event appearing on social media over the course of the weekend, and a full report here next week. In the meantime we'd like to wish Tom congratulations on what has been a season that has surpassed all expectations!
All photos by Sprite Photography (unless otherwise credited)