Now in his second season on the British GT grid, Tom Rawlings arrived at the blue riband Silverstone 500 event with high hopes after a promising opening two rounds at Oulton Park. The weekend saw an entry of 43 cars (the highest for over a decade) across GT3 and GT4 classes, promising a thrilling spectacle featuring some of the world’s top endurance drivers in the three hour race.
The Paddock Motorsport crew had gained a lot of knowledge about the setup of the new McLaren Artura at the previous Oulton Park weekend, which provided a mix of extreme weather conditions across two shorter races. The long straights and fast sweeping corners of Silverstone GP circuit provide a different challenge to Oulton’s parkland undulation however, and Friday testing was a chance to collect data and continue the learning process with the car. The day ended up providing a morning of dry running, with heavy rain in the afternoon being a taster of what we knew was forecast to come on Saturday.
Having shown solid pace through Friday testing, Saturday unfortunately proved to be a near total washout. Two wet weather practice sessions were followed by a qualifying hour that was red flagged after crashes in the GT3 field, and then eventually abandoned due to large amounts of standing water on track making it too dangerous for the cars to run.
After some confusion in the paddock, race control announced that qualifying would not be scheduled for Sunday due to timetable constraints, and the grid would instead be set by combining each driver's fastest time from FP2 on Saturday. This news was met with dismay by Tom and teammate Kavi Jundu, as they had used this session to bed in brakes, experiment with tyre pressures, and carry out long run testing rather than any outright push laps. This meant that combined times put them P8 in GT4 Pro-AM class but P16 overall in GT4 class, which was a back row of the grid starting position.
Sunday’s race was still forecast to be fully dry in contrast to the disrupted Saturday running we had experienced at the circuit. Despite the prospect of a back row start the team were optimistic that in a three hour race with historically high probability of safety car intervention, and with pace the team knew was in the car and driver package, there was still potential to push forward and achieve a strong result.
For standalone events in GT4-Pro-AM class the amateur driver is mandated to take the start. This meant Kavi Jundu lined up on the grid in the #7 McLaren, with three driver change pit stops scheduled throughout the race as per British GT regulations.
Kavi made a strong start as the GT4 field followed their GT3 counterparts over Silverstone’s national start line, and had already made up places in the first sector of the opening lap. Unfortunately he was then hit in the side and pushed off track by one of the Ford Mustang cars as he tried to make an overtake, dropping the #7 back to dead last. A safety car was called out for another incident and the team took this opportunity for an early strategic pit stop, meaning that Tom now jumped in at the first of three compulsory driver changes.
Once the safety car was in and the race resumed, Tom struggled with getting the tyres to work in their optimum range, but still managed to climb a couple of places before handing the car back to Kavi for his second stint. Due to all the wet weather running over the weekend, teams generally had plenty of unused allocated sets of Pirelli slick available for the race, meaning that most driver changes throughout the field were accompanied by a change to new tyres.
Kavi managed to put in a great middle stint, bringing the car back to Tom at the next pit stop in a net P4 in Pro-AM class. While completing this driver change another safety car was deployed, the worst possible timing for the team. This resulted in them falling a full lap behind as their immediate rivals were able to then pit under full safety car conditions and lose significantly less time at their stops. Adding further frustration was that this was a lengthy full course yellow period, meaning that the time to stage another climb through the GT4 pack was rapidly diminishing as the race timer ticked down.
With the race resumed again Tom began to put in his fastest lap times of the race, fighting back through the order one place at a time. He was then surprised to hear over the radio that they had to come in to serve a stop go penalty for a short pit stop. At the previous driver change the car had been released 4/10ths of a second before the minimum stop time had elapsed, which once again curtailed their chance of making significant progress through the field. Despite this, Tom continued pushing over the final stage of the race and managed to cross the finish line P5 in Pro-AM and P9 overall in the GT4 class.
Despite the gain in places from their starting position during the race being an overall positive result, there was a perception of unfulfilled potential and frustration that some factors outside of the team’s control (namely safety car timings) had contributed to not being able to deploy the overall race pace that the car and driver pairing are starting to demonstrate.
"This was a weekend that never quite settled down for us, from Friday testing right to the finish on Sunday. Hopefully we will get a bit of luck at the next round, but we managed to get some solid points on the board and go again in three weeks at one of my favourite tracks, Donington Park."
The next British GT round takes place at Donington Park GP on the 27/28 May, and will feature a return to the usual two hour race format.
All photos by Richard Towler Photography