Beechdean AMR start British GT campaign with strong podium finish
Beechdean AMR made a strong start their comeback season in the British GT Championship with a podium finish in immensely challenging weather conditions at Oulton Park on Bank Holiday weekend.
Drivers Andrew Howard and Ross Gunn – both former series champions – finished second in a wet-dry-wet opening round of the new campaign on Easter Monday in a scintillating finish in which the top four finishers were separated by less than 1.5 seconds.
They then added a top-five finish in an all-wet second race to leave the historic Cheshire parkland circuit with a share of third place in the points table.
Having tested for only one full day since closing out the 2022 racing season with a Silver-Am class win at Donington Park, the Beechdean team arrived at Oulton Park with hopes of a solid start to the year.
Instead both Team Principal Andrew – the 2013 and ’15 overall champion – and Ross, who claimed the GT4 crown with Beechdean AMR in the latter season – were straight on the pace; Ross’s best time in Free Practice Two helping the #97 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to top the timesheets in the final session ahead of qualifying.
Fourth in the Pro-Am category – and sixth overall – marked a fine qualifying attempt by Andrew for Race One while Ross’s best effort put #97 fifth overall and in Pro-Am for Race Two.
Andrew, who has been training extensively on a home simulator over the winter, rolled back the years with an exceptional opening-stint performance to reach the mid-race driver changes in third; helped by a superb two-in-one move at Old Hall on a wet track.
His stop to hand over to Ross came just a couple of laps later and the Aston Martin works driver emerged from the pits in second place.
The Thame racer’s challenge for a maiden outright British GT win came down to the final corner of the race as he attempted a round-the-outside move at Lodge corner but was unable to pass as the position was resolutely defended.
The fact that all cars were now on slick tyres as rain had begun to fall again, creating an ice rink for many of the drivers, made regaining traction ultra-tough; but regain he did to cross the line just half a second from victory.
Second place was still a best outright result in British GT for Ross and he and Andrew followed-up that result with fifth in an even wetter second race that featured another spectacular ‘around the outside’ pass by the High Wycombe racer at the Shell Hairpin.
Both results were achieved in a car carrying the name ‘Geof Harris’ at Oulton by way of a tribute to the grandfather of #1 mechanic Darrell Harris, who sadly died just before the weekend got underway.
Andrew and Ross hold a share of third place in the Drivers’ Championship while Beechdean hold second in the Teams’ points with the series now taking a one-month break before the longest race of the season – the three-hour ‘Silverstone 500’ on May 6-7.
Andrew Howard said: “Without doubt that’s the best I’ve driven since we’ve had the new Aston Martin [in 2019]. We’ve only done one full day’s testing pre-season before this week, but we’ve been able to finesse things rather than needing to go wholesale. That’s down to the work that our engineer Ed and the team have done in getting to grips with the car while my eldest son has built me a full home sim set-up so that’s given me so much more time to practice on my driving and work with Ed working on virtual set-up changes. The races were very tough and there was so much muck on-track in Race Two that I had to drive up behind other cars to get their spray to clear the windscreen of the dirt that was building up. Although it’s been a very strong weekend results-wise, the weather and everything means we have to view this as a standalone event and start from square one again at Silverstone. It's the sensible way to do it.”
Ross Gunn said: “I’m very happy with the way the weekend’s gone. We came in without any massive expectations and really just wanted to survive, get two reasonable results and see where we were, so to get a podium and my best-ever GT3 result in British GT is a strong start. The Aston Martin was fast from Friday testing and we just kept chipping away. Race day was a lottery with the conditions and it was tricky to be in the right track position and on the right tyre; plus it’s hard to overtake at Oulton. We were fast though and Andrew was very fast and made some extremely good moves on the other cars. Race One was close, but I knew, given that the battle was with Jonny [Adam, British GT champion with Beechdean AMR in 2015] would be hard, but fair. We’ll try to get him back at Silverstone.”