MOTOR RACING: Caythorpe’s Balfe and co-driver end season as runners-up

Shaun Balfe's McLaren on track at Catalunya.
Shaun Balfe's McLaren on track at Catalunya.

Caythorpe racer Shaun Balfe and co-driver Phil Keen ended their International GT Open season as runners-up after a storming performance in the final round at Catalunya.

It was an amazing feat as their Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S was only headed in the final standings by the Lamborghini Huracan of Thomas Biagi and Fabrizio Crestani – unlike Balfe and Keen, both pro drivers.

The grid for the final rounds was almost doubled, which left Balfe expecting to be outside the top 10 after qualifying. “I think it was one of my best sessions, though, and only 2/10ths off Duncan Tappy in the works McLaren. Sixth best and only pros ahead of me, I was rubbing shoulders in good company,” he said.

Starting from the third row of the grid, he was directly behind rival Yacaman in his BMW. Having retained sixth place, chasing both Yacaman and Euan Hankey’s Aston Martin, a slight mistake a lap before the handover cost him a place.

Keen took over and rejoined in ninth, but within the next five laps he was into fifth and still closing. He disposed of Yoluc’s Aston Martin on the 28th lap and soon moved in on Benham’s McLaren, to secure third and take the flag only 15 seconds off the fully pro drivers ahead.

A small engine problem delayed the team starting the second qualifying session, but when Keen joined in for the last 13 minutes, the early rain had ceased and he still secured a fantastic sixth on the grid for race two.

The opening lap was chaotic but luck was on Keen’s side. Starting sixth, he retained the place until the final sector, when two cars collided and others were delayed, leaving Keen to emerge in second behind Zampieri’s Lamborghini.

For the first few laps, it remained close for the lead, but by lap 10 Keen was just over a second down, retaining the place until the handover.

“We lost a lot of time leaving the pits, when Ramos came in too early, braked and stopped in front of me in the pitlane for about six seconds,” Balfe explained.

Back into sixth place, he was chasing Moiseev’s Ferrari when the safety car intervened.

Taking sixth at the flag was enough to secure a surprise second in the championship and the first genuine Pro Am pairing.

Balfe said: “We finished every race this year, and the team were magnificent, coping with the mid-season change from the Ferrari to McLaren too. Luck was definitely on our side for once.”