Balfe Motorsport race to podium place
After the disappointments of Oulton Park, it was time to celebrate in the Balfe Motorsport camp at Snetterton, as they took their brand new McLaren 720S GT3 car to a podium finish in its second ever race.
Caythorpe's Shaun Balfe was out in the first qualifying session for the Am drivers and put himself seventh on the grid, having reported no technical issues and being pleased with the new rubber too.
Co-driver Rob Bell was also fairly pleased and optimistic with his chances.
Balfe was to start the first of the two one-hour races and slotted into eighth place, chasing the Bentley of Rick Parfitt Jnr.
Balfe said: “I got hit twice before the first corner, lost two places but kept my foot in.”
After six laps of trailing Parfitt, the lead group had started to spread out, but with mistakes on the horizon from his rivals, he was up to sixth by the end of lap eight, still chasing Parfitt.
Balfe was one of the first to stop and handed to Bell, who emerged in a challenging fifth place.
It all began to close up and became a five-car train for the lead. Bell made it up to third but was under tremendous pressure from Jonny Adam’s Aston Martin.
With the leading GT3 quintet running in such close contention, lapping the GT4 cars proved even more precarious.
Bell had already been baulked going through Murrays on the 21st lap, but two laps later it was game over.
Bell said: “Jonny was right on my tail and I thought I had read it right when we came to lap two GT4s through Palmer. But one moved a little and we had contact which broke my rear rim, so the tyre went down immediately.”
As the crew worked feverishly to have the car back in pristine order for race two, it was Bell’s turn to start.
From the opening lap, he was in a strong fifth and soon gapped Ben Green’s BMW to pursue the sixth-placed Bentley of Seb Morris. He was close enough on a couple of occasions to challenge, but having retained his place he was a late stopper, finally handing over to Balfe from a challenging third.
“The car was mega and did what we had to,” said Bell.
Having rejoined in fourth, the pressure was on on from Parfitt’s Bentley. They swapped on lap 23, but a lap later the Bentley had an off and Balfe was back into fourth.
“The conditions changed a little and maybe I had a different approach and got on with it,” Balfe explained.
But Mark Farmer’s Aston Martin had been ousted from second and Balfe began to reel him in, before a brave move around the outside at Oggies saw him emerge in third.
Balfe said: “He had been defending hard at the traditional overtaking places so I had to try something different, but I certainly didn’t expect a podium. I thought the others were stronger and that fortune wasn’t going to go our way.”
It was a solid and rewarding performance for the Fulbeck-based team, and at the flag they were only three seconds from the lead.
Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien both felt they could have gone quicker in qualifying with the GT4 McLaren 570S.
But with Johnson starting, he ran most of his stint just inside the top 10. O’Brien battled hard to progress further and finally shook off Jacob Mathiassen’s BMW to finish seventh in GT4 and third in the Pro Am class.
“I was struggling a bit with handling, but a good result from where we started,” said O’Brien.
O’Brien started the second race very strongly, but was stuck behind Tom Canning’s third-placed Aston Martin for the whole stint.
Johnson rejoined third which became second when Callum Pointon’s McLaren served a penalty. But Johnson was then given a stop-go penalty too.
“I had contact with the Invictus Jaguar and spun him and it bent the steering, I was just too impatient and it was on my out lap,” Johnson admitted.
The penalty dropped them to 14th in class and sixth Pro Am.