MOTOR RACING: Grantham team move up to top of standings in their class
Grantham-based Balfe Motorsport team arrived at Silverstone with the disappointment of the Hungaroring behind them and an air of optimism for their campaign in the Pro Am class of the International GT Open.
The weekend started well with Ancaster driver Shaun Balfe’s team-mate Rob Bell putting their McLaren 650S GT3 in fifth overall after qualifying, but more importantly second in class and ahead of class leaders Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini’s Ferrari.
It was a good clean start to the opening race and Bell slotted into sixth. But the gap to fifth placed Victor Bouveng’s BMW continued to open and close for much of the opening stint, but he had the Pro Am lead and two cars between him and Cioci’s Ferrari.
Bouveng stopped early but Bell stayed out another lap, pitting from fifth to hand to Balfe.
“The traffic had caused the gap to open and close again, just getting some backmarkers in the wrong place really,” said Bell.
Balfe rejoined in seventh, second in Pro Am, but within a lap he was fifth and seven seconds off Valentin Pierburg’s Mercedes and the class lead.
The gap came down fairly rapidly and, on the 26th lap, Balfe went through on the inside of Brooklands and was soon in the clear.
“It took a couple of laps to bring the car in, then got stuck in to being consistent. Pierburg was the carrot and I just got closer and closer. Fourth overall and a class win was a surprise as I had expected to lose places to the pros,” Balfe said.
It was Balfe’s turn to qualify for Sunday’s race and, up against a number of professionals in the session, he managed 20th overall.
Balfe said: “We only had one set of tyres to use, so we did our bit and parked it. Others had saved tyres and went quicker, so a bit disheartening, but it’s the race that matters.”
The early race laps were spent pursuing Manuel Da Costa’s Mercedes. The place was retained despite losing out to Jonny Mowlem’s Ferrari and finally pitting in 16th.
“We had an extra 10 seconds in the pits after our success in race one, so we knew we were up against it,” said Balfe.
Bell’s progress took him into 13th place, after demoting Francesco Sini’s Aston Martin and in the closing laps ousted Eduardo Liberati’s Lamborghini too.
Balfe said: “We knew Rob was being caught, so radioed to let them go as Craig Dolby’s Lamborghini wasn’t in the same class.”
Bell took the flag in 13th overall with another podium finish for third in the Pro Am class, which made Balfe Motorsport the new class leaders in the championship too – with two races remaining each at Monza and Catalunya to round off the season.