Balfe Motorsport team take three caars to Spa Francorchamps
The Balfe Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 of Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell once again showed its pace as the British GT Championship made its seasonal away trip to Spa Francorchamps.
It was a busy weekend for the Fulbeck-based team, with three cars to prepare again.
After the two free practice sessions, the threatened rain arrived before qualifying, which left Balfe to face the first session on wet tyres.
The drivers only managed three laps in the short session, which left Balfe 10th quickest of the GT3 Am cars. “I had a bit of an electrical problem and a brake issue,” said the Caythorpe driver.
Bell was ninth best in the Pro session as the track had started to dry.
Graham Johnson was 18th overall and fifth in the GT4 Pro Am class. Mia Flewitt was only fractionally behind but quickest of the full Am class. Michael O’Brien just missed out on the top 10 in his GT4 Pro session.
Having had a dry morning warm-up, the cars lined up for the two hour race, with Balfe on row six and keen to make early progress.
“It was a fairly clean start and I had two options into the La Source hairpin at the start, I opted for left and played it safe,” he said after plunging down to Eau Rouge in 12th place.
He had already made three places on the opening lap and was poised to challenge Rick Parfitt’s Bentley for eighth.
Having successfully ousted Parfitt into La Source, Richard Neary’s Mercedes and Adam Balon’s Lamborghini were both caught and passed on lap three, which left Michael Igoe’s Lamborghini as the next target, for an amazing fifth and only three laps into the two hour duration.
Igoe had managed to escape with the rest of the top five, but with a clear track Balfe had him in his sights by the end of lap seven.
“We went side by side into Eau Rouge and had compromised each other, so as we lost momentum Rick got past us both,” Balfe explained.
Having finally seen off Igoe, Graham Davidson’s Aston Martin was the next target, but after 12 laps the gap to the fourth-placed man was still 12.9sec.
With Ian Loggie spinning his Mercedes, both Davidson and Balfe moved up, holding station until the pitstops, with Balfe handing to Bell in a strong fourth. “The car had felt really good though,” Balfe confirmed.
With all the stops completed, Bell was in fourth behind the Wilkinson/Ellis Aston Martin, Ratcliffe/Geddie Bentley and Davidson/Adam Aston Martin, until Adam was given a stop-go penalty.
The gap to Geddie’s second place was 17sec, but Bell was lapping up to two seconds a lap quicker. With 15 minutes left on the clock, the gap was down to 2.236sec and only 10sec off Ellis’s lead.
Into La Source for the 45th time, he was right on Geddie’s tail, before the Bentley powered away to Eau Rouge. But as Bell harassed Geddie intensely, Callum Macleod’s Mercedes caught them.
Two laps later, Bell tried the outside at La Source and for a brief moment appeared to have succeeded in his quest for second. But then came the magnificent sight of Bell, Geddie and Macleod running three abreast to Eau Rouge.
“I thought I had it and then where did Macleod come from? I had Geddie but had to back out as I was on the wrong line, then he repassed,” Bell explained, as he was back to fourth again.
Macleod had got clear, but Bell was still fighting Geddie for the final podium place. “I thought last corner, last lap, so just slung it up the inside,” he said.
But Geddie had it covered, there was contact and Bell spun on oil that he was unaware of. So it was a hard fought fourth, but magnificent finale.
In the GT4s, both Johnson and Flewitt both found their early progress thwarted by “wide cars”.
“I had a wide McLaren in front of me, over defending, then once I got by I could make progress,” Johnson explained.
“I could see Graham too, but was stuck behind a Mustang before I could move up,” Flewitt added.
With O’Brien in for Johnson, his pace quickly started to take him through the GT4 order. “The car felt really good from the start of my stint, but the tyres started to drop off towards the end and made it a little more difficult,” he explained after taking the Pro Am victory by over a lap and finishing fourth best GT4 overall.
Proctor also kept it tidy for his final stint of the year in the championship and he and Flewitt were rewarded with the Am class victory.