British GT Championship – Oulton Park
Practice Makes Perfect

Series newcomers Beechdean Motorsport arrived at its first GT test session - but unlike many teams, that test session was a race meeting, the first double-header of the season at the fantastic Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire.

Like three other GTC class teams, they came equipped with a beautifully turned out Ferrari 360 Modena race car, but unlike any other team they also came equipped with a chest freezer full of Beechdean Ice Cream. Tasty car, tasty ice cream.

NB. Andrew Howard’s Beechdean Farm first began producing ice cream in 1989 (a response to milk quotas), and now produces 2.5 million litres pa. The farm, located in the Chilterns, has Jersey and Friesian cows, but the ice cream is produced from the rich milk of the Jerseys. From a small ice cream machine and a little van – to 2.5 million litres pa…. and a racing team.

The package all came together at the 11th hour for Beechdean, so it was a big moment for team owner Andrew Howard to see his car taking to the track towards the end of Friday’s practice session. “It was brilliant to see it out there, it was the first 20 minutes the car has run for us. The whole weekend was only ever really going to be a semi-test session for us, but we’re thrilled to be on the grid.”

That remark was particularly applicable to Jonathon Coleman, who hadn’t even sat in the car until Saturday morning. It was a baptism of fire, and he had plenty to learn about the car and the team. His fifteen minute qualifying session was an understandably cautious affair as a result, a 1:56.271 placing the Ferrari last on the grid, but giving team and driver plenty of vital information to build into the learning curve. “Sometimes the car wouldn’t change gear, which was costing a couple of seconds a lap.”

Andrew Howard explained: “It takes time for a team to get to know a driver and a driver to get to know a team, so neither of us can get the most out of the other straightaway. I have absolutely no doubt about Jonathon’s class though, and he will be a driver comparable with Nigel Greensall. The car itself isn’t prepared quite as we would like it yet, but the team has pulled together brilliantly to get it ready for the road. We’re at a base level, because we haven’t even done any damper set-up work yet, and we need to do a lot of that, working closely with Avon to get all the tyre data we can too. Whilst we are thrilled to be on the grid, we are not here to make up the numbers, the car has a lot of potential and we have two excellent drivers on board, we just need time to get that potential out.”

The Modena’s aluminium V8 hadn’t even had time to cool before Nigel Greensall took to the track for his qualifying session. Jonathan had qualified for Saturday afternoon’s race one, Greensall’s session would determine the start place for race two on Bank Holiday Monday. Greensall’s experience is vast, not only in terms of racing miles completed, but also the diversity of machines he has campaigned. He is renowned for his ability to jump into any type of car – irrespective of horsepower, driven wheels, amount of downforce or engine configuration – and almost immediately get right ‘on it’, finding the very limits of his steed. Such experience will be invaluable throughout the season, but particularly in the opening rounds of the year. With a car far from perfect and without any real set-up work, Nigel Greensall still managed to qualify 16th out of 24, with a 1:49.165.

That was 11th in class and better than the time set by the more powerful GT2 class Vauxhall Monaro. “I’ve never driven a race 360 before,” grinned Greensall “but the team has done a fantastic job to get here and in terms of speed, we’re pleased to be in the right ball park. Qualifying was my first time in the car on slicks.”

“That sets Nigel up nicely for the second race, and by the time we get to Monday, we hope that, if anything, he should be making up a few places from there,” said Andrew Howard, looking forward to Monday.

Back to Saturday and it was a quiet opening first race for Jonathon Coleman as he continued to learn throughout the race, staying out of trouble and ensuring that the car was handed over to Nigel in a fit and healthy state. “I’d only had 12 laps in the car, including qualifying, before the race so it was a bit of a baptism of fire. I’ve not driven a GT car for a while, I’m used to the light prototypes, so I still need to get comfortable with the weight of the car, but it’s really promising and we know what we need to do to move the car forward.”

Once Nigel Greensall was in the seat, he put the metaphorical bit between the prancing horse’s teeth. Knowing that the car would last the distance he began to push at the limits again, straight into the 1:49s. At that kind of pace he made up ground on the Ginetta ahead, which he reeled in and despatched, also moving up a couple of places thanks to problems for others, to finish 12th in class. “I also caught and passed the Morgan [unlapping himself] and that was a pretty good indication that we have a good pace over the course of a race. I’m chuffed with the pace that we had with a car we only got on Friday.”

Andrew Howard summed it up. “Nigel was going really well during his stint, better than the other Ferrari and quite a few of the others, and all that without any real set-up work. We are quietly confident with the pace it has shown already, and the ice cream has gone down very well too!” The team will have to be careful to make sure their tasty snack doesn’t lead to problems with the power/weight ratio of the driver and car, and also problems with the mechanics squeezing underneath, but doubtless Andrew will ensure the Beechdean ice cream is enjoyed in moderation.

Feedback was flowing in every direction with that first race finish under the belt, and proof that it had paid dividends was clear to see come Monday’s warm up session. Despite only having five laps to do it, Jonathon Coleman managed a 1:53.175, a huge three seconds faster than he had managed in Saturday’s qualifying. This boded well for Beechdean, and Nigel Greensall was looking forward to making his start from the middle of the pack, in front of a bumper Bank Holiday crowd.

By lap 3, he had moved up to 14th place, despite the team not being able to eradicate the gearbox problems. He was in the 1:49s again, following in the wheeltracks of the yellow 360, both staying ahead of the GT2 class Monaro. “It was fantastic, really good, each time we run we’re getting quicker and quicker and learning the car. There is still no real brake balance, well nothing at the rear and the suspension is still too soft at the moment.”

As the pitstops began, the Beechdean car stayed out and Nigel moved up to fourth in class, giving the team an idea of what it should feel like when the new car teething troubles are all ironed out. The pace was encouraging, with a 1:48.474, it seemed Greensall had really got the best from the car in its current state.

The on-the-limit pace was punishing the car, with its far from perfect set-up and gearbox and the driver noticed “an oil pressure problem, so we topped it up during the pitstop, which cost us a bit of time. The tyres came up really quickly too, so we had to balance those off.”

With the time to carry out those jobs lost in the pits, Jonathon Coleman rejoined 18th and lost a further place to the nimble Ginetta, under braking into Old Hall. “We had a fuel pick-up problem which started about four laps into my stint then got worse. It got really bad in the last five minutes and I lost a lot of power, I just had to back right off just to bring it home. We made the chequered flag, but then it stopped round the back on the slowing-down lap. We think it might be break-up of the foam in the tank.”

Andrew Howard and his team were satisfied with two finishes with a new, base-level car. He merrily acknowledges he has a long ‘to do’ list in the run-up to the next race at Donington Park, including investigating the fuel problem, work on the gearbox, stiffening the suspension, brake balance, set-up and tyres, not to mention both drivers.

With that little lot completed, the team will have earned themselves a Flake 99, and all being well, a place right up towards the front of the GTC class.
Paul Slinger

 

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