GT Championship – Round 1 Silverstone - May 5-7
round of the 2006 FIA GT Championship was definitely a frustrating
way to start a GT1 campaign for the Spirit Motor Group-backed Balfe
After a few
trouble-free tests before Silverstone, including overcoming the
dramas at Dijon, the squad headed to its home event feeling confident
that they could put up a strong, if not front-running, show against
the rest of the GT1 grid. Unfortunately, it turned into a constant
struggle for the team from start to finish. But they did finish!
didn’t get underway as planned, as Shaun Balfe ventured out
of the pit-lane for his first GT1 lap in the series - and immediately
radioed back to the team that he thought there was a problem with
the left rear wheel, initially suspected to be a puncture.
a very slow crawl back to the pit it was found that the wheel was
loose. After much checking and double checking, with nothing broken
or wrong, a replacement was fitted and Shaun was able to go straight
back out again. ‘Human error’ on the fitting side was
thought to be the possible cause, but was looked into more closely
once the session was over.
After the 90
minute session ended, the team was more than a little disheartened
to only be 11th quickest and around four seconds away from the front-running
pace. Nobody expected to be the fastest, but to be so far away was
puzzling. Consistent understeer over the whole lap was making the
car difficult to set-up. But with another session left, changes
were made and a move up the order was the aim for Saturday morning.
was scheduled to go out first the next day and once he left the
pit-lane, he radioed in with exactly the same message Shaun had
sent the day before. He felt like he had a puncture.
crawl back to the pit and the same problem was found again, the
left rear had worked loose. The problem was looked into again when
the car came back in at the end of the session and it was found
to be a fault on the wheels. The locking pegs that are meant to
align with the hub were slightly too long, meaning that even though
the wheel was locating and tightening up past the safety locks,
there was a gap of a few milimetres left undetected. Once the car
was up to racing speeds and loads, it was causing the wheel to move
where it shouldn’t and work loose.
would have been found in testing before the weekend, but with the
problems the team encountered at Dijon, it never got the chance
to run all of its new rims: but they didn’t expect a problem,
no team would.
it put the team on the back foot throughout the first part of the
weekend. And, as David and Shaun Balfe pointed out, at this level
of racing, once that happens, you’re forever going to struggle
over the weekend.
The wet qualifying
session looked like it might be the saving grace for the team. Jamie
Derbyshire and Shaun Balfe got their heads together and after he’d
been building himself up as a Silverstone specialist – especially
if it was wet – they emerged from the back of the transporter
with grins on their faces and said Neil Cunningham had been assigned
the duty of qualifying!
reaction? “Bloody hell, its proper wet out there now, isn’t
though, the car was a handful, the problem seemingly worse in the
wet, the Saleen ending up 14th fastest.
With all three
drivers still struggling with the handling of the car, some major
changes were made to the set-up overnight, with just the warm-up
left to see if they made a difference to the handling. The team’s
poor luck continued though, with the warm up being wet, it was hard
to tell if the changes had made a real improvement. The aim of bringing
the car home for a finish looked like the team’s best hope,
working their way up through the field as the three hour event wore
Shaun was down
to start the car and was lucky not to be caught up in the Race Alliance
squabble as they crossed the line when the lights went green. He
kept himself out of trouble and, after starting on wets, pitted
early for slicks. He radioed to say that the car definitely felt
a little better once it was onto dry tyres, but the problems hadn’t
gone away totally - but it was more comfortable than it had been
earlier in the weekend.
took over for the middle section of the race. Again, he kept himself
out of trouble and stayed consistent, giving himself and the team
the best chance of bringing the car home.
took over with just over 40 minutes of the race left to run and
as the track became fully dry rather than just a dry-line, he made
a handful of moves up the order, past the GT2 cars, to bring the
car across the line in 12th place, ninth in the GT1 class.
The aim of taking
the chequered flag had been accomplished. But it was a frustrating
and unsatisfactory way of completing the weekend for the team and
drivers. There is a lot of work planned before the next round at
Brno, where it hopes that it can move further up the timesheets
and make a bigger impact on the GT1 grid.
The Balfe Motorsport team will head to the next round of the FIA
GT Championship in Brno returning to the successful 2005 driver
line-up of Shaun Balfe and Jamie Derbyshire.
After careful consideration after the opening round
of the series at Silverstone just over a week ago, the squad has
decided that the best way forward in the shorter three-hour races
on the calendar is to concentrate on the original pairing.
The sprint format of the regular races on the FIA
GT calendar, excluding the Spa 24 Hours, lends itself to a two driver
team. The squad has taken the step to revert back to Balfe and Derbyshire
sharing the seat in the Saleen S7R from the next round of the series
The team is
still finalizing its plans on the line up for the Spa event, with
details to be confirmed sometime after round three of the series
at Oschersleben in Germany in early July.