Balfe Motorsport experiences highs and lows at Silverstone 500

Balfe Motorsport had a weekend of misfortune, with some positivity, at the third round of the British GT Championship season – the Silverstone 500 – last weekend (June 8/9), despite a three-car effort for its McLaren 720S GT3 and pair of McLaren 570S GT4 machines.

It was a ‘what could have been’ event for GT3 duo Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell after a podium finish, a UK first for the 720S, last time out at Snetterton. They would suffer pit-stop dramas whilst leading the race, costing the pair a possible victory, while bad luck befell the full-season GT4 entry of Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien, though it was a solid British GT debut for the Am pairing of Mia Flewitt and Stewart Proctor.

Starting the 500km race from the second row on the grid, Shaun immediately created a 5.6s advantage to fourth place and made his way into second position before handing over to Rob. The McLaren Factory driver quickly became part of an intense battle for the lead, taking the position ahead of the second pit-stop where Shaun re-joined the track narrowly ahead of Ian Loggie. 

Approaching the final hour of the three-hour contest, the door of the race-leading 720S GT3 refused to shut during the last scheduled stop. Losing positions while the team battled to fix the problem, it was compounded when the car received a stop-go penalty due to refuelling with the door open, costing even more places on track, with the duo eventually classified 11th.

In GT4, Graham had an impressive opening stint, coming in for the first driver change in second position in the Pro-Am class. A pre-race mandated change in refuelling procedures created a setback for the team however, and left Michael needing to fight his way back through the field with Graham’s hard work lost. The team-mates kept out of trouble throughout the afternoon to bring the car home fifth in class. 

Championship newcomers Mia and Stewart showcased their 570S GT4 with competitive pace throughout the weekend. A controlled first stint from Stewart meant Mia was able to jump in and focus on passing competitors, which she did superbly, running 16th in GT4. Stewart maintained the strong pace before Mia took the final part of the contest, bringing the car home first in GT4 Am and 22nd overall.

Shaun Balfe
“Due to all the wet weather we weren’t able to work on the setup of the car from Snetterton, so we had to start qualifying with what we had, which wasn’t bad. The baseline set up we are working with is pretty good, but we know we can do better, and we are keen to show that as soon as possible.

“We were clearly challenging for the podium. When you consider it’s an expensive car with lots of things that could go wrong and it was a bit of debris that stopped the door from shutting during the pit-stop: there are no words to describe the frustration. The next round is my home race, although we’ve not been to Donington with the 720S GT3, so it will be another learning curve.”

Rob Bell
“We were quite happy with qualifying; obviously third is a good result. I’m not sure we have the ultimate pace in the car yet, but we can work on that and I think a lot of that is due to the fact it’s a new car. The race was a tale of two halves really. Shaun did a great job in the first stint and mine was pretty clean with no dramas, we both had the pace and we were leading with an hour to go before everything started to unravel. It’s a really unlucky thing. What looks to be a huge lump of rubber has gathered itself in a space that then restricted the door from shutting and if you can’t shut the door you can’t go anywhere!

“Messing around with the door for 40 seconds or so cost us a lot and we had a little drama at the end so actually we dropped back again, but really it was the third pit stop that cost us. It’s frustrating, disappointing, all of those things, because we would have been on the podium. Having said that, the weekend has given us confidence and the car is getting better.” 

Graham Johnson
“Qualifying was ok, I was quicker than some of the talented young McLaren drivers, so I have to be pleased from that point of view. I know Michael was a little bit disappointed, but I think he was being hard on himself because he did a good job. I don’t think we had a good BOP [balance of power] here, but we’ll benefit somewhere else.

“The race is definitely a ‘what could have been.’ We certainly could have been on the podium. It’s frustrating, but it is what it is, and we’ll come back fighting at Donington. I love it there, it’s my favourite circuit and where we won the Championship last year, so hopefully we can have a strong weekend.”

Michael O’Brien 
“Friday and Saturday were good leading up to qualifying. We were quick in the wet as far as we could tell, as everyone was doing different things at different times but, overall, we were encouraged by that. Qualifying didn’t go quite to plan, and we’ve been struggling with that all year, but we were there or thereabout and in a good position for the race.

“In the race we did well, Graham had a good stint, but then the problem in the pits held us back and it was an uphill battle from there. Donington should suit our car and both Graham and I like the circuit, so fingers crossed we get the result we deserve.”

Mia Flewitt
“I was getting into the hang of the wet driving by the time it went dry so then it was trying to get the hang of the dry conditions, but I felt comfortable in the wet. I overdrove slightly in qualifying, the car wasn’t set up exactly how we wanted it, so I didn’t feel one hundred per cent confident, but it was still a good experience. It was a great learning curve, it’s only a ten-minute session so there’s a lot to learn in a short period of time.

“I really enjoyed the race; I had a smile on my face the whole time even when I got hit three times and spun around. I can’t wait for Donington now; I’ve raced there with historic cars but not in the McLaren 570S GT4.”

Stewart Proctor
“Friday was wet, and Saturday was even wetter – I needed wellington boots, not slick tyres. so that was a lot to take in. In qualifying, we went straight out and had to get a time on the first lap. I learnt a lot on that though and felt like we’ve learnt a lot, on the whole, this weekend. We didn’t have any real mishaps, didn’t spoil anyone else’s race, and we were pretty consistent with our times, so we can build on that for the next round of the championship at Donington Park.” 

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