Balfe Motorsport ended the 2019 British GT Championship in the best way possible by taking a dominant overall victory at Donington Park, giving the McLaren 720S GT3 its first UK success.
Drivers Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell scored an emphatic pole position on Saturday by six-tenths of a second and two hours of clean and consistent racing was the final piece of the puzzle.
Not only did the duo take a victory they have been working towards all season, but, pending any late judicial decisions, also secure third place in the championship, a fantastic achievement after pulling out of the first two races at Oulton Park in April.
A sterling stint from Shaun meant he built a huge 25-second gap to his nearest rivals, which was more than enough to negate the 15-second success penalty the pair had for their podium at Brands Hatch last time out.
When Rob took over after the first hour, he simply needed to deliver a consistent and clean drive, which he duly delivered. A late Safety Car eradicated his lead, but he was undeterred, fending off the late attentions of Callum McLeod to take a well-earned victory, the first for Balfe Motorsport in the British GT Championship since 2003.
The team’s success wouldn’t end there as Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien also scored a visit to the podium with third place in GT4 Pro-Am with their McLaren 570S GT4.
Graham started the race from third in class and was embroiled in a tight battle for much of his stint. However, he kept his nose clean and made up several positions before handing the car to Michael, who brought it home for the pair’s fifth podium of the season.
That result also secured second place in the GT4 Pro-Am championship standings for Graham and Michael, an indication of their speed throughout the season, with a little bad luck leaving them just short of the title.
Balfe Motorsport aims to return to racing in 2020, with plans to be confirmed in due course.
“It feels really good. We’ve been knocking on the door for a few rounds now and today the racing gods decided that we should win! I’m over the moon for the team, what a way to end the season.
“The car was strong; we knew it was. The thing is that the other guys all needed to finish whereas our attitude was ‘we’re here to win.’ Whatever happened in the championship, happened. I think there was maybe a bit of cautiousness from others and just flat out from us!
“It’s really good to deliver the first McLaren 720S GT3 win in British GT, that’ll go in the history books. It gives us lots to think about over the winter.”
“We just hung on in there, it’s a tough series and we did a bit of thinking over the past couple of weeks. We came up with a few things and it paid off, so it’s down to a bit of hard graft.
“Shaun did a great job to overcome the pitstop penalty and then it was really just about cruising home until the Safety Car made it exciting, though not for me! But there we are, we brought it home and we’re delighted.
“The end was a bit funny because I had Phil Keen behind. I was quite happy he was there because he was a buffer to the Mercedes behind. I was never that worried about him to be honest.”
“It was good and bad. It was nice to be the first GT4 McLaren home, but I think the BoP wasn’t in the McLaren’s favour this weekend. You get good weekends and bad weekends and I’ve been around long enough to know that sometimes, you get your break.
“Both Michael and I had really good pace and I’m pleased to be the first McLaren home and I think that means more to me than the rest. It was a nice, clean race and the team did a great job.
“For me, it was all about keeping pace with the DDP (McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme) car and I was able to match and beat them and that’s all I really focused on. That’s because, whilst I was able to overtake some of the other cars, that was more attrition than anything.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the season. I’ve been working with lovely people; the Balfe family are lovely and the team they’ve put together is superb. I absolutely adore Michael and obviously Jeff our engineer and Johnny are just great and, for me, it’s as enjoyable to come to the circuit and spend time with people I regard now as my mates as it is to go racing as well and I think that’s quite a special environment.”
“I’m disappointed to miss out on the championship again, but we were second in the points and on the podium. It’s great to see the GT3 get its first win though.
“Although the BoP wasn’t with us this weekend, especially at the end of the race, we had better pace than the cars in front but even if we had got past them, they were pretty determined to keep us behind. If we had got them, championship wise, I don’t think it would have made any difference.
“The year was a bit up and down but, with this team, it’s been mega. I’ve really enjoyed the year overall.”