Following a long winter of pre-season preparation and testing, the Tolman Motorsport crew headed to Oulton Park for the opening round of the 2018 British GT Championship. “It’s been an incredibly tough journey and hard work going from one car to three, and being given the opportunity to run the cars for the McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme is fantastic” Chris Tolman said. “We’re no longer a small race team!”
The Tolman trio completed their testing and free practice sessions on the Friday and Saturday in typically-British weather, which set the drivers up well for the varying track conditions throughout qualifying and the race.
Race positions for the majority of the British GT season are decided on the combined qualifying times from the driver pairings. However, for the two by one-hour race weekend format, O’Brien, Pattison and Proctor’s fastest time set their position for race one, with Fagg, Osborne and Albert’s times determining race two’s starting spot.
With the GT4 grid the largest it has ever been in British GT and Oulton Park being a difficult circuit to overtake on, due to its narrow nature, it was going to be crucial to qualify as close to the sharp end as possible.
O’Brien took to his first ever GT qualifying session like a duck to water, placing the #4 McLaren P2 overall and his teammate Fagg posted a time good enough for P3 in the Silver class for race two. “We had a pretty good quali session” Charlie commented, “I lost a couple of tenths in the last corner, but I cracked on and qualified third which gave me a lot of confidence for the race.”
Proctor managed to place the #5 570S in sixth for the first race. “Qualifying went really well. I did the best lap I’ve ever done around Oulton Park in the dry, so I was chuffed with that” Lewis said. “I wasn’t using the best of the tyres, so there’s still a lot of potential there that I’ll bring to the next round.” Qualifying P8 in class for race two, Albert admitted to struggling with his run, “it was a tough session for me as everyone was really close. I didn’t fully maximise my tyres, so we weren’t as high up as we should have been and that was disappointing.”
Pattison and Osborne were both slightly disappointed with their qualifying sessions. David who qualified P7 in Pro Am felt he left some time on the track and Joe placed the #56 McLaren P5 in class for the second race.
As predicted leading up to the weekend, the race was declared wet and the event officials made the decision to start under safety car conditions. This only lasted for a couple of laps before the British GT field were allowed to be let loose on the International circuit.
A superb charge by the three starting drivers saw them all move up the pack within the first few laps and hold their ground before handing over to their teammates at the half way mark. After a storming stint, overtaking five of his competitors including some Silver graded drivers, Pattison was the first of the three to pit and hand over to newly appointed Factory Driver Osborne, who, in his usual style, then continued the progression of the #56 McLaren.
The McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme young guns all made very impressive debuts in the Tolman Motorsport McLarens, with Fagg crossing the line P2 overall and the first Silver class driver in #4, and Albert bringing the #5 570S home P3 in class and sixth overall.
Race two was, again, started under safety car conditions and shortly red flagged as Oulton Park quickly turned from a race track into a river. Due to the large amount of standing water around the Cheshire circuit, the event officials not only abandoned the second British GT race, but the rest of the meeting. Discussions as to whether any points will be awarded for race two are ongoing.
The team now look forward to round two at Rockingham Motor Speedway on the 28th and 29th of April, where they will compete in the first two-hour race of the year.
Quotes:Christopher Tolman Team Manager – “I don’t think there’s a single member of the team who hasn’t performed faultlessly. I know it’s corny, but the key word is ‘team’. Everybody has pulled together. Michael O’Brien is used to racing old single seaters and he’s just finished on the second step on the British GT podium of his first ever GT race, in the wet, on the biggest GT4 grid, ever! It’s brilliant! I’m not just singling Michael out, all of our drivers have done an incredible job. David’s overtaking was mega and Joe’s race pace was superb as always.”
David Pattison #56 – “The wet is always a bit of a lottery and it worked for us. We started 15th and ended up fifth overall, started seventh in Pro Am and finished third and I did play a part. I found us five places and I’m very pleased with that. Despite having a fear about driving in the wet, I actually really enjoyed it. That’s a step forward which is nice and it doesn’t hold the same the fears for me for next time.”
Joe Osborne #56 – “The weekend was positive on the whole. We struggled a bit more in qualifying than we have previously, so that’s something we need to look at. David did a great job in the wet considering how much other Ams struggled! The car was good and I made up a few places during my stint, but then the track dried up and we seemed to work our tyres a little bit too much.”
Michael O’Brien #4 – “Qualifying was good, second place for race one and that’s where we finished. Which was great. Slightly disappointed that I couldn’t get past for the lead, as I was behind him the whole way. It’s tricky to overtake at Oulton Park as it’s such a narrow circuit. I’ve learned a lot; it’s been a weekend of firsts! The warm up session, the driver change pit stop. I’m looking forward to going again now. The Tolman team are incredible, it’s so well organised. There’s always someone there if you need help or advice for anything. The support from both Tolman and McLaren is second to none, I couldn’t be happier!”
Charlie Fagg #4 – “I couldn’t ask for too much more from race one. Mikey had a fantastic start and his pace was really good. When I got in the car at the half way point, I felt super comfortable straight away. I came out of the pits behind the HHC Ginetta and Century BMW, but managed to pass them both. My stint was pretty clean. The team were faultless all weekend; we didn’t have any problems with the car. As first weekends go with a new team, a three car team, it all went perfectly.”
Lewis Proctor #5 – “There was always going to be lots of pressure and nerves from me coming into this weekend, as it was a big step up coming into this championship. I’m in the best position possible with this team. We’ve got Joe the factory driver and the other five drivers constantly backing each other up. Starting the race was totally different. The weather was monsoon like! The nerves built up a little before the race, but I got into a groove throughout my stint. Towards the end I was feeling more comfortable and then I handed it over to the trusty Jordan, who did a really good job.”
Jordan Albert #5 – “The last time I was racing in British GT was two years ago in GT4, but this year it feels a lot less intense. I’m fully relaxed and everyone’s positive energy is really useful. Lewis did a really good job in his first stint, especially considering his experience. The McLaren is so well balanced and you don’t feel too on edge and by the end of my stint I was as quick as the front runners. I’ve got a few areas to work on with my coach Danny, to get even more comfortable with the car and to practice maximising new tyre runs.”
Image credits: McLaren Automotive