20 August 2008

Jon Barnes and James Gornall, the newly crowned Avon Tyres British GT Champions endured a disappointing penultimate race weekend of the 2008 season at Silverstone in Northamptonshire.

The weekend didn't begin as the drivers had planned, after a late decision by Brookspeed Team Trimite to skip the Friday test day at the circuit. With the British GT Team's Championship still up for grabs, both drivers were left feeling concerned about the lack of running that they would get in the Viper at Silverstone prior to the crucial single 2 hour long race scheduled for Sunday afternoon.

Jon had not driven around Silverstone since early 2004 in the Caterham R400 Challenge, so he took the wheel of the Dodge Viper for the start of Saturday morning's 75 minute free practice session. After 3 laps Jon had set the 3rd fastest time, but on the next lap he reported over the radio that the car needed some major chassis set-up adjustments and that engine seemed to have a faint misfire, feeling 'flat' at high RPM's. Jon made his way back to the pits and the team set about making the requested changes to the anti-roll bars and rear wing, as well as changing the spark plugs on the mighty 8.3 litre V10 engine in an attempt to cure the misfire problem.

Jon was sent back out onto the circuit and although the car set up was now much improved, the engine problem seemed to be worsening, with Jon reporting on his third lap that he was coming into the pits as he was struggling to keep up with the other cars on the straights. As he slowed through the final few corners of the lap, Jon noticed whisps of smoke coming from the vents in the bonnet, switching the engine off as soon as he had enough momentum to coast the car back to the team in the pitlane to prevent any further engine damage.

When back in the pits, the team decided to strap James into the car and fire the engine back up to again try to diagnose the engine problem. Although smoke was seen to be coming from the engine oil breather bottle, the engine still seemed to be running normally, so the team sent James out onto the circuit. However, James came straight back to the pits with the engine making vicious knocking and grinding noises. It was clear that there was now a terminal engine problem and a replacement would have to be found to allow the team to take any further part in the race weekend.

As has been the case many times this season, it was Robin Mortimer and Team RPM that came to the rescue, allowing Brookspeed Team Trimite to rent the engine from the spare Team RPM car. Despite the best efforts of the Brookspeed and Team RPM mechanics, the engine change was not completed until late on Saturday evening, meaning that Jon and James had missed the 30 minute qualifying session and would have to start Sunday's 2-hour long race from the back of the grid.

Sunday arrived warm and sunny and James took to the wheel of the Team Trimite Viper to take part in the 10 minute warm up session. James reported that the replacement engine and car setup both felt fine on his way to setting the 6th fastest time of the session.

The team and both drivers agreed that James should take the wheel of the Viper for the first hour long stint of the race, due to James's experience of racing against the other 'B' grade drivers this season.

James left the Brookspeed garage and made his way round the circuit to take up his position at the back of the grid. Just as James got to his grid slot, the engine made a high pitched noise and then began to idle much higher than normal. The team whipped the bonnet straight off the car to investigate the problem, finding a split rubber vacuum blank on the inlet manifold. This was causing air to be drawn into the engine when the throttle was closed, causing the high engine idle. Unfortunately the team did not have sufficent time to replace the part on the grid and so James was forced to start the race with the problem.

James made a good start to the race, passing all of the GT4-class cars as he made his way around Woodcote and across the start/finish line. James avoided the inevitable first lap collisions in front of him and as he crossed the line to start his second lap, he was already up into an astonishing 6th position!

After 14 minutes of the race had been completed, James was up into second position and challenging Craig Wilkins in the ABG Motorsport Dodge Viper for the race lead. Despite his excellent progress through the field, James had been struggling to get the Viper slowed down for the corners due to the high engine idle affecting the car's braking ability. James was lining up to overtake the leader, but disaster struck as the pair made their way through Priory and into Brooklands corner, with James crashing into the back of Wilkins. Although there was no major damage to the ABG Viper, the Team Trimite car had sustained heavy front right damage and tyre smoke was seen trailing from car as James made his way across the start/finish line.

James came into the pits on the next lap to have the bodywork damage repaired and the right front tyre changed. The Brookspeed mechanics did a great job to get the car back out onto the circuit without losing a lap to the race leader. James drove hard for the next 29 laps, consistantly lapping almost a second faster than the race leaders, as he made his way back up into the top five before bringing the car into the pits for the scheduled stop to refuel, change tyres and hand over to Jon.

The driver change and refuelling took place without fault. However, as the team began to change the front left tyre, vital time was lost when the Nitrogen bottles which operate the air jacks on the car had not been turned on. While the tyre change was taking place, the rest of the team removed the bonnet in an attempt to fit a new vacuum blank to the intake manifold to cure the idle and braking problems that James had suffered. The new rubber blank was fitted very quickly, but the bonnet would not fit back onto the car properly due to the damage sustained to the front of the car in the earlier collision. Valuable time was being wasted and in the frantic seconds that it took to refit the bonnet, one of the mechanics accidentally punched the emergency fire extinguisher button, situated in front of the Viper's windscreen.

With all of the car's fire supression system now empty, the Championship scrutineers would not allow the Team Trimite car back out onto the circuit - forcing the immediate retirement of the car.

Jon was very disappointed not to have completed a single lap of the circuit in anger over the course of the weekend but looked forward to the 6 week break before the final race of the season at Donington Park.

Jon Barnes is proud to be supported this season by Technart Printers, Headliners Hair Salon, Attley's Roofing, Shredding For Bedding, Warefence, Benchmark Cleaning Services LTD, LA Fitness and Arai Helmets.

The Avon Tyres British GT Championship races are shown in half-hour programmes on Channel 4 Television and in hour-long programmes on MotorsTV. Please check Jon's website for up-to-date broadcast information.

For more information visit Jon's website at www.jonbarnes.com or view the Official British GT Championship website at www.britishgt.com


Jon Barnes Racing 2023