Testing return for Fulbeck driver Shaun Balfe in British GT curtain-raiser

The Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 came through early season teething problems at Oulton Park EMN-180604-093559002
The Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 came through early season teething problems at Oulton Park EMN-180604-093559002

It started wet and just got wetter at Oulton Park as Fulbeck driver Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell returned to the British GT Championship.

Friday’s practice sessions had appeared trouble-free and when qualifying started on Saturday afternoon, it was soon evident there was a problem with the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3.

And at the end of the GT3 AM qualifying Balfe was last of the 13-car class.

Balfe said: “When we had finished on Friday, everything seemed OK. The telemetry and systems checks were OK, but I had a feeling we had lost something engine-wise.

“We were 7mph down on the pit straight and just no power, but we hadn’t had an engine problems for over 18 months.”

Bell found the same problem in his stint and also qualified slowest of the class, but the crew set to work to diagnose the problem on Sunday’s rest day before Monday’s double-header.

But then the weather gave the drivers more pause for thought, and although the rain had briefly stopped when the grid lined up for race one, the track was still treacherously wet.

Balfe was the start driver, but for safety reasons the first four laps were behind the safety car, with Balfe running 12th on the road.

From the green flag he quickly made two places after two of the Aston Martins spun, and soon latched onto a four-car battle for sixth.

Balfe had been one of the earlier stoppers and once the driver changes had been completed, Bell was in eighth, sandwiched between Callum Macleod’s Bentley and Maxime Martin’s Aston Martin.

He had to keep an eye on Martin’s challenge until Martin spun, too, on lap 25, but despite Bell’s late charge, he was still 0.548secs shy of

Macleod’s seventh place.

It was Bell’s turn to start for race two, but after four laps behind the safety car the race was red-flagged and abandoned due heavy rain.

Balfe added: “It’s the wrong time of year to try and race like this, there was no visibility and the track temperature was way down.

“It was very frustrating but the right decision.

The Lincolnshire team are also running a GT4 McLaren this year for Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.

Johnson started the race, before handing to Robinson, who brought it home 17th overall and second in the GT4 Pro Am class.

Robinson said: “The wet seemed to suit us quite well. I was chasing Jordan Albert’s McLaren, but managed to get by following a GT3 car when it lapped him, but then Joe Osborne caught me caught me.

“I think his tyres had gone, though, as he backed off a little near the end.”

The next round of the championship is at Rockingham on April 28 and 29.