TF Sport returned to winning ways in Round 6 of the 2016 Pirelli British GT Championship at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, except this time it was Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes who took the spoils in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest (8-9 July).
Farmer and Barnes have been lurking as a distant threat for the podium since the very beginning of the season and stringing together an error-free weekend ultimately made the difference between points and a victory.
The TF Sport teammates finally showed their true pace when they set the third fastest combined time in a closely-fought, rain-affected qualifying on Friday (8 July) to start Saturday’s (9 July) race as the lead Aston Martin, with a real shot at the big prize.
Five different manufacturers qualified in the top five positions and title contenders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam could be found out of position in seventh, relieved to have made qualifying after a heavy free practice shunt caused severe front-end damage.
It was during FP1 that Johnston struck an oil slick left over from a European GT4 runner and nosed into the barriers at the end of the Kemmel Straight and a prodigious rebuild by TF Sport’s mechanics ensured the #17 entry could partake in qualifying and secure a respectable grid position.
Adam, who won on his previous British GT outing at Spa in 2015, rewarded TF Sport’s hard work by setting the third fastest Pro time, but it would be difficult for the Scot and his Am teammate to improve in the race.
Spa is known as a circuit that rewards the brave and this was evidenced when former motorcycle racer Farmer snatched the initiative as the field converged on the La Source hairpin, with Johnston gaining two positions to sit in P5.
The gaps fluctuated and Farmer worked the traffic well to extend his advantage to as much as 3.6s, but he fell to third position just prior to the compulsory driver-changes, where he and Johnston were switched for their Pro co-drivers.
Barnes made hay during the opening laps of his stint in the #11 entry and the lead was soon back in TF Sport’s hands, although Adam in the #17 Aston Martin was mid-pack and unable to make inroads on the top six with bent steering.
Out front, the resurgent Bentley of Seb Morris was a prominent threat for the win, but Barnes deployed all of his speed and guile in a smart and calculated drive, managing lapped traffic perfectly to keep his fellow countryman at arm’s length and achieve his first victory in eight years.
“Last year was my first season back in British GT since 2008 and I have to thank Mark (Farmer) for keeping me in the car as his driver coach,” said Barnes. “It is fantastic to return to the top step for the first time in eight years; I knew we could do it by avoiding crashes in free practice and keeping it clean in qualifying, and we have shown what we can achieve when we do that.
“Mark read the start really well, keeping an eye on his mirrors and spotting what was unfolding in front of him, and he drove a very sensible and fast stint. Taking the lead early was instrumental in the outcome of the race and it was then about making your way through the traffic as efficiently as possible. It was particularly important to take every opportunity with the Bentley on my tail, but I understand how Seb (Morris) deals with lapped cars and what I need to do to keep him at bay.”
Farmer added: “Winning today at Spa is very rewarding. We have always had the pace and just needed to string everything together, but to achieve a victory is just epic! I was presented with an opportunity when the leading two came together at Turn 1 and I made the most of that, then I managed the gap, which was ultimately decimated by a yellow flag and traffic. The whole race was about traffic management and I think we excelled at that.”
TF Sport Director, Tom Ferrier, said: “It’s brilliant that Mark (Farmer) and Jon (Barnes) have come away with a win. I thought they had a podium within them this weekend, but they drove exceptionally well – Mark hasn’t done much leading at this level before and to control the race as well as he did is remarkable. Jon did an incredible job to keep Seb Morris behind when the Bentley had been so much quicker. I couldn’t praise them enough.
“Derek (Johnston) and Jonny (Adam), meanwhile, recovered well from a tough start to the weekend. The crash in free practice and a tricky qualifying meant they were on the back foot in P7, then contact with a GT4 car knocked the steering out of alignment, so it was going to be difficult to better a seventh place. However, we could have been going home after the crash in FP1, so full credit to the TF Sport boys.”