SMITH & PLOWMAN’S PORTIMÃO PACE GOES UNREWARDED AT PORTIMAO
It was a tale of what could have been for Martin Plowman & Mark Smith in round seven of the Intelligent Money British GT Championship at Portimão last weekend (22/23 July), with the team denied a strong finish by a collision despite a mighty effort in the Algarve.
Martin Plowman and Mark Smith impressed aboard their McLaren 720S GT3 Evo for much of a chaotic three-hour Sunday race. Despite being well in the fight, they saw a certain top-six finish fall out of their hands after being forced to make an extra stop to repair a damaged wheel, which dropped them back to ninth in class. The GT3 pairing pushed hard in their two 10-minute qualifying bursts, American driver Smith ran first and lapped just over a second off the ultimate best, before the experienced Plowman wrung the neck of the McLaren to go just 0.9s from the fastest time overall, putting the #11 car a combined 10th in the Pro-Am class for Sunday’s three-hour endurance contest. A brave start from Smith took him forward four places thanks to a fantastic dive around the outside of several GT3 rivals in the opening three corners, and the team was instantly challenged on strategy when an early safety car period brought smith in for the first driver change after only 10 minutes. Unfortunately, a second – and much longer – safety car period was instigated after the teams GT4 retired on track with a broken exhaust. Smith climbed back aboard the #11 car and when the race got back underway, he was well in the fight during a dramatic second hour. Smith fought his way up to fifth, before the team’s strategy was spoiled when Smith attempted to pass the Drivetac Mercedes for fourth but was sideswiped while doing so, with the contact breaking the left-rear wheel. Smith had to crawl back to the pits to switch with Plowman, but the repairs meant the team would serve four pit stops rather than the scheduled three. A third safety car helped Plowman back to seventh, and he’d then make it sixth after a fine pass on Chris Froggatt’s McLaren at the Torre Vip hairpin. However, a final stop for fuel in the final 25 minutes was still required. Smith returned to the wheel to bring the car home, taking an unrepresentative ninth in Pro-Am at the end of three hours of hard racing. It did at least keep up Smith and Plowman’s record of scoring GT3 Pro-Am points in every race so far this year. Paddock did take home one trophy from Portimão though, having been named British GT’s Team of the Weekend. Martin Plowman: “It’s just heartbreaking really, and we don’t know what we have to do to break this curse that seems to be on us. We were on for a top five, I think, maybe even a podium as Mark was showing great pace and moving forward. We had a good set-up, but to be taken out by another driver – you can’t control that. We move on, but we were looking very quick over the longer runs. If we can get qualifying right, then it will make our lives a lot easier as on Sundays the car comes alive. Mark Smith: “It was a bit brutal! We battled up to that lead pack and were doing well with pace, but then when fighting for two laps I think the Drivetac car got frustrated and as I was passing it hit me and damaged our left-rear wheel, which flattened the tyre as well. It was hard bringing it back to the pits, we got back to the lead lap and if we had another safety car, I think we could have ended up sixth. I felt like in the pack I was chasing we were the fastest around them; they were looking for a way around, but I was faster than at least two others ahead, but unfortunately we were not able to get the chance to take advantage.” The British GT Championship heads into its summer break now before returning to the UK for a two-hour event at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit over 9/10 September.