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November 9, 2016

Winning the International GT Open with Kessel Ferrari

From everything I’ve heard and read, Barcelona is meant to warm but the moment I got off the plane I regretted packing only one jersey. It was quite a long journey too, from Cape Town to my hotel took close to 28 hours and by the time I got there I was exhausted.

Luckily from there, the only way was up.

Unlike previous races, I was not in Spain to compete in a Blancpain GT event. With those championships now over there was only one more European GT3 race left on the calendar, the final round of the International GT Open, which follows similar rules to the Blancpain Sprint series but is run on different tyres and has slightly longer races.

As usual I’d never driven around Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya before – in real life at least – and couldn’t wait to get a taste of it. Free practice 1 went well and by the end of it we were P1 in class and 8th overall. In Free practice 2, which ran into the night, we also ended up quickest in class and in the top 10. It was a great way to start the weekend!

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Race 1

Saturday’s schedule included Qualifying and Race 1. My co-driver, The Doc aka Stephen Earle, was elected to start the race so he was responsible for qualifying and did a great job putting us P4 in class.

He then got an even better start and after the first lap was already up to second place. By the time I took over though, we’d dropped back a bit and were lying P3 and about 20 seconds behind the leader. I had 40 minutes to make up the gap and at one point I didn’t think that was possible.

But I put my head down and with a constant feed of information from my race engineer, Pietro, I closed the gap by up to 3 seconds per lap and eventually grabbed the lead into the tight 2nd gear turn 5 with about 8 minutes of the race to spare.

By the time I crossed the finish line in First Place I’d turned our 20 second deficit into a 15 second lead. Lap times were equal to that of the Pro boys too. Myself, The Doc and the whole team were incredibly proud. Standing on top of the podium felt great but no champagne would be sprayed as we still had to do it all again the following day.

Race 2

Oh how close we were. Qualifying was on a drying track and since I was starting the race, it was my turn to qualify the car. Things were going well, we were consistently in the top 3 throughout the session and on my final lap I grabbed pole position, only to lose it to another opponent as the chequered flag fell.

My start was better and before the end of the first lap we were leading our class and P11 overall. Because we’d won the day before we had to serve a 10 second time penalty during our pit stop, so I had to push like crazy to build up a big enough cushion for The Doc to bring it home.

Slowly but surely I focused on working my way up the grid and built up a 24 second lead in the process. By the time I came in to pit we were still P1 in class and P5 overall, a massive climb from our start position. The Doc jumped in and was managing the gap perfectly until a late safety car destroyed the lead we had built.

With 4 minutes of the race remaining the track went green which left Stephen exposed to two competitors right behind him. He did well to hold them off until the very last corner of the very last lap when an “opportunistic” (to say the least) move by one of the Mercedes resulted in hitting our car and spinning us out of P1! By the time The Doc got going again we had dropped off the podium. So close!

Overall it was a hugely successful weekend for us. I’m proud of what we achieved.

As always I’d like to say a huge thanks to the whole Kessel Ferrari team, The Doc and Macdonald Motorsport for all the effort and hard work they put into me being on track. We have some news lined up which I hope to announce soon, but for now I’m just really happy we got another win under our belt!

Now watch the highlights!

Race One Race Highlights

Race Two Race Highlights

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