Aaron Mason brought an end to his debut season of a new challenge in his motor racing career, at Donington Park, although he did not think that GT racing glory would come so soon.
The final round of the British GT Championship at Donington Park did not go quite to plan for Doncaster-racer, Mason, though.
Together with teammate and co-driver, Robert Barrable, qualifying their Ginetta G55 GT4 came to an early end, when Mason had an accident.
“I spun and the car hit the wall – it wasn’t a car failure, something failed inside the car – me! It just caught me out really. The frustrating thing is, had I completed that lap alone, then we would have been 4th in class on the grid. So now we will start at the back”.
With a wide-eyed comment, Mason relayed, “Also, when they recovered the car with the tractor they caused more damage to the car than the crash itself.”
This meant the pair had to miss out on the second qualifying session while the mechanics at Team Hard beavered away repairing the car. The outfit was awarded the PMW Expo Team of the Weekend Award for their overnight repair work.
However, the was an element of promise in the raceday morning Warm–up session their car number 75 was 7th in the GT4 class, but they were lining up 18th in class and 29th at the back of the grid.
By the one hour mark, Mason had managed to work his way up to 21st and to 13th in class.
“I got a few at the start from last to 10th in my stint”, before Mason handed over to Barrable. “On Rob’s stint he was chasing a gap that the car couldn’t match… Temperatures were cool in qualifying, and we had set the car up for that temperature”, Mason recounted, “but as it was much warmer on race day the set up was not right and so it didn’t really work for us in the race. The car was 2.5 seconds off our qualifying pace as we did not have the grip we could have had - we were not able to get the power down. Especially as the correct set-up is still very much a moving target”.
“It is what it is…”
With 7 minutes to the end of race, with Barrable at the wheel, their Ginetta G55 GT4 was now up to 8th in class.
In the final minutes to the end of race they were demoted to 9th in class, in which place they took the flag.
But, post-race, two GT4 cars were excluded for yellow flag infringements - overtaking or not slowing down under yellow flags – consequently, the amended results gave the Mason/Barrable car’s final position as 7th in class and 15th overall.
Mason lamented, “We finished 7th and last – but we were too far away to make any more places. It has been a frustrating weekend”.
Although RCIB Insurance Racing’s maiden British GT Championship campaign and Team Hard’s repair work burning the midnight oil was rewarded when Mason and Barrable scored the necessary points required to beat PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport by just five points to clinch the GT4 teams’ championship title in their first season of GT racing.
“Although I’ve enjoyed sportscars – it has been a breath of fresh air – however it costs £10 000 plus damage per weekend!!!”
Ironically, the season for Mason had begun a lot better.
“The VW Cup had run its course for me. If anything we made the series what is was, but it’s in the past for me”. Having won his second VW Cup championship title in 2015, and being the driver with the most VW Cup wins in the series history, Mason was looking for a new motor racing arena.
A surprise call, by Team Hard boss Tony Gillam, saying, ‘Do you fancy doing GT4 sportscars?’ gave Mason the impetus he needed to try something new.
The RCIB Insurance Racing Ginetta G55 GT4 car was still very new to the team – they had taken delivery only a matter of weeks prior – when Mason joined the team at Oulton Park’s early round of the British GT championship.
GT4 sportscars are standard, road-going, sportscars modified for race track use, as opposed to the hairier, full-race spec GT3 category – with which it shares the track in the championship – that are actually manufactured as racing cars for track use, from their inception.
Having taught himself the art of getting a race-winning set up from his VW racing car, Mason was constantly ‘fettling’ the car’s suspension every time it hit the track.
Never ending in his search for the optimum suspension arrangement, Mason and his teammate Robert Barrable were still adjusting the chassis in the raceday-morning warm-up sessions.
But their persistence paid off at the Oulton Park’s round 3 and 4, where Mason/Barrable qualified for round 3 in 9th spot, managing to finish in 8th-place.
The Ginetta pair started round 4 only 11th but dodged the issues and retirements that affected others en-route to both driver’s first British GT podiums: a feat especially impressive for double VW Racing Cup champion Mason on his series debut.
For the three-hour Silverstone 500 event that included a load of European Series GT4E competitors the pair lined up 16th in British GT GT4 [11th excluding GT4E] out of 34 GT4 cars.
Heavy rain ensured treacherous conditions, Safety Cars and unpredictability for the three-hour contest that started under Safety Car conditions, with racing beginning in earnest after three laps.
When an accident brought out the Safety Car, the number 75 Ginetta stopped a lap later than most of their rivals helping Barrable, take over from Mason, make up half a lap on the rest of the field after starting 16th, which was enough to give him the lead once racing resumed.
When Mason climbed back aboard for the his second stint, the team again delayed its final stop in an effort to see out a short, sharp rain shower before switching to slick tyres paid dividends.
Swapping over to Barrable for the final stint, a pit-stop success penalty for finishing 3rd at Oulton meant was held stationary for an additional 10 seconds, but that proved insufficient to prevent him from catching and passing the then GT4 lead car.
Barrable eventually took the chequered flag 18 seconds clear of the next best GT4 and over a minute ahead of he and Mason’s nearest British GT rivals, for RCIB Insurance Racing’s first British GT4 Championship win.
Mason was stunned at how they actually managed to win, “I look back and can’t think where we found the time! After I pitted and Rob jumped in the car we gained some time on the leaders, which we managed to maintain throughout the race, dropping back and then jumping forwards again as the other pit-stop strategies played out. The team did a great job!”
But they had a couple of bad meetings too: Snetterton as well as the final at Donington Park.
For the Snetterton round, the car’s battery and starter motor failed at the driver changeover and the team could not get the car restarted again, which ruined a promising race.
“But compared to that it has been a fresh start”, smiles Mason.
Having conquered the GT4 category, Mason would like to try his hand moving up to the GT3 category that is much faster, a lot more complex, but is very expensive to run as it costs £250k per GT3 season, as opposed to the far from cheap, GT4 series at £100k per season.