• Remarkable recovery drive from Chapman as GT5 season begins
• TCR racer gains no fewer than 26 positions in opening race of season
• Season-opener concludes with richly deserved podium in round three
Matt Chapman proved his pace, as well as his plentiful grit and determination, during the opening event of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge at Brands Hatch Grand Prix Circuit over the weekend, 16th/17th April, with some exceptional driving rewarded with a maiden series podium in round three.
Faced with a true mountain to climb in race one on Saturday after complications in qualifying, the 16-year-old from Oxford rose to the challenge incredibly and in less than eight minutes of racing – due to a Safety Car interruption – he managed to make up an unbelievable 26 positions.
Rising from 35th on the huge grid into ninth position by the finish, the Total Control Racing driver then went on to add fifth in round two, another shortened contest, before taking an excellent second place in round three to secure his maiden silverware in the GT5 Challenge.
“I was positively surprised by how things turned out, especially race one coming from the back of the grid and overtaking 26 cars”, said the series rookie, “The team did a great job with the car, it was really good and gave me a lot of confidence. To finish the weekend on the podium was fantastic.”
Supporting the British GT Championship, the opening event of the GT5 Challenge season marked Matt’s first race meeting running on slick tyres and also his debut event with the more powerful version of the Ginetta G40 he raced in the Ginetta Junior Championship over the last couple of years.
Qualifying on Saturday morning turned into an immensely frustrating session when all of Matt’s times were deleted after he received ‘mechanical assistance’ to recover to the track, following a brief excursion during the session on some oil at Dingle Dell while third fastest.
Beginning his maiden season in the GT5 Challenge from the polar opposite end of the order to where he had been throughout pre-season testing, the TCR racer lined-up 35th and last on the grid for round one and faced an almighty challenge.
His bid to make up as many places as possible wasn’t helped by the appearance of the Safety Car almost straight away but, even so, Matt managed to scythe his way through the order into 19th place with some stunning driving before racing fell under caution.
When the action resumed, with little more than five minutes left on the clock, the Oxfordshire teenager continued to charge through the field and he eventually finished the contest an extremely impressive ninth, a mere 0.1 seconds shy of the top eight on the drag to the line.
“There were a lot of cars in front of me at the start!”, said Matt, reflecting on race one, “My start was alright, I went around the outside and moved forward but then we had the Safety Car which was a bit frustrating. After that, we put in a real charge and to overtake 26 cars was incredible. I didn’t think we could aim for higher than the top 15 from the back, so ninth was a great result.”
Round two was red flagged before it had hardly begun, following a multi-car tangle at Paddock Hill Bend on the opening lap. While Matt did sustain some bodywork damage at the original start, his car was OK and at the second time of asking the race got underway without drama.
Gaining three places on the first tour to surge into the top six, the TCR racer piled on the pressure to Rob Keogh and on lap three his rival spun at the exit of Paddock Hill Bend as a result of the relentless attention Matt was applying. Holding fifth, he posted a series of fastest laps – including the best of the race – and only just missed out on the top four at the end of the shortened 10-minute contest.
Lining-up fifth on the grid for race three, the start didn’t go as Matt wanted as he lost a couple of places but he fought back into the top five very quickly and after moving into fourth at mid-distance he broke into the podium places on the penultimate tour before taking second on the final lap.
“Race two didn’t really go the way we wanted, at the first start the car bogged down and I did get some damage from someone else’s accident”, explained Matt, “At the re-start it was damage limitation really so fifth was a good result. I knew I was faster than most of the cars in front of me for race three and it was great to finish the weekend on the podium.”
Three weeks from now, the Ginetta GT5 Challenge will join the Dunlop MSA British Touring Car Championship support package for a visit to Thruxton in Hampshire – the fastest circuit on the 2016 calendar – over the weekend 7th/8th May.