Jann Mardenborough, driving the No.35 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3, saw the JR Motorsports-built Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 record its first Avon Tyres British GT Championship victory, when RJN won round six at Brands Hatch.
Using the 2.433-mile ‘Grand Prix’ version of the circuit, an incredibly close qualifying session on Saturday – with just 0.5-second separating the top 12 cars – saw the RJN car line up 10th on the grid. Then on Sunday, just before the start of the two-hour race – in keeping with other rounds of the championship so far this season – it started raining.
Alex Buncombe – who was first to drive – moved up to fourth by the end of the first lap and then took the lead on lap three. As the track dried out, he pulled away from the field and built-up a margin of seven seconds before the first of two safety car periods, which ultimately reduced his advantage.
At half-distance Buncombe handed over to Jann Mardenborough and, even though the Nissan Playstation GT Academy winner came under intense pressure during his stint, he was able to stay in front of the pack before crossing the line to win by a margin of just two-hundredths of a second. Coincidentally, the victory comes exactly a year to the day that Mardenborough won the GT Academy competition.
“What a great way to finish what has been the best year of my life so far,” said Jann after the race. “Winning GT Academy has presented me with so many opportunities and I’m delighted that Al (Buncombe) and I could get the job done in the Nissan GT-R today.”
Driving the second of the JRM-built Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3s competing this weekend, in the car run by JMH Automotive, Benji Hetherington also made an impressive start in the race, progressing from a grid position of 15th and up to fourth place. But, after clipping a kerb at Stirlings bend on lap 21, his day came to an abrupt and premature end in a barrier. Although the car – in which he and his brother Freddie won a round of the GT Cup in April – was extensively damaged, Hetherington thankfully walked away unscathed.
The RJN drivers wee really pleased with the result:
“The conditions were very tough at the start of the race,” said Buncombe. “When I took the lead the circuit was pretty dry at the start of the lap but still wet out the back so it was difficult to know how hard to push. Once I saw the Porsche I had taken the lead from start to close in on me I got my head down and worked on building up a ‘comfort’ gap. The car was feeling great at this stage and I could do all out qualifying pace on every lap so it was a lot of fun to drive.”
Two safety car interventions meant that Jann would be pitted against most of the ‘pro’ drivers from the British GT field during his run. The driver change went smoothly and the team got Jann on track in the lead without losing any time.
“For the first 10 minutes the car was great,” he said. “But then as the fuel level got lower I started to get understeer out on the GP circuit. Bob (Neville) was on the radio telling me what the gap was to the BMW in second place and then 10 minutes before the end he said there was an Aston Martin catching the BMW at quite a rate.”
Suddenly the battle for all three podium places was on. The Aston Martin made fairly light work of the BMW so Jann was under immense pressure for the remaining three laps of the race. Jann is an incredibly calm driver and this served him well today. He kept his cool and crossed the line as winner in what can only be described as a photo finish.
“Both drivers did a fantastic job today.” Said GT Academy Team RJN Team Principal Bob Neville. “Al took advantage of the wet conditions at the start and built up a useful lead which was then lost by two safety cars. Jann had to go wheel-to-wheel with the pros and he didn’t make a single mistake under huge pressure. It feels good to see him and the GT3 GT-R take their first major race wins.”
“This is a journey we began in 2008 with the first GT Academy,” said Darren Cox, General Manager of Nissan in Europe. “In just the last seven days we have seen our first two winners race in the Le Mans 24 Hours and now Jann has taken his first major win, just one year after winning the competition. The back room team should give themselves a huge pat on the back today. This started with those who believed in the dream, including RJN’s Bob and Liz Neville. I’m proud of each and every one of them.”
The next outing for one of the JRM-built cars is this coming weekend, when GT Academy Team RJN contests round three of the Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard HTTT in southern France.