Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse kicked off their British GT Championship campaign with a solid showing at Brands Hatch to lay the foundations for what promises to be another closely fought season.
Running their new McLaren 650S GT3 for the first time competitively, drivers Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell showed the true speed of their car in racing conditions, but were prevented from achieving the result they deserved by an early race stoppage that called time on their efforts.
After starting the McLaren fourth, McCaig ran solidly inside the top 10 during his stint, but the complexion of the scheduled two-hour race changed after 40 minutes when a multi-car accident caused a full-course caution just ahead of the opening of the mandatory driver-change window.
With the pit-lane crowded as most of the 30-car field pitted together, a miscommunication resulted in McCaig having to queue up behind the team’s GT4 entry for service and losing time as a result.
Bell was behind the wheel when racing resumed and set about making up ground from 14th place. His pace brought three fastest laps early in his stint and the factory McLaren driver had climbed as high as seventh when the race was red-flagged and a result declared after another incident.
Despite finishing lower than anticipated, the race pace shown by the McLaren has given the team great confidence ahead of the next round at Rockingham, Northamptonshire, on May 1.
In the GT4 category the team made history on two fronts. Not only did Sandy Mitchell become the youngest driver to contest a British GT event at 16 years and 41 days, but he and co-driver Ciaran Haggerty also gave the brand-new McLaren 570S GT4 its British GT debut.
Inconsistent Saturday weather thwarted both drivers’ attempts to familiarise themselves with the car on the Brands Hatch GP layout, but each performed well to secure seventh on the GT4 grid.
Mitchell ran comfortably inside the top 10 during the opening stint, but had his progress hindered by the full-course caution, preventing him from making ground up on his rivals at a time when his lap times were significantly the faster.
Ciaran took over the car once the pit window opened and was the quickest GT4 car on track during the closing stages of the race as he moved up to sixth spot. He was within touching distance of fourth when the red flag-induced early conclusion spoiled his chances.
Alasdair McCaig, Driver, Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse: “For our first time with two new cars, the pace we’ve shown is extremely encouraging. We knew Brands would be something of a fact-finding mission and we’ve certainly come away having learnt an awful lot. Rob’s pace during the second half of the race was superb and shows that the GT3 McLaren is capable of doing great things. I’m certain we could have finished higher than seventh had circumstances not played their part, and that shows that the car has enough potential to give us a very good season. In GT4, I was very impressed by the showing of both Sandy and Ciaran, both of whom were making their endurance racing debuts and who came through their first driver change with flying colours despite the pit-lane being very crowded. Although fourth could have been possible without the early stoppage, sixth is a strong result to start with and both drivers and the car will only improve as the season continues.”