British endurance racing ace Darren Turner enjoyed a near-perfect start to the 2022 British GT Championship as he began the defence of his GT4 Pro-Am title with Newbridge Motorsport at Oulton Park, over the Easter weekend.
Turner, along with his co-driver and team-mate Matt Topham, clinched an overall GT4 victory in an eventful, red flag-interrupted second race of the double-header meeting, while the duo also took both Pro-Am class wins. Moreover, Darren recorded an outright class pole position, grasping an opportunity to shine on one of the few occasions in the season when the pro drivers qualify against each other.
“It was a roller-coaster ride of a weekend,” said Turner. “But while things didn’t go entirely to plan during the races, the results did and that’s down to the performance of the whole team and my team-mate Matt who drove brilliantly in both races. I was pleased with my performance too, and it was great to be able to qualify the Aston Martin Vantage GT4, and satisfying to get pole position against the other pros.”
Topham started fifth for the first of the two races, which were held on Easter Bank Holiday Monday and marked the beginning of the 30th year of the British GT Championship. He made a strong start and quickly became embroiled in an intense battle for third position in GT4 with four other cars featuring Silver-licensed drivers. He held his own though while taking care to keep the Vantage out of trouble, then as the leaders all pitted to change drivers, the #27 Newbridge car rose up the order.
Turner climbed into the car on lap 17 in third place, which became the lead when the two cars in front of him served penalties. Unfortunately for Darren, that fate would also befall Newbridge, the team having been deemed to have taken too short a pitstop time during the team’s driver changeover. When Turner came into serve the 1s stop-and-go penalty, the car then wouldn’t deselect neutral, costing vital seconds and a chance to finish on the overall GT4 podium.
“It’s a shame because we actually had the pace to win and we were on course to do just that,” said Turner, who eventually finished fifth following a mighty recovery charge that allowed him to join the battle for third in GT4 in the final minutes. “We didn’t get our pitstop timings right in the race, and that was probably down to a variety of factors, but as a team we’ll learn our lessons from that and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
The consolation was that Turner and Topham won the GT4 Pro-Am class and took the fastest lap.
Turner started the second race from the GT4 pole, which he’d clinched by 0.046s over the Stellar Motorsport Audi. But it was the Audi that got the better start in damp, tricky conditions. Darren was content to track the R8 in the early laps from second place; aware that in such situations wisdom trumps valour and there was no need for race-risking heroics. Especially since he had spare pitstop time in his pocket due to rival success-penalties and the fact that Pro-Am crews have a shorter allotted driver-change time to balance out the perceived performance difference to all-Silver licensed crews.
An accident on lap three meant much of Turner’s stint was run behind the Safety Car, and when heavy rain began to fall on lap 13 not long after the race had gone green again, it was only a matter of time before another accident caused the race to be red-flagged for 30 minutes. With some teams having changed drivers and others not, the organisers decided to split the race into two parts and allow the second drivers to automatically start the remainder of the event and add the success balance to the race result instead of the pitstops.
This made Topham’s target clear, he had to stay within 24s of the Stellar Motorsport Audi by the flag which he was able to achieve with aplomb, maintaining second on the road and not slipping an inch on the greasy track surface.
“Some of the luck we missed out on, came back to us in the second race,” said Turner, “but we earned this win for sure. I focussed on staying close to the Audi in the opening laps, and while the Full Course Yellows made it tighter for us than it might otherwise have been, when the race restarted Matt drove brilliantly and it was enough to secure the win for us.”
“The GT4 category is much tougher this season in terms of quality opposition, and they have raised their game. That means we have to as well. So far it seems we’ve picked up where we left off in 2021 and that’s good to see, and hopefully means we can look forward to an exciting season.”
The Oulton Park result was the second overall GT4 win for Topham and Turner in British GT, and they now have five Pro-Am victories to their name amid 10 visits to the podium since they began racing together at the beginning of 2021. The Newbridge duo lie second in the overall GT4 standings, just five points off the lead, while they command a seven-point cushion at the top of the Pro-Am points table.
Turner’s next competitive outing comes at the Silverstone 500 British GT Championship round on 8 May – an event that provided Topham and Darren their first overall GT4 class victory in 2021.