Zoë battles the elements on her British GT debut

Zoë Wenham (photo by Marc Waller)Zoë Wenham arrived at a damp Oulton Park on Easter Saturday to start her season in the British GT championship.

 After all the testing, build up and media attention, finally she was now at the big weekend of her championship debut. How would things go and would all the testing pay off with a good result?

The championship is divided into two main classes, GT3 and GT4 which is the class that Zoë is racing in. GT4 cars are less modified than the GT3 cars and so are also generally much slower. This means you effectively have two races in one, the GT3 cars up front and behind the GT4 cars having their own battles and maybe catching a few of the slower GT3 cars. There is also a GTC class which is similar to GT4 but usually with cars from one make series.

Zoë Wenham (photo by Marc Waller)First up in the schedule was the first of two free practice sessions, Zoë drove her Ginetta G50 for the whole of the first session as Dom Evans, her teammate, had run into problems with his licence and so needed to sort them out before he could drive. The track was quite wet after some early morning rain and so it gave Zoë a chance to have some wet weather running in the car, much of her winter testing had taken place on a dry track. This session was more about learning about the car than going for times.

After the session it was becoming clear that Dom’s problems may not be solved before qualifying and so a replacement driver would need to be found. Mike Simpson who works for Ginetta was brought in. Mike had his first run in the car in second practice and unfortunately had a small off into the gravel at Cascades which brought out the red flag. The car was retrieved in time for Zoë to have a run in the car towards the end of the session.

Qualifying was split into two fifteen minute sessions, one for each driver. The first session was driven by Zoë and would set the grid for race 1 in which Zoë would take the start and the second session was driven by Mike, this would set the grid for race 2 where Mike would start. Both Zoë and Mike managed the second fastest time in their class for both sessions with Mike being 19 thousandths of a second off the class pole. Things were looking very good for race day on Monday.

By the time Monday came around the weather was considerably worse, the day started with very persistent rain and it showed no signs of going away.  Zoë’s GT race debut was certainly going to be tough.  First up was a brief warm up which gave Zoë a chance to experience the conditions she was likely to be racing in. She would have undoubtedly have preferred dry running especially given her most competitive times of the weekend were set in the dry sessions but she was getting quicker in the wet conditions with every lap.

Zoë Wenham (photo by Marc Waller)Race one got underway at just before 11am and Zoë took part in her first ever rolling start. “I wasn’t sure what to expect so ust went with it and it all seemed to go well.” she commented afterwards. It certainly did go well as she easily maintained her second position in class and began to pull a gap on the other GT4 cars. By the time she was halfway through her stint she has built up quite a lead on the third placed Lotus Evora and the leading Ginetta G50 wasn’t far ahead. Unfortunately an off by a GT3 car then brought out the safety car a few laps before the end of her stint. This not only erased the lead she had built up on the Lotus but also allowed the G50 leading the class to gain a whole lap as it had been just ahead of the leading GT3 cars as the safety car came out whereas the other GT4 cars had already been lapped. A class win was now out of the question but as the safety car came in Zoë was still in second. One of the Lotus sneaked past in traffic just before Zoë’s pitstop which left them third in class. The pit stop went well and Mike sped out of the pits but frustratingly after everything settled down again they somehow found themselves in fourth position.  Mike set quicker and quicker times in an attempt to catch the Lotus of Alistair Mckinnon. He was soon on his tail but couldn’t find a way past. But just before the end of the race, a wayward GT3 car got sideways as it passed the Ginetta, sideswiping it and knocking the bonnet off the car. This wiped out any hope the team had of taking a podium slot and the car was nursed home in fourth. The third placed Lotus was later given a five second penalty for repeated corner cutting but sadly this still let them slightly out of reach! It was an excellent start for scant reward for Zoë’s impressive debut performance. But there was still chance for a podium in the day’s second race.

By the time the second race got underway the rain had started falling harder than ever and visibility was very low. Mike started this race and settled into a third place position but soon had a big problem when the windscreen wiper stopped working, definitely less than ideal when rhe rain is so bad that it’s a struggle to see with one! But Mike managed to keep it on track and pitted to change over with Zoë. Unfortunately there was little the team could do to rectify the wiper issue and so Zoë would have to manage with low visibility as Mike had done. This isn’t ideal in only your second GT race! Zoë drove as well as ever circulating for lap after lap with little sign of the problems she was having actually seeing out! She was running in third postion trying to catch the second Lotus being driven by Phil Glew and Sailesh Bolisetti. It proved just too far ahead in the end, unsurprisingly given her wiper problems. She had done a stunning job to keep it in third at all as many drivers were throwing it off the road, even with their wipers working!

Zoë Wenham (photo by Marc Waller)The team were very happy with third especially given the conditions and visibility problems and climbed on the pit wall to cheer Zoë over the line.

Zoë was happy to be on the podium and have her first taste of champagne in only her second ever GT race. It was a tremendous achievement.

“The champagne tasted good and let’s hope for some more podium results.” Commented Zoë, “I’d like to say a big thanks to Mike for driving with me and getting us on the podium in my first GT weekend & Century Motorsport for working extra hard as usual. Also a thanks to my sponsors CapMedia, Supagard, Geometric Manufacturing and FadalCNC for enabling me to have done the testing pre-season to make sure I was competitive and all the guys that supported me throughout the weekend.”

The weekends results leave her in joint third in the championship with 27 points.

She now has another big challenge when the championship visits the Nurburgring GP circuit in Germany during May. Zoë has never raced there before so she is planning on getting some early practice on a PS3 to at least learn the way the track goes! If the first rounds are anything to go by, Zoë’s season looks set to be a good one! By Marc Waller

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