Next in our series of ‘That was when . . ‘, Steve Hindle looks back on an extraordinary day at Brands Hatch in 2018 that saw Flick Haigh & Jonny Adam retake the lead of the British GT Championship.
We all love a finale, and British GT’s ‘Donington Decider’ is without doubt one of motor racing’s finest, yet for me, the battles fought, won and lost at Brands Hatch during the championship’s penultimate round are just as telling and significant.
2018 already stood-out for recording the championship’s first outright female race-winner (Flick Haigh) who, together with Pro-partner Jonny Adam, had stamped her mark with a commanding drive at the season’s opener. Yet despite strong results at Rockingham and Snetterton, and podiums at Silverstone and Spa, the Optimum Motorsport duo arrived in Kent trailing current leaders, Jon Minshaw & Phil Keen, by four points.
Neither Haigh nor Adam were quickest overall in their respective qualifying sessions, but combined, they would claim pole position by almost half a second. Haigh took the start and did what she does best, immediately delivering a series of storming laps that would see the Vantage increase its lead by an evermore impressive margin. But nothing is straightforward in British GT, especially with a packed grid of GT3 and GT4 machinery, pitched into battle across a tight, undulating and uncompromising track. A fated and prolonged safety car period soon saw all of Haigh’s hard work undone, and to add to the drama, her car faced a ten-second pitstop success penalty after its third place at Spa (both chasing Barwell Huracans were penalty-free). And so once again, it was to Haigh’s credit that when the safety car period finally ended, she was able to claw-back enough of her lead to leave Adam, even with the extra ten-second stop, still in P2 after emerging from the pits.
As the race progressed through the second hour, the #69 Barwell of Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker held the lead. Cocker had benefitted from De Haan’s late stop, the free-air in the pit lane helping to jump the bright pink and black car from P6 into P1. Adam, meanwhile, broke clear of Darren Turner in P3 to set-about the chase.
As the clock counted-down, Adam’s mission intensified and he soon found himself on Cocker’s tail, yet seemingly unable to make his way past. For every question Adam asked, Cocker looked to have the answer, until with only five minutes left and Adam now relentless, the inevitable happened, the gap was opened and the Scotsman needed no other invitation.
It was a second win of the season for Haigh & Adam, and 37.5 points to add to their tallies. Meanwhile, Minshaw & Keen’s Huracan had retired earlier and would earn them just six points apiece. It meant that the Optimum pairing would journey to Donington with a 27.5-point advantage and the promise of a thrilling title-decider (that would ultimately see Haigh crowned as British GT’s first female GT3 Champion).
There’s been a much appreciated resurgence in GT competition in recent years and with this, we’ve seen ever-closer battles in the race to the top. SRO’s carefully developed regulations and an abundance of exceptional professional driving talent meaning that it’s most often the Am’s who now make the difference. In 2018, Haigh didn’t have to rely on Adam to race to victory; she played an equal role and should be remembered not only for her ‘first’ but also as a worthy ‘great’.