Stunning victory for Balfe and Smalley at Silverstone

Shaun Balfe and Adam Smalley drove their Garage 59 McLaren 720S GT3 Evo to victory in the latest round of the British GT Championship, the Silverstone 500.
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The success gave the pair a 6.5 point lead in the overall Championship as they now look forward to the next round at Donington Park on May 26th.

In Saturday’s qualifying, Lincolnshire’s Balfe was seventh quickest.

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He said: “We worked out that I could get four flying laps, and expected to progress through the session,” he said.

Shaun Balfe and Andy Smalley receive their winner's trophy. Photo submitted.Shaun Balfe and Andy Smalley receive their winner's trophy. Photo submitted.
Shaun Balfe and Andy Smalley receive their winner's trophy. Photo submitted.

“We got quicker and the best was at the end, but not as quick as we went in free practice, but then Adam was fourth, which gave us fourth on the grid on aggregated times.”

Heavy overnight rain left standing water in various places, and not surprisingly the race was started under the safety car.

Balfe was in for the first stint and was initially circulating fourth, but with cars heading for the pits while the race was still under caution, he was into second place when the green flag came out, explaining: “I struggled to get any heat into the tyres behind the safety car, so was struggling for grip too. It gave me a breather though, as they were scrapping behind me.”

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After four laps of racing there was a full course yellow after another incident, so with eight laps gone, Balfe headed another pitlane influx and handed to Smalley.

Balfe and Smalley (car 59) were in great form at Silverstone. Photo submitted.Balfe and Smalley (car 59) were in great form at Silverstone. Photo submitted.
Balfe and Smalley (car 59) were in great form at Silverstone. Photo submitted.

Up to the completion of the first hour Smalley ran just outside the top 10, but had been stuck behind Dan Harper’s BMW for a number of laps, with visibility a problem.

Having finally made it by after 24 laps, team mate Marcus Clutton was the next target, but both continued to progress and was up to 12th when he handed back to Balfe after 32 laps, as well as leading the Silver Am Class.

Further progress was made during the stop and they rejoined in seventh, which became sixth as half distance arrived and reeling in Chris Buncombe’s McLaren for fifth.

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Having taken Buncombe, he had started to chip away at fourth placed Rob Collard’s Lamborghini, until he responded.

Rain began to fall again but pitstop strategies had come into play and at the two hour mark Balfe was a solid third, after taking Kevin Tse’s McLaren into Luffield.

It had been a stunning drive from Balfe and he headed into the pits for the final time after 54 laps, still a solid third, leaving Smalley with a 40 minute stint to the chequered flag.

“That was a really good stint, me and the car working together and if it stays like that for Adam, we would be fine. It was all a blur really, as very busy in traffic and I had to challenge myself, but it’s not often that you can feel so much as one with your car,” he said.

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There was a full course yellow when Smalley rejoined, but the two cars ahead still had to make their final stops. When Loggie pitted from the lead, Smalley was briefly second, before losing the place to team mate Clutton.

Tse then made his stop a lap later, which left Clutton and Smalley as a 1-2 for the Garage 59 Team. But Clutton then received a stop go penalty, leaving Smalley to take the flag over five second clear of Richard/Sam Neary’s Mercedes.

“I would never have believed we would win the Silverstone 500, I wouldn’t have even tipped myself,” Balfe reckoned after the overall victory gave them maximum Silver Am Class points too.

Meanwhile, there was a second outing of the season for Shaun’s son Tom in the Ginetta Academy. He qualified sixth best, but made places off the start.

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“I got one off the start and one into Copse for third, then caught second place and went side by side into Luffield. I finally got him at Copse a lap later, but couldn’t catch the leader,” he explained.

His start had been adjudged too quick though and a post-race penalty dropped him to fourth.

Due to heavy rain the second race was started behind the safety car, with Tom in sixth, before losing a place at the restart.

“The safety car came out again and I saw a car behind spin, I got distracted and hit the car in front, damaging by bonnet,” he said, after heading pitwards to retire.

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