National Motorsport Academy

2024 GT Cup Round 1 | Donington Debrief

A Roundup of the first round of the 2024 GT Cup Campaign

The first round of the GT Cup has just concluded, and wow… what an incredible weekend for Team NMA!

If you followed TeamNMA throughout the 2023 season, you’ll be aware that it was a rollercoaster ride with numerous ups and downs, but they valiantly managed to finish 3rd in the GTO class.

You can read our full 2023 season round-up here

A New Season Begins.

TeamNMA’s goal for the 2024 race season is to challenge for wins using the recently built Lotus Evora. During the winter, Director of Motorsport Dr. Kieran Reeves, Deputy Director Wayne Gater, and Tutor/Race Engineer Ed Sarling spent many hours optimising the Evora ensuring it was ready for the 2024 season.

Joining TeamNMA this weekend were 7 talented students; Moully, Ethan, Omar, Oscar, Khalid, Jignesh, and Unai – who travelled all the way from Prague to be here! For some students, it was their first time working in a race team, so they knew they were going to gain valuable experience from participating in a real race weekend.

The Lotus Evora was ran for the weekend. Here’s a breakdown of the Specs

Thursday 18th April - Testing Day

Tutor/Race Engineer Ed Sarling arrived at the track Wednesday evening with several students to unload the truck and set up the garage ready for Thursday – an all-day test session.

Following a successful test day last month, the primary objective for the session was to conduct system and spanner checks and stringing the car for toe and general alignment. It was also the perfect opportunity for less experienced students to deepen their understanding of the Evora and the intricacies of a race weekend, including health and safety protocols and etiquette.

Competition over the weekend was extremely fierce, with numerous top teams and drivers in the GTO class. This included Kendall Development’s driver pairing of the 2023 GT Cup Champion Paul Bailey and ex-Formula 1 Driver, as well as 2009 Le Mans Winner David Brabham.

Additionally, Abba Racing’s driver pairing of Richard Neary and Ian Loggie, who clinched victory in British GT in 2022, added to the intense competition. Furthermore, G-Cat Racing, with the exceptional Greg Caton behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3R, provided strong competition despite not being in the GTO class.

Students Unai and Khalid getting involved with testing

Saturday 20th April - Day 1

Practice and Qualifying

Following a positive test day on Thursday, no work was required on the Evora, except prepping the car for qualifying. However, during the 15-minute practice on Saturday, Jay Shepherd, Team NMA’s Driver suddenly lost a few seconds a lap of pace.

With practice lasting only 15 minutes, followed immediately by qualifying, there was insufficient time to investigate the sudden loss in pace. Unfortunately, TeamNMA qualified in 8th overall and 3rd in class with a time of 1:08:879.

As soon as Parc fermé ended, Team NMA worked collaboratively to diagnose the problem.  Eventually they uncovered a throttle issue, meaning the Evora only had 50% throttle input. The students assisted in carrying out the required fixes, and then it became a waiting game to observe whether the changes proved effective.

The Calm Before the Storm...

Race 1: Sprint Race

Jay faced a challenging task starting from 8th on the grid, but his experience paid off as he quickly climbed to 4th position after the first lap. Consistently strong laps propelled Jay to the back of Shamus Jennings in 2nd and Warren Gilbert in 3rd.   An early retirement for Gilbert elevated Jay to 3rd position, and shortly after, he advanced to 2nd place. Jay executed a stunning (and we mean stunning!) overtake maneuver around the outside of Jennings heading into Redgate corner. Unfortunately, the Mercedes-AMG of Ian Loggie was too far ahead to catch, but Team NMA finished with a very respectable 2nd overall (2nd in class). Was this a sign of things to come?

Jay Shepherd on the podium

Race 2: Pit-Stop Race

Race 2 proved to be quite frustrating for TeamNMA. Despite qualifying 4th on the grid with the 4th fastest lap time in the sprint, things took a turn for the worse before the race even began. A clutch issue surfaced, causing the car to struggle to shift from 1st gear. Although it was a quick fix, it resulted in a pit-lane start.

Following the green flag, Jay quickly made his way through the pack and by the 7th minute he built his way up to 7th position. A safety car caused by a GTO rival bunched the pack up and gave Team NMA an opportunity to fight for a potential podium! Jay’s consistency meant Team NMA were on target for an overall podium – until heartbreak struck. 

The Evora ground to a halt – not once, but twice and eventually limped home to a 13th place finish. However, Jay still managed to achieve a 3rd in class due to the earlier retirement, but it was still an underwhelming result considering the potential to finish much higher up the field.

The Evora suffered a lot during the race, with a few dents and minor damage on the bodywork. In the evening, the team patched up the car, rectified the issue, which turned out to be an oil leak, and then enjoyed a meal courtesy of GT Cup hospitality.

As the saying goes... 'Rubbing is Racing!'

Sunday 21st April - Day 2

Practice and Qualifying

For Sunday, the format remained the same. A short practice session, followed straight away by qualifying. Expectations were subdued following the previous race, but the team knew that the car’s pace was competitive. This prediction was correct, as Jay clocked a qualifying time of 1:05:374 which was over 3.5 seconds faster compared to Saturday. This secured TeamNMA a spot on the front row of the grid and only 0.8’s behind the pole time of Richard Neary in the Mercedes-AMG.

Race 3: Pit-Stop Race

The first race of the day was the pit-stop race. This is notoriously a tough race, as many competitors often swap to a ‘pro driver’ during the pit-stops.

Following the green flag, Jay was quickest to react and pipped Neary to the lead in turn 1. Despite facing significant pressure, Jay kept his cool with some excellent defensive driving to keep Neary behind. This pressure continued for 10 minutes before Neary suffered a break failure and ended in the gravel trap! Unfortunately, the safety car reduced the gap time to the cars behind, but our main rival was OUT!

Jay eventually built the gap back up and Team NMA looked set to take the overall win, then along came Greg Caton. Caton produced a superb drive, reducing the gap down and executing the overtake with just a few minutes left on the clock.

Despite falling short of the overall victory, Jay guided the car to a commanding first-place finish in GTO Class! A huge effort from the students to sort the little issues from Saturday! This result was a real testament to their efforts and the first ever GTO win for the Evora. Could Team NMA go one step further and claim that overall victory?

Jay Shepherd withstanding pressure from Abba Racings Mercedes-AMG

Race 4: Sprint Race

The final race of the weekend was the 25-minute sprint. Jay Shepherd lined up second on the grid behind Ian Loggie, but luck truly was on the teams side. Loggie had to start from the pits due to more brake issues! This played perfectly into Jay’s hands and he led the field from lights-to-flag despite pressure from behind to secure the team’s  first EVER overall victory in GT Cup with the Evora!

Jay’s efforts across the weekend also saw him land the ‘Driver of the Weekend’ trophy and we  ended the weekend with two 1st places, one 2nd and 1 3rd place! A huge improvement from last season!

Following this historic weekend, Dr. Kieran Reeves, Director of Motorsport at the National Motorsport Academy, took some time to reflect on the journey of transforming the Evora into a race-winning car.

This weekend filled me with immense pride, not just for the NMA team, but especially for the students. Despite encountering some challenges on Saturday that required troubleshooting, everyone demonstrated remarkable dedication to ensure we completed the races. Securing a 2nd place and 3rd place on Saturday was a fantastic achievement, but Sunday exceeded all expectations, particularly with the inclusion of professional drivers within our competitor teams.

From the outset of the Evora’s development journey, I was confident it had the potential to be a race-winning car. Building upon the exceptional handling of the Le Mans car, both Wayne Gater (focusing on Aerodynamics) and I (overseeing engine development) put in countless hours to refine the overall package. Following a setback due to a crash that reset our progress, we persevered with faith in the car’s reliability and speed to match modern GT3 cars.

In Sunday’s endurance race, competing against professional drivers, we clinched our first class win with the Evora. While narrowly missing out on the overall race victory to secure a 2nd place, it was a testament to the team’s unwavering belief in the car. This drove us to work tirelessly during the interim period between races to ensure the car was optimised for the sprint race.

These past three years have been a journey filled with challenges and triumphs, resulting in two class wins and one overall race victory. It stands as one of my most cherished motorsport experiences, reflecting the dedication and hard work invested by myself, the staff, and the students.

Looking ahead, there are two additional updates planned for the car to enhance its competitiveness. I hope I can implement these upgrades prior to racing on the longer circuits scheduled for this season. Stay tuned for further developments

Round 2 of the GT Cup will be at Brands Hatch on the 18th-19th May. See you there!

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