RAM Racing produced a superb recovery drive in round seven of the 2023 Intelligent Money British GT Championship season at Portimao last weekend (22/23 July), narrowly missing out on another podium finish in Portugal.
Having started back in 12th ahead of British Gt’s annual European adventure, superb efforts from both John Ferguson and Raffaele Marciello helped bring the team’s #15 Mercedes-AMG up the order through what turned out to be a turbulent three hours of racing.
Pro driver Marciello was in imperious form as soon as the team arrived at the 2.8-mile circuit in the Algarve, setting the fastest times during both test sessions on Friday, as Ferguson dialed himself into what was a brand-new track for him to learn.
Swiss star Marciello’s speed once again shone through on Saturday morning, ensuring the #15 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo topped the timesheets again in the brace of free practice sessions before Qualifying.
In the two 10-minute qualifying runs that followed in the afternoon, Ferguson was first up and set the 10th quickest time in GT3, before Marciello lit up the timesheets once again with an effort of 1m41.379s to go fastest of all in his run, advancing the car to seventh on combined times ahead of the three-hour race on Sunday, and establishing the first British GT lap record at the Algarve.
However, the RAM car would collect a five-place grid penalty for a pit infringement during practice, meaning the car would start 12th. That was quite a blow, considering the car would also have to serve the maximum compensation time during the last of its three mandatory pit stops in the race, courtesy of Ferguson and Marciello’s win last time out at Snetterton.
Ferguson took the wheel for the race start and immediately went on the attack from the rolling start. The RAM AMG was soon into the top eight as Ferguson ran around the outside of the opening three corners to make up early ground. He then escaped a brush with Mark Sansom’s Lamborghini into the hairpin, the contact leaving a small piece of bodywork hanging loose, but not enough to affect the car’s performance.
Two early safety car interruptions forced the team to think on its feet with strategy, with Ferguson and Marciello completing two of their three stops inside the first hour. Great timing also got each stop in, serviced and back out without delay as many others were held at pit exit to allow the safety car to lead the pack round.
When the order shook out, RAM’s good work had helped Ferguson vault into the lead when racing resumed, and Ferguson was not about to give up top spot lightly. James Cottingham worked his way into second and a re-run of his and Ferguson’s epic fight for the lead at Snetterton broke out as Feruson drove the world’s widest AMG GT3 to stave off Cottingham’s attacks lap after lap.
Cottingham eventually did find a way through, but Ferguosn completed his strong stint and handed back to Marciello for the final hour run to the flag. Marciello would rejoin eighth, but one final safety car would again bunch the pack and set up a typical Marciello charge as he passed the cars of Martin Plowman and Will Tregurtha with bold moves before out-braking the McLaren of Chris Froggatt at the Torre Vip hairpin.
After batting off the attacks of Dan Harper’s BMW, Marciello landed the fastest lap of the race to complete a clean sweep of being top in every session across the weekend, and having both the qualifying and race lap record in his pocket. He chased the top three hard and got the gap down, but fourth at the finish was a solid reward for a great team effort.
The result leaves Ferguson and Marciello fifth in the championship, but well within striking distance of the top three.
John Ferguson: “Who knows what we could have done if we’d have had more testing, but I’m very happy with the result, especially given we knew we had the success penalty. Obviously with that in mind you’d have taken that result before the weekend. It doesn’t help with [James] Cottingham and [Johnny] Adam winning and extending their championship lead, but it’s more good points for us, which is what matters. We’d need some bad luck for the 2 Seas car to catch them in the championship now, but we’ll keep pushing. The biggest problem we had in the race was with brakes in the temperature, but I think most had the same thing and everybody was managing it. Track limits also caught others out, so I just picked my battles and wasn’t going to risk anything stupid.”
Raffaele Marciello: “It was good, to get that result with a 20-second success penalty from Snetterton means we can be happy. We were all more or less on a similar pace in the final hour of the race so it was a bit difficult to make the progress that we did, but more good points and it’s good for the championship. Brands Hatch is next and it’s a circuit I’ve often gone well at in GT World Challenge, so hopefully we can perform well there.”
RAM Racing is next in action when the British GT Championship returns to the UK in over a month’s time at Brands Hatch GP circuit over 9/10 September.