Emotional first podium position for Connor O’Brien in GT Cup Open Europe at Silverstone
Good things come to those who wait and for British GT Championship regular Connor O’Brien, Saturday at Silverstone was the day when the popular Irish racer secured the runner-up position and with it, his very first racing podium on his debut in GT Cup Open Europe. A follow-up class podium on the Sunday capped off a thoroughly successful weekend.
Connor teamed up with Aston Martin Junior driver Charlie Eastwood for the one-off event in the #35 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4. Charlie was charged with the first qualifying session and the FIA WEC racer made massive gains in an unfamiliar environment, gaining two-seconds on his limited practice running to qualify fourth in the Pro-Am class, ninth overall.
The start of Saturday’s thrilling 55-minute race was just superb with Charlie gaining four positions to vault fifth on the opening lap before clearing the #3 at the start of the second tour. From this point the he found himself sandwiched in a fantastic battle for third, fourth and fifth.
Whilst fending off the charge from the Porsche #22 from behind, Charlie was pushing to pass #3 ahead. By lap five, just two-seconds covered the top five runners and so it stayed for 30 minutes of intense racing.
With 25-minutes remaining, Connor took over and a slick stop from the team saw him exit the pits in second position, albeit eight-seconds behind the leader. He soon closed the gap however, darting left and then right, before making an audacious pass around the outside of Club to lead the field.
The race played out and in the final stages, Connor found himself under pressure from the #6 Super Trofeo entry. Despite his very best efforts to maintain the position, there was no denying the vastly quicker Lamborghini.
Connor duly took the chequered flag in second position, his best result to date in racing. For driver and team alike, it was a memorable and well-deserved first podium together and set things up perfectly for Sunday’s second round.
Connor started sixth after an impressive run in qualifying and was soon battling hard with the #7 McLaren. After being unceremoniously escorted wide and into the gravel exiting Woodcote, he fought back to gain the position a lap later at Copse. It was a good stint and he regained the earlier lost ground to hand over to Charlie after 11 laps in sixth place.
While the race leader in the Super Trofeo was well out of reach, a great battle for second on track followed with just two-seconds covering the three dicing cars. Despite his best efforts, Charlie had to settle for fifth position, second in Pro-Am, at the chequered flag, just eight seconds being the runner-up finisher.
Connor and Optimum Motorsport now prepare for the British GT Championship finale at Donington Park next weekend.
“I’m absolutely over the moon – it’s a hard feeling to describe – but it’s my first podium and to do it in GT Cup Open after the struggle we had in qualifying and then in the race we just went for it and it was a sensational race. I ran second after Charlie’s great run at the start and I was some way behind the leader, but I kept chasing all the time and then got into P1, but there was nothing I could do about the Super Trofeo car as it was just so fast. I just kept pushing, so I’m very very happy with this result!”
“It was a great race and I admit I wasn’t expecting it to be as much fun as it was. It’s difficult to jump into the GT4 category as there are differing grip, aero and straight-line speeds, so for me I had to think out of the box to find ways to pass and then worked my way up to P4. I then had my first ever GT4 pitstop and then for Connor to get his first podium made it the more special. Delighted for Connor - everyone was overjoyed - so it was great to be a part of it.”
Shaun Goff, Optimum Motorsport Team Principal
“This weekend was going into the unknown a little bit as it’s a new series for Optimum Motorsport. It was fantastic to see Charlie start the race and make up so many positions and credit to him, he was able to hold his own in a tense battle to the change-over. It was a good stop from the crew and then we were delighted to see Connor hunt down the lead and move first in great style.
“I met Connor six years ago through his elder brother Dan, so it’s especially rewarding for our team to bring him up to this level and help secure him this result.”