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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Jem Hepworth achieves top-15 result on GT4 European Series debut

Stepping up to the GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club in 2024, Jem Hepworth displayed excellent pace on her debut at Circuit Paul Ricard, achieving a best result of 13th in the highly competitive silver class.


Jem Hepworth, Rafa Racing Club McLaren Artura GT4, 2024 GT4 European Championship, Le Castellet
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

Stepping up to the GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club in 2024, Jem Hepworth displayed excellent pace on her debut at Circuit Paul Ricard. Racing alongside American driver Cameron Lawrence, the pair achieved a best result of 13th in the highly competitive silver class.


A top-15 finish in race one looked likely, before a last-lap incident saw the duo retire with damage to the car. Nonetheless, a fantastic job by the team saw the McLaren Artura race-ready on Sunday, with Lawrence and Hepworth driving well to finish inside the top-15 of the overall classification.


The impressive expansion of RAFA Racing Team over the off-season as seen the American squad enter a variety of new championships, with the GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club being one example. A two-car effort running McLaren Artura machinery saw Hepworth team up with Rolex 24 Hour class winner Cameron Lawrence. The American driver was a consistent frontrunner in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge in 2023 driving a BMW M4 GT4 and has been an integral part of RAFA Racing Club during the off-season.


Jem, meanwhile, embarked on a highly successful campaign in the McLaren Trophy Europe in 2023 where she competed alongside RAFA Racing Club founder Rafael Martinez. The pair were set to claim 570S Trophy championship honours until a technical issue in the final race of the season saw the title slip from their grasp. Nonetheless, Hepworth’s performances were rewarded as she continues her development with an assault on the silver class of the GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club.


The weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard got off to a challenging start for the drivers of the #81 McLaren Artura. Limited running in both paid test session on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning saw the pair on the back foot heading into the first official practice session. However, a smooth session saw Hepworth and Lawrence log 21 laps on Friday afternoon to place 21st in the silver class. Further experience was gained in pre-qualifying, with the RAFA Racing Team duo setting the 20th fastest time in class.


Jem Hepworth, Rafa Racing Club McLaren Artura GT4, 2024 GT4 European Championship, Le Castellet
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

Qualifying for both races took place on Saturday morning, with Lawrence driving in the first session and Hepworth in the second, with the times from each individual session setting the grid for each respective race. Track limits were a constant theme during the two twenty-minute sessions with a significant number of lap times disallowed for exceeding the circuit boundaries.


Cameron did a superb job in the first session to put the McLaren Artura inside the top-15 overall, while placing 11th in the silver class. Jem also competed well in a competitive second session to set the 24th fastest time in class, with good potential to move forward in the races.


Race one of the weekend was started by Lawrence who did a superb job to negotiate a first corner incident to gain two positions in class to move into ninth. As a result of the incident, the race was neutralised behind the safety car with the Cameron aiming for a fast restart.

In his GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club debut, Lawrence was in the thick of the action and although losing out to Gabriela Jilkova and Mateo Villagomez, he was still inside the top-10 of the silver class. A challenging second half of the stint saw Lawrence fall to 17th overall, 12th in class, as the pit sequence begun.


On lap 14, Cameron brought the McLaren Artura GT4 to the attention of his crew with Jem getting behind the wheel. Ensuring the team adhered to the minimum pit stop time, Hepworth re-joined the action in 31st position, 20th in the silver class, but immediately set about gaining lost positions. After passing a pair BMW M4 machines driven by Paolo Meloni and Onder Erdem, Hepworth was closing in on a group of drivers which included a number of silver class rivals.


Jem’s pace was particularly strong and despite the older tyres, was lapping within half a second of Lawrence’s fastest times. On lap 21, Hepworth passed the McLaren Artura of Alex Denning, while issues for both Raphael Rennhofer and Roberto Faria elevated her to 17th in class. The following lap saw Hepworth gain two more positions in the overall classification with her strong pace allowing her to close in on Alexandre Machado.


A top-15 result looked within reach until Jem was caught up in a final lap incident which saw Kevin Jimenez make contact with Jean-Laurent Navarro, sending the spinning Porsche into Hepworth’s path. This resulted in substantial damage to the car, with the RAFA Racing Team driver unable to take the checkered flag.


Jem Hepworth, Rafa Racing Club McLaren Artura GT4, 2024 GT4 European Championship, Le Castellet
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

Race two got underway on Sunday morning with Jem taking the start from 31st position overall, 23rd among the silver class runners. Moving inside the top-20 in class after the opening lap, it was a fantastic start for Hepworth was calmly negotiated her first race start in the GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club. After moving ahead of Alexandre Machado, Jem lost out to a recovering Gabriele Piana on lap three to remain in 20th position.


As Hepworth’s stint progressed, she did an excellent job to overtake a number of cars in different classes, with overtakes on Jean-Mathieu Leandri and Antoni De Barn moving her into 26th position overall. A personal best time on lap six underlined her pace as she continued her charge forward, before two more overtakes put the debutant into 24th position overall, 19th in class, as the pit stop cycle began.


Making a smart decision on strategy, the RAFA Racing Team crew brought Hepworth into the pits at the beginning of the pit window and a fast stop enabled Lawrence to gain one overall position. Aiming to make progress from 19th in the silver class, the American driver moved ahead of Max Bird before clearing the Am class Alpine of Pascal Huteau. On lap 23, a puncture for Benjamin Lariche, together with a smart overtake on Paul Petit, saw Lawrence move inside the top-20 overall.


Cameron’s pace continued to compare favourably to the drivers around him, with the strengths of the McLaren Artura allowing him to make significant gains in the final sector. With three laps remaining, Lawrence overtook the Ford Mustang of Will Moore which elevated the crew into the top-15 of the silver class. Finishing the one-hour contest in 17th position overall, 15th in class, post-race penalties saw the final classification of the #81 McLaren Artura improve to 15th overall, 13th in the silver class.


Hepworth showed encouraging pace throughout the weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard. Her GT4 European Series powered by RAFA Racing Club debut was not without its challenges, but both Jem and Cameron displayed good pace in a highly competitive field. Hepworth’s drive in race two was a particular highlight as she came out on top in a number of close battles.


The duo will now be targeting a top-10 result in the silver class, with the next round of the championship taking place at Misano on the weekend of 18th/19th May.


Jem Hepworth, Rafa Racing Club McLaren Artura GT4, 2024 GT4 European Championship, Le Castellet
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

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