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  • Writer's pictureRACERS

Jem Hepworth leads laps overall, secures fourth and rookie award in GT4 Europe at Spa

Jem Hepworth was the protagonist of a spectacular performance at the third round of the GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club at Spa Francorchamps, collecting her first top ten in class in race 1 - before she led overall in Saturday's race 2, eventually finishing fourth and earning the top rookie award.

Jem Hepworth, RAFA Racing Team, GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club, 2024 Spa Francorchamps
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

Jem Hepworth was the protagonist of a spectacular performance at the third round of the GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club at Spa Francorchamps, as the series supported the world-renowned 24 Hours of Spa.

The British racer collected her first top ten in the incredibly-competitive Silver class in race 1, then proceeded to lead laps overall in Saturday's race 2, eventually finishing on the doorsteps of the podium with a highly remarkable P4 overall. Her performance gained her the second rookie of the race award.

Hepworth, who races under the banner of RAFA Racing Team sharing the #81 McLaren Artura GT4 with Cameron Lawrence, is tackling the competitive continental GT4 platform for the first time in her career, stepping up from the one-make series McLaren Trophy Europe where she was third in the championship in 2023 alongside driver/owner Rafa Martinez.

A RAFA Racing Club ambassador, Hepworth has been embedded with the team in all its activities and is now emerging as one of the most promising GT4 talents in Europe: in an over 50 car field, Hepworth and Lawrence collected a P13 in the most competitive Silver class as well as their first top-15 overall at the season opener at Circuit Paul Ricard, then made more steps forward at Misano.

At the Italian Riviera circuit, in fact, the duo matched their personal best finish in class with a P13 in race 1; despite a DNF in the second race, Jem's performance gained her the first best rookie award for Saturday's contest.

Hopes were high for the third round, as the GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club visited the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit, in support of the 24 hour race.

And their speed was evident from the get go, as pre-event testing saw Hepworth and Lawrence running just outside the overall top ten - which became a very realistic goal as the weekend progressed.

In the first official practice session, the drivers of the #81 McLaren Artura climbed to eighth overall, then Hepworth set the car's fastest time in the Pre-Qualifying session in 2:29.806.

Jem Hepworth, RAFA Racing Team, GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club, 2024 Spa Francorchamps
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

Hepworth took over to the car for the first qualifying session on Friday morning, posting a time of 2:28.163. This effort placed her 17th in the Silver class and 24th overall.

The second qualifying session was then interrupted by a red flag due to a big incident involving Machado's Aston Martin with eight minutes remaining. Cameron Lawrence was behind the wheel of the #81 McLaren for Q2 but hadn't set a representative time before the stoppage; on his first and only proper flying lap after the session resumed, he placed P13 overall and 12th in Silver with a time of 2:27.852.

The evening race provided a picturesque setting as the sun set over the Ardennes with over 50 cars lining up on the grid. Jem Hepworth was behind the wheel for the first stint and navigated an incredibly busy first lap, holding P18 in class. Despite losing a few positions, she settled into P19 before climbing back up to P17 in the Silver class by lap 6, after avoiding incidents at Stavelot involving Joulie and Nuredini.

Hepworth continued to show strong racecraft, overtaking the Forsetti Aston Martin driven by Miller on the next lap and setting her sights on the ProAm cars ahead. A contact between the #300 Audi and the #56 Ginetta triggered the first Full Course Yellow of the race on lap 9. Hepworth took advantage of the situation, moving up to P15 in class just as the FCY delayed the pit window.

When the Safety Car came in to bunch up the field on lap 12, and the pit window opened: Hepworth pitted from P15 one lap later and handed the car over to Cameron Lawrence.

Lawrence rejoined in P11 after the pit cycle, quickly gaining a position on the #44 Allied Racing Porsche to break into the top ten with ten minutes remaining.

The RAFA Racing Team driver demonstrated impressive pace, running significantly faster than the cars ahead: he overtook several ProAm entries and chased the overall top ten.

Lawrence's pace was one of the most competitive, running a couple of seconds per lap faster than the cars immediately ahead; despite closing a three-second gap to the NM Racing Mercedes of Papadopulos, time ran out before he could make another pass. The race concluded with Hepworth and Lawrence securing a top ten finish in Silver - the strongest result to date for the duo, who would aim for even more progress in the second race of the weekend.

Jem Hepworth, RAFA Racing Team, GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club, 2024 Spa Francorchamps
Photo credits: SRO/JEP

Saturday brought more cloudy skies but the legendary 7.004 km track was dry when the lights went out: Cameron Lawrence took the start of the race from P12 in Silver and 13th overall. Despite the challenging La Source hairpin, most of the 50 cars made it through unscathed; however, an early crash involving Florent Grizaud's Aston Martin brought out the safety car.

Lawrence held his position during the first lap, which saw the Team Speedcar Audi taking an early lead, followed by the Toyota Supra of Etienne Cheli and pole sitter Tom Lebbon, who dropped to third after a difficult start. The race resumed at the end of the second lap, with Cheli taking over the lead as Consani, the previous leader, struggled with the restart.

Lawrence was in the thick of the battles around the top ten but fell to P13 in class, then had to defend against Nicolaj Moller-Madsen's #91 Wimmer Werk Motorsport Porsche for class position. Before the next neutralization, Lawrence was shuffled down to P16 in class.

The pit window opened with 30 minutes remaining, and Lawrence extended his stint, climbing up to P5 overall during the pit stops. In a strategic masterclass, he would pit just before another FCY was deployed due to an incident involving the #96 Lotus Emira. This allowed Jem Hepworth to rejoin the race in the overall lead.

With an over two-minute gap, the safety car deployment eventually neutralized Hepworth's advantage. Despite this, she managed a great restart, defending with determination against the Elite Motorsport McLaren of Rattican before slotting behind at Pouhon. Hepworth's smart driving enabled her to avoid contact and maintain fourth place with three minutes to go.

In the closing stages, Jem set her fastest time at 2:31.508, increasing the gap to Nelson Panciatici and achieving another personal best on the final lap. She crossed the finish line with a spectacular fourth-place finish, the team's best result in the highly competitive GT4 European Championship powered by RAFA Racing Club.

Jem Hepworth was awarded Best Rookie for the second consecutive weekend, thanks to her remarkable performance in the second half of the race which saw the #81 McLaren leading laps overall and finishing one second and a half from the podium.

Having scored 13 points over the Belgian weekend, the RAFA Racing Team duo are now sitting 14th in the Silver class drivers' championship.

They will aim to add more points to their tally as the series returns to action on 19-21 July at Hockenheimring, Germany.



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