Jem Hepworth takes victory in McLaren Trophy at Hockenheim
"We are now going into the final round with a chance of winning the championship" - Jem Hepworth and Rafa Martinez bounced back from a season's first setback on Saturday to score a remarkable victory in McLaren Trophy Europe's second race at Hockenheim, recovering from fourth to score their second win that keeps them in the title fight with one round to go.
Jem Hepworth and Rafael Martinez continued their exceptional form in the inaugural season of the McLaren Trophy Europe with another class victory in the 570S class, as the Greystone GT duo will enter the season finale as title contenders.
Hepworth and Martinez - who share the #14 McLaren 570S - had a remarkable start of the season in the one-make championship which supports selected rounds of GT World Challenge Europe: after three rounds, the duo retained a 100% podium record, including their first class win at Nürburgring which gained them second place in the 570S championship standings. Prior to the German round, Hepworth and Martinez - at his first season in motor racing and protagonist of an impressive progression - had stood on the podium in both Le Castellet and Spa Francorchamps, where the weekend was shortened to one race due to weather conditions.
One month after their first class win, Jem and Rafa headed to Hockenheimring, for the series second visit to Germany - and its penultimate round of the season.
McLaren Trophy established itself as a valuable platform for bronze drivers, with increased track time that include three practice sessions and both qualifying sessions for the less-experienced driver. This has allowed Rafa Martinez to make significant improvements throughout the season - and the trend was even more visible at Hockenheim.
Martinez was consistently in the top three in the opening practice sessions - then scored a first breakthrough pole position on Saturday morning: his 1:48.867 proved to be enough to outpace by over two tenths of a second the #11 One Motorsport McLaren of David Foster for the top spot on the grid of race 1.
Jem Hepworth's teammate was also behind the wheel for the first part of Saturday's race, as he led the 570S class through the first fast right hander. Martinez fell to second in class, behind Hermann Backus - before he was involved in an unavoidable contact at the turn 6 hairpin: David Foster went deep and hit Danny Henrey, also collecting Martinez in the process. While Rafa could initially continue with front bodywork damage, he was then shown the black and orange flag and was required to pit on lap 2.
The damage was significant enough to force the car into retirement - in the team's first setback of the season.
Backus retained the lead at the restart, also gaining sixth overall and well clear of Shaun Pendrigh, second in the 570S class. Mid-way through the race, he handed over to Geppert Romero, who kept the lead in class throughout and crossed the finish line over 20 seconds clear of Stuart White's Greystone GT McLaren.
But Sunday's race would provide redemption for the fast duo. Rafael Martinez qualified second in class in Q2, as he couldn't beat Foster to pole position yet secured a front row start, three tenths ahead of third-placed Shaun Pendrigh. Hepworth took the start in race 2 and, with a car stalling on the grid, she had to take evasive action and dropped to fourth in the 750S class. Ellis had taken the class lead over White, as Geppert Romero got by Hepworth on the opening lap. The top four in class ran within a few tenths of a second from each other and continued to set almost the same lap times throughout the first stages of the race. With 40 mins to go, the pit window opened: Jem went longer and pitted with 31 minutes left on the clock, when Rafa Martinez took over the #24 Greystone GT McLaren and, thanks to a perfect stop, the American rejoined in second position. Martinez was on a mission: he now had to close a 5 second gap to class leader David Foster. He kept gaining a few tenths per lap, slowly but steadily closing in on Foster - and finally catching the 570S class leader with 8 minutes to go. Rafa Racing Club's owner was faster and made the winning move on lap 24: after a better exit from turn 3, he got alongside the Parabolika and completed the move into the Spitzkehre Hairpin. Foster's car would later come to a halt on track and Hermann Backus moved up into second place, four seconds behind Rafa Martinez. After a hard-fought second race, Jem Hepworth and Rafael Martinez crossed the finish line as the 570S class leaders, having recovered from fourth in a brilliant performance by both drivers. Hepworth ran consistently throughout her stint, often setting the best times in class, before her teammate Martinez completed the task and brought home a great win that keeps the duo in the championship battle with one round to go. "Saturday at Hockenheim was a setback for us with unavoidable contact, but with strong teamwork we made a comeback on Sunday to take the win", Hepworth said. "We are now going into the final round with a chance of winning the championship", Jem continued, as they currently sit second in the 570S class standings. "Both me and Rafa are improving every time we get in the car and Barcelona is my strongest track on the calendar, so we will be sure to give it everything." The season finale is scheduled for 29th September to 1st October, when McLaren Trophy Europe will support the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe final Endurance Cup round at Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona.