British GT Round 2 Preview – Rockingham

Ah, Rockingham. The only anti-clockwise, oval/road course combination in the British Isles to be hosting the British GT championship is nearly upon us and there’s nothing like a complete change of venue style from the previous round to put drivers and teams on their toes. Especially after a race of high drama in Round 1 which saw huge accidents and a premature end because of a car fire.

The flowing nature of Brands is replaced by a flat out blast round one of the UK’s only banked corners followed by a twisting infield section with lots of heavy braking zones, which will no doubt be to the advantage of the cars with lower top speed and nimble handling.

One of the not so surprise results from last week was the winning combination of Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the Aston Martin V12 Vantage of TF Sport. Adam, relinquished of his Aston Martin WEC duties at Silverstone, made the most of being in a strong position after the round of pit stops to be in the lead after the red flag ended the race with 23 minutes left on the clock. It was business as usual for Aston though – a win at the end of 2015 and a win at the start of 2016 for TF Sport could be considered from their part “just what the doctor ordered.”

The focus though, fell on the big Bentley. Parfitt Jnr and Morris had dramatic race – with the Bentley’s nimble character fitting the circuit well, however a block-in at the pit stop meant that Morris’ charge towards the front in the second half of the race would be from further down the field than he would have liked. Although the Bentley boys only inherited second after a post race time penalty was applied to the #7 BMW of Mowle and Osborne, there was no doubting that the Bentley had serious capability ahead.

The third placed finisher at Brands was one of the new Barwell Lamborghini Huracans; in this case that of Liam Griffin and Fabio Babini. The Italian GT stalwart pushed the sleek Lambo up into contention as the race wore on, and this will serve as proof that Barwell’s new partnership with the Italian marque has been a good one. Rockingham will see Babini replaced by former Team Ireland A1GP driver Adam Carroll, who has previously driven a Ferrari in the British GT series.

One team that will be buzzing as the Rock looms on the horizon is Ecurie Ecosse. At Monza, the sister team of Garage 59 took a sensational win in the Blancpain Endurance Series, with Rob Bell being one of the winning drivers. Bell will be looking to take as much feedback to the garage as they look to make inroads into the 2016 season. McLaren will hope that this time at Rockingham, they will make the end of lap one after a double shunt at the final chicane put both their cars out!

Audi’s Optimum boys will be looking to make progress at the Rockingham roval as well. A shipment of parts for the R8 LMS arrived in time at Brands Hatch to put an extra few kmh’s into the car, which were welcomed by Ratcliffe and Moore, but unfortunately fate conspired against them as the Audi decided to go and investigate a gravel trap during Moore’s stint at the wheel. With an upgraded car though, the team could well be pushing for honours on the many turns of the infield.

In GT4, the Optimum Ginetta G55 took the honours at Brands Hatch and Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson led home a trio of Ginettas at the top of the GT4 leaderboard, with the Century car of Walewska and Freke taking second and the RCIB car of Stilp and Phillips taking a podium on their GT debut.  It will be hard to see Ginetta maintaining their run at the top of the GT4 field as the BOP will level out the field once more. The wide expanse of the Rockingham banking may favour the “bigger” GT4 machines of Aston and Maserati but with handling being at a premium, you can never write off the nimble McLaren or Lotus, which rely on light weight and rear engines to get the best from cornering.

There are no guarantees for the coming weekend at Rockingham. The winter chill hasn’t disappeared from Britain, which could yet throw surprises at the entire field (don’t rule out snow, seriously) and the change in circuit character will mean different front runners. Expect the pack to be bunched up pretty rapidly once the lights change at the start, as the flat out Turn 1 leads into the double 90 degree left at Deene, where those in haste will make a dive to the front of the field  – usually resulting in contact and tears…

Backstage at the Rock:

The Motorbase Performance and Generation AMR Astons, along with the Simpson Ginetta return after the almighty high speed shunt at Brands last time out. Thankfully no drivers suffered harm in this well publicised accident, but the cars involved have needed a fair lump of TLC to get back!

Lanan Racing have permanently severed their ties with Porsche for the year and gone in full swing with the Ginetta G55 in the GT4 class. It’ll be a shame not to see the German marque on the grid in their hands, but to lose a whole team would have been a greater shame.

Whilst McLaren may have taken the honours in the opening Blancpain Endurance race, Barwell’s Lamborghinis by contrast had a tough time at the flat out fest that is Monza. The Huracans have made the return to British shores for this race, once again with driver changes all round. It’ll be a busy few weeks as the team skips between Blancpain and British GT. Not to mention all the livery changes that need to happen!

 

Race Diary – Brands Hatch – Round 1

14-1 (5)

April 15th 2016 was the date and that only could mean one thing, The British GT Championship was back for the 2016 season and this year the opener was at the iconic Brands Hatch in the garden of England’s county of Kent, as exciting as it was for all it didn’t go according to plan as Will Moore explains to us in our first race diary of the 2016 campaign.

Will was first to step into the car to begin the qualification period in changeable weather conditions.
“It was a disappointing first round to the season, definitely one to forget and move on!
In Saturday’s qualifying, my time was average at best. I got the best out of the car I could with it not handling right and the BOP massively against us!”
BOP is the Balance of Performance, it adjusts limits on horsepower, weight, engine management, and aerodynamics to prevent a single manufacturer from becoming dominant in the GT3 class.
“Ryan unfortunately had an off at Druids on his first flying lap which meant he took no further part in Quail 2!
Had he got a lap in I’m sure it would of been well up the field.”
At the end of qualifying the Optimum Motorport Audi R8 LMS sat in 12th spot and so focus was all on race day and improvements that could be made overnight, including some new parts that the team had to go back to their Yorkshire base to collect.
“Starting 12th on the grid for the first round is not where we wanted or expected to be but Ryan soon made good progress up the field handing it over to me at the pit stop in 6th under code 80 full course yellows due to a huge crash involving 3 cars.
Once the incident had been cleared we were back to race speed, with the car still not handling well, she was very nervous in high speed corners and mid corner over steer I battled on only to push too hard into Paddock Hill and found myself facing the wrong way stuck in the gravel and out of the race!”
14-3
“A tough weekend for everyone involved but the Optimum Motorsport team did a sterling job as always.
Setup work and data needs to be done before Rockingham but I have no doubt we will be competitive there.
With 45kg added to our car because Ryan and I are silver-silver pairing, the BOP is heavily against us with Aston Martin and Bentley driving past us in a straight line like we are a GT4 car so I feel there needs to be some changes to make things fairer”
Optimum-01
A pleasant surprise came post race when it was announced that Optimum Motorsport had won the inaugural Professional Motorsport World Expo Team of the Weekend Award.
explained here with an excerpt taken from Britishgt.com
The prize is offered to an outfit that has gone above and beyond or produced a stand-out act at each 2016 British GT event. This, amongst other considerations, might include overcoming a particularly difficult technical issue, executing an innovative race strategy to perfection or achieving an unexpected result in the face of adversity.
British GT Championship Manager Benjamin Franassovici said “There were a number of candidates for this weekend’s award but, in the end, we felt Optimum’s persistence and never-say-die attitude gave them the edge. The Audi ran strongly during Sunday’s race and I’ve no doubt that same spirit will help the team move further forwards at the coming rounds.”
So we now look forward to April 30th and onto Rockingham we go!
© Sandra Hebbourn 26/04/16

© All images courtesy of Jakob Ebrey

British GT Round 1 Preview – Brands Hatch

It is time. Brands Hatch awaits the bold driver for the opening round of the 2016 British GT calendar and the anticipation for a hard fought season begins in earnest at the Kent circuit. With the full field showing their noses for the first time all together it is time to put the winter testing aside and concentrate on bigger matters.

In GT3, the questions raised are can Aston Martin retain their seat at the top of the British GT tree this season? Jonny Adam’s AMR contract has seen him move to the TF Sport team for the 2016 season and Beechdean now turns to youngster Ross Gunn to partner Andrew Howard. Beechdean may carry number 1 this year, but the battle for supremacy will be wide open.

The second question will be how will the new breed of GT3 cars cope with the British season? Audi’s new R8 in the hands of Optimum Motorsport pairing Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe has shown good pace in the 24H Series, and the bonkers Lamborghini Huracan is also welcomed in the hands of Barwell drivers Liam Griffin, Alexander Sims, Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen having seen success on its very first GT3 racing outing at Monza last year.

As a contrast to the new machinery, the BMW Z4 of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne is out there to remain one of the strongest partnerships from the last few seasons. The team finished 3rd in the 2015 season and will look to go one better in the 2016 season. With Brands Hatch being a strong hunting ground for the Z4 previously, it could all come good for “Batman and Robin.”

McLaren are back too with Ecurie Ecosse. The Scottish team are fielding Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell for the first time together and will hope that Bell’s time as a factory driver will push them forward. The 650S may yet see more glory, and the corkscrewing nature of Brands puts the grippy car at an advantage.

Of course, it’s foolish to rule out Aston Martin at any cost, especially with Derek Johnston having taken his first win last season with the TF Sport team, and his new partnership with Adam coming at a good time. Alongside them Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes reunite for another season in the Aston, and Phil Dryburgh joins Ross Wylie in an all Scottish driver pairing at Motorbase. All of these teams will grow with the venerable Vantage and cannot be ruled out for challenging for podium spots.

One team who will be looking to impress will be Team Parker Racing, who field the Bentley Continental of Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris. The team bring a long association with GT3 racing to Britain this year and are keen to prove the Bentley can win on home turf. “RPJ” and Morris both believe that the Bentley, though grand as it is, has the nimbleness of a car capable of taking good finishes.

The garages are also filled with a wealth of promise in the GT4 class, where the grid expands even further for this season with entries from new teams and manufacturers. Two of the most exciting being the Ginettas of Team HARD and the McLaren 570S run by Ecurie Ecosse.

Team HARD are not strangers to the British GT atmosphere, having run cars in the accompanying VW Trophy, but this is a step forward for Tony Gilham’s team, who have brought along 4 fast and talented drivers to drive their 2 G55s for the 2016 season. Jordan Stilp, Will Phillips, Rob Barrable and Wilson Thompson all take their places in the brightly coloured cars, and have shown strongly in testing.

McLaren’s new baby GT4 car will be piloted by Ecurie Ecosse youngsters from F4, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell who will be taking their place in a promising development. Rob Bell tested the car at Snetterton and was favourably impressed by the new car, but we are yet to see it in full racing action to know how it will go.

Aston Martin’s Beechdean challenge this year is mounted by Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholemew, who are looking to follow in the footsteps of Jake Giddings, Ross Wylie, Jamie Chadwick and Ross Gunn as the GT4 championship winners, but with the field size growing the youngsters will be faced with a herculean task to be as dominant as Chadwick and Gunn in 2015.

The Maserati Gran Turismo MC makes its British racing debut at Brands Hatch too, with Abbie Eaton and Marcus Hoggarth moving from GT Cup competition to come together with the Italian machine, which sadly didn’t go too far at Snetterton, but will surely turn heads as it hits the grid for the first time, especially if it puts its nose up with its slightly smaller rivals from the start!

Brands Hatch isn’t the usual starting point for the British GT series, after several years of the season opening at Oulton Park in Cheshire. Previously the season started with a doubleheader meeting, with 2 1-hour races over the weekend, but the change means that teams go straight into the first 2 hour race for 2016. This will give us watching fans a chance to see the strategists in action rather than the sprinters. Brands Hatch has previously put up some amazing shows in this championship, stemming back to 2012, where Jann Mardenborough beat Jonny Adam by a bare bumper width after a last lap fight. In 2014, Le Mans hero Nick Tandy made a one off appearance and blew most of the field away in a Porsche, while last year, the battling BMWs of Barwell and TripleEight fought to the final flag in a nose to tail scrap. If this continues then the season opener will be one to remember, and surely will show where the big hitters will be aiming their sights for the rest of the season.

Some more Kentish knockings:

Jamie Chadwick will be making a substitute appearance at Superdry Generation AMR this weekend, filling in for James George here and at Rockingham while he has other commitments. Chadwick will return to Beechdean later in the season to partner Paul Hollywood in the Vantage V8 GT4.

With the absence of the Porsche Cayman GT4 from these shores, Lanan Racing and Simpson Racing have received delivery of Ginetta G55s as a replacement. A worry while the German cars haven’t arrived to GT4 customers, it’s always reassuring to see drivers able to take to the grid.

Jonny Adam was slated to drive in ELMS, WEC AND British GT this weekend, however, Aston Martin Racing decided to lighten his load by giving him free reign to race at Brands Hatch alone. Andrew Howard, however, will be making the trip between Silverstone and Brands to compete in both ELMS and British GT. Hard work for the Beechdean boss!

Rollcentre Racing will arrive on a high after victory at the Silverstone 24 Hour race, where Richard Neary and Martin Short teamed up to take the win from dead last on the grid in their M3 tourer. The BMW Z4 awaits these gentlemen this weekend, and you can never rule out drivers who come in from a good result elsewhere from making another strong performance happen.