There’s always something new under the sun
The second and final sprint round of the British GT championship has now been and gone in 2017, and a greater contrast to Rockingham and the remaining 2 hour races you couldn’t wish for. Long had the series anticipated a late spring flurry of activity in Norfolk, thanks in part to a Bank Holiday weekend and forecast sunshine.
Sure enough, the weather gods smiled upon Snetterton for the vast part of Saturday and Sunday, although a passing thunderstorm on Saturday morning did its best to dull the skies and leave some moisture on the already hot asphalt for the second Free Practice session of the weekend.
The entry list had been revised slightly following the withdrawal of Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker from the championship, as Ginetta refocus the racing programme for the two young Americans. Nathan Freke moved down into the #111 Century Motorsport GT4 Ginetta to partner Anna Walewska, reforming their 2016 partnership. Euan McKay was also present in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, replacing Matty Graham.
The sad fact that the GT3 field went down to 10 entries for the weekend didn’t really put a massive spoiler on the weekend. Teams still couldn’t quite fit into the packed pit lane, and tents were laid out for Academy Motorsport and HHC Motorsport, who lost the draw for the “teams without a solid roof for this meeting”. 27 cars would take part in all sessions, which was a fine effort, bearing in mind in recent times it’s been very easy to lose cars from session to session with crash or mechanical damage.
Saturday’s heat and sunshine helped to burn away any remaining water around the circuit, and teams had plenty of track time to get the cars fettled for the narrow and twisty sections of Snetterton. The layout of the revised track, opened in 2011, has a lot of long corners and a premium was placed on handling and acceleration. It wasn’t a surprise there to see that the GT4 Ginettas of Lanan Racing (#51, Pittard/Reed) and HHC (#55, Tregurtha/Middleton) would be up on top of the opening sessions, whilst the Barwell Lamborghinis pushed their credentials after a double win in 2016 for Minshaw and Keen. A double-double (both Sprint weekends) was on for them, so the pressure was on them from the start to deliver any promise the Huracan had.
On watching the cars take to the circuit in practice, it was impressive however to see the speed at which drivers were attacking Snetterton, as the nadgery infield and blistering heat would probably have a huge effect on tyre temperatures, making a long run tricky for any driver. Unsurprisingly #33 Lamborghini topped out the practices, but making a pleasing appearance behind them in the first session was the #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum McLeod. The Team Parker Racing camp was fairly subdued, even after the success at Rockingham. The Bentley doesn’t “fit” quite as well at Snetterton as it does elsewhere, so the weekend would be an attempt to make the best of a bad spot.
In GT4, the Lanan and HHC Ginettas shared practice topping spoils, but following up with 2nd in class in both sessions was the #56 Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S of David Pattison and Joe Osborne. Osborne in particular had nailed in some consistent and impressive lap times throughout the weekend, and maintained his composure through every moment. Sure enough, when qualifying did come around, Osborne used his experience and enthusiasm to secure pole for Tolman in Race 2 with a wonderful lap.
Qualifying for Sprint races are broken down by class as usual, and the first race of the weekend was set by the Am drivers, and the second race was set by the Pro drivers. This is with the exception of the Silver graded drivers of course, who take the penalty of extra ballast in their cars to prevent them from truly disappearing against the Bronze graded drives in that particular section of each session.
Jack Mitchell took pole for race 1 in GT3 with the MacMillan AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Mitchell’s speed is impressive to see, and although he was the Silver amongst Bronzes, he made the Aston Martin sing as he parked the white car at the top of the timesheets. A strong showing at Rockingham was obviously no fluke and certainly no flash in the pan either.
Pole in the GT3 pro session fell the way of the #33 Lamborghini again, but this time the sister #6 Lamborghini of Griffin/Tordoff was alongside. Team Parker Racing’s Bentley #31 of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris weren’t just limiting damage, they took 3rd and 4th in the two sessions to keep at the sharp end of the field. The #1 TF Sport Aston Martin of Johnston/Adam made an appearance in 3rd in Pro qualifying, making sure that there was still a glimmer of light for their title defence.
GT4 Am qualifying was a Silver heavy session as #51, #55 and the #100 Garage 59 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggerty securing the top 3 spots ahead of Adam Balon in the #72 track-club McLaren, the first Am driver, who looked impressive behind the youth and exuberance of the teams he was chasing. But for a track limit infringement, the #100 McLaren of Sandy Mitchell could have surprised the Ginetta teams with a stonking pole lap, but over enthusiasm sadly saw him retain 3rd place only.
The Pro session, as earlier mentioned, was a show of Joe Osborne flexing his and the Tolman’s McLaren’s muscles. Osborne’s race in GT3 last year was a show of his driving ability, and he was unfortunate to fall foul of a driving misdemeanour. The Silver teams followed up behind Osborne, ready to pounce in the race later on Sunday afternoon.
Sadly missing had been the #42 MacMillan AMR Aston Martin (Phillips/Jonck) from qualifying as the team repaired a huge fuel leak which knocked the car to the back of the grid. The weekend hadn’t been smooth sailing either for the AmD Tuning Mercedes AMG #30 for Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, who made qualifying only after repairing gearbox electronics in the big Merc having missed second free practice.
Raceday arrived bathed in glorious late Spring sunshine, and raging heat. Thankfully for the drivers, a one hour race means that only 30 minutes in some of Britain’s most expensive and fast-moving saunas is required. The crowd around Snetterton was large, enthusiastic, and roasting as the field rolled out for the first race.
Jack Mitchell did what he needed to do as the lights went out as he left Jon Minshaw and the rest trailing behind him. The gap widened and widened as Mitchell went on towards the half hour mark in race one. Traffic was little of an issued and managed with aplomb by the pack. In fact, there was almost a feeling that the riot act had been read in terms of discipline, as the field pounded round the Snetterton bends with barely a hint of road rage or frustration. This was a disappointment in terms of the racing action, but pleasing for anyone who dislikes rough and tumble bumping and barging you could be wont to receive at a narrow circuit like this.
The #11 TF Sport Aston Martin suffered an unfortunate puncture, putting the car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes down a lap and out of the running for a strong result. A shame as the two drivers enjoy the circuit and could have made hay while the sun shone (figuratively, at least).
The pit stops provided much wanted relief for both starting drivers and spectators, as the racing for the most part had turned processional. Mitchell pitted with a lead over 15 seconds over Minshaw and handed over to James Littlejohn, who would have the job of the ages holding back Phil Keen and others behind him.
The GT4 battle was between the three silver teams of HHC, Lanan and Garage 59, and you rarely saw the three teams out of each other’s sight, even amongst the snaking traffic. Eventually their battle fell in favour of the HHC #55 car of Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, who took their second consecutive race victory following their success at Rockingham in the 2 hour race there. Surprise was felt by the Ginetta teams at the 1-2 for the leading two, as there was a belief that McLaren would capitalise on success last year here, and dominate the event, but the handling of the G55 made it a tough prospect to beat.
In GT3, Phil Keen in #33 was eating away at the #24 Aston’s lead as Littlejohn couldn’t match the pace of the Lamborghini driver. And to match the ambitions, Sam Tordoff was also putting in some cracking times in the #6 Lamborghini as well. Behind them, Seb Morris had taken over the Team Parker Bentley, alas with too much enthusiasm, as their race result would be spoiled by a post-race 30 second penalty for a short pit stop. This promoted the #30 Mercedes up to 4th place by the end, but all eyes were on the white Aston and the green and red Lamborghini up front.
Littlejohn is not a Radical champion for nothing, and it was elbows-out defence from the Scotsman as Keen looked, teased and charged at the car holding him back from a 1st place finish. Eventually with just over 6 minutes remaining, the Aston took it a little too far into Williams, and the Lamborghini got a run onto the Bentley Straight, past and into the lead. The defence had also brought Tordoff closer too, and the #6 was soon past the Aston as well.
3 from 3 sprint races in 2017 then for Minshaw and Keen it was, as their stablemates Griffin and Tordoff backed them up with Mitchell/Littlejohn taking a second consecutive 3rd place in the championship.
Race 2 finally arrived a couple of hours later, and with a double-double on the cards, Keen pushed the throttle with Tordoff providing equal competition and support as they approached the starter’s rostrum.
Neither of them expected the reigning champion, Jonny Adam to go full throttle though and surprise them both by taking the lead into the first turn. The sight of the back end of the #1 Aston was a real surprise for the Barwell pair, and a throwing down of the gauntlet for the rest of the race. Challenge accepted, Phil Keen stole back the lead and began to make a run, to account for the 10 second success penalty that he would face at the pit stop. Behind them, James Littlejohn ran into grief at the Bomb Hole and dropped from top to bottom, negating the chance of a repeat podium for MacMillan.
GT4 was led by Joe Osborne, who carried on an impressive weekend for the Tolman team, pulling away from his rivals. The hard work of Osborne meant that the #56 McLaren looked in good shape for a fine result. All this, however would be undone by an incident between the #7 Bentley and the #55 Ginetta, which saw both cars irrepairable and out of the race, bringing out the Safety Car as an added bonus. Thankfully, everything seemed in order with the neutralisation of the race, although Osborne could bemoan the loss of his gap, with others closing on Pattison as a result. The incident for Middleton and Tregurtha though was a huge disappointment, as the youngsters could have been challenging for top points again.
As the race restarted, the #100 McLaren driven by Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty suddenly blitzed to the GT4 lead, which it would hold to the finish securing their first top step of the season. Behind them would be the #51 Lanan Ginetta with Pittard and Reed securing a second consecutive second place, and Tolman made the most they could of their moment in the sun with a fine third place, for which Joe Osborne received the mother of all champagne drenchings.
GT3 though was about to be turned upon its head. Back in the Race Control den, a sharp eyed timekeeper noticed that the #33 Lamborghini hadn’t been stopped long enough in pit lane, and out went the drive through notification. A massive let down for Minshaw and Keen, who were well on course for a race win and 4 out of 4. Minshaw diligently peeled off to take his penalty. This let through the #1 TF Sport Aston, the #6 Barwell Lamborghini and the #11 TF Sport Aston to lock out the podium, giving Johnston and Adam their first race win of 2017, Griffin and Tordoff another second place and Farmer and Barnes retribution for missing out on a trip to stand on the boxes in race 1.
With 3 rounds of the season gone, and the halfway point of the season at Silverstone approaching we can take a good look at the consolidated championship tables. GT3 is led by Minshaw and Keen on 101 points from Parfitt and Morris who have 77.5 and Johnston and Adam on 74 points. Already, a massive gap has formed thanks to Barwell’s 3 wins from 5 races but as history has proven nothing is truly insurmountable.
The table in GT4 is not as clearly dominated, though the early season standings are led by Middleton and Tregurtha, with 92.5 points from Pittard and Reed on 83 points and Mitchell and Haggerty on 73 points. This is a much closer fight, and it is pleasing to see 3 sets of young drivers duking it out for this title. Any slip ups from now to the end of the season could be a fatal blow to any of these drivers’ title ambitions.
Drivers must be praised for the punishing physical task they faced at Snetterton this weekend, mostly due to the hot and muggy weather around the track vicinity. The sun was as fierce as the air temperature, and the heat of a cockpit was only exacerbated by this. Thankfully, none of the athletes behind the wheel let this get to them.
After the general explosion of rules and tempers at Rockingham, there was no repeat of the post-race confusion at Snetterton. Although there were post-race penalties applied, there was no massive controversy to rob fans and teams of a fought competitive race…
…that said, neither of the weekend’s races scored highly on the excitement meter. Both were rather processional and rather uninspiring as little more than a parade. Embellish it as we might, it was a case of “follow the leader” for most of the weekend’s races. And that was a shame after the mighty battles in the previous round.