British GT – 2017 Round 4 Preview – Silverstone 500

 

Where do we begin? It’s that time of the year where the British GT Championship reaches halfway and the blue riband event of the season comes with 3 hours of solid hard racing.

Of course though, 500km of Silverstone (or thereabouts) is nothing without the usual raft of amendments to driver and team rosters in the aim to make the most of the longest race of the campaign, and 2017 hasn’t failed to disappoint in any way whatsoever.

Thankfully for most of the paddock, the GT4 European Series isn’t tagging along to the race this year, and so the track will be considerably less crowded than in 2016, where a huge grid left a lot of competitors and teams musing over how to get around slow traffic. This year, there’s none of that to worry about so battle is purely within this series.

The biggest changes have come from Optimum Motorsport and Rollcentre Racing. Optimum’s title defenders, Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, have made the big and bold move of ditching their Ginetta G55 in favour of a McLaren 570S machine for the rest of the season. The drivers changing out their machinery is nothing new, certainly. However this particular move is a surprise as Optimum had been known for their support of Ginetta, and of course taking the title with the brand in 2016.

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Rollcentre Racing also see a change, as Adam Christodolou, one of AMG’s top factory GT3 drivers joins the team from this round onwards, with Martin Short taking part in his final British GT race at Silverstone with the aim of moving back into the manager’s chair on the pitwall. As one of the most respected people in the paddock, having years of sports car racing experience, there will be no finer time for Martin Short to step out of the hot seat. And Adam Christodolou will bring fine pace to the team for the remainder of the season.

Century Motorsport have returned to 3 cars for this race too, as Dane Aleksander Schjerpen steps into the seat previously occupied by Parker Chase alongside Charlie Robertson in the GT3 variant of the G55 Ginetta. Schjerpen is no slouch in a GT car, and could be well in the points by the end of Sunday afternoon.

There’s also a third driver in the #54 UltraTek RJN Nissan 370Z this weekend as Blancpain regular Struan Moore hops in for a spell in the baby Godzilla. Moore brings a heck of a lot of pace with him, and the GT4 machine will be a new challenge for the Channel Islander to enjoy.

We’ve also got entries for GPRM with their Toyota GT86 GT4 driven by Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher, a Lotus Evora for Gavan Kershaw and Stuart Hall, and a further Ginetta G55 for Ade Barwick and Bradley Ellis, who make one of their annual appearances in the paddock.

One of the biggest questions facing us at the weekend though is this: Can anyone stop Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen from repeating their win of last year in the #33 Barwell Lamborghini? The Huracan has been imperious of late on British and European soil, although results in the Blancpain Sprint at Zolder last weekend didn’t necessarily go the way of the flat and fast machinery.

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Aston Martin started a little fightback last weekend with a victory for Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the #1 TF Sport machine, a podium for the #11 sister car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, and also a podium for the #24 MacMillan AMR car of James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell. Any resurgence for the Astons would be keenly shown here as they have gone for a while now without a win at Silverstone, and it would also be a statement of intent with only 4 long races remaining in the season, and at 37.5 points apiece for a win, there’s so much still to play for in the title race.

It’s not unusual for the Silverstone 500 to throw up a surprise or two throughout its course, partly because of it being the longest race of the season, partly because of the Silverstone climate. Last year’s surprise, and it was a pleasant one, was the appearance of Team HARD RCIB Racing’s Ginetta on the top step of the GT4 podium at the end of the race.

This year in GT4 things are being driven by the “Silver” teams of Lanan, HHC and Garage 59, the former two teams in Ginettas and the latter the McLaren. The Garage 59 crew of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell broke their duck last time out for 2017, and in the same place they took their first win. Silverstone will be the complete opposite of Snetterton coursewise, and the McLaren could take advantage of this by punishing the rather lacklustre Ginetta engine down the long straights and fast sweeps of the Northamptonshire track. It will probably, although don’t take my word as gospel when it comes to forecasting, take a lot of rain to get the Ginetta back on the top of the tree here, although the overall pace of David Pittard and Alex Reed in the #51 Lanan car and Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha in the #55 HHC Ginetta provides a strong argument for keeping the fight up for the 3 hours.

Another team hoping for a swing in fortune at Silverstone is Team Parker Racing, whose Bentleys have been captivating for fans for a long time, but rather sadly absent from the podiums for a lot of this season, a win at Rockingham (don’t mention race direction) aside. Last season’s 500 was a terrible disappointment for the Bentley boys. The weekend held much promise, and then of course, it rained, and the Bentley refused to play ball in the cold and wet conditions for Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt, rather spoiling their qualifying and putting the team in a deep blue funk. Without the weather, the Bentley could well be a machine to keep your eyes peeled for.

And what of the other strong pairing at Snetterton? The #6 Barwell Lamborghini of Liam Griffin and Sam Tordoff went on the podium twice in Norfolk, and they’re yet to take their first win. Tordoff’s confidence in the GT cars grows with every race, and it showed last time out, with some excellent pace throughout both races. The only thing standing in the way of these two are their rivals and maybe a dash of reliability and some good fortune!

As observers and fans of the race though, all we really want, and this is rare, is a Silverstone 500 that doesn’t have any rain. Just for a small change… Last year it even flooded the Simpson Racing garage, and nobody, nobody enjoys a cold and wet Silverstone. Unless of course you win there!

Five Hundred Thoughts:

There are no more sprint style rounds this season! Finally, we come back to the 3 hour and 2 hour format for the remaining races. This means no waiting around for hours between races waiting for the next instalment of excitement to get underway. It also means that we’re liable to see more close racing, as the only 2 hour race we’ve had so far at Rockingham, incidents aside, was an absolute and utter belter.

There aren’t as many wildcards at Silverstone this year, and that’s no bad thing in some ways. Having a strong field of regular teams and drivers is pleasing to see, and there’s less of a danger to teams’ title challenge from a “one race only” gung-ho drive from someone who just wants to be out there for the RAC trophy to be presented.

In case I’ve not made this clear enough already, please please please please please don’t let it rain at Silverstone for the 500. Wet Silverstone is not a pleasant place to be for anyone!

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