All posts by Cassandra Hebbourn

British GT – 2017 Round 4 Review – Silverstone 500

 

All’s well that ends well.

 

At the beginning of June, the British GT paddock descends upon the longest race weekend of its year. Granted that 3 hours may not seem much, but it’s the blue riband event of each season and every team involved wants to prove their worth round Silverstone’s Grand Prix layout.

Saturday arrived and for once the anticipation in the air was for genuine contest. There wasn’t a hint of elbows out bodywork bashing, more expectation of a race which promised to showcase driver talent and ability.

One team however who were not best pleased about the arrival of the race were Barwell, whose Huracans had taken a hit under the Balance of Performance adjustments applied by SRO ahead of the weekend to rein in the Lamborghinis after what has been more or less a runaway start to the year. Although only the #6 car of Tordoff and Griffin would take a success penalty of additional pit stop seconds on Sunday, the team faced a mountain to climb to defend their championship points lead.

Ginetta’s GT4 entries also felt the pressure at Silverstone. The nimble G55 is excellent in twisting corners, but on Silverstone’s vast and fast expanses, there is little to enjoy for the Yorkshire built machines. The change of Optimum to switch the #501 car of Johnson/Robinson to the McLaren 570S from this weekend onwards showed the shifting sands in the class, although there’s much to be said for the exuberance of youth, with Lanan, HHC and Garage 59 fighting out the top 3 points spots in the GT4 standings with 3 young driver crews proving that raw talent can be measured carefully.

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There was another factor that made the weekend a very pleasurable one for both driver and spectator alike. This time of year and this race is usually plagued by a unseasonable downpour, spoiling everything formbook wise even more so than usual, and turning Silverstone into an unpleasant quagmire. 2017 broke away from this though, and the entirety of Saturday and Sunday, Silverstone stayed dry, albeit a bit windy. Teams put on their sunglasses and stored the rain tyres safely so that the gods of motor racing could not be tempted to blow some adverse weather their way.

Practice threw up a new name to the top of the timesheets, as Adam Christodolou climbed into the familiar cockpit of the Mercedes AMG GT3 of ABBA Rollcentre Racing and put in a stonking lap around the circuit to lead the way by over a second. Christodolou’s British GT bow could hardly have been better for morale and for excitement. Rollcentre were saying a fond farewell to team boss Martin Short (as a driver, for now), and a top spot in any session is enough to put a smile on the face of any team principal.

GT4 had two interlopers to contend with this weekend in the Invitation class as Stuart Hall and Gavan Kershaw employed their talents in pedalling the Stratton Lotus Evora, whilst Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher did the same in the GPRM Toyota. Neither of these cars was there for show and the Evora fairly looked like trumping the entirety of the field as it wailed around the course, making light work of the bends in true Lotus fashion.

10 minutes of qualifying around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit isn’t a massive amount of time to get a good lap in, however needs must when there’s honour and points to be won. And each driver went around cleanly and admirably in each session. The pole position was eventually taken by the #24 MacMillan Racing Aston Martin of Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn, with two consistent times seeing them steal pole from the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt, who looked on course to make the most of a happily dry circuit.

Behind them, the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari driven by Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin just pipped the sister #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod from having Team Parker concerns in 2nd and 3rd on the grid. Christodolou once again topped the pro session times in the #88 Mercedes, but sadly the averages didn’t favour the team on this occasion.

HHC Motorsport didn’t let the balance of performance smother their GT4 drivers in qualifying as the young hotshots Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton put in a fine average timeset to get them to the top in their Ginetta. They were only pipped by the invitation class Lotus, as Hall and Kershaw put in times nearly a second faster than the rest of the field.

Sunday arrived bringing scores of spectators to the ticket gates, as the sunshine settled in for the day, allowing a sense of rude health and optimism to boost the support for this 3 hour race. A lot of teams sat out the warm up, not feeling the need to make adjustments or to seek any further improvement on their capabilities for the race.

The field duly formed up and rolled round to take the start, at which point, the two snarling Bentleys ganged up on the pole sitting Aston and pushed it backwards down the order. After last year’s disappointment it was time for Team Parker Racing to make up with a victory, and Rick Parfitt set off at an electric pace to try and establish the #31 at the head of the field. Behind him, Derek Johnston in the #1 Aston Martin suddenly found himself spinning off the road, but thankfully without damage to be able to rejoin the race, albeit dead last with work to do to catch up. In truth, TF Sport had a rather lacklustre weekend, and neither the #1 car of Johnston/Adam nor the #11 of Farmer/Barnes would make a heavy dent in the end results, although it would never be for the want of trying.

Richard Neary was having a good go in the #88 Mercedes from the start as well, and found himself making good pace up in the top 5 before he too dropped back after leaving the circuit, again, thankfully without damage to the car.

In GT4, the field had been joined by Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones in the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin, who were made to start from the back as their penalty for missing qualifying on Saturday in favour of going racing in the GT4 European Series at the Red Bull Ring. They would need a charge from the back of the field to have any effect on the final race results. There was no question that GT4 would be where the best battles would be fought this weekend, as the small cars revelled in the wide open spaces of Silverstone.

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Sure enough, as the race went on, there developed a fantastic battle for the lead of the class, which kept people on their toes. Academy had made the climb up the order, and was now dicing with the #29 In2Racing (Hoggarth/Graham) and #72 track-club (Balon/Mackay) McLarens, and the only other GT4 Aston, the #42 MacMillan car of Jonck/Phillips. These four conspired to swap places around the circuit, with the strongest looking like the #72 track-club car. Whilst the Silver class has hogged the limelight pointswise this season, the track-club team have arrived without pomp and ceremony and raced hard. Adam Balon and Adam Mackay were pushing the little white McLaren with the experience of two men who knew how to coax the most out of a lightweight rear engine sportscar.

Drama befell the HHC Motorsport team though, as a driveshaft in the #55 Ginetta decided to break under the strain of the high speed. Tregurtha and Middleton’s race was more or less over without affecting the scoresheets, but the team would rally, replace and repair parts, and send the car back out for a fine flourish towards the end.

Another strong performance came from Kelvin Fletcher in the #54 Nissan 370Z. Fletcher, to date had hardly set the world alight, but suddenly, he was making progress up the order in the baby Godzilla, and turning a few heads as he passed some well capable drivers (including Ciaran Haggerty in one of the title contending machines)! With Struan Moore stepping into the hotseat later, it would have been prime time to see how the car would fare, but unfortunately, a puncture halted their charge.

GT3 though was becoming the Parfitt and Morris show. Parfitt’s driving was cool, calm and calculated, and no matter how much Mitchell and Littlejohn pushed in the #24 Aston behind them, they couldn’t stop the #31 Bentley from going further into the distance. The big V8 powered beast barely missed a step or a beat at the front. Unfortunately, its stablemate #7 in the hands of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod suddenly ended up exiting the track at speed and shunting, ruining a solid race for the team.

The two teams who gambled with longer driving stints, Spirit of Race and Barwell, endured the waiting game to see if gambling on a true endurance stint would pay off. Barwell’s gamble was to be the biggest one as they would have the most to lose at this weekend. In truth, 4th place at the flag for the #33 Minshaw/Keen Lamborghini would be enough to keep their title challenge rolling, although a podium finish (which eventually fell the way of the #21 Ferrari of Cameron & Griffin) would have been a nice little addition to the weekend.

As the race drew towards its close, the lead Bentley tangled with the #11 TF Sport car of Farmer/Barnes, but was found not to have been guilty of any indiscretion in terms of conduct, despite a spin for the Aston. Team Parker Racing celebrated 2 victories in the 2 longer races of the season so far, and another collection of 37.5 points to their total for the season, propelling Parfitt and Morris closer to Minshaw and Keen at the top of the standings. Second for the #24 MacMillan Aston gave plenty for Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn to smile about, with another podium to add to their driving CVs. The Ferrari rounded out the podium, and pushed Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin up the order in the championship standings too, behind the Barwell & Team Parker pairings. Still plenty to play for in that respect.

Behind the GT3 field, the GT4 class tried its best to keep up the excitement. After having its battle with its rivals, the #72 track-club car kept the momentum to the flag, as Balon and Mackay revelled in having no pit stop penalties, a quick and nimble car, and reason to drive it as fast as possible. Although Matt Nicoll-Jones and Will Moore would try their hardest to keep chase, they would fall short of a charge from last to first, and would have to settle with second place ahead of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham, who were making gains on the #62 Aston in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, making both teams and fans sweat in anticipation of an exciting close finish. There was no appearance on the podium for any of the top 3 in the GT4 championship standings, and the closest finishers frm that group to the top were David Pittard and Alex Reed in the #51 Lanan Ginetta. Their lead was now shrinking to single digits, closed in heavily by Balon and Mackay, who were looking a very strong pairing in what is in truth, not a very large or heavily sponsored team. Talent will out in motor racing!

The Silverstone 500 had one extra piece of excitement in store for the winners this year, as Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris collected the RAC Trophy for winning the blue riband event of the year. If there were ever a gloss to put on a race weekend, this was it. Tradition is a rare thing in racing, a sport which doesn’t stand still, and it is nice to have a championship like this share in an old and respected piece of silverware for its latest winners. The champagne flowed faster and higher than usual. Perhaps it was relief at completion of 3 hours. Perhaps it was the sunshine. Perhaps though, it was just that the best job had been done by everyone to make this an excellent race.

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Surmises from Silverstone:

One of the features of the weekend from a non-racing point of view was the Supercar display on the Sunday, which included everything from a Chevrolet Camaro, to a Dodge Viper GTS, several McLaren 675LTs, almost every Ferrari possible, and even a Jaguar XJR-12, as seen at Le Mans in 1990. A very impressive companion to an exciting weekend for the spectator.

On track, one thing missed from the entire weekend in terms of British GT and that was the often expected and much lamented Safety Car. There was no cause for it! Although there were incidents that required marshal attention and car retrieval, no need for a full course caution period was required. This ruined the caution to the wind strategies of some teams, but there’s nothing like the spectacle of drivers being allowed to run flat out for the full duration of a race. And that’s perhaps something that was needed after the last couple of years of this race!

The weekend welcomed a new championship as a supporting series this weekend, and it was one of the best we’ve seen yet. The Caterham 420R Championship turned a wheel at Silverstone, and during the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday, people were treated to a fine spectacle of racing. Up to 14 cars were nose to tail at one point during the race on Sunday following the leader, with barely an incident to report, but plenty of shuffling for position. We’d quite like to see these racers return to the timetables in future – after all, there’s only so many Ginetta G40s that can race during one weekend!

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British GT – 2017 Round 3 Review – Snetterton

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

 

Snetterton sentimentalities:

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.

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!

British GT – 2017 Round 3 Preview – Snetterton

 

It’s been nearly a month since the last time that the British GT Championship rolled its way around the Rockingham circuit, and passions and tempers have cooled following a nice break from the manic on track action that took place in Northamptonshire.

The vast wide open fields of Norfolk welcome the British GT competitors for 2 1-hour sprint races, as is customary at Snetterton. Last year’s race was a whitewash for the #33 Demon Tweeks liveried Barwell Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who will hope that the shorter race (and no time penalties) will put them at the front of the pack once more.

Any fallout from what took place during and after the Rockingham race will hopefully be a distant memory when things kick off on Sunday for the first of two races. The #31 Bentley of Team Parker Racing driven by Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt will suffer greatest for their effort last time out and face a 10 second pit stop addition for the first race, and will hope for better luck than their last trip out at Snetterton.

Their rivals on the day last time in the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari, Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin have previous at this circuit too. Back in the “golden old days” in 2010, they had a “lose one win one” day, when their Ferrari was shredded in the first race by a spectacular tyre explosion, only for Griffin to put the hammer down in the second race and hand over to Cameron to bring it home for a brilliant win. Ferrari might well do well here, as Snetterton has a similar nature to the Rockingham “fast outside, slow inside” layout.

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The reigning champions in the #1 TF Sport Aston, Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam had rather a disappointing weekend last time out as the Aston didn’t bite as hard as it is used to. They’ll be looking to make the most of the lack of penalty burdens and get their title challenge back on track, although there’s already a mountain for them to climb to get towards the top of the points standings.

Another feature of the 2016 round at Snetterton was the victory for the McLaren GT4 pairing of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty. The 570S GT4 took its first series win round Snetterton last year, making Mitchell the youngest ever race winner in the process. An impressive feat for the two Scotsmen, who will be looking to outdo their Rockingham performance of second place last time, but this of course relies on there being little resistance from their competitors.

The impressive and deserving victors at the previous round, the HHC Motorsport Ginetta team of Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, will want to make the most of their impressive form in Norfolk this weekend, and there’s little doubt that their newfound partnership will reap rewards in the long term. For the near future, they’ll hope that the G55 will have the punch needed round Snetterton’s twisting infield to keep them in touch with the other class machinery.

Amongst their rivals for the class will be the #51 Lanan Racing Ginetta of the ever quick and consistent David Pittard and Alex Reed, the #501 Optimum Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who are still yet to capture their first win of the new season.

One big surprise for this year has been the absence of Aston Martin from the GT4 podium steps, as last year there was always a V8 Vantage in contention for class victory, however this seems to have slipped with the loss of the young Beechdean squad, as we had become accustomed to seeing. Whilst MacMillan Racing (#42, Jan Jonck & Will Phillips) and Academy Motorsport (#62, Matt Nicoll-Jones & Will Moore) have attempted valiantly, a string of issues and penalties have caused Ginetta and McLaren to become the dominant force in the class. A balance of performance change may help matters, but that is a big hope for a very open field of racers.

We’re also yet to see a Mercedes hit the rostrum this year, and last year, Lee Mowle had a “so close” moment whilst still in his trusty BMW Z4. A nice, balanced car like the AMG GT3 could be just the tool for Snetterton, and the AmD Tuning squad have a lot of making up for lost time to do with the top 3.

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Another missing name from Rockingham was the impressive In2Racing McLaren 570S of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham. Damage prevented them from taking the start last time out, but once they got rolling at Oulton they made great shakes up the order. The Snetterton circuit could suit the northerners in the McLaren, and they’ll hope for more this time out.

Norfolk’s only drawback is the weather – the wind can really lash at the former airfield, and with wind, this can bring in the typically expected British Summer Weather© with it.  If it does, expect there to be a big shuffle in the order. Rain at Oulton left us with a double winner in GT3, and a surprise winner in GT4. We can only hope that the racing is as kind to us this time out as it has been at the last rounds.

Snetterton Supposings:

A fair few drivers took time out from the British stage to go and race in the Blancpain GT Series and the GT4 European Series at Brands Hatch and Silverstone in the last month. Seb Morris, Sam Tordoff, David Pattison & Joe Osborne, Matty Graham, Matt Nicoll-Jones & Will Moore and Jon Minshaw all went out and had a play, with varying degrees of success. Minshaw’s double race win in the Blancpain GT Sports Club races for bronze-graded drivers was a particular highlight.

We’re hoping and praying that the controversy seen over the last few weeks has dissipated and we don’t end up with a raft of penalties adjusting the race results this time around. Although the situation at Rockingham is something that still causes confusion to onlookers, it’s likely the events there will never be repeated. All we can hope for is that the drivers and teams oblige with a clean, fair and exciting display on track.

 

©Pete Richardson 23/05/17

 

British GT – Round 2 Review – Rockingham


Hardest efforts affected

When the history books look back at this race weekend at the Rockingham Motor Speedway, they will show the eventual result of Sunday’s race. But a race result can only tell part of a story and the story from this weekend is one that will take some time to tell, and we as observers may not be able to explain everything that has occurred, for better or for worse.

Going into the racetrack there had been a couple of changes to personnel. Firstly at Century, where GT4 Supercup star George Gamble had taken Mike Simpson’s seat in the #111 University of Bolton liveried car alongside Anna Walewska. At TeamHARD/RCIB Racing, Jordan Stilp returned alongside Britcar racer Simon Rudd in the #36 machine, as Mike Newbould and Michael Caine were unable to attend.

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Saturday dawned under a layer of cloud and the first gusts of the ripping wind which blasts and circles around the big banked oval expanses of Rockingham. By the end of Free Practice 1, there had already been a mechanical casualty, as the #33 Minshaw/Keen machine expired rather graunchingly on the apron of the banking approaching Turn One. Barwell carry plenty of spare Lamborghini Huracan parts, and they were able to repair the green and red machine in time for qualifying later in the day, well worthy of praise.  The session ended in their favour, with the fellow Italian machine of the Spirit of Race taking second fastest for #21 Cameron/Griffin. Rockingham, traditionally, has favoured Maranello machinery, and the Ferrari 488 looked like it picked up where the 458 left off.

Free Practice 2 saw the end of one half of the In2Racing squad as the #29 McLaren 570S of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham came to grief and was unrepairable for the remainder of the weekend. A pity on two drivers who have come to terms with a change of car well, and were not slacking on the timesheets. With the #33 car missing, Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam hit the top of the timing sheets for the first time in the #1 TF Sport Aston, and looked at carrying on where they left off in 2016 with a win under their belts. In GT4, Lanan took the #51 Ginetta G55 of David Pittard and Alex Reed to P1, showing their consistency after the race 2 win at Oulton.

Qualifying followed, and a nearly full field sat in pit lane to await the aggregate qualifying for Am and Pro drivers. 10 minutes for each driver is plenty of time to get a solid lap in, although some would argue at Rockingham’s 1.94 mile lap length, space on the track is at a premium.

In GT3 Am, the barometer swung towards the Aston Martin side of the paddock, as Mark Farmer (#11 TF Sport), Jack Mitchell (#24 MacMillan) and Derek Johnston (#1 TF Sport) took the top 3 spots on the timing screens with Jon Minshaw (#33 Barwell Lamborghini) falling foul of the strict track limits rules and having his 2 fastest times disallowed.

Then, out rolled the Pro drivers, and the consistency lay with the #1 car, as Jonny Adam showed no cobwebs from his Monza trip (despite a headcold caught on Italian shores) to set aggregate pole. Jon Barnes in #11 backed up his TF Sport team mate and made it an all Aston front row. The second row was all Lamborghini as Phil Keen in #33 and Sam Tordoff in #6 put in some excellent laptimes to promote their machines up the order. Charlie Robertson in the #19 Century Ginetta and Matt Griffin in the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari now fell foul of the track limits and saw their grid charges dented severely.

GT4 qualifying begun with the Silver graded drivers showing their hands early, and the #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 of Will Tregurtha was the fastest out of the blocks, with David Pittard going all out behind him for second in the Am session. With the top 5 covered by less than a second, it was always going to be nip and tuck when the Pros came out for their 10 minutes.

Despite the size of the GT4 grid there were no dramas for the returning drivers into the pit lane as they swapped over. Professional drivers Mike Robinson (#501 Optimum Ginetta), Joe Osborne, (#56 Tolman McLaren) and Martin Plowman (#53 UltraTek Nissan) put their cars through their paces in this session, although it would eventually be an all Silver front row as the #55 HHC Ginetta of Tregurtha/Middleton and the #51 Lanan Ginetta of Pittard/Reed locked out the top two spots.

Raceday begun relatively drama free. The only blotch on the record card for the warm up was the sudden stop of Liam Griffin’s #6 Barwell Lamborghini on the exit of the final corner, which thankfully did not curtail the warm up session. TF Sport again held the top two spots on the timesheets, whilst the #72 track-club McLaren of Adam Balon and Adam Mackay popped in a neat time to head GT4 warmup standings and throw doubt on whether Ginetta would be able to maintain pace, although the predominantly white machine would pull back to its garage with a technical issue in pit lane.

If there was one thing that made Rockingham an improvement on Oulton Park it was the lack of moisture on the racing surface. In fact, the only issue facing the drivers would be the traditional blast of wind across the circuit from north to south. There was some spring warmth in the air at least, and this meant that the Bentley could come into play by the closing stages of the race, as dry asphalt plays less havoc with the two Team Parker Racing machines of Loggie/MacLeod (#7) and Parfitt/Morris (#31).

The first two hour race of the year also brought the first success penalties of 20 seconds which would be served by #33 and #51 in each class. The #1 TF Sport Aston would have the advantage of pole but a 15 second pit stop penalty, whilst the #11 TF Sport Aston and the #501 Century Ginetta were to take an extra ten seconds at their pit stops. At Rockingham, the safety car is a frequent runner though, and with that, the opportunity for making up the time lost with these penalties is there to be taken.

The field set off on the pace lap in good order, and came round quickly to take the rolling start, and Derek Johnston put down his foot firmly in the #1 Aston, followed swiftly by Jon Minshaw in #33 who capitalised on a sloppy, slow getaway for Mark Farmer in the #11 Aston Martin. Within a few laps the race had its first and only retiree, as the #72 track-club McLaren of Adam Balon pulled into the pit lane and withdrew despite the best efforts of the team mechanics.

The GT4 lead went to David Pittard in the #51 Lanan Ginetta, but he had the determined Scot Ciaran Haggerty in the #100 Garage 59 McLaren on his tail, looking to make amends for a lost result in race 2 at Oulton by storming around after the red and white machine. Will Tregurtha dropped back to third but kept in touch with the leading two in class.

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The first safety car was called when the #69 Century Ginetta GT3 machine of Harry Gottsacker found the gravel trap at the tricky Yentwood corner on the infield. The incident was not too serious thankfully, and the young American brought the car back to his team to review the car and get it back out on track to make the most of some dry track time and gain a few points. As the green flag went out again to restart, it became clear there’d been a big change in GT3 as James Littlejohn in the #24 MacMillan Aston now followed Johnston and Minshaw in 3rd place, and looked hungry to go further.

We shall come back to GT3, because the GT4 lead had changed, and Haggerty took the #100 McLaren to the front of the pack and began one of the best battles of the race as the #55 HHC Ginetta with Tregurtha at the wheel was pursued by #51 (Pittard, Lanan Ginetta), #501 (Johnson, Optimum Ginetta) and then the impressive #63 (Webster, RCIB Racing Ginetta). This quintet were dodging, ducking, weaving and nosing about the twisty infield before Haggerty would sprint round the oval with a pack of snarling Yorkshire built machinery at his tail threatening to consume the McLaren, which Haggerty admitted wasn’t working as well as he’d wanted. The McLaren held on gamely as the 4 Ginettas swapped positions behind him to try and snap at its heels on the torturous and undulating road portion of the course. This is one of the great moments of racing, when a driver and car can be well in tune enough to maintain a lead despite a disadvantage, and it kept the pack close and the intrigue high.

Meanwhile at the top of GT3, Derek Johnston started testing the patience of the race director and dropped over the track limits to receive a 5 second time penalty. Suddenly, the #1 Aston started to roll back down the order. This let the #33 Lamborghini of Minshaw into the lead, but behind him, snappy Scot James Littlejohn could sent bull’s blood, and the #24 MacMillan Aston dived past to lead the race over all. Behind these two, the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Rick Parfitt was making up for lost dry race time as he headed the #21 Ferrari with Duncan Cameron at the wheel. Soon enough, the Ferrari was passed too, and the first strong showing from Mercedes this weekend came from AmD Tuning’s Lee Mowle, who was looking calm, confident and pacy in the #30 red Mercedes.

The safety car was scrambled again when the #43 Century Ginetta G55 GT4 of Steve Fresle “missed” Gracelands and beached itself conveniently in the gravel at the downhill left, necessitating a snatch recovery. The field bunched again, but at the green flag, Littlejohn kept his advantage as the field neared the pitstop window for a change of driver and tyres, and a big glug of fuel.

At the Tarzan hairpin (which I feel is rather a shadow of its Zandvoort precedent), Nick Jones in the #66 Team Parker Racing Porsche came into contact with the #54 Nissan of UltraTek Racing’s Tim Eakin, who had given a good account of himself in the first half of the race, bagging a drive through for the Porsche, and rather denting any hopes of a podium charge later on.

Also suffering from the wrath of the race director was Harry Gottsacker, who was aiming to press on in the #69 Ginetta, however in his haste he exceeded the track limit one too many times and copped successive penalties for time. A shame for the team and driver, as the new Ginetta GT3 had barely had enough running time at Oulton. The #19 stablemate driven by Parker Chase and Charlie Robertson soon pitted too and had the bonnet lifted for running repairs. Both cars eventually took the flag through trials and tribulations. Not the finest hour for either car, but with a new specification, there were always going to be teething troubles for the GT3 G55.

Littlejohn, Minshaw, Parfitt et al all pitted at around 60 minutes having completed their required minimum driving times, and whilst the #33 Lamborghini suffered its interminable wait to rejoin the circuit. James Littlejohn handed the #24 Aston over to Jack Mitchell, whilst Rick Parfitt accidentally overshot his pit spot as he handed the big #31 Bentley to Seb Morris, who would have the bit between his teeth ready to chase the Hesketh liveried Aston down for the lead. Also joining the leading trio would be the #21 Ferrari, now with the solidly fast Matt Griffin at the wheel.

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In GT4, the lead would change now at the pit stops as the #51 Lanan Ginetta paid the success penalty, and the #55 HHC Ginetta would benefit best from the pit stops as Stuart Middleton leapt past Sandy Mitchell who was now piloting the #100 McLaren. Behind them, Matt Chapman was now at the wheel of the #63 RCIB Racing Ginetta, and the reigning team champions held 3rd place in class.

At the front of GT3, Jack Mitchell was managing his race with aplomb. The Kent youngster is a very talented racer, and the #24 Aston was paying for its Silver Cup ballast as it fell backwards towards the charging Morris and Griffin behind. Mitchell wasn’t going to bow out easily though, and suddenly a thrilling trio of cars began to fight through the lapped GT4 traffic and amongst each other, taking little nibbles at different parts of the course. The Bentley and Ferrari did beautifully well on the twists of the infield whilst the Aston ran the length of the oval with its powerful V12 singing shrilly at the very nose of this high speed train, pulling a little back over the cars behind it. The watching spectators were goggle-eyed with anticipation of a tight switchback for the lead time and time again. Every time Morris made moves to take the Aston, he would be at the mercy of Griffin’s Ferrari, and the racecraft on show here was excellent to watch.

Now, sadly, once again, things began to turn sour from a racing point of view. Firstly, we must note that Griffin at some point, made contact with the #31 Bentley driven by Morris, and the stewards reviewed the contact and placed a 5 second penalty on the #21 Ferrari to be added to its overall race time. So, when eventually Griffin passed Morris, who in turn passed Mitchell and left the Ferrari and the Bentley leading. Griffin would have to stretch his legs and make a gap over the Bentley pushing him hard for position.

Unfortunately, the safety car would appear again as Matt Chapman fell victim to the inviting gravel trap of Yentwood corner, and ruin a podium chase for him. Whilst the #63 Ginetta was recovered, something unexplainable happened. The safety car allowed the #21 Ferrari of Matt Griffin to pass, while it held up the chasing #31 Bentley of Seb Morris in 2nd place. Cue utter consternation from teams, drivers and spectators. Suddenly the race leader had a lead of about half a lap from the pursuing pack as they were stuck behind the Safety Car. Nobody quite understood what was occurring. The timing screen showed Griffin as the leader, and the 5 second penalty remained on screen, but he now had clear daylight infront and behind him. The order remained until the flag fell on the race.

Confused and disbelieving teams and drivers bundled around the podium at Rockingham. Happily, the GT4 win had been finely contested and Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton proved they had earned their Ginetta Junior graduation. Haggerty and Mitchell held onto 2nd place and a fine rostrum finish in the #100 McLaren, whilst the #501 Optimum Ginetta took another 3rd place finish.

The GT3 podium felt less harmonious, as Parfitt and Morris did not celebrate their 2nd place finish in the #31 Bentley. The champagne flowed for the #21 Ferrari of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin, and for the 3rd placed MacMillan Aston of Littlejohn and Mitchell, who had proven that the Silver Cup weight disadvantage did not hinder determination at least. But, there was a figurative dark cloud over the pits, paddock and grandstand, as the result felt rather unbalanced with the release of the Ferrari from its berth behind the safety car in what seemed a rather farcical situation.

A few hours later, the race stewards came to their final decision. The #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari would be given a penalty of 26 seconds to be added to their final total race time, putting them behind the #31 Bentley of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris. Suddenly, the Ferrari team and drivers felt robbed of victory. A mistake which they had not made had penalised their team. Bentley felt that Ferrari gained an unfair advantage, which denied them an on track victory, which was unfair.

Unfair and unfair do not make fair, as much as two wrongs do not make a right. The series suffered today for the fact that one mistake turned the outcome of the race on its head. Drivers complained of a penalty system that robs them of a sensible racing outcome. Fans left the circuit not knowing the exact circumstance of a racing finish. It is a shame to not see the racing on track at Rockingham reflected in the results, as they only tell a tale of confusion, and a waste of hard effort from several drivers.

Rockingham rows and rambles:

A lot of people are now dissatisfied with the management of mid-race and post-race penalties, and there is certainly a worry, from me if from nobody else, that the series will suffer as a result. Teams, drivers and judicial teams should meet and discuss a suitable arrangement for the penalty system. The MSA will have watched this and been considering what to set up in the Yearbook of Sporting Regulations in the event that the Safety Car allows the leader by in error. Perhaps there is no easy way to settle this.

In addition to the point raised above, Track Limit penalties applied to no less than 6 cars during the race. A lot of drivers are in disagreement over these penalties. Many will probably tell you “there’s road there, use it” so long as it is to their advantage in helping the car go faster. Stewards would probably take a dim view of this on safety grounds, as one slip of wheel could see a potentially damaging accident occur. Again, there is no simple settlement to this, as you can argue both sides. Based on the number of penalties issued at Rockingham, more people would probably side with the drivers at the current point in time! We cannot know how to settle this without sensible and measured discussion.

In spite of all the penalties, controversy and aftermath, the race at Rockingham showed what the true capability of a battling batch of drivers and cars could do. 5 drivers battling for the GT4 lead? 3 drivers battling for the GT3 lead? It is the dream of any spectator to see a train of cars all with an equal chance of success. And that for the most part is what we got as observers and spectators. There were a lot of people on edge as the two lead battles had people glued to the short but twisty course and the racecraft of skilful and capable racing drivers in exciting and captivating racing cars. Snetterton has a lot to live up to in Round 3.

 

Pete Richardson

British GT – 2017 Round 2 Preview – Rockingham Motor Speedway

 

It’s already the end of April and it’s already time for the 2nd round of 7 in this year’s British GT season. The first notches in the scoring sticks have already been made after the series’ trip to Oulton on the Easter weekend, but now the first 2 hour race of the year is knocking and the unique Rockingham Motor Speedway will play host to the GT grid.

Rockingham’s 1.94 mile “roval” layout offers a vast contrast to the teams. The circuit is the UK’s only Indycar/NASCAR style oval, and the course this weekend uses the fearsome Turn 1 banked corner, which will be one of the fastest, and widest of the season. The remainder of the lap takes place on the twisting and narrow infield section with passing opportunities offered at the Deene and Tarzan hairpins to spice up proceedings for the brave drivers.

This time last year it was advantage Aston as TF Sport & Beechdean capitalised on penalties on their rivals to take wins in GT3 and GT4 respectively. This year, Barwell are the GT3 series leaders as the Lamborghini of Minshaw and Keen had almost as perfect a raceday as you could wish, taking both race victories at Oulton. Lanan Racing’s Race 2 victory puts them ahead in the GT4 early standings ahead of Oulton race 1 surprise victors track-club.

Any hopes of a race victory repeat for Barwell and Lanan will be dented by the pit stop penalties applying after their recent successes. 20 seconds of additional time will be added to the #33 Lamborghini and the #51 Ginetta, meaning that a repeat of the disappearing act performed by Minshaw and Keen at Oulton Park will need to happen for any race wins to occur, although of course, after last year’s race where there were some considerable periods of safety car involvement, the cars with the penalties can make up time in large chunks.

TF Sport will want to build on the momentum they have carried into and indeed out of the latest meeting of the Blancpain GT Series at Monza, where Aston’s Scottish hot shot Jonny Adam helped propel their car to a class victory. With 3 podium finishes over the course of the weekend at Oulton, the pressure was only slightly reduced from the reigning champions, who will hope that their 15 second penalty will have less of a damaging effect on their race chances.

And by vast contrast, Team Parker Racing will probably want to kick their season into full motion this time round with the home race for Bentley in Cheshire being something of a tough encounter. The Bentley, which is revered by fans, was sadly a bit out of sorts in the wet and all 4 drivers struggled to get the immense car to stick properly to the slippery asphalt, leaving their rivals in a fine position to capitalise. A return to form at Rockingham (where luck last year was against the #31 Parfitt/Morris car) would be welcome, although a 5 place grid penalty will apply to the #7 car of Loggie/McLeod after the race ending incident in race 2.

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The Oulton penalty party didn’t end with the GT3 cars. The #100 Garage 59 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggerty was within touching distance of victory in race 2 at Oulton, only for the pit stop timekeepers to slap them with a post finish penalty for failing to maintain the regulation stop time. 30 seconds seemed harsh to the team after an infringement of less than 2 seconds. They will seek to make amends here too after electrical issues plagued the baby McLaren at Rockingham in 2016. Without any penalty to apply in pitstops the car is in prime position to take a strong finish.

The consistency of the Ginetta G55 over the Oulton weekend was as strong as ever with a win for Lanan Racing and youngsters David Pittard and Alex Reed, and podiums for #55 HHC Motorsport and #501 Optimum. Century Motorsport will want to get in the mix this time round, after Mike Simpson’s pole position in the #111 car unfortunately was tainted by mid race contact with a couple of other cars causing damage enough to blunt race win hopes. Last year the same team saw a disqualification post-race ruin what would have been a fine victory. Like Garage 59, there are amends to be made at Rockingham in 2017.

What we haven’t yet seen is how the Porsche of Team Parker Racing will perform on this circuit. Scott Malvern’s aggressive driving saw him penalised at the last round, but his determination to push on with the full spec Clubsport GT4 was a statement of intent after the 2016 season rather petered out for him and Nick Jones. The small and lightweight Porsche may prove to be a capable tool on the twisty infield at Rockingham, and Malvern may take advantage of appearing gaps.

If we cast our minds back 12 months we will recall that the “banhammer” fell hard at Rockingham’s hopefuls last year, and in 2015, an incident involving the Von Ryan McLarens also saw driver punishments fall hard. In 2016’s race Adam Carroll was prevented from a race winning charge by a penalty for passing under yellows, and Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke suffered their post-race penalty to remove a hard earned win for similar infringements. The narrow infield is notable for attracting incident and we can expect the race director’s patience to be tested once more here, although we hope that no serious incidents take place for the drivers.

There’s one other major factor which could affect this weekend’s race. This will be the first time that the British GT championship implements the “hour rule” which means that Bronze graded drivers (or the slower of two Silvers) will be required to complete a minimum 60 minutes of this weekend’s race, which means that there is a smaller amount of time left for the Pro drivers to make a mark on the race. There are some very consistent bronze drivers out there, and by the time the pit window opens there will be impetus for the Pro drivers to capitalise on the strength of the starting pace of their team mates. There will be less reliance on the Pro driver to do the lion’s share, and this will mean the Bronze drivers will have to improve their paces to be in with a shout of a good finish.

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To add further spice, we have the traditionally unpredictable and unwelcome thing that is the British spring weather. At the time of publishing, it is unseasonably cold, and slightly damp and windy too. If the weather continues to remain unsettled, it may once again be to the advantage of the Barwell #33 car, whose drivers are well versed in low-grip control. They may be the only ones hoping for rain this weekend…

Rockingham Ruminations:

Rockingham Motor Speedway makes many people think of the similarly named Rockingham Speedway in the USA, but spectators will be treated to a rarity at this oval – a view of the entire circuit from the track’s massive grandstand complex. It certainly makes all the difference being able to see all the action in one view!

Alas, we are still missing the EborGT Maserati from the entry sheets and the garage. The team are still looking for capable racing drivers to fill the seat of the Italian machine, and the paddock is regrettably quiet without the Yorkshire based team, who are a friendly and cheerful bunch when it comes to racing.

The incredible first corner was the scene of confusion and drama last year when the GT4 McLaren paused just off the banking with electrical issues. Out came the safety car only for the machine to fire up and get back to the pits. With this being one of the fastest corners of the year, we hope there will be no sudden stoppages – brace yourselves for chaos if there is…

British GT – 2017 Round 1 Review – Oulton Park

First blood to almost unstoppable Barwell

The first races of the British GT season have now been done and dusted, and with the Easter weekend now a firm memory, the championship battle has already had its first onslaughts.

With Oulton Park returning to its traditional season opening slot, it meant that the weather for raceday would almost be guaranteed to be a little bit on the inclement side, however, practice and qualifying on the Saturday was a largely dry affair.

Missing from the Saturday proceedings were Spirit of Race with their Ferrari 488, and Jonny Adam, who had foregone Cheshire to take part in the European Le Mans Series and World Endurance Championship races further down the road at Silverstone this weekend. This would result in both cars starting from the back of the GT3 grid, but with the driver calibre to make some movement in the order.

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Free practice 1 was brought to a halt with barely any relevant times completed as a collision between the #43 Century Ginetta and the #36 Team HARD/RCIB Ginetta at Druids sadly ruined both cars and a portion of the Armco barrier. Thankfully, neither Steve Fresle nor Mike Newbould were injured, but a precautionary trip to hospital was made for safety’s sake, and the cars were withdrawn from the weekend. The opening session was topped by Sam Tordoff in the Barwell Lamborghini, showing that he was more than ready for his new challenge this year.

The second free practice session went the way of the #33 Demon Tweeks Lamborghini piloted by Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who were looking to make an early kick in the championship challenge having fallen just short after an awesome closing run to the 2016 season. The leading GT4 car was the #100 McLaren of Haggerty/Sandy Mitchell, who like Minshaw and Keen were making continued progress from their late 2016 pushes.

However, when the qualifying sessions came around, the lead changed, and much to the happiness of the locals from Crewe when the #31 Bentley of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris claimed overall pole position for both of the weekend’s races. Team Parker Racing took their debut win at the circuit in 2016, and with an unchanged driver line up Parfitt and Morris held the advantage of confidence long enough in the two qualifying sessions to take the top spot, followed by Minshaw and Keen. For race one they would be tailed by Jack Mitchell/James Littlejohn in the #24 MacMillan Racing Aston and the #6 Lamborghini piloted by Liam Griffin/Sam Tordoff. Race 2 would see #6 starting third with the second Team Parker Racing Bentley #7 of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod taking a strong 4th spot. Hard luck fell on Derek Johnston in the qualifying session for race 1 as a collision with Lee Mowle’s AMD Tuning Mercedes saw the reigning champion knocked to the back of the grid.

GT4 qualifying saw the start of the anticipated battle between the McLaren 570S and the Ginetta G55, and the end results saw the #100 McLaren take pole for race 1 with a fine lap from Sandy Mitchell, whereas race 2 would see Ginetta factory ace Mike Simpson put the #111 Century Ginetta on pole, with Anna Walewska due to share the car in the race. It’s worth noting though, that the GT4 grid for race 2 saw a fine variation amongst manufacturers as the #53 UltraTek Nissan of Richard Taffinder/Martin Plowman and the #66 Team Parker Racing Porsche of Nick Jones/Scott Malvern made a push for a good starting position. This was encouraging to see, and would pan out to be one of the sights of the second race of the weekend as the varied pack hurtled round the circuit.

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Warm up on Easter Monday was regrettably more of a “cold up” as overnight rain became morning gloom and dampness, and Oulton Park had a layer of water on the asphalt that made teams unsure how to play things for the first race of the day. The only thing taken away from it was a sense of foreboding from the Team Parker garage, where there was concern over the ability of the Bentleys in wet conditions. The big cars certainly catch the eye, but in damp or wet conditions they struggle, and the hope was that things would improve as the day went on.

The first race hadn’t even gotten away from the dummy grid when the first drama occurred. The #24 MacMillan AMR Aston of Jack Mitchell was parked in its grid slot when with just over 30 seconds to go, steam began to pour out of the front end of the V12 Vantage leaving fans and mechanics concerned. Quick work from the marshalling team meant the race would get away without a hitch, however, a broken coolant hose had severely dented MacMillan’s hopes of a top end finish in GT3.

As the start was given, the Bentley slipped a little and Jon Minshaw put the power firmly down in the #33 Lamborghini. Save for a slight slip at the Hislop Chicane and a brief loss of time at the pit stop when Minshaw handed over to Keen the green and red machine was utterly relentless in its pursuit of the chequered flag and race win honours. As the track dried out, Keen also got faster and faster, making any attempt to catch the Barwell machine rather fruitless from the competitors point of view. Behind, Sam Tordoff in the sister #6 car did his best to make the most of the conditions and set a strong consistent pace in his first race in British GT. Behind the Lamborghinis, who should appear into view but the reigning champions in the #1 TF Sport Aston Martin. Freshly returned from Silverstone, Jonny Adam made the most of a steady climb up the order from Derek Johnston to capture a podium finish, and this was well deserved. Another excellent drive came from the other non-qualifiers Spirit of Race, and the British racing green and white Ferrari was being driven with vigour and excitement by Matt Griffin who looked like not having the bit between his teeth, but the whole bridle and most of the bumpers of the cars infront of him as the Maranello machine rose up the field passing the many competitors infront of him.

It’s not often in motorsport you get a big but pleasant shock, and GT4 in race 1 was just that. Sandy Mitchell had made the most of his pole position and was calmly shifting the #100 Garage 59 McLaren round Oulton, until the pit stop where a jammed wheel nut made life hellish for the two young Scots at the wheel. Cue another car to the front, and this time it was the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin piloted by Will Moore, who with Matt Nicoll-Jones had made progress through the field to lead. Then, as is custom in the championship, out came the stop-go penalties and Moore had to come in and serve time for a pit stop infringement. 18 seconds of time, to be precise, and the lead changed again. Cue the newcomers. Adam Balon and Adam Mackay are new to the championship this year. As is track-club who are running their #72 McLaren 570S. The two ex-Lotus Cup drivers looked to be rather comfortable in the Woking built machine, which falls very close to the mark of their former Lotus machinery. The car was not involved in any collisions, and just made the tortoise affair of the “tortoise vs hare” style racing look simple. Even when they were hit with a very brief 1.4 second stop go penalty, Mackay cruised in, and cruised out with time to spare over the #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 of young newcomers Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha. Water on asphalt is a great equaliser in racing, but nobody had expected two new teams to stand on the top steps of the race 1 rostrum. Taking a very creditable third were the 2016 GT4 champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson in their #501 Optimum Motorsport Ginetta. This was a welcome and well celebrated result.

Between races 1 and 2, the hammer of justice is once again swung by the Clerk of the Course, and penalties for racing indiscretions of all kinds are applied to the race 2 grid. For Academy Motorsport, the penalty for pushing the limits in race 1 was a disqualification for driving outside of the required safety levels expected of the drivers, and a back of grid start.

In addition to the Clerk of the Course making his decisions, fate had also claimed the engine of the #19 Ginetta G55 of Parker Chase and Charlie Robertson, and the new GT3 Ginetta would no longer take any part in the race weekend, leaving only its #69 counterpart driven by Harry Gottsacker (who incidentally looked quite feisty in the opening stages of the first race) and Nathan Freke remaining.

Race 2 was already looking a little brighter all round, but when the lights changed again the Bentley squirrelled and Phil Keen took the advantage on the first lap. The 10 second success penalty that affected the #33 car was obviously pinging around Keen’s mind, and before the halfway mark, his lead was up to 13 seconds, and quite frankly, at that point only a failure would have kept him and Minshaw from a second race win. Sadly, the failure of the Lamborghini fell solidly in the lap of Sam Tordoff, when the normally V10 Lamborghini began sounding more like a V8, and then dropping time before Tordoff parked up the car on Lakeside to rue a DNF.

In GT4 though, the red lights were like a red rag to a bull, as Mike Simpson and Ciaran Haggerty clashed off the line, causing Simpson’s car to lose its front left headlight, Haggerty’s McLaren to lose its ignition, and Joe Osborne’s #56 Tolman Motorsport McLaren to shear its bonnet fastenings, leaving Osborne with only clairvoyance to guide himself round more than half a lap of Oulton back to the pits, only for the tried and tested duct tape to fail 2 laps later, leaving him blind to all obstacles.

This didn’t stop Simpson though, as the battle for GT4 lead switched places between him, Martin Plowman and Scott Malvern, before the inevitable contact occurred once more between Malvern and Simpson at Cascades, putting both drivers into the grass, which at that point still being slippery regrettably made recovery a tough job for the eager racing driver. Both cars would go on to finish the race, but nowhere near where they aimed for. Plowman was in inspired form in the Nissan though, and he would charge on at the front until the pit stops.

By the pit stops, Haggerty had made progress from back to front and the McLaren now led, only for the Sword of Pit Stop Damocles to fall from its hair and grant the #100 car a 30 second post-race penalty. When you consider that the actual timing offense in pit lane was for the stop to be less than 2 seconds under the minimum limit, the punishment seems unduly harsh, and the Garage 59 team were left feeling rather philosophical about their weekend. The same time penalty would also be applied to Will Phillips and Jan Jonck in the #42 MacMillan AMR GT4 Aston.

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Then we come to a slightly more unsavoury moment. In the opening stages of the race, Seb Morris had punted his team-mate round at the Hislop Chicane, leaving a briefly dizzy Callum MacLeod, and Morris and Parfitt in arrears with the clerk of the course, who summoned Morris through for a drive through penalty. Their charge had been dampened by this, and eyes now fell on the progress of the #7 Team Parker car, although a trip down the road at Cascades suddenly blunted their efforts as MacLeod fell victim to the wet and ice-like grass. He handed over to Ian Loggie at the pit stop who tried to make best of the situation.

Loggie was making pursuit of Richard Neary, who had taken over from Martin Short in the #88 Abba Rollcentre Mercedes, as the cars came to pass Sam Webster in the #63 Team HARD RCIB Ginetta. Unfortunately, the narrow width of the circuit was not made for 3 cars to come in close proximity, and at Hill Top, just after the first chicane, contact was made between the Bentley and the Mercedes, destroying both cars and a large section of tyre wall, as well as putting the unfortunate Webster off the road through a series of disorientating spins. The safety car came out, and as there was little time left on the clock, the race finished in a neutralised state. Loggie and Neary however, were summoned to appear before the racing stewards. The eventual decision was to disqualify Loggie from the weekend, censuring his licence and fining him for his part in the incident and the immediate aftermath. The official wording says “driving in a manner incompatible with safety”, and Loggie will in addition take a 5 place grid penalty for this judgement at the next round.

The final order under the safety car was Minshaw and Keen again from the two TF Sport cars of Johnston/Adam and Mark Farmer/Jon Barnes taking their first podium of the season. In GT4 Lanan Racing’s David Pittard and Alex Reed took their first win of 2017, ahead of In2Racing’s Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham with the #501 Ginetta of Johnson/Robinson taking another third spot.

The gloom of the day eventually cleared, but with the incident in the second race, a much greyer metaphorical cloud had descended over the track, and the teams now look forward to the first 2 hour race of the year at Rockingham, where we hope bygones will be bygones and that the racing suffers little for events on track in Cheshire.

Otherwise at Oulton Park:

A number of teams this weekend fell afoul of pit stop regulations during the races on Monday. Academy, MacMillan, Garage 59, track-club all suffered penalties for short stops, in varying degrees, leaving a few drivers and team managers and owners rueing the minimum time regulations. In addition, there were penalties for unsafe driving for Scott Malvern and Academy, showing that there is no mercy from the stewards as has come to be the norm in this series.

The “Silver” class in British GT sees two non-amateur drivers share a car in exchange for a small penalty on the cars performance, notably ballast. This was the penalty applied to the Optimum Audi in GT3 last year, which hampered the car enough to render it regrettably uncompetitive. If the Silver class is to be successful, there would need to be a reduction in ballast to make the combination of car and driver successful, as the Gold rated drivers carry a much higher speed advantage in the Pro stages of the race.

It might just be my own personal opinion, but the opening round of the series feels much better for having taken place at Oulton Park this season as opposed to Brands Hatch, as the Easter weekend plays out in a more flexible fashion for drivers, teams and most critically spectators interested in the racing at both WEC/ELMS and British GT events. The crowd at Oulton was a good size, and the banks were packed with people keen to see the new season begin.  

 

Pete Richardson

British GT – 2017 Round 1 Preview – Oulton Park

It’s early Spring in the United Kingdom. Trees are in blossom, bumblebees are merrily buzzing their way around flowers, and most people are considering their first occasion to barbecue. Except of course, those involved with the British GT paddock who are heading for the North West of England and Cheshire, for Oulton Park which returns to its traditional opening slot on the calendar for the 2017 season.

For drivers the long wait is over, and competition restarts with the reigning champions in both classes back for more action. Last season, Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the TF Sport Aston Martin started with gusto and verve, and a fair slice of good fortune, by winning the first two races of the season. Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson in the Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 are hoping to repeat their luck at Oulton in 2016, where they took the car to a double race win, and strengthened their title charge with it. In the #1 and #501 cars respectively these pairings have much expectation and hopes, and a lot of pressure to live up to.

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The levels of competition in each field have improved over the winter, most notably in the GT4 class. With the balance of the field weighted heavily towards the smaller class, the annual Oulton Park “traffic jam amongst the trees” could see the GT4 cars being a factor in both races over the weekend, with the faster GT3 machines requiring agility and space to weave their way around the narrow, treacherous Cheshire circuit.

Thankfully, last year there were relatively few incidents to speak of. A pit lane collision amongst several of the GT3 leaders left the path clear for Liam Griffin and Adam Carroll to win the first race in the #6 Barwell Lamborghini Huracan, the first ever for the Italian machine in the British GT championship. Also taking a popular victory in the second race was Team Parker Racing with the colossally sized Bentley of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris, with the race shortened after an unfortunate crash for Anna Walewska in the Century Ginetta whilst battling for GT4 podium honours.

The Bentley will be a strong favourite again for overall and GT3 honours on Monday, however the vast size of the British machine is not necessarily suited to the tight confines of Oulton when it comes to lapping the field, as it did last year. Parfitt and Morris will want a repeat of last season’s win, and having back up from the Ian Loggie & Callum McLeod car may yet prove useful for them.

TF Sport have the same foursome as last season, and Johnston and Adam’s #1 machine is joined by the #11 car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, who will hope to step up having won the Spa round last season. MacMillan Racing have taken on the role of being the third AMR backed GT3 Aston Martin this year, with Radical and historic expert driver James Littlejohn making a full return to the series alongside Jack Mitchell, a hot talent in almost any car he races.

Barwell’s Lamborghini squad comes back with 2 cars again, but with one massive change, as Sam Tordoff joins Liam Griffin in the #6 machine for this year. Tordoff will want to be at the front quickly having been at the sharp end of BTCC last year, although beating stablemates Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen in the brightly coloured #33 Demon Tweeks Lamborghini will probably go a long way into making him happy.

Anyone who watched the recent Blancpain Sprint series races at Misano will know that Mercedes are back in GT3 to show their muscle, and there are two AMG GT3s on the grid this season, and they replace the outgoing BMW Z4s run by the respective teams last season. AmD run with Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, who share a car in British GT for the first time since 2014. Rollcentre, and their vast knowledge of sports car racing come back with last year’s Am champions Richard Neary and Martin Short. The AMG GT3 has certainly proved itself as a hot bit of kit in Europe, but whether the short cut-and-thrust of British tracks will suit the long-nosed German car is to be seen. Testing results show promise already.

Ginetta’s GT3 season in 2016 was probably one the Yorkshire concern didn’t really want to write home about. The bigger version of the G55 was wheeled into the workshop over the winter, and came back with some new parts inside it, most notable is a big thumping Chevrolet engine which was once the base for their G57 prototype racer. They’ve also wheeled in two US bright sparks in Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker, who showed their paces in the Pirelli World Challenge last year. Chase will race alongside Ginetta superhero Charlie Robertson, and Gottsacker is sharing with Century boss Nathan Freke, who steps up from GT4.

One element we’ve not yet seen in the build up to 2017 is the Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 of Duncan Cameron and the globetrotting Matt Griffin. Griffin and Cameron have previous with the championship, but as with the Mercedes, the Ferrari remains relatively unproven on British soil. They may yet have to fight their way through the crowd to get near top honours this year.

Now we come to what is the bulk of the grid: GT4. Small in size the cars may be but there is no doubt they’ve captured the minds of many people, and the entry list reflects this.

There most popular new thing this season in the class is the McLaren 570S, which has 6 entries. There are two from Garage 59, who supported Ecurie Ecosse last year for Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty, and Akhil Rabindra and Dean MacDonald. Mitchell and Haggerty will be keen to get more from this year after 2 race wins in 2016. Tolman step back down to GT4 with David Pattinson and Joe Osborne who believes GT4 will be the future of GT racing on British shores at least, and must be in for the top steps. In2Racing have two cars due to race. Richard Marsh and Gareth Howell in one, and Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham making a late switch from the EborGT Maserati in the second. Track-club, the former Lotus Cup specialists now come to the British GT series with Adam Balon and Adam MacKay sharing the driving duties. It would not be a surprise to see a selection of these cars at the front of the GT4 pack and on podiums this season, although Oulton may not suit the car as well.

Ginetta’s GT4 presence remains this year and Optimum are joined by two cars for Century, who have given Britcar racers Steve Fresle and Jacob Mathiassen the chance to prove their mettle in the GT paddock with their G55. Anna Walewska returns, partnering Ginetta factory man Mike Simpson, who steps into the GT4 G55 for the first time. Team champions Team HARD with RCIB Racing are bringing back their talent pool and two cars for Mike Newbould and 2012 GT3 champion Michael Caine, who has lost none of his desire and attitude behind the wheel, with the second for youngsters Matt Chapman and Sam Webster. Add in the Lanan Racing car of David Pittard and Alex Reed, who are quietly confident of shaking up the order once more with their machine which won at Spa, and the HHC Motorsport squad with junior graduates Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton and you have a big contingent of challengers for GT4 podiums and wins.

Whilst McLaren and Ginetta’s interest has grown, Aston Martin’s has diminished, which is rather a surprise considering the popularity and prevalence of the V8 Vantage in the last few seasons. Only two teams remain flying the Aston GT4 flag – MacMillan Racing with Team HARD transferee Will Phillips and F4 graduate Jan Jonck, and Academy Motorsport returning with Matt Nicoll-Jones and Will Moore, who share their British efforts with a GT4 EuroSeries campaign.

Nissan have put their oar in this season as well, and UltraTek Racing partner RJN in providing two 370Z GT4 machines. Richard Taffinder and Tim Eakin, who ran with the team’s Lotuses last year are back and are partnered by Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher respectively. Nissan will have to prove a lot quickly, as they have not been a regular in GT4 competition, and Oulton may be a baptism of fire for the squad and their drivers.

Two further entries expand the manufacturer’s pool for 2017. EborGT ran some solid races last year with the Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4, and they return with ex-MacMillan racer Matty Graham, who impressed the Yorkshire team in testing enough to get a race seat and James Kellett. Team Parker Racing are also backing the only Porsche in the field, which this year comes with all the interesting pieces that Stuttgart can supply the team. Nick Jones returns to drive it, as does Scott Malvern, who impressed in his Ginetta, before the (sadly underprepared) 2016 Porsche arrived.

Furnished with this mighty entry, what can we actually expect on Easter Monday. It would be tough to rule out wins for the #31 Bentley of Parfitt/Morris or the #33 Lamborghini of Minshaw/Keen, with these consistent pairings pushing to improve against the TF Sport Astons, who will surely push to keep their two strong lineups at the sharp end, which the V12 Vantage is more than capable of. Don’t rule out the Griffin/Tordoff car though, and there could even be a podium shout for the #24 MacMillan Aston, if they are in the mood!

GT4 could be beyond prediction this year. Mitchell and Haggerty will want to begin at Oulton as they did at Donington last year – winning. Ginetta have improved their car, though and there are a number of good drivers out there who will be confident of stopping them, and of course, Johnson/Robinson will be favourites to do that having both the theoretical #1 plate and a double win in the Park last year. But, with competition being what it is, you should never rule out GT hotshots like Joe Osborne and Mike Simpson from making a big break when they climb onboard.

Two one-hour races await the field on Easter Monday. It will be hectic around the rolling Cheshire parkland from the first fall of the flag, to say the least. Drivers were warned last year to not make risky decisions in case the wrath of the Clerk of the Course be incurred. With a full season ahead of them, you cannot rule out the battle for an early advantage being hard fought from the first seconds of racing beginning. Expect the blue touchpaper to be lit with vigour.

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Parklife Perusals:

Design fans will want to keep a keen eye on the #56 Tolman McLaren this year in its striking grey and purple honeycomb livery, which looks sensational from almost any angle. Joe Osborne may be stepping down a class, but he’s picked a heck of a machine to “step down” into.

Both Ferrari and Porsche have full time entries this year, although sadly any hopes of a Steve McQueen Le Mans style battle between the two old rivals are dashed, as Porsche’s big car is yet to make an appearance in the GT3 class. We can but dream of battle being rejoined on British tracks in future.

This is the only race weekend this season where there is a full day’s gap between qualifying and race day. Easter Sunday is not a racing day, and so teams and drivers have 24 hours away from the cockpit. No bad thing, when you consider the pressures of the opening round of the season.

Dennis Strandberg In New STCC Venture With Lestrup Racing Team

 

img_3914 Dennis Strandberg, the 23 year old from Helsingborg, Skane is returning to Sweden to race in the STCC together with Lestrup Racing Team. Dennis with experience in TCR Germany and British GT will drive the team’s VW Golf GTI TCR in the premiere round  at Knutstorp with the aim of bringing together more races during the year.

“Right now we just competing at Knutstorp but the ambition is obviously to run more races this year”  confirms Dennis. “I look forward to it and it’s great that we began discussing this last autumn in Germany when I first met Fredrik and the team is now a reality. I got a good experience of the car in Germany last year and went very well so I hope to make a good clear start at Knutstorp”.

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Dennis has competed in several years abroad but now felt the time was right to showup at home.
“After several years abroad, I felt it was time to show what I can do at home and the time feels very right now with the STCC’s new focus. It’s a lot of fun and is a new project for the team, and I look forward to doing this with Lestrup Racing”.

 

Lestrup Racing Team’s coming together with Dennis Strandberg means it will run two cars in the opening race at Knutstorp. Previously it was arranged that this year they will take care of Experion Racing VW Golf driven by Albin Wärnelöv, and now a second car for Dennis Strandberg. Fredrik Lestrup confirm that the plan from the beginning has been to run two cars, and is happy to have put together a deal with Dennis Strandberg.

“Dennis and I got in contact at the final race of the TCR Germany last Autumn and have had many discussions since then”, says Fredrik. “He made a strong effort, this is the kind of drivers we need, so I’m very happy that we got together a deal to focus on Knutstorp. The aim is obviously to get together more races this year, but this is a good first step for us and we will benefit greatly from having two VW Golf to at the first race at Knutstorp”.img_3913

If You Don’t Ask, The Answer is Always No!

Time for my 2016 review (at last). While quite a lot of people have spent the last week or 2 moaning about how 2016 was the worst year going, personally I’ve had a fantastic year! Better than I ever could have imagined.

As most people who know me will have heard me go on about loads, I’ve spent a massive chunk of the year volunteering with Team-HARD Racing.

It all started with one random tweet from Tony Gilham (team boss) asking for any volunteers to help with a new hospitality unit being set up at Brands Hatch. As I was only working down the road I figured why not reply and go see what the set up days at a race meeting are like.

After that was all done it came to the weekends entertainment properly, and as usual it didn’t disappoint. But my mind, for most of Saturday, was taken up with thinking of ways I could get my foot in the door and get some experience working with a team. Thankfully it didn’t take long for an opportunity to show itself. When I spotted Tony again on the Sunday morning on pit walkabout, all I did was go and ask if he needed any volunteers for the rest of the season. That’s all it took! No fancy qualifications.

Now admittedly I don’t get to work on the cars much (fair enough really when they cost at least £250,000). But I’m always there to help when it’s needed and get everything set up and packed away on the big weekends. If I’m lucky, at the VW weekends (VAG Trophy or VW Cup) I’ll get to help one of the mechanics work on the of the Golf R’s that we run. On these days the amount I’ve learnt is incredible!

If you’re looking at getting into the motorsport life because you love to watch racing, don’t bother. One of the first things I learnt when I was away on my first proper weekend, is that you will probably see next to no actual racing, apart from maybe the timing screens. But if you want to work in motorsport for the adrenaline of it all then the pit lane is the place to be! The feeling being in a team’s garage when everything is going well and they’re having a good race is incredible.

 

Usually I’d go on and on about how amazing working in motorsport can be, but for a change I won’t. All I will say is, if you’re not sure if you want to work in the pit lane, go and ask a team. Chances are they’re after a few extra pairs of hands just to volunteer helping pack things away. If you’re thinking to yourself “they wouldn’t want me, I don’t have any experience” think again. There’s always room for some extra help, and who knows, if you prove to be of great value to the team and you’re not afraid of a bit of hard work you may end up with a job. At the very least you’ll make a bunch of new friends!

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To finish this off, I just want to say a HUGE thank you to Tony Gilham and all the crew at Team-HARD. Mainly for accepting me into the family in 2016 and giving me a chance to prove myself. Couldn’t have asked to work with a funnier, harder working group of motorsport enthusiasts! Can’t wait to see what 2017 brings!

 

© Mark Eakin & Sandra Hebbourn

04/01/2017