Jack Goff was the ony driver to be penalized in the second race of the weekend after receiving his second strike for an incident with Josh Cook.
Jake Hill currently sits at the top of Dunlop’s #ForeverForward standings as he has been the driver to make the most passes so far this season.
The next round of the season takes place at Thruxton, located in Hampshire on the 19th/20th May.
What A Difference A Day Makes
After the controversy of Oulton Park, what British GT needed was a race weekend that ran smoothly, without things suddenly being thrown into doubt and confusion. So as the teams emerged from their garages on Saturday morning, it was a case of “oh no, not this again” as the weather decided that it would be a wet beginning to the weekend. Wet, and bitterly, painfully cold. Rain and cold are the enemies of successful practice. That said, any track time is a good thing, especially at Rockingham where drivers must contend with a lap of two distinct halves.
The main feedback from drivers was the lack of adhesion during practice. It was visibly evident that even the top drivers were reluctant to pile into the fearsome banked Turn 1 with any particular gusto. It’s possibly down to this that the Free Practice sessions ran so relatively smoothly. Only the #88 Team HARD Ginetta of Joshua Jackson and Ben Wallace suffered any heavy calamity, as they met heavily with a barrier and severely dented their front end. Tony Gilham’s team is all “never say die” attitude though, and the car was fixed for the afternoon’s qualifying sessions, a feat worthy of recognition. On the whole, most teams came out without much concern, other than helping the car stick to the road in right places.
If there’s one wonderful thing about wet and cold practices it’s the one lap pace of the classes. In the first session, Yelmer Buurman showed his strength in the #116 ERC Sport Mercedes, with the fastest GT4 car being the #4 Tolman McLaren of Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien. There was only 5 seconds between them, with the GT4 car outpacing some of the GT3 runners. Let it be said on record once more, that perhaps this should not be a surprise as the Bentleys, for all their excitement are a real trouble in the wet conditions, and Parfitt/Ratcliffe and Loggie/McLeod in nos 1 and 7 respectively didn’t really put down scintillating times while the big cars scrabbled for traction. The second session went the way of Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam in the #75 Optimum Aston Martin, whilst Will Burns set down a laptime good enough to give him and Mike Newbould top spot in GT4 in the #50 HHC Ginetta.
As Saturday wore on, the cold remained, but the rain lessened, and became a steady nagging drizzle, which in part relieved the tarmac of some excess water, but didn’t exactly improve grip around the course. As if to prove this, during the GT3 Am qualifying session, Jon Minshaw in #33 Lamborghini and Lee Mowle in the #116 Mercedes both rotated their vehicles at Deene and Turn 4 of the oval within moments of each other. Embarrassment for Minshaw, but heartbreak for Mowle, as the Barwell man went on to set second fastest time, but the Mercedes was buried firmly in the tyres protecting the pit entry wall. The fastest GT3 Am was once again the mercurial Flick Haigh, who went nearly a second faster than Minshaw.
The GT3 Pro session flipped things about though, with Phil Keen taking over from Minshaw and going nearly a second faster than Jonny Adam, who’d taken over from Flick Haigh. There was enough in it to give the green and red Lamborghini pole, which was handy considering the 20 second success penalty the #33 had to take in the pit stop during the 2 hour race.
In GT4, qualifying was pride and joy of the Tolman team, as the #4 and #5 cars took positions one and two on the class grid, with Jordan Albert and Lewis Proctor backing up Fagg and O’Brien from their earlier morning exploits. As cars received penalties for yellow flag infringements, the third car on the grid made it a McLaren 1-2-3, as the Pro-Am track-club #72 car of Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat backed up the Tolman development drivers.
As Sunday dawned, the grey layers of cloud over Northamptonshire remained, as did the unpleasantly chilly winds which swirl round the quad-oval at Rockingham on a year-round basis. Thankfully though, the rain which had saturated Saturday, didn’t decide to trouble the circuit on Sunday, but the cold still gave a prevailing absence of grip to the tarmac. Warm-up was interrupted briefly by a clash between the #66 Team Parker Mercedes of Jones/Malvern and the #10 Equipe Verschuur McLaren of McKay/Hutchison, but the field went out for the full allotted 10 minutes and finally got some relatively dry track time in.
With the cars and drivers prepared, the only thing remaining now was for the race to begin. As the field got away, the Minshaw and Haigh battle began at the front of the pack in GT3. What neither of them figured on was the sudden awakening of Sam De Haan in the #69 Barwell Lamborghini. The pink and black machine looked a colourful missile chasing the pair, eventually passing Haigh to make it a Lamborghini 1-2 in the early stages. And then the first safety car came out when the #101 Balfe Motorsport McLaren of Shaun Balfe clattered the outside wall of the oval at Turn 4, leaving him stranded on the high line. With the field neutralised it was time to take stock of the early proceedings. Balfe had managed to claw himself up to 4th behind MInshaw, De Haan and Haigh, before his unfortunate crash. In GT4, Charlie Fagg was giving it everything in the #4 McLaren for Tolman, but was being reeled in by HHC Motorsport’s Patrik Matthiesen in the #55 GInetta, which was benefitting from a drier surface on race day.
As the race returned to green flag conditions, it was clear that things were very different from Saturday. Rick Parfitt now had the bit between his teeth in the #1 Bentley and started to go up the order, and Derek Johnston in the #17 TF Sport Aston also fancied a piece of the action. Flick Haigh however wasn’t enjoying the pursuit of the Barwell pairing and she speared off the track in the #75 Aston at Tarzan before rescuing and rejoining. Lee Mowle also took to the outskirts of Tarzan in the #116 car, but came out unscathed.
A second safety car period ensued when David Pattison beached the #56 Tolman Pro-Am McLaren in the gravel at Chapman Curve, and required a snatch to pull him from the depths. By this time, Graham Davidson in the #47 Jetstream Aston had taken an interest in the chase of the Barwell Lamborghinis. Davidson is no stranger to the front end of the field and before long he had overhauled De Haan, and taken second behind Minshaw. Flying Scotsmen are no strangers in British GT and Davidson is the latest to prove his mettle. His charge was helped by what sounded like the imminent demise of the #69 Lamborghini, which suddenly took on a melodic tone not dissimilar to a selection of nuts and bolts in a tin can.
Behind the lead battle, there was a squabble for space at Tarzan between Johnston and Parfitt, and with the Bentley seemingly occupying the space that the #17 Aston should have been in, Johnston decided to assist the #1 car out of its path, causing Parfitt a nervous spin and an even more nervous wait for the traffic to pass around him before he wellied the throttle to point the Bentley in the right direction. Another hard charge had been ended, and from that moment the #1 Bentley failed to make any further inroads into the race. During his stint, Ratcliffe even had the misfortune of the car suddenly requiring a “hard reset” as he cruised to a stop just past the Deene hairpin.
Pitstops in British GT are a thing requiring precision and good timing. Every team member must be ready to play their part properly for any incident that may arise. The Optimum Aston squad had a small fire to deal with, which hindered Jonny Adam from getting a clean getaway back out to chase after the pack in his stint. The Barwell squad welcomed both their cars in, the #33 for the regular stop plus 20 seconds penalty, and the #69 permanently with transmission issues stopping the car from rejoining the race. Unfortunately, Phil Keen did not have his helmet equipped at the right point, and breached safety laws, which required the team to serve a further stop go penalty, denting their hopes of remaining in the top 3. Graham Davidson swapped for Maxime Martin in the #47 car, and the Belgian got to work on showing his factory talents.
In GT4, things had been relatively calm. The #4 Tolman McLaren led the #55 HHC Ginetta, and those positions soon reversed as Callum Pointon took over from Matthiesen. Making ground since the pitstops though were Finn Jesse Anttila, who had taken over in the #54 Ultratek Nissan, and was looking very competitive and very fast suddenly in one of the oldest cars on the grid, and Ben Barnicoat in the #72 track-club McLaren, where Adam Balon had once again put in an underrated but competent drive. Sadly, the track-club challenge blunted when the car started spitting a huge jet of flame from its exhaust. This left the way clear for the chasing pack, and the Tolman team were finally losing their grip on the weekend. Eventually, it was the #62 Academy Aston Martin piloted by Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones that seized the initiative for 3rd place in class, despite a hairy moment into Turn 1 when Moore brushed sidepanels with the #11 TF Sport Aston of Mark Farmer, thankfully without major damage to either car.
GT3 though, was about to change utterly. Maxime Martin had set off from the pits in the hope that outright speed would put him on top of the pile come the chequered flag. A penalty coming for Keen would give him breathing space. What he didn’t anticipate was for the penalty that would apply to himself as the overran the track limits one too many times for the clerk of the course’s liking, and that turned hope into “what if” for the Jetstream Motorsport team. Cue the surprise package of the weekend.
At Monza the weekend before, the German Black Falcon squad took their car to 3rdplace overall in the Blancpain Endurance Series race. One of their drivers that day, Yelmer Buurman, was more than keen to show off his ability in the driving seat. A good series of fast laps let him up to the tailpipes of the #99 Beechdean Aston Martin, which was now driven by Darren Turner, who had inherited a podium spot following Andrew Howard’s usual gritty drive.
Buurman didn’t like the Aston being infront, but being a fair man he decided to give him a real show. Buurman showed the nose of the #116 Mercedes down Turner’s inside at Tarzan, knowing the British driver would give him short change for the cheek of an attempt. Buurman and Turner then went side-by-side along the following straight, where the left-right-left of the Brook chicane was located. With no regard for the average way of overtaking, Buurman launched the Mercedes round the outside of Turner into the first left hander in what was a superb passing manoeuvre with no comeback. From then on, it was top spot or bust for the Dutchman, and so it proved to be, with the Mercedes barely missing an apex or a cylinder blast to the chequered flag, whilst others behind him squabbled, struggled, slithered and slipped back. Lee Mowle had until this weekend never won a British GT race. It was high time after some near misses for him to achieve this goal. Behind them, Marco Sorensen had taken over from Derek Johnston in the #17 Aston and taken second on the road, only for this to be rescinded following an additional time penalty for the team for causing the spin for Rick Parfitt’s Bentley in the opening hour of the race.
Whilst the #1 Bentley suffered, Callum McLeod made up for Team Parker’s rather under-par start to the season by inheriting 2nd place after pushing the #7 Bentley up to 3rd on the road at the flag, whilst the #99 Beechdean car of Andrew Howard and Darren Turner took 3rd spot on the rostrum.
GT4 finished as it had been in most of the second hour. The major change being the rise of the #62 Aston to 3rd spot, although the performance of the Ultratek Nissans in 2nd and 4th was definitely something of a remarkable achievement. It was a definite reversal of fortune for the Tolman squad though, whose cars went from top of the world to off the rostrum in a 2 hour period on Sunday. HHC Motorsport were now back again, and Matthiesen and Pointon look no less effective than Middleton and Tregurtha did last year.
The most remarkable thing though was this – the race winner, who nobody expected, started from the very back of the GT3 pack, following Lee Mowle’s spin and prang during qualifying. It often shows how much a difference a race makes, and how much time can pass between being nowhere and being somewhere. Next time out, it’s two one hour long races at Snetterton, where there’s usually always something occurring to change the order of the field, and usually quite spectacularly.
© Pete Richardson May 2018
We’re barely touching the opening half of the season in this year’s British GT Championship and as the juggernauts of the British sportscar scene arrive at the oval/road course at Rockingham Motor Speedway there’s already tension, confusion and a bit of head scratching going on.
Let’s roll back a few weeks to the leafy green setting of Oulton Park where the first two sprint races of the year took place. Or more appropriately where rain forced a stoppage to Race 2 with barely 15 minutes of 60 complete, and the field having barely lost sight of the safety car.
A cancelled race is a thankfully rare occurrence in British GT. What has happened though is the application of full points to the field in the order they were in at the time the red flag flew. How is this controversial? Not a single open racing lap was completed. Time started ticking behind the safety car but as the weather worsened it was clear that nobody would benefit from starting full speed competition in the prevailing conditions. It was simply too dangerous.
The Championship rulebook stated that for a race to be a race, two laps of a closed circuit track must be run, otherwise it is not considered a race. Under the safety car, the field completed four laps. Therefore by the rules it is a race. But without an actual green flag lap turned it didn’t feel like one. It was more a parade of cars than a race.
Full points were awarded as there is no obligation to resume or re-run a race, and any car which crossed the line at the end of lap three under its own power would be awarded championship points where their position covered it. This meant that Minshaw/Keen in #33 Lamborghini and Jones/Malvern in #66 Mercedes took home full points for first in GT3 and GT4 respectively.
Many drivers and spectators have called foul on this. We cannot disregard regulations though. The same regulations that make it possible to stop a race on the grounds of safety, also allow points to be awarded should a race become official and subsequently declared. Like it or lump it, rules are rules and everyone must adhere.
Rockingham then comes to everyone once more and the championship welcomes the chance to have its first endurance race of the season. 2 hours and one pit stop await the field, and Rockingham is a popular circuit which last year yielded both exciting racing and controversy itself following a mistake under the Safety Car which saw the win go to the Spirit of Race Ferrari before being sent back to the Team Parker Racing Bentley.
The field has slimmed by one car, as the #2 Lamborghini of Leo Matchitski and Patrick Kujala has moved to the Blancpain Series, with a return promised on a one off basis for the Spa round later in July. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. After a torrid wet weekend drivers will hope that the racing will be less about maintaining grip and more about maintaining a challenged. The Rockingham circuit has favoured the hard charger over the last few seasons and with a wealth of factory driver experience it’s a matter of “who can shout loudest” when crunch time comes.
In the break between rounds testing has taken place and there’s strong hope that the Bentley will be able to get back on form. The rain in Cheshire did not suit the big V8 machine, and a 2 hour race and no penalties will suit the drivers down to a T. Rockingham was the scene of the first endurance victory for Team Parker last year, and there’s hope lightning (but perhaps not rain) will strike twice.
Aston Martin are possibly the strongest challengers, with Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam keen to make headway after being stuck in the pits as the field rolled by in Race 2 at Oulton. A win and then no points is not the ideal position to start the season, but there is definite promise.
It’s also very tough to rule out perennial front runners Minshaw and Keen in the Barwell Lamborghini. A race win with no race (see the technicalities above) means that they’re up at the top of the tree again. Three times runners up won’t ring well.
The surprise package of GT4 last season, Track-club are leading the class going into this race and that in itself is a welcome sight, as it is not often in motorsport that a team without all the big pomp and circumstance heads up the list. Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat are no slouches, and a low position finish in Oulton race 2 will mean that there is no pit stop penalty to concern them in this race. The race win (again, see comments on rules above) for Jones and Malvern will be a big boost to them, and the Mercedes looks a decent weapon in GT4 terms, so they may yet show well here.
GT4 though has a brace of big Beemers which with two Silver drivers behind the wheel of each will put the pressure on Century Motorsport to have a strong weekend. Ricky Collard is back with the BMW factory once more so Aleksandr Schjerpen takes his permanent seat in the M4, and his 2018 season kicks off here. 2nd place in the title standings will be enough to motivate his team-mate Jack Mitchell to push for a good finish here too.
It’ll be a time for concentration and bravery round Rockingham. We hope that the differences in opinion shown after Oulton can be laid aside for a weekend of pure grit and quality racing. Bring on the Rock.
© Pete Richardson 26th April 2018
Surprise, surprise, surprise
April has arrived once more and this means that the British GT season kicks off for 2018 with gusto and new fresh blood coursing through its veins. After an off season of brief uncertainty, the entire field has been lifted by new entries, new drivers and a really exciting mixture of fan favourites and promising combinations of car and driver.
In GT3 the big guns came rolling in. The pleasing sight of the #1 plate on the Bentley meant that Rick Parfitt Jnr would return with Team Parker Racing, with his former GT4 championship winning teammate Ryan Ratcliffe partnering him following Seb Morris’ departure to Blancpain GT duties. Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod retained the sister car. The challenge though was ramped up from every direction. Aston Martin is saying farewell to the Vantage V12 in 2018, and with a big shove from the factory to try and take the honours away from the boys at Crewe. Every Aston contains a factory driver. TF Sport retain Derek Johnston and Mark Farmer, who are partnered by the fabled Dane Train duo of Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim. Jonny Adam has switched to Aston newcomers Optimum Motorsport, who signed Flick Haigh who has been making progress in GT3 with their Audi around European circuits. Jetstream Motorsport have Graham Davidson partnered by speedy Belgian Maxime Martin, but the possibly most welcome addition was the return of the celebrated Beechdean Aston Martin, driven by Andrew Howard and Darren Turner. A truly formidable prospect.
Barwell Lamborghini are expanding for 2018 as well. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen return for another crack of the whip at a title push, and nothing less than victory will suffice after two years of runner’s up spots. They are joined by Leo Machitski, back in British GT after a period of racing in historic cars and Blancpain Endurance, partnered by Finnish hotshot Patrick Kujala. A third Lamborghini Huracan for Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker (another British GT stalwart and Barwell regular) is being run by the team to back up Minshaw and Keen. Add to those the Mercedes AMG GT3 of ERC Sport with Lee Mowle and flying Dutch factory driver Yelmer Buurman, and now full-time returnees Balfe Motorsport, fresh from International GT Open Pro-Am title triumph in their McLaren 650S with Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell sticking with their winning partnership. We also have a welcome return for Godzilla, as RJN bring back the Nissan piloted by the sole Silver GT3 entry for Devon Modell and Struan Moore. There was certainly no decline in GT3, as rather worryingly had been predicted.
GT4 was chop and change in every way. HHC Motorsport have sent their title winners Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha off to conquer Europe. In their place, Jacob Matthiesen and Callum Pointon take the #55 Silver class car, with Mike Newbould and Will Burns moving from Team HARD to the second HHC machine. McLaren have come to the party in force this year. Tolman Motorsport have the greatest responsibility, taking on the McLaren Junior squad of Charlie Fagg, Michael O’Brien, Lewis Proctor and Jordan Albert in 2 cars, as well as their tried and tested Pro-Am car of David Pattison and the ever enigmatic Joe Osborne. There are McLarens too for Equipe Verschuur with Scots drivers Finlay Hutchison and Daniel McKay, last season’s surprise package Track-Club with Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat, who like Joe Osborne represents the McLaren factory, and for Balfe Motorsport, who are running former champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson.
The German manufacturers have a vested interest in GT4 now, and Century Motorsport have taken responsibility for the new BMW M4 GT4 in the UK. Ben Green and Ben Tuck hop out of their respective Ginetta G55s to join the team, while Jack Mitchell and Aleksandr Schjerpen pilot the second car, with Ricky Collard on loan for the first race of the year whilst Schjerpen is unavailable. Team Parker Racing have a Mercedes AMG GT4 for Nick Jones and Scott Malvern who are in their third year of competition, and their third make and model of GT4 car in that period! Fox Motorsport also come back with a Mercedes in place of a Ginetta, and Michael Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst (another familiar face to the historians in GT4) filling the driving seat.
There is also Japanese interest with the RJN Nissans of Kelvin Fletcher and Martin PLowman, and Stephen Johansen and Jesse Anttila, with the newly homologated Toyota GT86 in the hands of Steller Racing for young talents Tom Cannon, Sennen Fielding, Dean MacDonald and Alex Quinn.
The field is rounded out by the British manufacturers – Jaguar have arrived after months and years of hopes and speculation with the F-Type GT4, and Invictus Racing are supporting Am drivers who have suffered life changing injuries. The two cars are piloted by Ben Norfolk and Jason Wolfe, and Steve McCulley partnering the returning Matthew George. A very inspiring team line up.
Team HARD return with Ginetta G55s for Callum Hawkins-Row and Ginetta stalwart Anna Walewska, with Will Phillips returning to the team to partner Ben Wallace in their second car. GT4 isn’t Aston-free either, as Academy Motorsport have two cars for Tom Wood and race-winning Dane Jan Jonck, and Will Moore back to drive alongside Matt Nicoll-Jones.
With the teams and drivers set and ready to race it was off to Oulton Park in Cheshire for the annual Easter Bank Holiday burn up. And with winter only having just passed the UK, it wouldn’t be Oulton Park without some dubious weather forecasts. At one point, a Yellow Warning for snow threatened to take the gloss off the entire weekend, but the truth was possibly a lot worse.
The Saturday qualifying sessions threw their usual surprises. The first came in the opening session for the Am drivers in GT3, where Flick Haigh put pedal to the metal and stuck her Optimum Aston on pole. The first outright pole for a woman in British GT, and it was a sensational lap to beat the competition behind her, as Rick Parfitt and Ian Loggie made the Bentleys hustle on a dry track. The Pro session was claimed by Phil Keen whose green and red Italian bull held up the Aston Martin matadors behind him to take a solid Race 2 pole. GT4 was wiped cleanly by the new Dutch squad, Equipe Verschuur, until it was pointed out that they had incorrectly sent the wrong drivers out to qualify in the wrong sessions. This left the way clear for Callum Pointon in the #55 HHC Ginetta and Scott Malvern in the #66 Team Parker Mercedes to take the respective poles, with Verschuur suffering the indignity of starting from the back for their indiscretion.
Sunday is a rest day in Cheshire, and teams prepared themselves for the coming Monday race day by practicing pit stops driver changes and musing over the potential change in the weather. Which inevitably came in the form of the nemesis of every good Bank Holiday: Rain, rain and more rain. A slippery Oulton Park greeted the teams for the warm-up, and Rick Parfitt’s Bentley found the scenery easier to get to than the track, rather setting back his charge after a good Saturday session. The race was then held up following several earlier incidents in other races with drivers struggling to come to terms with the slick tarmac. At midday though, behind the safety car, the drivers set off in grid order. Well, almost, as Nick Jones stalled his Mercedes in GT4, and suddenly found himself a lap down with not a racing lap complete.
Flick Haigh though knew exactly what to do as the race director called in the safety car after 4 laps of investigative touring – and she pressed on free of spray and other impediment in the #75 Optimum Aston Martin, whilst behind her in GT3, others came to grief. Mark Farmer was tipped into a spin at Old Hall Corner, whilst Derek Johnston took to the scenery (but thankfully not the barriers) at Hizzy’s chicane, rather spoiling TF Sport’s day. The Bentleys as usual, hated the rain, and Rick Parfitt and Ian Loggie soon found themselves losing touch with the top drivers, as Jon Minshaw found the Lamborghini’s boots stuck to the tarmac much more happily in the watery conditions. In GT4, the field settled down to eat the wall of spray left by the GT3 cars. And there were plenty of reasons to be cheerful for Callum Pointon, who held calmly onto his lead in the #55 HHC Ginetta. Behind him, a collision between Jack Mitchell and Will Moore sent the Yorkshireman’s Aston nose first into the wall at Lodge, sufficiently bending the radiator beyond repair and ending the #62 Academy car’s race early.
By the time the pitstop window opened for driver changes, Flick Haigh now had an ever decreasing amount of breathing space as Minshaw caught and passed and pushed onwards in the #33 Lamborghini, but she held on long enough that when the driver changes were made, Jonny Adam came out infront of Phil Keen. The driver changes in GT4 had also taken place, and Callum Pointon swapped out for Jacob Matthiasen. But then, the race lead battle changed in the blink of an eye.
Phil Keen got the bit between his teeth, and was now charging after Jonny Adam, keen to prove that being a factory driver doesn’t mean you can’t be put under pressure for a win, but as they lapped the traffic, they approached the tricky narrow run to Druids, and the GT4 leader Matthiasen. Past the leading two went, but on exiting Lodge, Keen slowed and dived for pit lane again. A brush with the left side of Matthiasen’s Ginetta left the Lamborghini with a broken wheel rim and a puncture, which ended his victory charge and Matthiasen’s. Jonny Adam now had only to maintain a good speed, and he would bring it home safe and sound ahead of fellow AMR factory team mate Darren Turner in the #99 Beechdean Aston, who now had Yelmer Buurman hounding him, as the Dutchman put his own factory talent behind the accelerator of the #116 Mercedes, turning some spectactular laptimes in chasing down Turner’s Aston. But Adam would not be caught.
In that moment, history was made again. Flick Haigh had become the first female winner in GT3 in British GT, and this was possibly one of the most popular victories of all time, with hardly anyone feeling that the race win was either a fluke, a fix or anything other than well deserved. The smile on Haigh’s face on the pit wall was matched by Adam’s and the entire Optimum team’s. Beechdean were happy with a solid second, and Lee Mowle mounted the podium alongside Yelmer Buurman in what was a very fine podium for the Pro-Am racing formula.
GT4 yielded another surprise result. Creeping steadily up the order once more was the often under-fancied track-club McLaren piloted by Balon and Barnicoat. Ben Barnicoat hadn’t raced in the UK save for his local kart track for some time, but looked so at home in the #72 car as he glided up to the top of the field, aided by a well timed pit stop. The Derbyshire driver pulled out enough time over the #42 BMW of Green/Tuck to ensure he could celebrate a comfortable victory by the flag. Unfortunately for the Century team, the BMW was penalised for a pit infringement, handing their 2nd place to the #4 Tolman McLaren of Fagg/O’Brien, who had had another solid drive in the pouring rain. Supersub Ricky Collard put the sister #43 BMW of Century into third, allowing he and Jack Mitchell to stand on the podium following the demotion of their teammates.
Race 1 was complete, and the anticipation grew for the second race. Sadly, so did the rainfall. The decision was made once more to start the race behind the safety car, with the Pro drivers taking the opening stint this time. 10 minutes of circulation though was enough to convince the race director Peter Daly, that the weather was nowhere near ready to let up. After another long delay on the grid, and with the standing water encroaching on the track from the trackside, leaving puddles on both run off and road, there was nothing else to be done but to abandon the race.
Not a popular decision, but there is sense in it for so many reasons. A driver puts himself at risk with every moment in the seat of the car. And an aquaplaning car at high speed is little more than a metal cage preparing for a crash. Safety is paramount, and pleasingly, there is much more to takeaway with every car and driver in one piece at the end of the day rather than the near certainty of danger on a wet circuit however the thrill of a race.
We await to see what news comes on a rescheduling of a race. There are rumours points may be scored, but this would demean the point of a race, with only 10 minutes behind the safety car to show for any movement in Race 2. The weather was the true winner of the second outing at Oulton, but you couldn’t complain at all about the opening race of 2018. Roll on Rockingham Motor Speedway, where hopefully the weather will behave long enough for the enjoyment of all
© Pete Richardson 2018
The 2017 season is now drawing to its close, and in a return to tradition, the penultimate round of this season took place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, which is a fantastic venue for sports car racing of almost any kind. British GT knows how to put on a show here for better or worse, and with titles on the line by now, everyone was gunning hard for a shot at glory.
Going into the round, in GT3, Minshaw & Keen held the standings lead over Parfitt & Morris. Neither team had scored perfectly at Spa last time out, although the Barwell Lamborghini did take one race win away from the Ardennes. The gauntlet was laid down to the Team Parker Racing Bentley boys: “catch us if you dare”.
GT4 is no less challenging, with even the Optimum crew in with a mathematical but unlikely shot at the 2017 honours, however the strength of the two Silver driver pairings of Middleton/Tregurtha and Pittard/Reed in the HHC & Lanan Ginettas has meant that the fight stayed between them as Brands arrived.
Saturday morning dawned with cloudy spells, and rather sadly, in the first Free Practice session the #19 GT3 Ginetta G55 of Century Motorsport, this weekend piloted by Tom Hibbert and Ben Tuck, found the bare Armco at the exit of Stirlings Bend and damaged itself beyond a feasibly safe repair. Century are a fantastically well run team, but Nathan Freke has struggled with misfortune in ways that scriptwriters could not manage. On the plus side, they had hired Niall Murray, a Formula Ford hot shot to partner Jacob Mathaissen for the weekend in the #43 GT4 car, and Murray took to it like the proverbial duck to water.
Meanwhile, things looked rosy at the front for both GT3 championship leading crews, as the Bentley took the first free practice session, and Phil Keen’s hot lap put the #33 Lamborghini second behind Jonny Adam, who showed that he was hardly fatigued from his recent title winning exploits at the 24 Hours of Spa the previous weekend.
With everything settling in well, the fickle gods of weather cast their hand. A rather dramatically timed short and sharp thunderstorm settled in on Brands Hatch. It came and laid a lot of water over the Kent countryside, making a mess of everyone’s hard work in setting up the cars, and instantly changing the face of qualifying.
With the Pro-Am qualifying format taking place this weekend, with aggregate times deciding the grid for the 2 hour race, it was clear that the turbocharged teams would suddenly be at a disadvantage. Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Mercedes cars were the ones to have. Sure enough, Minshaw and Keen put their experience of low grip to good use and bagged the overall pole, with the MacMillan AMR #24 Aston with its Silver pairing of Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn occupying second place on the grid. Not far behind were the #11 TF Sport Aston of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, with the #6 Lamborghini of Griffin & Tordoff also up high. But, for the Bentley, rain is the great enemy. As the big machine pulled out of the pit lane its traction control kicked in, it’s handling went to pot and the two Team Parker cars were nowhere near where they wanted to be for the Sunday afternoon start. Wet tracks, wet settings and the Bentley do not mix in any way, and the hope was that Sunday would be much improved. The #7 Bentley was already suffering this weekend as it was, after Callum MacLeod found the front brakes not working as he wished in free practice, narrowly avoiding a monster shunt at the fastest part of Brands.
By the time GT4 qualifying started, the rain had truly stopped, and a dry line began to appear. Pole in class went to the #62 Academy Motorsport car of Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones, whose slick tyre strategy decision in the second part of GT4 qualifying put them forward. Things were not so rosy however at Lanan, after David Pittard suffered the ignominy of falling off the road on the Grand Prix loop, and leaving Alex Reed a nervous wait to see that their #51 Ginetta would be allowed out for him to drive. The format of qualifying for GT4 showed the gap in quality between the Silver pairings and the Pro-Am ones. Joe Osborne’s time of 1:35 in the second half of the session was an excellent time, however the aggregate with his Bronze graded teammate David Pattison sadly wouldn’t see the Tolman car as high up as it could have been.
To the rescue of many teams, the sun came out on Sunday morning, and stayed out. Warm up went off without a hitch, and some teams even had the confidence to complete only one lap of the circuit. The sun beat down hotter, and everything was set.
As the lights changed, James Littlejohn sent out a warning shot to Jon Minshaw by attempting an audacious pass round the outside at the first entry to Paddock Bend, and Minshaw defended for his life. The game was afoot. Minshaw needed to break the field to extend his title lead, and having the hot pace of a Silver grade driver around wasn’t going to make matters easier. The big issue though wasn’t what was immediately behind him. Rick Parfitt had pushed the “go faster” button in the #31 Bentley, and he was making moves through the field. A dry track, a hot day and a point to prove, and Parfitt was off to prove it. He despatched Derek Johnston, Liam Griffin, Mark Farmer and eventually Jon Minshaw and set off in pursuit of the now leading James Littlejohn, who had cleared the Lamborghini and was trying to get away, knowing a pit stop penalty was coming for the #24 Aston for a podium finish in the last race at Spa.
Fate though, would intervene with plans once more. The fast starting Will Moore in the #62 GT4 Aston had done his best to hold the lead in class, before eventually Sandy Mitchell in the #100 Garage 59 McLaren had given the Aston a lesson in overtaking. But as Moore exited Surtees with about 25 minutes elapsed, the Aston suddenly slowed, rattled a little and ground to a halt. The black Aston was abandoned and retired necessitating a Safety Car period to rescue the Academy car.
A small respite ensued, and gave everyone a chance to take stock. GT4 was now back to its usual squabble between the #100 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggety, the #55 HHC Ginetta of Tregurtha/Middleton and the #51 Lanan Ginetta of Pittard/Reed. Nobody though, expected what was coming. What infact was coming was the #42 MacMillan Aston of Will Phillips and Jan Jønck. The Aston is usually a decent bet around Brands Hatch, and for whatever reason, it was all coming together for Will Phillips, who was having his best race of the year so far.
The theme of Brands Hatch was contrasts in fortune. Whilst one car was pushing up, another was struggling. Jon Minshaw had used up whatever the #33 Lamborghini had to give, and was now languishing in 6th place as the pit window approached. He was pushing no less hard than usual, but things wouldn’t work for him. He could see the Bentley disappearing, and could do little about it.
Just as the time ticked over for the pit window to open, the Bentley roared under the bridge at Clearways in what looked like a commanding lead. What had befallen James Littlejohn and the #24 MacMillan Aston which had led for so long? In it came to the pits, up it went onto the jacks. Back into the garage, and out of the race. A sticking throttle is a bad thing in itself, and sticking wide open is nothing short of terrifying. It was a sad end to a very commendable effort, and the Bentley was unchained to go on its way unopposed.
This is more or less what it did now. The pit stops saw Sam Tordoff, Jon Barnes, Jonny Adam and Phil Keen step into their respective cars behind Seb Morris in the Bentley, and this was the order to the finish of the race, with little hiccup or error. Tordoff put in a very solid drive holding off a pack which was little more than a couple of seconds away from his tail at any given time.
GT4 however, was still in the process of sorting itself out properly. David Pittard’s Ginetta suddenly found itself lacking the right kind of steering movement, and Alex Reed was not going to be taking over a fully fast machine. Sure enough, they fell by the wayside, and it was Will Tregurtha’s time to make hay while the sun shone. What he didn’t count on though, were three things. One was Ciaran Haggerty in the driver’s seat of the #100 McLaren. The second was Jan Jønck in the #42 Aston. And the third was Joe Osborne, in the #56 McLaren. Each one of them was on a real charge. Jønck had picked up where Phillips left off, and he began hassling Haggerty for all he was worth. Eventually, the pressure told, and the Aston went by. Haggerty then had Joe Osborne for company, and Joe went by as well, making the most of perfect conditions to push the #56 Tolman car harder and faster. Osborne would eventually get closest to the young Dane, but nobody would prevent MacMillan taking their first ever race win in British GT. Behind, Tregurtha had now got to Haggerty, whose tyres were suffering.
As the final lap approached, Tregurtha got a better run out of Stirlings, and passed Haggerty into Clearways. Haggerty wasn’t going to stand for this, and out came a flying dive up the inside at Paddock. The McLaren didn’t like this. The asphalt didn’t. The gravel trap at Paddock and the tyre wall did though, and they welcomed the unfortunate Scot with open arms. So close to a podium, and one moment changed it all. Tregurtha came home to extend a championship lead that will give him and Stuart Middleton a brief amount of breathing space going into Donington.
But even more elated were the Bentley boys. An unpromising start on Saturday had become a charge through the pack and a victory, and more significantly, a 10.5 point lead going into the final race at Donington, where titles are won and lost. It’s advantage to the Team Parker squad, but will fate be as kind to them this time round.
A few thoughts on the future of the British GT:
Whilst LITP took their summer holiday to Spa, the SRO announced its plans to separate the GT3 and GT4 classes of British GT. The GT4 class will now become the British GT4 Cup, and will have races at the usual GT rounds of the season, and an additional standalone race at Thruxton, which will see a return to GT racing for the first time in a long while after the horror shunt for Bradley Ellis on the approach to the chicane. GT3 would run its own races as well, encompassing the usual rounds, but with the addition of entries from one-make GT racing series such as the Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Porsche Carrera Cup and Ferrari Challenge to bolster grid numbers.
Those dreaded words. “Bolster grid numbers”. It really doesn’t take a mathematician to see that GT4 is the most popular class in the series at the moment, and to separate GT3 and GT4 will mean that teams will have to choose their destiny for the season ahead. At Brands Hatch, there were 10 GT3 entries. One of these was not a regular season entry. One of the regular teams, AmD were missing due to an accident in a different series that left their Mercedes bent and broken. A race cannot be appealing to spectators, or teams when there’s potential for the starting number to be only in the single figures.
GT4 Cup will be the most popular option next year. More races, more competitors, a more appealing entry for Bronze graded drivers. More manufacturers making more new cars. More options. More and more and more, compared to the rather uncertain and unsure footing provided by the future of GT3 racing.
The general feeling according to many in the paddock over the last few seasons was that SRO were looking to promote GT4 harder than GT3, and that the trend was showing that the class was growing. While there is the message that “16 to 18 cars are expected for GT3 in 2018” the reality is that the teams are not able to commit to that number now. So where does that leave it all?
Part of the appeal of the series for the spectator is the noise, size and power of the GT3 class. The class is popular for its variety, the talent of the drivers, and the fact that the SRO BoP has made the racing very very watchable. This isn’t to say the racing is bad in GT4, or that the category is uninteresting or undersubscribed. It just lacks that extra appeal that GT3 has to myself, and to many others.
From what I have heard inside the paddock, it is going to take a lot of effort to save GT3 in Britain now. Teams will look elsewhere to establish true competition. There are very successful series in other countries, which run full GT3 grids. Admittedly, these are run outside the full control of SRO, but nonetheless they are very well subscribed and popular for it. It may be too late to bring in a similar set of regulations to those series to make it work in Britain.
Time will tell. My gut feeling is that Donington Park will be the last time we see a dedicated GT3 class race in a UK national series. Come 2018, if the GT4 Cup is the premier event of a British GT weekend, it will be the acid test for the true future. We lost GT1, GT2, and GT3 is looking ominously close to loss now as well. It is my hope that the series cannot, and does not go into a state of ever decreasing spectacle.
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.
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.
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.
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!
There’s always something new under the sun
The second and final sprint round of the British GT championship has now been and gone in 2017, and a greater contrast to Rockingham and the remaining 2 hour races you couldn’t wish for. Long had the series anticipated a late spring flurry of activity in Norfolk, thanks in part to a Bank Holiday weekend and forecast sunshine.
Sure enough, the weather gods smiled upon Snetterton for the vast part of Saturday and Sunday, although a passing thunderstorm on Saturday morning did its best to dull the skies and leave some moisture on the already hot asphalt for the second Free Practice session of the weekend.
The entry list had been revised slightly following the withdrawal of Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker from the championship, as Ginetta refocus the racing programme for the two young Americans. Nathan Freke moved down into the #111 Century Motorsport GT4 Ginetta to partner Anna Walewska, reforming their 2016 partnership. Euan McKay was also present in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, replacing Matty Graham.
The sad fact that the GT3 field went down to 10 entries for the weekend didn’t really put a massive spoiler on the weekend. Teams still couldn’t quite fit into the packed pit lane, and tents were laid out for Academy Motorsport and HHC Motorsport, who lost the draw for the “teams without a solid roof for this meeting”. 27 cars would take part in all sessions, which was a fine effort, bearing in mind in recent times it’s been very easy to lose cars from session to session with crash or mechanical damage.
Saturday’s heat and sunshine helped to burn away any remaining water around the circuit, and teams had plenty of track time to get the cars fettled for the narrow and twisty sections of Snetterton. The layout of the revised track, opened in 2011, has a lot of long corners and a premium was placed on handling and acceleration. It wasn’t a surprise there to see that the GT4 Ginettas of Lanan Racing (#51, Pittard/Reed) and HHC (#55, Tregurtha/Middleton) would be up on top of the opening sessions, whilst the Barwell Lamborghinis pushed their credentials after a double win in 2016 for Minshaw and Keen. A double-double (both Sprint weekends) was on for them, so the pressure was on them from the start to deliver any promise the Huracan had.
On watching the cars take to the circuit in practice, it was impressive however to see the speed at which drivers were attacking Snetterton, as the nadgery infield and blistering heat would probably have a huge effect on tyre temperatures, making a long run tricky for any driver. Unsurprisingly #33 Lamborghini topped out the practices, but making a pleasing appearance behind them in the first session was the #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum McLeod. The Team Parker Racing camp was fairly subdued, even after the success at Rockingham. The Bentley doesn’t “fit” quite as well at Snetterton as it does elsewhere, so the weekend would be an attempt to make the best of a bad spot.
In GT4, the Lanan and HHC Ginettas shared practice topping spoils, but following up with 2nd in class in both sessions was the #56 Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S of David Pattison and Joe Osborne. Osborne in particular had nailed in some consistent and impressive lap times throughout the weekend, and maintained his composure through every moment. Sure enough, when qualifying did come around, Osborne used his experience and enthusiasm to secure pole for Tolman in Race 2 with a wonderful lap.
Qualifying for Sprint races are broken down by class as usual, and the first race of the weekend was set by the Am drivers, and the second race was set by the Pro drivers. This is with the exception of the Silver graded drivers of course, who take the penalty of extra ballast in their cars to prevent them from truly disappearing against the Bronze graded drives in that particular section of each session.
Jack Mitchell took pole for race 1 in GT3 with the MacMillan AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Mitchell’s speed is impressive to see, and although he was the Silver amongst Bronzes, he made the Aston Martin sing as he parked the white car at the top of the timesheets. A strong showing at Rockingham was obviously no fluke and certainly no flash in the pan either.
Pole in the GT3 pro session fell the way of the #33 Lamborghini again, but this time the sister #6 Lamborghini of Griffin/Tordoff was alongside. Team Parker Racing’s Bentley #31 of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris weren’t just limiting damage, they took 3rd and 4th in the two sessions to keep at the sharp end of the field. The #1 TF Sport Aston Martin of Johnston/Adam made an appearance in 3rd in Pro qualifying, making sure that there was still a glimmer of light for their title defence.
GT4 Am qualifying was a Silver heavy session as #51, #55 and the #100 Garage 59 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggerty securing the top 3 spots ahead of Adam Balon in the #72 track-club McLaren, the first Am driver, who looked impressive behind the youth and exuberance of the teams he was chasing. But for a track limit infringement, the #100 McLaren of Sandy Mitchell could have surprised the Ginetta teams with a stonking pole lap, but over enthusiasm sadly saw him retain 3rd place only.
The Pro session, as earlier mentioned, was a show of Joe Osborne flexing his and the Tolman’s McLaren’s muscles. Osborne’s race in GT3 last year was a show of his driving ability, and he was unfortunate to fall foul of a driving misdemeanour. The Silver teams followed up behind Osborne, ready to pounce in the race later on Sunday afternoon.
Sadly missing had been the #42 MacMillan AMR Aston Martin (Phillips/Jonck) from qualifying as the team repaired a huge fuel leak which knocked the car to the back of the grid. The weekend hadn’t been smooth sailing either for the AmD Tuning Mercedes AMG #30 for Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, who made qualifying only after repairing gearbox electronics in the big Merc having missed second free practice.
Raceday arrived bathed in glorious late Spring sunshine, and raging heat. Thankfully for the drivers, a one hour race means that only 30 minutes in some of Britain’s most expensive and fast-moving saunas is required. The crowd around Snetterton was large, enthusiastic, and roasting as the field rolled out for the first race.
Jack Mitchell did what he needed to do as the lights went out as he left Jon Minshaw and the rest trailing behind him. The gap widened and widened as Mitchell went on towards the half hour mark in race one. Traffic was little of an issued and managed with aplomb by the pack. In fact, there was almost a feeling that the riot act had been read in terms of discipline, as the field pounded round the Snetterton bends with barely a hint of road rage or frustration. This was a disappointment in terms of the racing action, but pleasing for anyone who dislikes rough and tumble bumping and barging you could be wont to receive at a narrow circuit like this.
The #11 TF Sport Aston Martin suffered an unfortunate puncture, putting the car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes down a lap and out of the running for a strong result. A shame as the two drivers enjoy the circuit and could have made hay while the sun shone (figuratively, at least).
The pit stops provided much wanted relief for both starting drivers and spectators, as the racing for the most part had turned processional. Mitchell pitted with a lead over 15 seconds over Minshaw and handed over to James Littlejohn, who would have the job of the ages holding back Phil Keen and others behind him.
The GT4 battle was between the three silver teams of HHC, Lanan and Garage 59, and you rarely saw the three teams out of each other’s sight, even amongst the snaking traffic. Eventually their battle fell in favour of the HHC #55 car of Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, who took their second consecutive race victory following their success at Rockingham in the 2 hour race there. Surprise was felt by the Ginetta teams at the 1-2 for the leading two, as there was a belief that McLaren would capitalise on success last year here, and dominate the event, but the handling of the G55 made it a tough prospect to beat.
In GT3, Phil Keen in #33 was eating away at the #24 Aston’s lead as Littlejohn couldn’t match the pace of the Lamborghini driver. And to match the ambitions, Sam Tordoff was also putting in some cracking times in the #6 Lamborghini as well. Behind them, Seb Morris had taken over the Team Parker Bentley, alas with too much enthusiasm, as their race result would be spoiled by a post-race 30 second penalty for a short pit stop. This promoted the #30 Mercedes up to 4th place by the end, but all eyes were on the white Aston and the green and red Lamborghini up front.
Littlejohn is not a Radical champion for nothing, and it was elbows-out defence from the Scotsman as Keen looked, teased and charged at the car holding him back from a 1st place finish. Eventually with just over 6 minutes remaining, the Aston took it a little too far into Williams, and the Lamborghini got a run onto the Bentley Straight, past and into the lead. The defence had also brought Tordoff closer too, and the #6 was soon past the Aston as well.
3 from 3 sprint races in 2017 then for Minshaw and Keen it was, as their stablemates Griffin and Tordoff backed them up with Mitchell/Littlejohn taking a second consecutive 3rd place in the championship.
Race 2 finally arrived a couple of hours later, and with a double-double on the cards, Keen pushed the throttle with Tordoff providing equal competition and support as they approached the starter’s rostrum.
Neither of them expected the reigning champion, Jonny Adam to go full throttle though and surprise them both by taking the lead into the first turn. The sight of the back end of the #1 Aston was a real surprise for the Barwell pair, and a throwing down of the gauntlet for the rest of the race. Challenge accepted, Phil Keen stole back the lead and began to make a run, to account for the 10 second success penalty that he would face at the pit stop. Behind them, James Littlejohn ran into grief at the Bomb Hole and dropped from top to bottom, negating the chance of a repeat podium for MacMillan.
GT4 was led by Joe Osborne, who carried on an impressive weekend for the Tolman team, pulling away from his rivals. The hard work of Osborne meant that the #56 McLaren looked in good shape for a fine result. All this, however would be undone by an incident between the #7 Bentley and the #55 Ginetta, which saw both cars irrepairable and out of the race, bringing out the Safety Car as an added bonus. Thankfully, everything seemed in order with the neutralisation of the race, although Osborne could bemoan the loss of his gap, with others closing on Pattison as a result. The incident for Middleton and Tregurtha though was a huge disappointment, as the youngsters could have been challenging for top points again.
As the race restarted, the #100 McLaren driven by Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty suddenly blitzed to the GT4 lead, which it would hold to the finish securing their first top step of the season. Behind them would be the #51 Lanan Ginetta with Pittard and Reed securing a second consecutive second place, and Tolman made the most they could of their moment in the sun with a fine third place, for which Joe Osborne received the mother of all champagne drenchings.
GT3 though was about to be turned upon its head. Back in the Race Control den, a sharp eyed timekeeper noticed that the #33 Lamborghini hadn’t been stopped long enough in pit lane, and out went the drive through notification. A massive let down for Minshaw and Keen, who were well on course for a race win and 4 out of 4. Minshaw diligently peeled off to take his penalty. This let through the #1 TF Sport Aston, the #6 Barwell Lamborghini and the #11 TF Sport Aston to lock out the podium, giving Johnston and Adam their first race win of 2017, Griffin and Tordoff another second place and Farmer and Barnes retribution for missing out on a trip to stand on the boxes in race 1.
With 3 rounds of the season gone, and the halfway point of the season at Silverstone approaching we can take a good look at the consolidated championship tables. GT3 is led by Minshaw and Keen on 101 points from Parfitt and Morris who have 77.5 and Johnston and Adam on 74 points. Already, a massive gap has formed thanks to Barwell’s 3 wins from 5 races but as history has proven nothing is truly insurmountable.
The table in GT4 is not as clearly dominated, though the early season standings are led by Middleton and Tregurtha, with 92.5 points from Pittard and Reed on 83 points and Mitchell and Haggerty on 73 points. This is a much closer fight, and it is pleasing to see 3 sets of young drivers duking it out for this title. Any slip ups from now to the end of the season could be a fatal blow to any of these drivers’ title ambitions.
Drivers must be praised for the punishing physical task they faced at Snetterton this weekend, mostly due to the hot and muggy weather around the track vicinity. The sun was as fierce as the air temperature, and the heat of a cockpit was only exacerbated by this. Thankfully, none of the athletes behind the wheel let this get to them.
After the general explosion of rules and tempers at Rockingham, there was no repeat of the post-race confusion at Snetterton. Although there were post-race penalties applied, there was no massive controversy to rob fans and teams of a fought competitive race…
…that said, neither of the weekend’s races scored highly on the excitement meter. Both were rather processional and rather uninspiring as little more than a parade. Embellish it as we might, it was a case of “follow the leader” for most of the weekend’s races. And that was a shame after the mighty battles in the previous round.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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