Category Archives: British GT News – Previews – Reviews

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.

British GT Round 6 Review – Snetterton

With Spa complete and at the double following the Blancpain 24 Hour race shortly after, it was a return to British soil for the penultimate weekend in the British GT season. Regrettably though, we came with a distinct shortening of the GT3 field with the withdrawal of two of the most notable entries.

Beechdean’s #1 GT3 Aston was withdrawn from proceedings following serious accident damage at the previous race weekend at Spa. It has been some long time since a Beechdean sponsored machine was missing from the GT3 line up, with Andrew Howard not entering a race for the first time since the 2011 season. Not all doom and gloom for the ice cream magnate though as his GT4 entry increases by one for this round with Paul Hollywood taking a well earned break from his TV presenting duties to join Jamie Chadwick in the #408 Aston alongside the regular #407 which will be piloted by Jack Bartholomew and Ross Gunn, who replaces Jordan Albert in the car, as Albert leaves the team.

Also sadly missing is the Audi R8 of Optimum Motorsport, who made the unusual step of parting ways with both drivers – Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe – after the Silver pairing rules meant that the time were hampered with weight penalties and subsequently left uncompetitive amongst the other GT3 competition. The boxy German machine was sadly missed for this round, however the #50 Ginetta GT4 championship chasing entry stays put.

 

The GT4 field was in fact boosted by the return of Stratton Motorsport’s two entries – a Lotus Evora for Richard Taffinder and Martin Plowman as well as an Aston Martin for David Tinn and Andrew Jarman. It was a very welcome return for a Lotus to the GT paddock after last year saw a brace fighting for season honours.

Last season’s Snetterton race was akin to the opening scene of Noah’s flood, with the rain hammering down in torrents, and the race weekend in 2016 began on completely the opposite scale with the teams being greeted by bright sunshine. A very welcome sight for the championship contenders. And indeed the championships are as close as ever, with TF Sport and Barwell fighting it out for the teams championship with 6.5 points between them. The drivers’ table is still led by Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam however they are being caught by Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who are closing in with consistent performances. In GT4 the rookie team of the year, Team HARD with their two Ginettas are top of the team tree with a 23 point gap. Following the withdrawal of Jordan Albert, Jack Bartholomew is now left in sole pursuit of the Optimum driver pairing of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson both piling into a feast of points at the opening of the season.

Free practice in Norfolk was a hot affair (literally) with the pace eventually being set by the Barwell and TF Sport teams once more. The first non-Aston or Lamborghini was the BMW Z4 of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne with the McLaren of Ecurie Ecosse with Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell next up. In GT4, the Generation AMR squad were running on a high with both their cars 1st and 3rd in the standings, sandwiching the baby McLaren. Unfortunately, the 56 Tolman Motorsport Ginetta GT3 machine suffered a shunt and would need heavy repairs to make qualifying, which it duly did, earning Tolman an award for the team of the weekend.

As at Oulton, the qualifying sessions would set the grids for both races, with the Amateur drivers starting the first race and the Pros starting the second. Following on from his win at Spa, Mark Farmer put the TF Sport #11 Aston Martin on pole for race one with Jon Minshaw’s #33 Lamborghini alongside him. The Lamborghini then claimed pole for race two in the hands of Minshaw’s team mate Phil Keen, who this time headed title rival Jonny Adam in the #17 TF Sport Aston. In GT4, Alex Reed in the #51 Ginetta put in a beautiful lap to secure race one pole, with Ross Gunn taking a clear pole for race two in the #407 Aston on his return to the class after last year’s championship win. Things were not going so well for Team Parker Racing’s #31 Bentley, with Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris failing to make the impact on the timesheets that they had previously managed, however there was cheer for Mowle and Osborne, who pushed their BMW right up behind the Lamborghini/Aston battles to be in prime position for Sunday’s racing.

As Sunday dawned once again bright and sunny, the GT3 field was once more thinned down as the #88 Team Abba Rollcentre BMW of Richard Neary and Martin Short was withdrawn after a serious oil leak left the car irrepairable for the day’s events. A bitter end to the weekend for the BMW squad, who could only watch on whilst the others made their way round to the first race of the day. At the first change of the lights, Mark Farmer put his foot down and took Derek Johnston with him into the first corner at Riches. Alasdair McCaig’s McLaren appeared up behind Johnston on the infield and the pair collided on the exit to Agostini, causing both to slew across the grass and drop to the back of the GT3 field. Further back at the front of the GT4 pack, MacMillan Racing’s Jack Mitchell had a storming start and was past Reed in the Lanan Ginetta and Johnson in the Optimum Ginetta. Infact, this was a strong weekend for the GT4 Aston contingent, and before long Jack Bartholomew was charging up to the front in the Beechdean Aston Martin #407. The front of the race was becoming a real spectacle as the gaps never extended far enough for anyone of the top 4 to be out of contention for position, with Lee Mowle chasing after Minshaw and Farmer at the top of the tree. Behind them Johnston and McCaig had recovered from their blushworthy moment in the #17 Aston and #79 McLaren to push back up the order. As they went into traffic, Mark Farmer made hay while the sun shone to try and open a gap over Minshaw’s #33 Lamborghini, knowing that TF Sport’s time penalty for winning at Spa would push the #11 back down the pecking order at the driver change. In GT4, the #59 McLaren was slowly making its presence felt in the pack. As the pitstops came, the #79 McLaren pulled out without Rob Bell getting far, as the off across the grass earlier on had caused radiator damage. Phil Keen took over from Jon Minshaw and Jon Barnes took over from Mark Farmer in the #33 and #11 cars, but with the time penalty for Barnes to serve, it was Keen who stormed away, chased by Joe Osborne now in the #7 BMW, and Osborne was in no mood to finish second. Unfortunately, the BMW man went in in a slightly overzealous fashion on Keen at the Bomb Hole, and made contact, causing Keen to spin and lose position. As the race wore on, Osborne maintained his lead in GT3, however the stewards had finally caught up on the contact, and awarded a drive through penalty to the #7 car, with only minutes left in the race. A fine drive from Osborne to maintain first had been sadly ended by an incident on track, and although he took the flag first, the timekeepers levied a 30s time addition to the BMW in lieu of the drive through, leaving the Demon Tweeks #33 Lamborghini as the winner of the first race ahead of the #11 TF Sport Aston and the recovering #31 Bentley of Parfitt and Morris. In GT4, by virtue of pace and no time penalty, the #59 McLaren of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty held onto a lead from the charging Ross Gunn in #407, who had passed Matthew Graham in the #42 Aston on his way up through the pack. This result meant that a lead change in the title race for the GT3 teams, with Minshaw and Keen going ahead of Johnston and Adam as the second race opened up before the teams.

The second race was started of course, by the regular Pro drivers, and Keen and Adam on the front row of the grid blasted off from the rolling start knowing that the title hinged on this race and the next. Adam wanted desperately to get ahead of the red and green liveried Lamborghini, however with a 10 second penalty coming in the pits for the Lamborghini, Adam could afford to merely keep Keen’s tail in sight. Joe Osborne was back in the mix as well, this time fighting Alexander Sims in the second Barwell #6 Lamborghini. Behind the leaders, a race of attrition had begun. Jody Fannin in the returning #5 PFL Aston was plummeting down the order at a rapid pace, and Rob Bell was struggling in the #79 McLaren too. Before long, both cars would be out of the race with mechanical issues putting an end to their chances. This elevated Seb Morris further up the order from his lowly start position of 9th. GT4 was not absent of mechanical problems either, and while Ross Gunn was trying to keep SuperRacing’s Matthew George off his tail, the Lotus driven by Martin Plowman headed into the pits to retire in an unfortunate weekend for the Norfolk marque, following a retirement in the first race. Plowman had had a scary experience after noticing a fire in the Evora cockpit leading to his withdrawal from the race. Also out from GT4 went the podium finishing #42 Aston of MacMillan Racing, which went pop in a spectacular way on the infield, leaving oil and a rather saddened Matthew Graham behind it. Amongst all of this, Jonny Adam never once gave in on his pursuit of Phil Keen’s Lamborghini, as the teams headed up to the pit stop. And here, the race turned on its head, as Derek Johnston climbed into the #17 Aston Martin, only for his seatbelts to become tangled as the rival #33 car served it’s 10 second success penalty. The world stood still for TF Sport as Minshaw fired up and headed out into the distance. Mowle had taken over from Osborne in the BMW now and was ahead of Johnston, and Liam Griffin had made the most of Alexander Sims’ consistent driving and was fighting with Mowle for position, when the BMW and the #6 Lamborghini collided, sending Griffin onto the grass and sustaining irrepairable damage to the car. In GT4, Jack Bartholomew was out again in the #407 car and had maintained Ross Gunn’s hard work, as James Holder faded in the chasing #44 SuperRacing Aston. Graham Johnson was now chasing for a podium finish to peg back some points in the title battle in the #50 Optimum car, and he took Reed in the Lanan Ginetta with him. At the front though, another investigation hung over the #7 BMW which put a cloud over Mowle and Osborne’s drive, and with Johnston chasing hard to make up lost time and keep the gap down in the championship race to a minimum, it was only a matter of time for the #17 car to hit second. Behind them, Rick Parfitt had caught up and was attempting to get past Mowle, who defended his podium place with vigour, eventually triumphing over the Bentley boy to get something back from what had been a clouded weekend for the AmD team. But the story of the day was Minshaw and Keen taking the first British GT double sprint weekend win since 2010, which pushed open their title topping gap and made for yet another nailbiting final round at Donington in September. The Barwell squad have now taken 3 wins in the last 4 races in the championship, and will face a mountain to climb at Donington the next time out to beat the penalty they face in a pitstop and a track that traditionally favours the Aston.

And so it is to the Midlands we next go, for the traditional season finish to the championship with the title on a knifeedge once more. Minshaw and Keen lead Johnston and Adam by 11.5 points, and there has always been some drama at the final round of the season to make life complicated for the title fighters. The GT4 battle is also up for grabs and even tighter. Bartholomew is a mere 2.5 points behind Robinson and Johnson and needs only to finish ahead to win the title. The gloves will be off, and the stage is set for yet another final race decider…

Notices from Norfolk:

Tolman were not the only team with a big repair job needed ahead of Sunday’s races. In the second qualifying session, Matthew George suffered an off in the final qualifying session on Saturday, however the Generation AMR SuperRacing team rebuilt the entire front end for Sunday, including a fetching “eyepatch” where the headlight once was.

The McLaren pairing of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell broke the record for being the youngest pairing to ever win a British GT race. To give you a rough idea, Sandy was born in 2000. To most of us, even that seems really young…

British GT Round 5 Preview – Spa Francorchamps

With Silverstone’s damp and dank 3 hour race completed, the teams in the British GT paddock rubbed their cold hands with anticipation in advance of the annual trip to Europe, and Spa Francorchamps is the venue for the 5th weekend of racing this season.

The championship’s annual run into Belgium has proved notably popular, not only with the regulars travelling from the typical grey summers of Britain to one of the world’s most famed circuits, but also with the wildcard entries preparing for the gruelling and notorious Spa 24 Hour race to take place shortly in the Blancpain Endurance Series.

So, we have an expanded GT3 field for the weekend’s racing, with Lamborghini team Grasser Racing and the mighty German Black Falcon squad arrive with a pair of Mercedes AMG GT3 machines.  Team Parker’s second Bentley also returns for the Belgian round.

GT4 also expands once more as the GT4 European Series returns to partner their British counterparts for the trip round the picturesque and torturous Ardennes circuit. The two classes are reinforced further by two additional Aston Martins from Beechdean and Stratton Racing.

Spa though, is a tricky prospect for any racing driver. It’s one of the longest and toughest tracks of the year, and the 2 hour race in prospect will no doubt put some of the drivers through the toughest conditions of the season, with the famous ever-changing weather of the South East of Belgium potentially separating the course into a wet half and a dry half. Add to this the tricky fast sections such as Eau Rouge and Raidillion and the underrated but equally daunting Blanchimont then you have a recipe for a grand test of driver skill.

Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen will arrive at Spa on a high following their excellent strategical victory at Silverstone last time out, and with Barwell chasing championship honours, another win at Spa would be welcome, provided they can overcome the inevitable ballast and pit stop penalties. Championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam endured a DNF at Silverstone and will hope to recover valuable points at Spa, and the loss of penalties will unleash Adam in the second half of the race for a big push for victory. Bentley’s weekend at Silverstone was equally torrid, but with testing for the Spa 24H putting Seb Morris fastest of everyone and everything they cannot be ruled out from being in a powerful position come Saturday afternoon’s action.

33-05©Jakob Ebrey/British GT

Another happy chappy after Silverstone was Joe Osborne, who secured second place alongside Lee Mowle in their BMW Z4 in its swansong season. Lest we forget that at Spa 24 Hours last year, MarcVDS piloted a similar machine to victory, so it’s not a car to rule out at any stage, in spite of the pitstop penalty to be applied to the AmD team. Also riding high on many stages is Rob Bell, who switches back to Ecurie Ecosse having secured Blancpain Sprint victories at the Nurburgring last weekend in his almost now omnipresent McLaren, and will be looking to make the most of being unpenalised for this weekend.

11-01©Jakob Ebrey/British GT

The GT4 class results will no doubt hang upon the performance of the very nearly peerless Optimum Motorsport Ginetta #50 of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson. The #75 TeamHARD/RCIB Racing Ginetta pairing of Stilp and Phillips took the win at Silverstone and now face their first test with a full time penalty. It was also pleasing to see Nathan Freke and Anna Walewska on the podium at Silverstone after many trials by fire in the #73 Century Ginetta. The Ginettas may have their work cut out at Spa, as another victory for the marque will no doubt see the heavy weights back on their machinery for Belgium. Aston Martin will hope for more, with Beechdean’s juniors being bolstered by the arrival of their sister car, piloted by Paul Hollywood and Jamie Chadwick, who returns to the squad where she won the 2015 title.

Whatever your point of view of the Spa circuit and the challenges it brings, this will be one of the most hotly anticipated races of the season. With only 2 rounds remaining once this weekend is complete, drivers will want to begin the steady downhill roll with points on the board to bring everything into contention for the showdown round at Donington in September. It’s an ideal place for the brave driver to showcase his championship credentials. The most commonly asked question will be “did you take Eau Rouge flat?” Any driver worth his salt will try it at least once, but it’s not about how fast you climb, but how strong you stay for the rest of the journey.

Echoes from an Ardennes forest:

Spa is unusual as it is the only Saturday race of the year. This is to make way for one of the “oddball” events of 2016 on the Sunday. The Spa 25 Hours for the VW Funcup, modified VW Beetles. Again, a very sharp contrast to the astounding line up of sports cars in the GT paddock.

Stratton Motorsport have brought back Andrew Jarman for their return to the GT4 scene. Jarman partnered Jody Fannin at TF Sport last year. Fannin, sadly, will not be racing at Spa, following a paddock incident for PFL Motorsport at Silverstone.

Yes, it is THAT Paul Hollywood in the second Beechdean Aston Martin GT4. He’s making the big step up to British GT racing having been a massive car aficionado for a long time. We’re quite a fan of the guy, if only because he owns some truly awesome cars in his garage.

©Pete Richardson / Cassandra Hebbourn

British GT Round 4 Review – Silverstone 500

In what is traditionally the longest and most unpredictable race of the British GT season, you can hardly expect the usual results from the field at Silverstone. And after last year’s victory for Von Ryan McLaren stand ins Gilles Vannelet and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, the 2016 race had a lot to live up to in terms of surprises.

As the 51-strong entry made their first steps out onto the Silverstone tarmac, it was clear there was going to be a lot of movement throughout the field. With the additional entries from the European GT4 Series thrown into the usual 30-odd British racers, both pit and paddock were heaving and teeming with activity, and varied opinions on the upcoming need to pass traffic.

Saturday had dawned well enough, and teams knew they had a hard day’s work ahead at the beginning of Free Practice, especially with the prospect of the weather changing for the worse on Sunday. The biggest leap forward in FP1 was made by the Barwell Lamborghini team, with their three entries for this weekend all completing the session in the top ten with Alexander Sims returning from BMW duty in Europe to post the fastest time of the session in the #6 car. The BMW of Mowle/Osborne put in a good show to go second behind the striking Italian machine in the session.

It was a theme of the two practice sessions that drivers exceeded the track limits on every lap. As previously pointed out to us by McLaren’s Rob Bell, the track limits on British circuits are monitored fiercely, and as the second session came to an end, the drivers were summoned to a mandatory briefing regarding exceeding the acceptable boundaries of racing. During the second session, cars were shown the black flag for excessive use of off-track areas, and it seemed that drivers were more or less learning their lesson from it.

The second free practice itself showed improvements from many drivers. Aston Martin teams were really looking strong after a rather hampered Oulton Park event, and eventually Jonny Adam finished top of the pile in his #17 TF Sport Aston he was to share with Derek Johnston. A surprise 2nd in this session was Callum MacLeod driving the #24 Team Parker Racing Bentley, which had made a wildcard entry for this race weekend. Also going well was the #2 FF Corse Ferrari driven by the returning 2014 champion Marco Attard, and the flying Irishman Adam Carroll, who was enjoying being reunited with a Ferrari once more. There were improvements as well for the Tolman Ginettas, which the team were hoping were free of mechanical gremlins from the trip northward.

In GT4, the signs of the BoP moving away from the favour of Ginetta seemed clear, after the Generation AMR team took top spot in both sessions with their two cars, #42 of Jack Mitchell and Matty Graham in the first and the #44 car of James Holder and Matthew George in the second. The Ecurie Ecosse McLaren was looking good too, as was the EborGT Maserati. Sadly, the Simpson Racing team couldn’t bring their new Porsche Clubsport GT4 further up the order in spite of the speedy Scott Malvern putting his all in to the German machine, which had been joined by its counterparts from the European series.

Qualifying arrived and the order changed once more. The standard practice of letting the Am drivers out first showed that it was more or less business as usual, as Rick Parfitt in the #31 Team Parker Bentley went top from Barwell’s Liam Griffin in the #6 Lamborghini. Third though, was Will Moore in the #14 Optimum Audi which was looking good round the fast Silverstone GP circuit. Behind Moore, the TF Sport Astons of Mark Farmer in #11 and Derek Johnston in #17 rounded out the top 5. As we headed into the pro session, it was clear that the Bentley would not be relinquishing its pole position, as Seb Morris thundered around in a stunning lap time of just over 2 minutes to fix the big machine at the head of the field. Alexander Sims fixed second on the grid for the #6 Barwell Lamborghini ahead of Jonny Adam in the #17 Aston, Ross Gunn in the #1 Beechdean Aston and Rob Bell in the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren.

The GT4 field had double the action and double the traffic for their sessions. The McLaren in the hands of Sandy Mitchell put in a stunning lap of 2:12 to take pole in the Am session ahead of the Beechdean #407 Aston driven by Jack Bartholomew, and the popular returning Swede Dennis Strandberg in the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston. The championship leading Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson couldn’t achieve its usual high position. The Pro session was almost looking like staying with the same top 3 as the Am session, with Haggerty in the McLaren posting an equivalent 2:12 lap time to his teammate, however as the session drew to an end, Nathan Freke in the #73 Century Ginetta found a few extra clicks in his car to move up to third ahead of Matt Nicoll-Jones in the #62 Aston. For the European teams, former Formula Ford start Ricardo van der Ende and his co-driver Bernhard van Oranje, powered their Ekris M4 (which to all intents and purposes is a brightly orange coloured BMW M4 GT4 machine and very striking for it) to fastest time in class.

As expected, race day dawned grey, cold, and exceedingly damp. The “warm up” session was more or less what it said on the tin, for Northamptonshire was bathed in unseasonable gloom, with cars kicking up huge rooster tails on the straights. The conditions threatened to catch out several drivers, and at one point Derek Johnston had a lurid looking rotation coming onto the Wellington Straight. Things were not well in Bentley though, as the #31 car returned to its garage after an off and the noises coming from the Team Parker pit box began to sound industrial – another body blow for the team’s luck this season. Fortunately, both cars would make the grid for the race in their correct starting positions.

As the race came, the temperature started to rise, but the rain was lingering, and persisting enough to force the grid to abandon its usual rolling start procedure and head out behind the safety car for the opening minutes of the race. And with the rain came the immediate change of strategy. There was barely time to move before teams went for broke and put in for their driver swaps. The Barwell team went for broke and switched out Jon Minshaw, Mark Poole and Liam Griffin for their respective Pros – Phil Keen, Richard Abra and Alexander Sims. Marco Attard also put the Ferrari in the hands of Adam Carroll, and Ian Stinton put the #32 Tolman Ginetta into Mike Simpson’s possession. This would hand the initiative to the Pro drivers as the green flag flew.

Derek Johnston stole the lead from Rick Parfitt on the fourth lap in, and Andrew Howard and Will Moore soon made their way past the #31 Bentley and up the order. The GT4 order was shuffled at the very first racing turn, with Jack Bartholomew passing the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren into Copse, and relegating the Scottish drivers backward into the clutches of the #51 Lanan Racing Ginetta of Alex Reed and the #42 MacMillan Racing Aston of Jack Mitchell, who had edged their way forward from the start.

It wouldn’t be long before the Safety Car would come out again for what felt a lengthy period, encouraging teams and drivers to check and change strategies. Derek Johnston’s race in the title leading Aston Martin had ended at Becketts with a shunt, putting the #17 car out of the race and in danger of losing out in the points standings.The length of the safety car period was not helped by the length of the Silverstone GP circuit, necessitating a long wait to “snatch” the race leader, nor by a suspension failure for the #666 Lamborghini which had to cruise round to the pit, holding up the field behind substantially while they could not pass.

As the caution period cleared, Alexander Sims had mounted to the lead of the race, followed by the #32 Ginetta which was making profit from its early pit stop. Not far behind in fourth was the other #56 Tolman Ginetta of Pattison/Davenport which was looking strong. The GT4 lead had passed back to the #59 McLaren now as well but the Ecurie Ecosse team were caught out by the green flag flying and found themselves well back down the order.

It wasn’t long though before the #32 Ginetta took the lead from Sims who pitted the Lamborghini. Behind the Stinton/Simpson car, the Beechdean Aston of Howard/Gunn had now moved up to second, and the #31 Bentley with Seb Morris at the wheel was chasing hard. Phil Dryburgh’s #8 Motorbase Aston Martin was also well up the order, and eventually only ceded position to the second Tolman Ginetta #56 of Pattison/Davenport.

But then, disaster struck Seb Morris in the Bentley, as the Welshman lost control of the big machine heading back down towards Brooklands, ripping apart the front end of the car, destroying the splitter and the radiator. 2 championship contenders had now fallen by the wayside in the race. Silverstone was once again proving its reputation as an unpredictable race, and a heartbreaker too, as Bentley had worked hard to repair their regular machine once more after a morning shunt.

The shuffling continued as the Beechdean Aston pitted leaving the way clear for something rarely seen in the British GT field – a Ginetta 1-2 as Simpson and Davenport pushed their way around the track in the Tolman cars having their day in the metaphorical sunshine.

The safety car came out once more, following shunts for both the #60 Maserati of Marcus Hoggarth (who earlier made good progress up the order along with co-driver Abbie Eaton) and the #5 PFL Aston of Pete Littler between Stowe and Vale, leaving both cars damaged, the Aston more so than the Maserati. The final shuffles of the deck took place. Both Ginettas pitted from their 1-2 to change drivers, and back in the Barwell pit, Phil Keen took his place back in the #33 Demon Tweeks liveried car and headed back out into the lead of the race. This was to be a lead he would not relinquish.

Behind the Lamborghini, Ryan Ratcliffe had climbed into the driving seat of the second placed #14 Audi, but was not able to keep up the pace of the chasing pack, particularly that of the tarmac ripping BMW of Joe Osborne, who set a late fastest lap as the track lost a little surface water, before taking advantage of the Audi battling with a feisty Ross Wylie in the #8 Aston. Behind Osborne and Ratcliffe, Adam Carroll and Rob Bell were having a cracking fight in the Ferrari and McLaren respectively, which was a pleasure to watch as the two aces fought out a battle of wits and speed, which the Irishman eventually won. Sadly for Ratcliffe, the pace of these two proved too much as they breezed past the Audi, who would eventually take fifth place as the flag fell.

The GT4 field behind them had a very active afternoon, but the biggest surprised came in the class winner, as the Team HARD/RCIB Racing #75 Ginetta posted itself top of the class with drivers Aaron Mason and Rob Barrable. Barrable’s off road ability shone through as he mastered the wet tarmac to glide up the order and maintain distance to the leaders, before Mason carried on the consistency and hard work as others fell by the wayside. Notable exits included the #50 Optimum Ginetta of Johnson/Robinson, who were involved in an incident with the #88 Rollcentre Racing BMW which saw the car of Neary/Short excluded from the results. Team HARD are a massive presence in the paddock but newcomers to the GT scene and so were overjoyed to take the big endurance win at Silverstone. Nathan Freke and Anna Walewska pulled their way up to second place with the Century Ginetta ahead of the Beechdean pair of Bartholomew and Albert. Sadly, the McLaren GT4 of Haggerty and Mitchell suffered a sad end as the car stopped out on track with barely a minute of the race remaining.

The European GT4 series had been a Porsche show for the most of the race. The German PROsport Performance team had brought out the big guns, and they secured a 1-2 finish with the cars driven by Jorg Viebahn/Peter Terting and Nicolaj Moller Madsen/Andreas Patzelt keeping a strong lead over the Ekris M4 of Simon Knap/Rob Severs. Sadly, the popular and radical looking SinR1 of Sofia Car Team lost its way early on, after a trip to the gravel left the car driven by BTCC racer Michael Epps out of the way of a points finish in their class.

The biggest smiles of the weekend belonged to Barwell though, and Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen had proven themselves and their team the best at the tactical challenge of the 3 hour race. The Lamborghini’s second race win of the season had arrived and it was a triumph of consistency and control in difficult conditions. There were beaming smiles for Mowle and Osborne too, who had secretly hoped for rain at Silverstone, and been rewarded with a superb podium. It was a welcome return to the champagne steps for Marco Attard too, following Adam Carroll’s heroics at the end of the race in the brand new Ferrari. Once again, the Silverstone 500 had its usual trials and tribulations and there were surprises, shocks, and rain and more rain. 2016 had remembered 2015, and delivered another belting race.

“500” other things:

As the chequered flag fell, the storm clouds loomed on the horizon, and Noah’s storm passed over Silverstone, dumping an absolute torrent on the teams in the paddock. Unfortunately, the Simpson Racing garage fell foul of a flash flood in pit lane, which caused their mechanics to work hurriedly to clear their pit. There was also a nasty incident with the PFL Motorsport trailer, where the tail lift failed and left a crew member injured, thankfully not seriously.

Seen at Silverstone: Rick Parfitt Jnr’s new toy of a one wheel hoverboard… We’re not sure we approve necessarily, but when you’re a man in a hurry it beats walking.

British GT Round 4 Preview – Silverstone 500

British GT – Round 4 Preview – Silverstone 500

We’ve finally reached the official halfway point of the 2016 British GT season and this means it’s time to roll out the red carpet and bring on the longest race of the season. Traditionally the 3 hour race at Silverstone has been the time that the series is given the gift of extra entries for the big slog round the Northamptonshire circuit. 2016 is no exception.

Not only will the SRO be letting the regular competitors of the GT4 European Series take part in this endurance event, but we have some new cars, some old hands and some fan favourites joining in for this race. A grand total of 51 cars are on the entry list for this round, comprising the GT3 and GT4 classes of British GT regulars and wildcards and the GT4 European entries.

This doesn’t mean it’s time for the regulars to start abandoning their pursuit of championship honours. TF Sport Aston pairing Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam still hold their title advantage after their victories in the opening two rounds of the 2016 season, ahead of Liam Griffin who took a victory in the first race at Oulton Park in the last round. Griffin is followed by Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris who took the Bentley to its maiden British GT victory in the second race at Oulton Park, much to the joy of the watching crowd, who have fallen for the big British machine this year.

It’s been 3 wins in 4 races for the Optimum Motorsport GT4 Ginetta pairing of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who lead the GT4 standings as a result, ahead of the Beechdean Aston pair of Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert, who took the victory in the Rockingham round, and then the newcomers in the RCIB Racing/Team HARD Ginetta of Will Phillips and Jordan Stilp

Possibly the biggest and most exciting news for the GT3 boys this weekend is the return of Ferrari to the British GT grid for the Silverstone 500. The FF Corse team recently received delivery of the brand new 488 GT3 machine and will be piloted by 2014 champion Marco Attard (who previously raced a Ferrari 360 in the British GT championship) and Adam Carroll, who moves from deputising for Barwell back to Ferrari, where he partnered Gary Eastwood in 2015. The new twin-turbo Ferrari has shown turns of speed in the Blancpain Endurance Series, and there will be hope that this can carry over into the British scene this weekend.

Both Barwell and Team Parker Racing add an additional car for the weekend too, with the #666 Lamborghini for Mark Poole and Richard Abra, and the #24 Bentley with Callum McLeod and Iain Loggie racing for this weekend only. There’s also a one off entry for Mike Brown and Jamie Wall in their Aston Martin Vantage GT3 for this round.

The GT4 paddock this weekend will be its usual thronging mass, but with the addition of the European Series the usual manic racing that occurs will be doubled in volume. There are also the additional entries from FOX Motorsports’s Ginetta of Paul McNeilly and Jamie Stanley, and returning 3rd place finishers in last years GT4 season Academy Motorsport, who send out their Aston Martin Vantage V8 GT4 piloted by team owner Matt Nicoll-Jones and Dennis Strandberg for this round and the trip to Belgium next time out. We also see the debut of the Simpson Motorsport Porsche Clubsport GT4 in the hands of Nick Jones and Scott Malvern, who have been having a fine run in their Ginetta previous to the arrival of their new German wheels.

We cannot ignore the GT4 European Series entries, as this series is growing in popularity and has its first ever endurance event this weekend. We will be seeing the variety of GT4 machinery available for potential new entries, with the likes of the Sin R1, the Chevrolet Camaro and the BMW M4 GT4 (driven by one of the fastest royals in Europe, Bernhard van Oranje) as well as additional Maserati MC GT4s and Porsche Clubsport GT4s. It will be a fine demonstration of this series, which is growing from a Dutch only affair to receiving entries from Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Sadly, we won’t see any entries from Reiter Engineering with their lightweight missile KTM X-Bow machine, but the field won’t lack for quality and depth because of that.

At the time of writing this, the weather forecast for Sunday is not looking particularly clever, and after last year’s 500, where the advantage was held for a long period by Aston Martin team 22GT (whose drivers Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes now drive for TF Sport) it’s the chance for the strategists to shine and put the wet weather drivers through their paces. It will be worth looking to those who share a platform with the Blancpain series, such as Ecurie Ecosse McLaren, Team Parker Racing and their Bentleys, and Barwell and the Lamborghinis, who will have a base to build on from the 3 hour race here in May.

Traffic will also be a factor. Oulton Park was a different kettle of fish in every sense as there’s enough room to pass 4 cars wide in places along the straights of Silverstone, but at the same time, a wealth of GT4 cars will mean the usual speed slalom will be even more frantic than ever. The calm and collected driver will make most time here, with the tight sections of Vale/Club, Village/The Loop, and Brooklands/Luffield being crucial to getting away cleanly throughout the race. Any time lost here will be extremely costly on the fast GP circuit.

Silverstone Sayings:

As it’s a 3 hour race, each driver will get 2 stints behind the wheel at Silverstone. Last year, it was the pit strategy which kept the race interesting, after the rain made people stick or twist as to pitting for wets at the right time. If the weather acts up again as expected, there could be a real shuffle of the “usual” racing order.

This weekend marks a big experiment for the SRO as two of the biggest GT4 series join forces for the 3 hour race. Stephane Ratel’s enthusiasm to grow GT4 to the same level as GT3 across the various series administered by SRO will be demonstrated. If this is the case, do not be surprised to see GT4 becoming much more prominent in future years in GT racing in general, as costs escalate for the bigger capacity cars.

British GT Round 3 Review – Oulton Park

The 2016 British GT championship made its annual return to the North West of England and Oulton Park for the first of two sprint race meetings this season. Previously, this round would have opened the championship season for British GT racing, however the change in calendar gave ample opportunity for a dry and warm day of racing in Cheshire.

Saturday’s qualifying sessions had proved one thing if nothing else – the Balance of Performance had definitely held back the GT3 Astons which had dominated the top step of the rostrum in the first two rounds of the season. Step up to the plate, Seb Morris in the #31 Bentley and Jon Minshaw in the #33 Lamborghini to take pole position for their respective race starts. Both drivers were not only taking advantage of the increased competitiveness of their cars, but Oulton is the “home track” for both Morris and Minshaw, so the mental edge was there too.

In GT4, the Ginetta G55 parade seemed to be rolling on as always it had, with Optimum Motorsport’s #50 car driven by Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson parking itself on pole for both races. At the other end of the scale, the #66 Simpson Motorsport Ginetta returned to its pit box after coming back “in a thousand pieces and slightly burned” following an incident which ruled Nick Jones out of qualifying for his starting spot. The car would be rebuilt for Monday’s races.

By the time Monday arrived, the sun had too, and this had put the paddock in a cheerful mood ahead of the day’s races. The warm up yielded a small surprise as Jody Fannin put the #5 PFL Motorsport Aston top of the times for the day, although Littler and Fannin would be starting from the middle of the pack come the races later on in the day.

An important fact about Oulton Park is that the circuit is a British classic, and being set in park land, offers a challenge to drivers by the virtue of the lack of width throughout the vast majority of the length of the circuit. There is very little that can be done it seems, to widen the course, and most drivers felt that the current GT field had outgrown the circuit, with little room to pass for position, and sharp concentration required to pass slower cars when blue flags flew.

This was thrown into sharper relief during the morning’s driver briefing, where the race director and clerk of the course laid down the law in no uncertain terms about driver conduct during the opening laps and when passing slower cars, as well as warning teams to be mindful of each other whilst pit stops for driver changes took place, as there is a premium on pit space at Oulton as well. And, there would be penalties for any teams and drivers who would flout these rules. These stern words rang loudly in the ears of the drivers as they filed back to their garages in advance of the first race.

The grid for race 1 had an all-Lamborghini front row. The #33 Demon Tweeks liveried car of Minshaw/Keen was alongside the #6 Irish TV liveried car of Griffin/Carroll, and the two Italian machines paraded the field round for the pace lap, ahead of Parfitt in the Bentley and Johnston in the #17 championship leading Aston. The first race would see the “Am” drivers taking the start and handing over to the “Pro” drivers at just before half distance.

From the lights out, it was clear that the intention for Rick Parfitt in the Bentley was to make up ground, and he passed Liam Griffin in the #6 Lamborghini for second. However, the other Griffin in the race, Kieran, driving the #47 JWB Aston GT4 car started slowing with mechanical problems. With Minshaw leading the pack over the line at the end of lap one, he was followed in close quarter by Parfitt and stablemate Griffin, with Derek Johnston and Alasdair McCaig in the #17 Aston and the #79 McLaren fighting over 5th place. The GT4 battle had started all Ginetta, with Optimum’s Graham Johnson in #50 heading Will Phillips (RCIB Racing #45) and Alex Reed (Lanan Racing #51).

Another driver looking to push up the order was Will Moore, who was making the most of a 7th place start for the Audi R8, and he hustled 2015 champion Andrew Howard’s #1 Beechdean Aston out of the way and looked to chase up the McLaren of McCaig. Also pushing was Marcus Hoggarth in the GT4 Maserati, which although starting from dead last was making up positions in the GT4 order.

Order, however, was soon to be frozen, as Sean Byrne lost control of the #40 Ginetta of Century Motorsport at Knickerbrook, requiring the deployment of the Safety Car. This took up a long period of time, as the tyre barriers had been dislodged with some force and repairs would take a while. Impatience began to grow amongst the queued drivers, and when eventually the green flag was about to fly, it all boiled over amongst the GT4 field.

As the field came out of Deer Leap and up to the line, there were bits missing from the back end of Will Phillips’ #45 Ginetta, bits missing from the front of Sandy Mitchell’s #59 McLaren which had suddenly dropped down the order and a lot of damage to Alex Reed’s #51 Lanan Ginetta, which pulled into the pits and out of the race. The concertina effect in full flow, and left some of the top runners in GT4 with little to show.

With 10 minutes left before the pit window opened from the green flag flying again, Minshaw realised that a time penalty he would have to take in pits meant it was time to leave the Bentley behind a bit, and down went the hammer in #33. Unfortunately, Parfitt wasn’t having any of this and matched and beat Minshaw’s pace to keep close to the tail of the bright green and red Huracan and in with a shout of sending the big Bentley into the lead after the driver change.

Behind them, Will Moore’s challenge to the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren of Alasdair McCaig sadly came to an end as Moore lost control of the #14 Audi and spun at Old Hall, thankfully without lasting damage to the car but leaving Moore stewing over what might have been. Kieran Griffin’s afternoon went from recovery to wreck as he clipped a tyre stack at the Hizzy chicane and ended up off the road at Knickerbrook.

And as if the safety car drama wasn’t enough, the GT3 battle suddenly erupted as the pit window opened. The race director had previously instructed drivers to park infront of their garage at 45 degrees to effect the driver changes without taking up large amounts of already at a premium pit space at Oulton, and this was duly followed by all who came in.

What nobody had accounted for was what happened when it was time to leave the pit lane. Minshaw and Parfitt arrived in the pits and then Alasdair McCaig in the McLaren followed suit. McCaig hopped out, and in got Rob Bell in good time. Parfitt swapped with Seb Morris in good time too, but suddenly found his passage out of pit lane blocked by the McLaren being rotated to exit – and when it didn’t fire up properly, the Bentley was truly banjaxed. To make matters worse, Phil Keen had taken over the #33 Lamborghini from Minshaw, and shot down pit road having completed pitstop and time penalty, only to hit the Bentley as it waited to exit the pit lane. Those watching were riveted to this scene, all too aware of the inevitable penalties that would be coming.

All this delay and action meant that the top 3 for the race changed utterly. It was now the other #6 Lamborghini of Adam Carroll that took the lead, and comfortably ahead of the suddenly appearing Joe Osborne’s #7 AmD Tuning BMW and the #11 TF Sport Aston Martin in the hands of Jon Barnes. The GT4 class was still headed by the #50 Optimum Ginetta, which looked like it wasn’t going to miss a beat in this race, and was calm and comfortable infront of the #42 Generation AMR Aston of Jack Mitchell.