Category Archives: British GT News – Previews – Reviews

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Beechdean’s #1 GT3 Aston was withdrawn from proceedings following serious accident damage at the previous race weekend at Spa.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.

British GT Round 3 Preview – Oulton Park

The British GT Championship has begun its annual pilgrimage to its most northerly venue on the calendar. And far from being the frozen wastes of the Arctic, the paddock is packing its bags and heading into the lovely parkland of Cheshire, where Oulton Park provides the setting for Round 3 of the 2016 season.

This round is the first of this season’s “Sprint” rounds, with two races taking place on the bank holiday Monday, each being one hour long and putting an emphasis on speed rather than consistency. Each driver will take his seat in the car for half an hour in both races, and the points on offer for each race will be slightly lower than those offered for a 2 or 3 hour race.

The Balance of Performance has now been altered for this round as well, so we can expect changes throughout the field, and maybe we may see winners from outside the #17 TF Sport Aston Martin of Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam, who lead the championship heading into the third round. Two victories from 2 rounds put them well in control at this stage with a 25 point gap to Liam Griffin of Barwell.

So, to bring the others closer, the Aston has been put on a high 95kg ballast diet and will be noticeably heavier as it cruises around the Cheshire countryside, whilst its rivals have all remained relatively lightweight in comparison. Whether this has any effect will be proven, although with the Lamborghini, Bentley and McLaren looking quick at Rockingham, they will be hoping to press up to the Astons for GT3 and overall honours.

What the new machinery will make of the Oulton circuit is yet to be discovered. The general feeling around the paddock is that although the track is aesthetically pleasing and one of the British classics, the circuit is not suited to the GT3 cars, with parts being too narrow to feel comfortable passing the GT4 class. A quick mind will be necessary to make progress through the field as much as anything else, especially on the section returning from Knickerbrook back to the start/finish line, where space is at a premium and speeds are relatively high.

In GT4 there is one noticeable change, and that is in the driver line up at RCIB Team HARD, where Wilson Thompson has been replaced in the #75 Ginetta GT4 by Aaron Mason, a frequent driver in Volkswagens with the “boys in pink and green” for the rest of the season. Rob Barrable has retained his seat and will carry on alongside Mason for the 2 one hour races.

Following the penalty palaver at Rockingham, drivers will be looking to keep out of the steely gaze of the stewards at Oulton Park, especially Nathan Freke of Century Motorsport, who along with Anna Walewska piloted their Ginetta GT4 to first place only to be DSQ’d for passing under yellow flags.

The Balance of Performance for GT4 cars has also changed, and inspite of their win at Rockingham in the hands of #407 Beechdean drivers Jack Bartholemew and Jordan Albert, the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 will actually lose weight to keep up with the Ginettas and McLaren which flew at Rockingham, although their challenges ended for various reasons before and after the chequered flag. The Ginetta and McLaren both gain 60kg of ballast for this round, although their drivers will be keen to put mechanical issues, accident damage and more behind them.

Pit time is crucial in a one hour GT race, and the top 3 finishers in each class from the last round will have additional time penalties to face. This leaves Johnston/Adam with 10 seconds extra in the box at their stop, with Minshaw/Keen facing an extra 7 seconds in the #33 Barwell Lamborghini and Howard/Gunn having an extra 5 seconds in the #1 Beechdean Aston. The same penalties apply to #407 Beechdean Aston, #40 Century Ginetta and #51 Lanan Ginetta in GT4. In a race round a tight track the pit routine is vital to keep a race challenge alive as passing opportunities will be at a premium.

With this considered, it is worth looking to some of the mid order runners from round 2 throughout each class for potential sprint race victors. The #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Parfitt/Morris has been sensationally quick so far this year, and they will want to get back to good places after an emotionally charged weekend at Rockingham. The #14 Optimum Motorsport Audi of Moore/Ratcliffe has been on a severe BoP diet and looked consistent for pace in the last round, and so could leap up the order. And Liam Griffin will want to catch up ground on the TF Sport Aston with Adam Carroll again partnering him in the #6 Barwell Lamborghini Huracan.

If there is one certainty that the sprint format brings us, it is that there’s not enough time to wait for other people to make a mistake and hand you a result, so drivers will be pushing as hard as they dare during their half hour stretches in the cars on Monday. Don’t expect a “friendly” race at Oulton, this will be elbows out action from flag to flag…

Parklife Patter:

The #66 Simpson Motorsport entry remains for the time being, a Ginetta, however Nick Jones and Scott Malvern will soon have a Porsche Cayman GT4 in their hands to race, and the new car should hopefully make an appearance for the Silverstone 500 in June.

All drivers will want to be on their best behaviour and will be polishing their halos frantically for presentation to the race director this round, as the last race at Rockingham saw a wave of penalties for pit stop infringements, yellow flag overtaking and causing avoidable incidents. At Oulton’s narrow tarmac, there could yet be more wrist-slapping ahead.

The support package at Oulton Park this weekend includes a race for 1950s sports cars. Oulton Park has been holding sports car racing in some form since 1953, and the comparison between the contemporary and classic will show just how far the world has changed, although don’t bet against Aston Martin being at the top of both piles come Monday evening.

British GT Round 2 Race Review – Rockingham

DSC_0540The British GT championship rolled into Rockingham this weekend for round 2 of the 2016 season, and there was anticipation of a rejoining of battle following the shortened race at Brands Hatch. Or at least, signs that the teams in the championship were not prepared to give up the fighting spirit showed in Kent.

With the damage repaired from Brands Hatch and cars safely returned from Monza’s Blancpain Endurance race, as well as good weather to boot in Northamptonshire for the weekend, there was a buzz in the air as the drivers went out into free practice on Saturday morning.

The initiative was taken immediately by Barwell, who with Adam Carroll replacing Fabio Babini for the next two races, boasted the top two times with the #6 and #33 Huracans in the opening session. However there was bad news for the Bentley team. The unfortunate Rick Parfitt hit a fresh patch of oil and the big #31 revolved into the barriers, seriously damaging the car. Team Parker Racing immediately set about the task of repairing the machine, a task which would take until the Sunday morning to complete, ruling the car out of qualifying.

The second free practice was taken by the #17 TF Sport Aston Martin of Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam, who set a marginally faster time than the Huracans in FP1. The winners from Brands would face a time penalty during their pit stop in the race, and would need to open a huge gap to prevent challenges from other teams.

The GT4 pack had a very uniform top 3 in free practice. The #73 Century Motorsport Ginetta of Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke took top spot in both sessions ahead of the #50 Optimum and #66 Simpson Racing entries, giving a very resounding top 3 of Ginettas in the class. At this point it seemed that the British marque would have the weekend sewn up, not knowing what fate would intervene across the remainder of the weekend.

As qualifying arrived, the pendulum swung firmly toward the #17 Aston in GT3, with Derek Johnston’s time in the Am session giving enough cushion to allow Jonny Adam to comfortably seal pole position from the #79 Ecurie Ecosse McLaren of Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell. The times set in the Pro GT3 session were blistering however, with both Rob Bell and Phil Keen setting times below 1:16 – the fastest of the weekend in fact. The #1 Beechdean Aston and the #6 Barwell Lamborghini would follow up on the second row.

The good luck that Century Motorsport had in the free practice sessions ran out in the GT4 Am qualifying as Anna Walewska suffered mechanical gremlins that would see the car sit out the rest of the session and start dead last on the starting grid for Sunday. Pole fell to the #50 Optimum Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who carried on where they had left off with times within tenths of each other to set a scorching pole, ahead of the #40 Ginetta of Byrne and Schjerpen and the #59 McLaren of Mitchell and Haggerty (the first time a non-Ginetta had broken into the top 3 of the timesheets in the class!)

A point of note in qualifying was that 6 cars had their fastest individual lap times removed due to exceeding the track limits – perhaps not giving a true reflection of the speed of all the cars on the grid from the weekend. Both the #8 Motorbase Aston Martin and the #14 Optimum Audi found themselves being penalised in GT3, with both Team HARD Ginettas, the #66 Simpson Ginetta and the #407 Beechdean Aston V8 in GT4 suffering a similar fate.

Overnight, the industrious folk at Team Parker Racing rebuilt the Bentley from wreck to restoration triumph, giving Parfitt and Morris a shot at glory (and leaving the racing rockstar slightly lost for words with gratitude). The #11 TF Sport Aston, which had also missed Saturday was restored to the hands of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes for a racing effort, albeit from the back of the GT3 pack.

dsc_0275

The stage was set. Fast cars at either end of the grids and 2 hours of racing ahead of them could only mean drama was to come. And it did in bucketfuls, although not in the way it was expected. At the start, the field managed to avoid contact into the first tight double-left at Deene and set about trying to establish some order amongst chaos. The first major leap came when Liam Griffin set about passing Alasdair McCaig for second behind Derek Johnston, and starting a battle between the #6 and #33 Lamborghinis surrounding the #79 McLaren, with Minshaw in the #33 car eventually overcoming McCaig in the McLaren. Behind them, Parfitt’s Bentley began climbing the order, only to spin out following contact with Will Moore in the #14 Audi, who received a penalty for spinning the #31 car in the final chicane.

Neither Parfitt nor Moore let this hold them back though, and both drivers would make progress back up the order to put them in good stead as the halfway point neared. By contrast, the Tolman Ginetta of Ian Stinton had a rough time as a tyre shed its skin into the first corner, leaving the car with severe damage, and a visit to the pits that lasted most of the race. This was soon followed by its stable mate #56 suffering mechanical woes.

The Optimum Ginetta GT4 carried on in the race where it had left off before in qualifying, taking a lead in class. However, the hard work would not pay off, as shortly before the pit stops began, a collision on the straight behind the pits left the car unrecoverable, and out of the race. This in turn brought out the safety car to recover the vehicle before Mike Robinson could even push a pedal. This promoted the Ecurie Ecosse car of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty into a class lead.

Meanwhile, the sister Ecurie Ecosse GT3 McLaren was starting to get “hiccups” and suddenly losing time towards the end of McCaig’s stint. There was no particular explanation for the change in temperament, although it took a reboot of the car’s systems from Rob Bell after the pit stop to get everything back to full working order. The same issue went on to hit the GT4 car of Ecurie Ecosse, at one stage bringing out the safety car as Ciaran Haggerty brought the car to a halt on the exit of Turn 1, only to fire up at the first wave of the yellow flag from the race director.

Bentley’s weekend took another rollercoaster ride as Parfitt and Minshaw both ran wide fighting for position into Deene, sending both cars up the oval track rather than onto the infield, albeit with no damage to the cars, and allowing both #31 and #33 to continue. Then a stop go penalty for Parfitt ruined both the team’s pit strategy and progress up the field. As a penalty cannot be taken during a visit to the pit box, there was no alternative but to make 2 trips to pit lane, leaving the car a lap behind.

They were not the sole visitors to the penalty box either, as the Ecurie Ecosse McLaren #59 and the #60 EborGT Maserati of Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton faced 5 and 38 second stop and go penalties for pit stop infringements. More was to come later from the clerk of the course.

At the front of the race however, the #17 Aston barely missed a beat, even with the 20 second penalty in the pits for winning at Brands, and kept its lead from pole, only relinquishing it to Will Moore briefly, as the Audi stayed out for the full first hour, recovering well from its earlier misdemeanour thanks in no small part to Moore’s trademark aggressive speed. Once Adam replaced Johnston in the hot seat, there was no prising away the lead from them, and the chequered flag beckoned, whilst behind them confusion began.

On the deployment of the safety car for the short lived beaching of #59 McLaren in Turn 1

British GT Round 2 Preview – Rockingham

Ah, Rockingham. The only anti-clockwise, oval/road course combination in the British Isles to be hosting the British GT championship is nearly upon us and there’s nothing like a complete change of venue style from the previous round to put drivers and teams on their toes. Especially after a race of high drama in Round 1 which saw huge accidents and a premature end because of a car fire.

The flowing nature of Brands is replaced by a flat out blast round one of the UK’s only banked corners followed by a twisting infield section with lots of heavy braking zones, which will no doubt be to the advantage of the cars with lower top speed and nimble handling.

One of the not so surprise results from last week was the winning combination of Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the Aston Martin V12 Vantage of TF Sport. Adam, relinquished of his Aston Martin WEC duties at Silverstone, made the most of being in a strong position after the round of pit stops to be in the lead after the red flag ended the race with 23 minutes left on the clock. It was business as usual for Aston though – a win at the end of 2015 and a win at the start of 2016 for TF Sport could be considered from their part “just what the doctor ordered.”

The focus though, fell on the big Bentley. Parfitt Jnr and Morris had dramatic race – with the Bentley’s nimble character fitting the circuit well, however a block-in at the pit stop meant that Morris’ charge towards the front in the second half of the race would be from further down the field than he would have liked. Although the Bentley boys only inherited second after a post race time penalty was applied to the #7 BMW of Mowle and Osborne, there was no doubting that the Bentley had serious capability ahead.

The third placed finisher at Brands was one of the new Barwell Lamborghini Huracans; in this case that of Liam Griffin and Fabio Babini. The Italian GT stalwart pushed the sleek Lambo up into contention as the race wore on, and this will serve as proof that Barwell’s new partnership with the Italian marque has been a good one. Rockingham will see Babini replaced by former Team Ireland A1GP driver Adam Carroll, who has previously driven a Ferrari in the British GT series.

One team that will be buzzing as the Rock looms on the horizon is Ecurie Ecosse. At Monza, the sister team of Garage 59 took a sensational win in the Blancpain Endurance Series, with Rob Bell being one of the winning drivers. Bell will be looking to take as much feedback to the garage as they look to make inroads into the 2016 season. McLaren will hope that this time at Rockingham, they will make the end of lap one after a double shunt at the final chicane put both their cars out!

Audi’s Optimum boys will be looking to make progress at the Rockingham roval as well. A shipment of parts for the R8 LMS arrived in time at Brands Hatch to put an extra few kmh’s into the car, which were welcomed by Ratcliffe and Moore, but unfortunately fate conspired against them as the Audi decided to go and investigate a gravel trap during Moore’s stint at the wheel. With an upgraded car though, the team could well be pushing for honours on the many turns of the infield.

In GT4, the Optimum Ginetta G55 took the honours at Brands Hatch and Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson led home a trio of Ginettas at the top of the GT4 leaderboard, with the Century car of Walewska and Freke taking second and the RCIB car of Stilp and Phillips taking a podium on their GT debut.  It will be hard to see Ginetta maintaining their run at the top of the GT4 field as the BOP will level out the field once more. The wide expanse of the Rockingham banking may favour the “bigger” GT4 machines of Aston and Maserati but with handling being at a premium, you can never write off the nimble McLaren or Lotus, which rely on light weight and rear engines to get the best from cornering.

There are no guarantees for the coming weekend at Rockingham. The winter chill hasn’t disappeared from Britain, which could yet throw surprises at the entire field (don’t rule out snow, seriously) and the change in circuit character will mean different front runners. Expect the pack to be bunched up pretty rapidly once the lights change at the start, as the flat out Turn 1 leads into the double 90 degree left at Deene, where those in haste will make a dive to the front of the field  – usually resulting in contact and tears…

Backstage at the Rock:

The Motorbase Performance and Generation AMR Astons, along with the Simpson Ginetta return after the almighty high speed shunt at Brands last time out. Thankfully no drivers suffered harm in this well publicised accident, but the cars involved have needed a fair lump of TLC to get back!

Lanan Racing have permanently severed their ties with Porsche for the year and gone in full swing with the Ginetta G55 in the GT4 class. It’ll be a shame not to see the German marque on the grid in their hands, but to lose a whole team would have been a greater shame.

Whilst McLaren may have taken the honours in the opening Blancpain Endurance race, Barwell’s Lamborghinis by contrast had a tough time at the flat out fest that is Monza. The Huracans have made the return to British shores for this race, once again with driver changes all round. It’ll be a busy few weeks as the team skips between Blancpain and British GT. Not to mention all the livery changes that need to happen!

 

British GT Round 1 Preview – Brands Hatch

It is time. Brands Hatch awaits the bold driver for the opening round of the 2016 British GT calendar and the anticipation for a hard fought season begins in earnest at the Kent circuit. With the full field showing their noses for the first time all together it is time to put the winter testing aside and concentrate on bigger matters.

In GT3, the questions raised are can Aston Martin retain their seat at the top of the British GT tree this season? Jonny Adam’s AMR contract has seen him move to the TF Sport team for the 2016 season and Beechdean now turns to youngster Ross Gunn to partner Andrew Howard. Beechdean may carry number 1 this year, but the battle for supremacy will be wide open.

The second question will be how will the new breed of GT3 cars cope with the British season? Audi’s new R8 in the hands of Optimum Motorsport pairing Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe has shown good pace in the 24H Series, and the bonkers Lamborghini Huracan is also welcomed in the hands of Barwell drivers Liam Griffin, Alexander Sims, Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen having seen success on its very first GT3 racing outing at Monza last year.

As a contrast to the new machinery, the BMW Z4 of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne is out there to remain one of the strongest partnerships from the last few seasons. The team finished 3rd in the 2015 season and will look to go one better in the 2016 season. With Brands Hatch being a strong hunting ground for the Z4 previously, it could all come good for “Batman and Robin.”

McLaren are back too with Ecurie Ecosse. The Scottish team are fielding Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell for the first time together and will hope that Bell’s time as a factory driver will push them forward. The 650S may yet see more glory, and the corkscrewing nature of Brands puts the grippy car at an advantage.

Of course, it’s foolish to rule out Aston Martin at any cost, especially with Derek Johnston having taken his first win last season with the TF Sport team, and his new partnership with Adam coming at a good time. Alongside them Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes reunite for another season in the Aston, and Phil Dryburgh joins Ross Wylie in an all Scottish driver pairing at Motorbase. All of these teams will grow with the venerable Vantage and cannot be ruled out for challenging for podium spots.

One team who will be looking to impress will be Team Parker Racing, who field the Bentley Continental of Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris. The team bring a long association with GT3 racing to Britain this year and are keen to prove the Bentley can win on home turf. “RPJ” and Morris both believe that the Bentley, though grand as it is, has the nimbleness of a car capable of taking good finishes.

The garages are also filled with a wealth of promise in the GT4 class, where the grid expands even further for this season with entries from new teams and manufacturers. Two of the most exciting being the Ginettas of Team HARD and the McLaren 570S run by Ecurie Ecosse.

Team HARD are not strangers to the British GT atmosphere, having run cars in the accompanying VW Trophy, but this is a step forward for Tony Gilham’s team, who have brought along 4 fast and talented drivers to drive their 2 G55s for the 2016 season. Jordan Stilp, Will Phillips, Rob Barrable and Wilson Thompson all take their places in the brightly coloured cars, and have shown strongly in testing.

McLaren’s new baby GT4 car will be piloted by Ecurie Ecosse youngsters from F4, Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell who will be taking their place in a promising development. Rob Bell tested the car at Snetterton and was favourably impressed by the new car, but we are yet to see it in full racing action to know how it will go.

Aston Martin’s Beechdean challenge this year is mounted by Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholemew, who are looking to follow in the footsteps of Jake Giddings, Ross Wylie, Jamie Chadwick and Ross Gunn as the GT4 championship winners, but with the field size growing the youngsters will be faced with a herculean task to be as dominant as Chadwick and Gunn in 2015.

The Maserati Gran Turismo MC makes its British racing debut at Brands Hatch too, with Abbie Eaton and Marcus Hoggarth moving from GT Cup competition to come together with the Italian machine, which sadly didn’t go too far at Snetterton, but will surely turn heads as it hits the grid for the first time, especially if it puts its nose up with its slightly smaller rivals from the start!

Brands Hatch isn’t the usual starting point for the British GT series, after several years of the season opening at Oulton Park in Cheshire. Previously the season started with a doubleheader meeting, with 2 1-hour races over the weekend, but the change means that teams go straight into the first 2 hour race for 2016. This will give us watching fans a chance to see the strategists in action rather than the sprinters. Brands Hatch has previously put up some amazing shows in this championship, stemming back to 2012, where Jann Mardenborough beat Jonny Adam by a bare bumper width after a last lap fight. In 2014, Le Mans hero Nick Tandy made a one off appearance and blew most of the field away in a Porsche, while last year, the battling BMWs of Barwell and TripleEight fought to the final flag in a nose to tail scrap. If this continues then the season opener will be one to remember, and surely will show where the big hitters will be aiming their sights for the rest of the season.

Some more Kentish knockings:

Jamie Chadwick will be making a substitute appearance at Superdry Generation AMR this weekend, filling in for James George here and at Rockingham while he has other commitments. Chadwick will return to Beechdean later in the season to partner Paul Hollywood in the Vantage V8 GT4.

With the absence of the Porsche Cayman GT4 from these shores, Lanan Racing and Simpson Racing have received delivery of Ginetta G55s as a replacement. A worry while the German cars haven’t arrived to GT4 customers, it’s always reassuring to see drivers able to take to the grid.

Jonny Adam was slated to drive in ELMS, WEC AND British GT this weekend, however, Aston Martin Racing decided to lighten his load by giving him free reign to race at Brands Hatch alone. Andrew Howard, however, will be making the trip between Silverstone and Brands to compete in both ELMS and British GT. Hard work for the Beechdean boss!

Rollcentre Racing will arrive on a high after victory at the Silverstone 24 Hour race, where Richard Neary and Martin Short teamed up to take the win from dead last on the grid in their M3 tourer. The BMW Z4 awaits these gentlemen this weekend, and you can never rule out drivers who come in from a good result elsewhere from making another strong performance happen.

 

 

British GT Media Day – What We Learnt

 

The British GT season has been building up to the full racing launch at Brands Hatch on 16-17th April, but on 15 March at Snetterton a glimpse of what would be coming this season was given to the waiting media and The PitCrew Online was there amongst the proud names in GT3 and GT4 racing to find out and learn more.

Sadly, from a driving point of view, the weather didn’t play ball at Snetterton that day, and Norfolk was cold, gloomy and a little bit damp, but with the opportunity to shakedown new machinery, teams took the chance to get mileage on the clock with their cars and drivers ahead of the season starting.

The day had started though with a huge announcement – the brand spanking new McLaren 570S GT4 was revealed to the waiting world, and took the paddock by storm. Not many people had anticipated the arrival of the 650S’s baby brother, but it has signalled McLaren GT’s attempt to enter the class with a flourish. The Ecurie Ecosse squad will run McLaren’s in both GT3 and GT4 this year, and although there is no announcement as yet on the drivers of the GT4 car, Andrew Kirkaldy of McLaren GT told us that the intention was to place a “Silver” driver partnership in the car so as to enhance the development of the car through racing in its first season. Feedback though from the car had been positive with McLaren GT factory driver Rob Bell praising the small machine and even setting the fastest time in class during one of the testing sessions. The Balance of Performance regulations are yet to apply, but people will watch this new entry with keen eyes.

Another new entry in the GT4 paddock this year was the Maserati run by EborGT. The huge and spectacularly noisy GranTurismo MC will be driven by former GTCup pairing of Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton. Abbie is catching a lot of attention round the paddock as a female driver with a history of good results, and she was looking forward to the season ahead. On speaking to her she talked of how it was brilliant to be in the British GT, and although issues on the media day prevented the Maserati from completing all 3 test sessions there was potential in the car. The team’s best hopes for good results, she explained, would come at the “bigger circuits” such as her home track of Silverstone where the ‘big’ Maserati would come into its own against some of the smaller, and potentially more nimble competitors.

Our next port of call was the Team HARD garage, where we found their two Ginetta G55s (in the usual vivid green and pink paint associated with the concern) and a very determined team manager, Tony Gilham. Tony very kindly shepherded us out of the Norfolk cold into his motorhome to discuss the team’s ambition for 2016.

Gilham and Team HARD’s aims were very much clear from the outset: To turn the dreams of talented drivers into a racing reality, by supporting them through a clear chain of programmes designed around getting those with clear ability into racing seats. With this in mind for the GT programme the team had signed Jordan Stilp and Will Phillips for one car, and Robert Barrable and Wilson Thompson in the other. Tony was quick to heap praise on his drivers. Barrable has moved over from rallying, and Team HARD had previously offered him the chance to drive on tarmac in the VW Cup in 2015 with good results. Stilp had been in the Team HARD programme since 2012 and, following on from a strong showing in the Ginetta GT Supercup at the end of the BTCC season in 2015, was made for a seat in the British GT Paddock.

The enthusiasm of Tony Gilham in his project is very clear to see. This was a proper “racing team” run by a family not to find drivers who would pay for a drive, but to give competitive racing to drivers who are proving their capability behind the wheel. It will be hard to miss their presence in the British GT paddock this year, not only as their cars and drivers were right at the sharp end of the time sheets, but with no less than 17 cars produced by them in the VW Cup support series (and 34 drivers in total on their development programme) they will be a huge part of the series. Gilham’s other main aim though? Being able to challenge for GT4 wins and titles. With the organisation of his team you can’t doubt they’ll be ready to do that from the first fall of the flag.

The bigger GT3 class is also growing this season, and lovers of big GT cars will have pounding hearts at some of the exotica on show this season round the British tracks.

The most striking arrival for 2016 in GT3 is the Lamborghini Huracan, which Barwell Motorsport have brought to the paddock. The Huracan is a monstrous car – with typically outlandish sleekness and a roaring V10 engine in the back. Mark Lemmer, team principal of Barwell, gave a very clear reasoning to the introduction of the Lamborghini. The team had previously run the BMW Z4, and with the new M6 having a turbocharged engine, Lemmer and Barwell sought to find a car with a normally aspirated engine for 2016. With the Lamborghini having the obvious appeal of the supercar, plus the right engine it was a perfect match for the team for 2016. With the Lamborghini comes a wealth of driving experience as the team will be joined by Italian driver Fabio Babini, to partner Liam Griffin in one of their cars for 4 of the season’s races. Alexander Sims will join Griffin for the remaining 3. Barwell are competing in both British GT and Blancpain GT this season, and are looking to develop the car into a real force in both the shorter British and longer Blancpain races.

Another 2 teams in the paddock are running the BMW Z4 this year, the first of which being AmD Tuning who have taken onboard one of the most popular driver pairings of the very affable Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne. Mowle and Osborne reunited with their Z4 with some vigour at Snetterton and were never far off the top of the timesheets overall. The loss of TripleEight to the British GT paddock was a sorry sight, but with the AmD team taking up their cars for the 2016 season, there’s no doubting the Z4 can stay near the top with these two in hand.

The second car saw the return of a familiar face to British GT – that of Martin Short and Rollcentre Racing. Short will be partnered by Richard Neary, who has stepped up to the big GT class for this year. In speaking to Martin, he was quick to underline the task he faced in his return to the series as the competition has grown over the last few years of the series. The car was running capably at Snetterton during the testing sessions, and Short had been able to see where he could improve the Z4 to get closer to its rivals. The advantage of the Z4, mused Short, lay in the weight distribution of the car compared to the Mosler of old. The front-engined machine gave a better balance and with Neary coming from a background in Cosworth tin tops, this was the ideal machine for his debut in the series.

One of the most notable GT3 changes for this season is at Ecurie Ecosse. Where last year the Scottish team had run the BMW Z4 in partnership with Barwell, it was time to move on to pastures new, and the McLaren 650S GT3 was sitting in their garage. Alasdair McCaig of Ecurie Ecosse will be partnered by the McLaren GT factory driver Rob Bell, who will bring a lot of experience to the team for the 2016 season. In moving on to McLaren, the team have secured one of their desires to have a British manufacturer backing and supporting them for their 2016 effort. McCaig was quick to highlight the importance of the McLaren’s capabilities, with the car recently taking victories in the Asian Le Mans Series and at the Bathurst 12 Hour race. With direct factory support from the McLaren GT team, there’s no reason that there cannot be further success for the Woking marque.

We moved on to the Team Parker Racing garage next. Team Parker have picked up the Bentley Continental GT3 for the 2016 season, and along with it, they have new drivers in the form of Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris. We talked to both drivers about their new mount and in both cases, it seems that the Bentley has impressed massively. Seb Morris is joining British GT after a year in the GP3 series, but was immediately taken by its performance. Morris’ experience in single seater racing has transferred well to tin tops with this car, and he was able right away to put in strong lap times with the stately machine.

Parfitt Jnr has moved to Team Parker Racing after a long association with Ginetta, and was keen to show his gratitude to Lawrence Tomlinson of Ginetta for supporting him during his last few years of racing. 2015, explained RPJ, had been a very tough year for him with his debut in GT3 racing but Team Parker seeking him out as a strong bronze-graded driver had given him renewed motivation for the new season. Like Morris, he had been impressed with the nimbleness of the Bentley, although his much more immediate reaction was “it sounds like thunder!” Not really surprising for a rock musician!

Astons are once more prolific in the top class although there is a swap of drivers taking place amongst the teams. Beechdean, 2015 overall champions, return for 2016 with team boss Andrew Howard sitting alongside Ross Gunn, last year’s GT4 driver’s champion. Howard initially not planning to do British GT, kept his seat for 2016 and the #1 plate on the car to give Gunn his chance to step up to the faster class. Aston Martin Racing contracted driver Jonny Adam moves from Beechdean to TF Sport where he will partner Derek Johnston, although Adam retains his close link to the Beechdean team and was seen assisting Ross Gunn and his teammates throughout the testing session at Snetterton in the absence of TF Sport.

One of the biggest wholesale changes across the championship this year is the arrival of Pirelli tyres. British GT has moved away from Avon, who supplied tyres to the series for a number of years, and both Pirelli and Stephane Ratel (head of SRO, the organisers and promoters of British GT, Blancpain GT and more) were keen to explain the change to Pirelli gave a consistency across GT racing as a whole. The move to Pirelli also allows for a better application of the Balance of Performance, which is so important to maintaining the levels of exciting competition which we all have come to enjoy from this class of racing. Indeed there are drivers and teams in the British GT paddock who have welcomed the switch, finding the performance of the Pirelli tyre favourable to the Avons previously used.

During the press conferences, Stephane Ratel was keen to point out the strength of the GT4 class in this championship. Whilst GT3 is seen throughout Europe and internationally, GT4 also provides a large amount of interest, not least in the British championship where the entries are growing year on year, with new manufacturers coming in to boost competition further. As part of this season’s package, the grid will be joined by the GT4 European Series at the Silverstone 500 and Spa Francorchamps round, expanding the grid to up to 50 entries at these two famous venues. Credit must go to SRO for having managed to grow the British GT interest to such a point where the grid in both classes is expansive, varied and retains close racing action. There can only be better times ahead, and the first formation lap hasn’t even begun…

Other noises from Norfolk:

It wouldn’t be life In The Pitlane without some additional snippets. We’ve had the pleasure of speaking on a few other subjects with people in the paddock…

Paul Hollywood, the master baker and now TV chef, will join Beechdean’s GT4 team later in the season. When we spoke to him, he admitted to being a huge petrolhead with a collection of amazing cars. The Editors present at Snetterton were rather stunned to find that Paul owns a replica Aston Martin DBR1 – a car most potently driven by Stirling Moss to win the World Sportscar Championship in the late 1950s!

One of our first interviewees on the day, Abbie Eaton, impressed us with her dedication not only to the racing cause but with her endurance capabilities by admitting to taking on the insane physical challenge of the Tough Mudder, one of the most gruelling and painful obstacle courses in Britain. Driving a GT car will seem much less worrying than that, in our eyes anyway…

We asked a few of the drivers we spoke to about what their current road car was. The PitCrew Online found out that the most popular choice is the BMW 1M Sport, although Will Phillips pleased our Editor-in-Chief by admitting to owning the same car as him. Rick Parfitt Jnr admitted to moving from his BMW to the “practical” Range Rover (to accommodate more stuff in the boot, apparently).

The new McLaren 570S GT4 was keenly showed off by McLaren GT’s employees present in the Ecurie Ecosse garage, and the baby McLaren was packed with exciting gadgets as you would expect from the big factory. However what we enjoyed most when looking inside the cockpit of the new racer was the sight of the spanking new tan leather covering the dashboard. McLaren were keen to point out that this was only an optional extra and would not necessarily appear in all customer cars.

We have severe envy of Joe Osborne. Osborne is not only racing with AmD Tuning this season in British GT, but he is also racing for Optimum Motorsport in the 24H Series in their new Audi R8 LMS (to be seen in British GT with Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe) and with Barwell’s Lamborghini in the Blancpain GT. He’s also been helping McLaren with development of their road cars. Hard life for a professional driver, eh?