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.

Dennis Strandberg Reunites with Academy Motorsport

Dennis Strandberg announces a one off comeback to British GT’s at Silverstone in June.

Dennis will be reuniting with the Academy Motorsport team for which he drove the 2015 season alongside Will Moore and achieved several podium visits and a dominating performance at the Aston Martin Le Mans Festival, ultimately ending the 2015 season as British GT team champions.
This time Dennis is racing alongside team owner Matt Nichol-Jones in the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 car.
Both know the Vantage well and have much experience between them, Matt Nichol-Jones is himself a former British GT champion so combined these two are more than capable of making their guest appearance unforgettable for the fans.
Earlier in May he competed at Mantorp as a guest driver in Swedish GT5 challenge of which he was a champion of in 2013, and won both his races with dominance.

Dennis is still seeking to form new partnerships with companies for next season

 

Photo credit- Jakob Ebrey/British GT

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.

Race Diary – Rockingham – Round 2

After Brands Hatch being not  great opening round we moved onto Rockingham for Round 2, with 45kg of ballast onboard due to BOP being slower on the straights but great in corners meant there was a much higher hope for Rockingham and it turned out not to be to bad in the end.

DSC_0540Unfortunately I made contact with the Ginetta and the Bentley in the first few laps, which saw us receive a 10 second stop, go penalty! I thought the move was on but looking back at the footage and hindsight being a wonderful thing it probably wasn’t.

Car feels great now the twitchy issue we had at Brands is now resolved and Ryan and I are driving well!

Good result for the team and some points on the board!

So 6th is good but should of been better, we just need a break in the BOP if we are going to challenge for podiums. Onwards and upwards bring on Oulton Park

GO HARD OR GO HOME

Our great friend Mark Eakin has become a Weekend Warrior! The term is used for those who volunteer their weekends to gain motorsport experience with a team, it’s a wonderful way to begin a career in motorsport or simply learn new skills!

Without further ado we’ll pass straight to Mark! enjoy!

My first weekend working with Team HARD RCIB Insurance Racing was for lack of a better word EPIC!

It all started on the Thursday morning before the Thruxton rounds of the British Touring Car Championship (BTCC), when I had to get over to the team base in Rochester to meet some of the guys and help get things loaded into the trucks to take down to the track. It wasn’t too long before our first issue of the weekend apPicsArt_05-14-01.02.27peared, in the shape of a lorry tail lift motor. Unfortunately the one on one of the older trucks was a bit worse for wear and we decided it was best not to put it under too much strain by trying to load the cars, once that was decided it was a case of doing 2 trips with a van and trailer down to the track to take 1 car at a time, the 3rd we were able to get into the other truck. First trip down was uneventful, I followed the van in my car so I could leave it down there for use over the weekend.

Eventually we got all 3 cars to the track by about 6pm, and luckily (for me) most of the garage set up had been done by the other lads so most of what was left was unpacking the details of the garage and working out who was staying in which hotel for the weekend.

Day 2 was when my work really started, when we had to get the hospitality area built and set up. Last time I did this, it took us 2 days to get it all built, this time, now we’re a little more practiced it only took just over half the day on Friday. We could get quite a good view of the track where we were if you stood up on top of the truck too. One of our team was a man that used to work for Mercedes AMG F1 up until the end of 2014, and thankfully he was able to put his organizational skills to good use here or we would have probably made a right mess. So with some good tunes on the stereo and a lot of banter we cracked on and I’m glad to say it was finished with time to spare on Friday afternoon. Even if the Boss man Tony Gilham had to get the golf buggy to try and flatten the floor out!

Saturday rolled round right on schedule as ever and this was when the work started getting manic. Most of the guys in the team all know their roles, some of them work on different cars each weekend but everyone knew what had to be done and was able to do it without a fuss. I was there to lend a hand wherever I PicsArt_05-14-01.03.24could and (hopefully) not get in anyone’s way in the process. Most of my work around the garage involved keeping the cars looking clean and shiny, making sure after each session I cleaned off any dead bugs and molten rubber.

What really shocked and impressed me was how well this team works under pressure. That came first, after FP1 when the car of Chris Smiley snapped a drive shaft, at this point once anyone working on the other cars setups had finished what they had to do everyone would chip in where they could to help get Chris’ car back together ready for FP2. Unfortunately during the next session the same car decided to lose all drive again out on track. Once back in the garage it was discovered that it needed a whole new gearbox to be able to get out for qualifying.

Amazingly and all credit to these guys, they managed to strip the whole front end of the car off, get the engine out, strip out the old gearbox, source a new one from a friendly team, prep it, attach it to the engine, get the whole unit bolted back in place and rebuild the front end of the car in under 2 hours and get the car into the pit lane just after the qualifying session started.

Sadly though a fuel issue quickly ended the session for Chris and all focus was placed on Michael Epps and Jake Hill in the other 2 cars. It must be said at this point that most people in the team before most of the work had been started, thought this would be the end of Chris’ weekend and the fact they not only managed to fix the problem but get the car into the circuit again that day was nothing short of incredible, and watching them work together like that was amazing!

PicsArt_05-14-12.59.55Sunday was another day of highs and lows (thankfully more of the former). The first race ended early with a bit like up when on of the Honda Yuasa cars caught a puncture then was collected by another car in its way into the pits. Unfortunately for us, Jake Hills car got caught up in the melee and needed some work to the front crash structure before race 2, but, saying that we still had all 3 cars finish race 1 with 2 of them in the points. Race 2 was another interesting one as TOCA decided that for safety reasons, the races were to have the total laps shortened and quite a few teams were getting punctures on the highly abrasive and extremely hot track. Jakes car was fixed, again in record time by the incredible Team HARD mechanics, with a new front end bolted on in time to make it to the grid. Another chequered flag fell and again we brought home more points and had all 3 cars finish!

Race 3 was more of the same, this time we ended the weekend with all 3 cars within the top 20, 2 of which scored points again. Needless to say when the last flag fell we were all mighty relieved and very happy with the results as Team HARD now stand ahead of some of the bigger teams in the championships.

But there was still work to be done! All the garage had to be dismantled and packed away in the trucks, cars had to be loaded AND the hospitality area had to be taken down. The garage was the easy bit, some parts took longer than others (like stacking all the flooring in the back of the truck) but generally it didn’t take us too long. The worst part of that came when we had to load 2 cars into the back of the now fixed truck that couldn’t lift on Thursday. The lift was working fine taking parts and other bits, but when we loaded a car onto the back, it decided it was too much and that we needed to help. So with 1 person on each corner of the lift and 1 in the car with his foot on the brakes, we proceeded to lift and push the tail lift up enough so that the cars could be loaded into the upper deck of the trailer!

Eventually when that was all done, all we had left was to finish taking down the hospitality area, thankfully this was a bit more simple and it all went away without much fuss, we were just losing daylight by this point. I think by the time we drove out of the circuit it was about 9:30pm and most of us had a nice long drive home to look forward to. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see my own bed as I was on Sunday night.

Before I sign this off I want to take the opportunity to thank all the gents and ladies at Team HARD, especially Tony Gilham, for giving me the opportunity to come into the team and help out as and where I could. It really opened my eyes to the amount of teamwork and effort that goes in to making a race weekend run smoothly (and we don’t even get to watch the races). All the crew here are incredible guys and I can’t wait to see them all again when we head to Oulton Park for the next 3 rounds of the Dunlop British Touring Car Championship.

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!

 

Race Diary – Brands Hatch – Round 1

14-1 (5)

April 15th 2016 was the date and that only could mean one thing, The British GT Championship was back for the 2016 season and this year the opener was at the iconic Brands Hatch in the garden of England’s county of Kent, as exciting as it was for all it didn’t go according to plan as Will Moore explains to us in our first race diary of the 2016 campaign.

Will was first to step into the car to begin the qualification period in changeable weather conditions.
“It was a disappointing first round to the season, definitely one to forget and move on!
In Saturday’s qualifying, my time was average at best. I got the best out of the car I could with it not handling right and the BOP massively against us!”
BOP is the Balance of Performance, it adjusts limits on horsepower, weight, engine management, and aerodynamics to prevent a single manufacturer from becoming dominant in the GT3 class.
“Ryan unfortunately had an off at Druids on his first flying lap which meant he took no further part in Quail 2!
Had he got a lap in I’m sure it would of been well up the field.”
At the end of qualifying the Optimum Motorport Audi R8 LMS sat in 12th spot and so focus was all on race day and improvements that could be made overnight, including some new parts that the team had to go back to their Yorkshire base to collect.
“Starting 12th on the grid for the first round is not where we wanted or expected to be but Ryan soon made good progress up the field handing it over to me at the pit stop in 6th under code 80 full course yellows due to a huge crash involving 3 cars.
Once the incident had been cleared we were back to race speed, with the car still not handling well, she was very nervous in high speed corners and mid corner over steer I battled on only to push too hard into Paddock Hill and found myself facing the wrong way stuck in the gravel and out of the race!”
14-3
“A tough weekend for everyone involved but the Optimum Motorsport team did a sterling job as always.
Setup work and data needs to be done before Rockingham but I have no doubt we will be competitive there.
With 45kg added to our car because Ryan and I are silver-silver pairing, the BOP is heavily against us with Aston Martin and Bentley driving past us in a straight line like we are a GT4 car so I feel there needs to be some changes to make things fairer”
Optimum-01
A pleasant surprise came post race when it was announced that Optimum Motorsport had won the inaugural Professional Motorsport World Expo Team of the Weekend Award.
explained here with an excerpt taken from Britishgt.com
The prize is offered to an outfit that has gone above and beyond or produced a stand-out act at each 2016 British GT event. This, amongst other considerations, might include overcoming a particularly difficult technical issue, executing an innovative race strategy to perfection or achieving an unexpected result in the face of adversity.
British GT Championship Manager Benjamin Franassovici said “There were a number of candidates for this weekend’s award but, in the end, we felt Optimum’s persistence and never-say-die attitude gave them the edge. The Audi ran strongly during Sunday’s race and I’ve no doubt that same spirit will help the team move further forwards at the coming rounds.”
So we now look forward to April 30th and onto Rockingham we go!
© Sandra Hebbourn 26/04/16

© All images courtesy of Jakob Ebrey

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.

 

 

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