Category Archives: Race Previews

British GT – 2017 Round 3 Review – Snetterton

There’s always something new under the sun

The second and final sprint round of the British GT championship has now been and gone in 2017, and a greater contrast to Rockingham and the remaining 2 hour races you couldn’t wish for. Long had the series anticipated a late spring flurry of activity in Norfolk, thanks in part to a Bank Holiday weekend and forecast sunshine.

Sure enough, the weather gods smiled upon Snetterton for the vast part of Saturday and Sunday, although a passing thunderstorm on Saturday morning did its best to dull the skies and leave some moisture on the already hot asphalt for the second Free Practice session of the weekend.

The entry list had been revised slightly following the withdrawal of Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker from the championship, as Ginetta refocus the racing programme for the two young Americans. Nathan Freke moved down into the #111 Century Motorsport GT4 Ginetta to partner Anna Walewska, reforming their 2016 partnership. Euan McKay was also present in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, replacing Matty Graham.

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The sad fact that the GT3 field went down to 10 entries for the weekend didn’t really put a massive spoiler on the weekend. Teams still couldn’t quite fit into the packed pit lane, and tents were laid out for Academy Motorsport and HHC Motorsport, who lost the draw for the “teams without a solid roof for this meeting”. 27 cars would take part in all sessions, which was a fine effort, bearing in mind in recent times it’s been very easy to lose cars from session to session with crash or mechanical damage.

Saturday’s heat and sunshine helped to burn away any remaining water around the circuit, and teams had plenty of track time to get the cars fettled for the narrow and twisty sections of Snetterton. The layout of the revised track, opened in 2011, has a lot of long corners and a premium was placed on handling and acceleration. It wasn’t a surprise there to see that the GT4 Ginettas of Lanan Racing (#51, Pittard/Reed) and HHC (#55, Tregurtha/Middleton) would be up on top of the opening sessions, whilst the Barwell Lamborghinis pushed their credentials after a double win in 2016 for Minshaw and Keen. A double-double (both Sprint weekends) was on for them, so the pressure was on them from the start to deliver any promise the Huracan had.

On watching the cars take to the circuit in practice, it was impressive however to see the speed at which drivers were attacking Snetterton, as the nadgery infield and blistering heat would probably have a huge effect on tyre temperatures, making a long run tricky for any driver. Unsurprisingly #33 Lamborghini topped out the practices, but making a pleasing appearance behind them in the first session was the #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum McLeod. The Team Parker Racing camp was fairly subdued, even after the success at Rockingham. The Bentley doesn’t “fit” quite as well at Snetterton as it does elsewhere, so the weekend would be an attempt to make the best of a bad spot.

In GT4, the Lanan and HHC Ginettas shared practice topping spoils, but following up with 2nd in class in both sessions was the #56 Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S of David Pattison and Joe Osborne. Osborne in particular had nailed in some consistent and impressive lap times throughout the weekend, and maintained his composure through every moment. Sure enough, when qualifying did come around, Osborne used his experience and enthusiasm to secure pole for Tolman in Race 2 with a wonderful lap.

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Qualifying for Sprint races are broken down by class as usual, and the first race of the weekend was set by the Am drivers, and the second race was set by the Pro drivers. This is with the exception of the Silver graded drivers of course, who take the penalty of extra ballast in their cars to prevent them from truly disappearing against the Bronze graded drives in that particular section of each session.

Jack Mitchell took pole for race 1 in GT3 with the MacMillan AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Mitchell’s speed is impressive to see, and although he was the Silver amongst Bronzes, he made the Aston Martin sing as he parked the white car at the top of the timesheets. A strong showing at Rockingham was obviously no fluke and certainly no flash in the pan either.

Pole in the GT3 pro session fell the way of the #33 Lamborghini again, but this time the sister #6 Lamborghini of Griffin/Tordoff was alongside. Team Parker Racing’s Bentley #31 of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris weren’t just limiting damage, they took 3rd and 4th in the two sessions to keep at the sharp end of the field. The #1 TF Sport Aston Martin of Johnston/Adam made an appearance in 3rd in Pro qualifying, making sure that there was still a glimmer of light for their title defence.

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GT4 Am qualifying was a Silver heavy session as #51, #55 and the #100 Garage 59 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggerty securing the top 3 spots ahead of Adam Balon in the #72 track-club McLaren, the first Am driver, who looked impressive behind the youth and exuberance of the teams he was chasing. But for a track limit infringement, the #100 McLaren of Sandy Mitchell could have surprised the Ginetta teams with a stonking pole lap, but over enthusiasm sadly saw him retain 3rd place only.

The Pro session, as earlier mentioned, was a show of Joe Osborne flexing his and the Tolman’s McLaren’s muscles. Osborne’s race in GT3 last year was a show of his driving ability, and he was unfortunate to fall foul of a driving misdemeanour. The Silver teams followed up behind Osborne, ready to pounce in the race later on Sunday afternoon.

Sadly missing had been the #42 MacMillan AMR Aston Martin (Phillips/Jonck) from qualifying as the team repaired a huge fuel leak which knocked the car to the back of the grid. The weekend hadn’t been smooth sailing either for the AmD Tuning Mercedes AMG #30 for Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, who made qualifying only after repairing gearbox electronics in the big Merc having missed second free practice.

Raceday arrived bathed in glorious late Spring sunshine, and raging heat. Thankfully for the drivers, a one hour race means that only 30 minutes in some of Britain’s most expensive and fast-moving saunas is required. The crowd around Snetterton was large, enthusiastic, and roasting as the field rolled out for the first race.

Jack Mitchell did what he needed to do as the lights went out as he left Jon Minshaw and the rest trailing behind him. The gap widened and widened as Mitchell went on towards the half hour mark in race one. Traffic was little of an issued and managed with aplomb by the pack. In fact, there was almost a feeling that the riot act had been read in terms of discipline, as the field pounded round the Snetterton bends with barely a hint of road rage or frustration. This was a disappointment in terms of the racing action, but pleasing for anyone who dislikes rough and tumble bumping and barging you could be wont to receive at a narrow circuit like this.

The #11 TF Sport Aston Martin suffered an unfortunate puncture, putting the car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes down a lap and out of the running for a strong result. A shame as the two drivers enjoy the circuit and could have made hay while the sun shone (figuratively, at least).

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The pit stops provided much wanted relief for both starting drivers and spectators, as the racing for the most part had turned processional. Mitchell pitted with a lead over 15 seconds over Minshaw and handed over to James Littlejohn, who would have the job of the ages holding back Phil Keen and others behind him.

The GT4 battle was between the three silver teams of HHC, Lanan and Garage 59, and you rarely saw the three teams out of each other’s sight, even amongst the snaking traffic. Eventually their battle fell in favour of the HHC #55 car of Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, who took their second consecutive race victory following their success at Rockingham in the 2 hour race there. Surprise was felt by the Ginetta teams at the 1-2 for the leading two, as there was a belief that McLaren would capitalise on success last year here, and dominate the event, but the handling of the G55 made it a tough prospect to beat.

In GT3, Phil Keen in #33 was eating away at the #24 Aston’s lead as Littlejohn couldn’t match the pace of the Lamborghini driver. And to match the ambitions, Sam Tordoff was also putting in some cracking times in the #6 Lamborghini as well. Behind them, Seb Morris had taken over the Team Parker Bentley, alas with too much enthusiasm, as their race result would be spoiled by a post-race 30 second penalty for a short pit stop. This promoted the #30 Mercedes up to 4th place by the end, but all eyes were on the white Aston and the green and red Lamborghini up front.

Littlejohn is not a Radical champion for nothing, and it was elbows-out defence from the Scotsman as Keen looked, teased and charged at the car holding him back from a 1st place finish. Eventually with just over 6 minutes remaining, the Aston took it a little too far into Williams, and the Lamborghini got a run onto the Bentley Straight, past and into the lead. The defence had also brought Tordoff closer too, and the #6 was soon past the Aston as well.

3 from 3 sprint races in 2017 then for Minshaw and Keen it was, as their stablemates Griffin and Tordoff backed them up with Mitchell/Littlejohn taking a second consecutive 3rd place in the championship.

Race 2 finally arrived a couple of hours later, and with a double-double on the cards, Keen pushed the throttle with Tordoff providing equal competition and support as they approached the starter’s rostrum.

Neither of them expected the reigning champion, Jonny Adam to go full throttle though and surprise them both by taking the lead into the first turn. The sight of the back end of the #1 Aston was a real surprise for the Barwell pair, and a throwing down of the gauntlet for the rest of the race. Challenge accepted, Phil Keen stole back the lead and began to make a run, to account for the 10 second success penalty that he would face at the pit stop. Behind them, James Littlejohn ran into grief at the Bomb Hole and dropped from top to bottom, negating the chance of a repeat podium for MacMillan.

GT4 was led by Joe Osborne, who carried on an impressive weekend for the Tolman team, pulling away from his rivals. The hard work of Osborne meant that the #56 McLaren looked in good shape for a fine result. All this, however would be undone by an incident between the #7 Bentley and the #55 Ginetta, which saw both cars irrepairable and out of the race, bringing out the Safety Car as an added bonus. Thankfully, everything seemed in order with the neutralisation of the race, although Osborne could bemoan the loss of his gap, with others closing on Pattison as a result. The incident for Middleton and Tregurtha though was a huge disappointment, as the youngsters could have been challenging for top points again.

As the race restarted, the #100 McLaren driven by Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty suddenly blitzed to the GT4 lead, which it would hold to the finish securing their first top step of the season. Behind them would be the #51 Lanan Ginetta with Pittard and Reed securing a second consecutive second place, and Tolman made the most they could of their moment in the sun with a fine third place, for which Joe Osborne received the mother of all champagne drenchings.

GT3 though was about to be turned upon its head. Back in the Race Control den, a sharp eyed timekeeper noticed that the #33 Lamborghini hadn’t been stopped long enough in pit lane, and out went the drive through notification. A massive let down for Minshaw and Keen, who were well on course for a race win and 4 out of 4. Minshaw diligently peeled off to take his penalty. This let through the #1 TF Sport Aston, the #6 Barwell Lamborghini and the #11 TF Sport Aston to lock out the podium, giving Johnston and Adam their first race win of 2017, Griffin and Tordoff another second place and Farmer and Barnes retribution for missing out on a trip to stand on the boxes in race 1.

With 3 rounds of the season gone, and the halfway point of the season at Silverstone approaching we can take a good look at the consolidated championship tables. GT3 is led by Minshaw and Keen on 101 points from Parfitt and Morris who have 77.5 and Johnston and Adam on 74 points. Already, a massive gap has formed thanks to Barwell’s 3 wins from 5 races but as history has proven nothing is truly insurmountable.

The table in GT4 is not as clearly dominated, though the early season standings are led by Middleton and Tregurtha, with 92.5 points from Pittard and Reed on 83 points and Mitchell and Haggerty on 73 points. This is a much closer fight, and it is pleasing to see 3 sets of young drivers duking it out for this title. Any slip ups from now to the end of the season could be a fatal blow to any of these drivers’ title ambitions.

 

Snetterton sentimentalities:

Drivers must be praised for the punishing physical task they faced at Snetterton this weekend, mostly due to the hot and muggy weather around the track vicinity. The sun was as fierce as the air temperature, and the heat of a cockpit was only exacerbated by this. Thankfully, none of the athletes behind the wheel let this get to them.

After the general explosion of rules and tempers at Rockingham, there was no repeat of the post-race confusion at Snetterton. Although there were post-race penalties applied, there was no massive controversy to rob fans and teams of a fought competitive race…

…that said, neither of the weekend’s races scored highly on the excitement meter. Both were rather processional and rather uninspiring as little more than a parade. Embellish it as we might, it was a case of “follow the leader” for most of the weekend’s races. And that was a shame after the mighty battles in the previous round.

British GT – 2017 Round 4 Preview – Silverstone 500

 

Where do we begin? It’s that time of the year where the British GT Championship reaches halfway and the blue riband event of the season comes with 3 hours of solid hard racing.

Of course though, 500km of Silverstone (or thereabouts) is nothing without the usual raft of amendments to driver and team rosters in the aim to make the most of the longest race of the campaign, and 2017 hasn’t failed to disappoint in any way whatsoever.

Thankfully for most of the paddock, the GT4 European Series isn’t tagging along to the race this year, and so the track will be considerably less crowded than in 2016, where a huge grid left a lot of competitors and teams musing over how to get around slow traffic. This year, there’s none of that to worry about so battle is purely within this series.

The biggest changes have come from Optimum Motorsport and Rollcentre Racing. Optimum’s title defenders, Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, have made the big and bold move of ditching their Ginetta G55 in favour of a McLaren 570S machine for the rest of the season. The drivers changing out their machinery is nothing new, certainly. However this particular move is a surprise as Optimum had been known for their support of Ginetta, and of course taking the title with the brand in 2016.

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Rollcentre Racing also see a change, as Adam Christodolou, one of AMG’s top factory GT3 drivers joins the team from this round onwards, with Martin Short taking part in his final British GT race at Silverstone with the aim of moving back into the manager’s chair on the pitwall. As one of the most respected people in the paddock, having years of sports car racing experience, there will be no finer time for Martin Short to step out of the hot seat. And Adam Christodolou will bring fine pace to the team for the remainder of the season.

Century Motorsport have returned to 3 cars for this race too, as Dane Aleksander Schjerpen steps into the seat previously occupied by Parker Chase alongside Charlie Robertson in the GT3 variant of the G55 Ginetta. Schjerpen is no slouch in a GT car, and could be well in the points by the end of Sunday afternoon.

There’s also a third driver in the #54 UltraTek RJN Nissan 370Z this weekend as Blancpain regular Struan Moore hops in for a spell in the baby Godzilla. Moore brings a heck of a lot of pace with him, and the GT4 machine will be a new challenge for the Channel Islander to enjoy.

We’ve also got entries for GPRM with their Toyota GT86 GT4 driven by Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher, a Lotus Evora for Gavan Kershaw and Stuart Hall, and a further Ginetta G55 for Ade Barwick and Bradley Ellis, who make one of their annual appearances in the paddock.

One of the biggest questions facing us at the weekend though is this: Can anyone stop Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen from repeating their win of last year in the #33 Barwell Lamborghini? The Huracan has been imperious of late on British and European soil, although results in the Blancpain Sprint at Zolder last weekend didn’t necessarily go the way of the flat and fast machinery.

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Aston Martin started a little fightback last weekend with a victory for Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the #1 TF Sport machine, a podium for the #11 sister car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, and also a podium for the #24 MacMillan AMR car of James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell. Any resurgence for the Astons would be keenly shown here as they have gone for a while now without a win at Silverstone, and it would also be a statement of intent with only 4 long races remaining in the season, and at 37.5 points apiece for a win, there’s so much still to play for in the title race.

It’s not unusual for the Silverstone 500 to throw up a surprise or two throughout its course, partly because of it being the longest race of the season, partly because of the Silverstone climate. Last year’s surprise, and it was a pleasant one, was the appearance of Team HARD RCIB Racing’s Ginetta on the top step of the GT4 podium at the end of the race.

This year in GT4 things are being driven by the “Silver” teams of Lanan, HHC and Garage 59, the former two teams in Ginettas and the latter the McLaren. The Garage 59 crew of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell broke their duck last time out for 2017, and in the same place they took their first win. Silverstone will be the complete opposite of Snetterton coursewise, and the McLaren could take advantage of this by punishing the rather lacklustre Ginetta engine down the long straights and fast sweeps of the Northamptonshire track. It will probably, although don’t take my word as gospel when it comes to forecasting, take a lot of rain to get the Ginetta back on the top of the tree here, although the overall pace of David Pittard and Alex Reed in the #51 Lanan car and Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha in the #55 HHC Ginetta provides a strong argument for keeping the fight up for the 3 hours.

Another team hoping for a swing in fortune at Silverstone is Team Parker Racing, whose Bentleys have been captivating for fans for a long time, but rather sadly absent from the podiums for a lot of this season, a win at Rockingham (don’t mention race direction) aside. Last season’s 500 was a terrible disappointment for the Bentley boys. The weekend held much promise, and then of course, it rained, and the Bentley refused to play ball in the cold and wet conditions for Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt, rather spoiling their qualifying and putting the team in a deep blue funk. Without the weather, the Bentley could well be a machine to keep your eyes peeled for.

And what of the other strong pairing at Snetterton? The #6 Barwell Lamborghini of Liam Griffin and Sam Tordoff went on the podium twice in Norfolk, and they’re yet to take their first win. Tordoff’s confidence in the GT cars grows with every race, and it showed last time out, with some excellent pace throughout both races. The only thing standing in the way of these two are their rivals and maybe a dash of reliability and some good fortune!

As observers and fans of the race though, all we really want, and this is rare, is a Silverstone 500 that doesn’t have any rain. Just for a small change… Last year it even flooded the Simpson Racing garage, and nobody, nobody enjoys a cold and wet Silverstone. Unless of course you win there!

Five Hundred Thoughts:

There are no more sprint style rounds this season! Finally, we come back to the 3 hour and 2 hour format for the remaining races. This means no waiting around for hours between races waiting for the next instalment of excitement to get underway. It also means that we’re liable to see more close racing, as the only 2 hour race we’ve had so far at Rockingham, incidents aside, was an absolute and utter belter.

There aren’t as many wildcards at Silverstone this year, and that’s no bad thing in some ways. Having a strong field of regular teams and drivers is pleasing to see, and there’s less of a danger to teams’ title challenge from a “one race only” gung-ho drive from someone who just wants to be out there for the RAC trophy to be presented.

In case I’ve not made this clear enough already, please please please please please don’t let it rain at Silverstone for the 500. Wet Silverstone is not a pleasant place to be for anyone!

British GT – 2017 Round 3 Preview – Snetterton

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snetterton Supposings:

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

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

 

©Pete Richardson 23/05/17

 

British GT – 2017 Round 2 Preview – Rockingham Motor Speedway

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rockingham Ruminations:

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

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

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

British GT – 2017 Round 1 Preview – Oulton Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parklife Perusals:

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

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

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

British GT Round 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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 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!