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.