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.
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.