We’re barely touching the opening half of the season in this year’s British GT Championship and as the juggernauts of the British sportscar scene arrive at the oval/road course at Rockingham Motor Speedway there’s already tension, confusion and a bit of head scratching going on.
Let’s roll back a few weeks to the leafy green setting of Oulton Park where the first two sprint races of the year took place. Or more appropriately where rain forced a stoppage to Race 2 with barely 15 minutes of 60 complete, and the field having barely lost sight of the safety car.
A cancelled race is a thankfully rare occurrence in British GT. What has happened though is the application of full points to the field in the order they were in at the time the red flag flew. How is this controversial? Not a single open racing lap was completed. Time started ticking behind the safety car but as the weather worsened it was clear that nobody would benefit from starting full speed competition in the prevailing conditions. It was simply too dangerous.
The Championship rulebook stated that for a race to be a race, two laps of a closed circuit track must be run, otherwise it is not considered a race. Under the safety car, the field completed four laps. Therefore by the rules it is a race. But without an actual green flag lap turned it didn’t feel like one. It was more a parade of cars than a race.
Full points were awarded as there is no obligation to resume or re-run a race, and any car which crossed the line at the end of lap three under its own power would be awarded championship points where their position covered it. This meant that Minshaw/Keen in #33 Lamborghini and Jones/Malvern in #66 Mercedes took home full points for first in GT3 and GT4 respectively.
Many drivers and spectators have called foul on this. We cannot disregard regulations though. The same regulations that make it possible to stop a race on the grounds of safety, also allow points to be awarded should a race become official and subsequently declared. Like it or lump it, rules are rules and everyone must adhere.
Rockingham then comes to everyone once more and the championship welcomes the chance to have its first endurance race of the season. 2 hours and one pit stop await the field, and Rockingham is a popular circuit which last year yielded both exciting racing and controversy itself following a mistake under the Safety Car which saw the win go to the Spirit of Race Ferrari before being sent back to the Team Parker Racing Bentley.
The field has slimmed by one car, as the #2 Lamborghini of Leo Matchitski and Patrick Kujala has moved to the Blancpain Series, with a return promised on a one off basis for the Spa round later in July. Otherwise, it’s business as usual. After a torrid wet weekend drivers will hope that the racing will be less about maintaining grip and more about maintaining a challenged. The Rockingham circuit has favoured the hard charger over the last few seasons and with a wealth of factory driver experience it’s a matter of “who can shout loudest” when crunch time comes.
In the break between rounds testing has taken place and there’s strong hope that the Bentley will be able to get back on form. The rain in Cheshire did not suit the big V8 machine, and a 2 hour race and no penalties will suit the drivers down to a T. Rockingham was the scene of the first endurance victory for Team Parker last year, and there’s hope lightning (but perhaps not rain) will strike twice.
Aston Martin are possibly the strongest challengers, with Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam keen to make headway after being stuck in the pits as the field rolled by in Race 2 at Oulton. A win and then no points is not the ideal position to start the season, but there is definite promise.
It’s also very tough to rule out perennial front runners Minshaw and Keen in the Barwell Lamborghini. A race win with no race (see the technicalities above) means that they’re up at the top of the tree again. Three times runners up won’t ring well.
The surprise package of GT4 last season, Track-club are leading the class going into this race and that in itself is a welcome sight, as it is not often in motorsport that a team without all the big pomp and circumstance heads up the list. Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat are no slouches, and a low position finish in Oulton race 2 will mean that there is no pit stop penalty to concern them in this race. The race win (again, see comments on rules above) for Jones and Malvern will be a big boost to them, and the Mercedes looks a decent weapon in GT4 terms, so they may yet show well here.
GT4 though has a brace of big Beemers which with two Silver drivers behind the wheel of each will put the pressure on Century Motorsport to have a strong weekend. Ricky Collard is back with the BMW factory once more so Aleksandr Schjerpen takes his permanent seat in the M4, and his 2018 season kicks off here. 2nd place in the title standings will be enough to motivate his team-mate Jack Mitchell to push for a good finish here too.
It’ll be a time for concentration and bravery round Rockingham. We hope that the differences in opinion shown after Oulton can be laid aside for a weekend of pure grit and quality racing. Bring on the Rock.
© Pete Richardson 26th April 2018