Tension, tension, tension
As the summertime drags on, the British GT calendar gets increasingly smaller, and with the annual ‘works away day’ at Spa complete the focus now remains on consolidating positions in the fight for titles.
Spa gave us more than we probably could have asked for in a race – Graham Davidson and Maxime Martin finally put the #47 Jetstream Aston Martin in the #1 spot on the podium, following the fiery trials of several of their fellow competitors. Sadly, this is meant literally, as Mark Farmer’s #11 TF Sport Aston exploded into flames on the run to Eau Rouge on the first lap, and the #8 ABBA Racing Mercedes also caught fire, injuring Adam Christodolou in the process. Thankfully Christodolou was not too badly hurt, and will be back racing somewhere before long.
Brands Hatch itself poses a major headache for all of the drivers. There are relatively few corners where overtaking isn’t possible. The circuit has known to throw up some real humdingers in the past – 2012’s photo finish, 2014’s last laps of drama where Nick Tandy pushed through to win, 2015’s Battle of the BMWs between Joe Osborne and Alexander Sims and the confusing chaos of 2016 with the Full Course Yellow and early red flag. 2017’s race saw the Team Parker Racing Bentley of Parfitt/Morris take a very convincing victory, after the MacMillan Racing Aston fell back with a stuck throttle. With the added pressure to prevent an early title win this weekend, the pressure is on the chasing drivers to tame the undulating course, and prevent the urge to take the passing points at Druids, Surtees and Clearways with reckless abandon.
As we roll into the Garden of England, the possibility of a new champion being crowned at the penultimate round of the series is entirely possible. At the present moment the #33 Barwell Lamborghini pairing of Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen are leading the way in the championship standings with a 14 point gap over the #75 Optimum Aston drivers Flick Haig & Jonny Adam. 14 points is not an unsurmountable gap by any standard, especially when there are 37.5 points available for a win in the 2 hour races that make up the remainder of the season. The last 2 seasons though have been painful for Minshaw and Keen at the final round, so if there’s the opportunity to put the title to bed at Brands this weekend, they’ll take it with both hands. Add to this their lack of pit stop time penalty for being off the podium in Spa and you start thinking that the championship might yet be tied up before the end of season party at Donington in September. Never say never though, as last year, the #33 went from top of the table to 2nd best in 2 rounds when it counted most. All eyes will be on their finish at Brands, whatever that may be.
GT4 is also rather tensely poised. Jack Mitchell had a new driving partner at Spa, in the form of ex karting ace Dean McDonald, who has made his way into the #43 Century BMW via McLaren in 2017 and the Toyota this year. Admittedly, they had a big help from a safety car period which saw their pit stop penalty negated, but with Mitchell’s determination to perform seeing him through to the flag, he now holds a championship lead of 17.5 points over Callum Pointon and Patrik Matthiesen in the #55 HHC Ginetta. This isn’t all though as just .5 of a point behind the HHC team is Michael O’Brien and Charlie Fagg in the #4 Tolman McLaren who have maintained a solid season save for a DNF at Silverstone to remain in contention. Mitchell’s task at Brands to maintain his lead will be hampered massively by a 30 second pit penalty, but there’s no reason to suspect he can’t keep the pressure up on the chasing pack.
This is the time where predictions are fruitless. Add in the English heatwave to the variables and you have questions to ask of durability and tyre wear, as well as stamina. But there’s a feeling in the air that this year is different somehow. Could we finally see the decider at Donington redundant?
There is one further point from the last two weeks that has come up which needs addressing before long. 2019 is coming and with it come changes in British GT once more, this time in the form of the introduction of the Amateur Only GT2 Class (for GT2 read supercars with GT4 style upgrades to aerodynamics and tuning. Not the class above GT3, which it was under SRO’s previous iteration). Already this is raising eyebrows in a confused manner. Is this another attempt to avoid a reduction in GT3 entries? How popular will it be when you are only permitted 2 bronze drivers in the seat over a race weekend?
Also, with a pre-published calendar for 2019, we appear to have lost Rockingham Motor Speedway from our roster. Rockingham was popular with drivers, but sadly, it appears the oval/road track combination has seen its last racing action with GT cars, which raises questions about the future of the series with its current calendar. With top-grade standard tracks in the UK being few and far between – where next? Are we likely to see 2 European rounds in the future? Will we make 2 trips to Donington or Silverstone, which have variants and pit space as well as the opportunity to hold two rounds? Again, it appears to be in the lap of the gods as to whether there are 6 or 7 rounds. We wait with baited breath for more.