…And So We Have Come To The Close.
The Donington Park finale over the last few years has been billed as the “Decider” by the British GT organisers, and once again, we come to the popular Midlands circuit having endured a torturous season of racing from the deluge of Oulton Park via the baking heat of Silverstone and Brands to this. But there’s so much more than a title decider this weekend in both GT3 and GT4.
The weekend sadly says a few goodbyes from the racing paddock, where we bid farewell to an old fan favourite in the Aston Martin V12 Vantage, which will sing it’s shrill swansong for the final time to be replaced by the new V8 Vantage which Prodrive have been meticulously preparing through the year. The V12 Vantage has been around for a long time now, and after the level of success it has achieved with titles in 2013, 2015, 2016 and a number of wins with Beechdean, Motorbase and TF Sport with many drivers.
One of the drivers who have benefitted from the stalwart nature of the V12 Vantage, and is bidding farewell to the championship is 2016 champion Derek Johnston. With TF Sport, Johnston took the 2016 title alongside Jonny Adam, having made his debut in the series in a Ferrari in 2013, before trying out a BMW Z4 and a Ginetta G55 before settling in with the TF Sport team, making waves as one of the top amateur drivers in the Aston. The popular Geordie is recognised as one of the top gentlemen in the paddock, and now with on and off track proven records, Johnston is setting down his helmet for good at the end of the Donington weekend.
Another driver retirement, albeit one which is more of a surprise, is outgoing GT3 champion Rick Parfitt Jnr. Parfitt has track pedigree and has proved himself to be a fantastic frontrunner amongst the Am drivers, taking last year’s title in the Bentley alongside Seb Morris, who has now graduated to the Blancpain GT Series. However, Parfitt too is hanging up his helmet, and with the schedule of a rock star as well as a top GT driver, it’s not a surprise to see Parfitt deciding to wind down from racing. A GT4 and GT3 title in 2013 and 2017 will sit comfortably amongst his memories of his time in the championship, along with a devoted fan following.
With the knowledge that we say farewell, we can anticipate all the more the closure of another frantic season. As things stand, the advantage lies with Optimum Motorsport’s Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam, in the #75 Aston. Another GT3 title potentially awaits Adam, who with the fortune of a successful penalty appeal awarding the pairing a better points score having been restored to 4th place in their race at Snetterton by the sport’s appeals body. This has rather upset several other teams, especially the following Barwell team, with Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen sitting some 27.5 points behind Haigh/Adam before this weekend. Donington has been unkind to the #33 Lamborghini in the last two seasons. Minshaw has suffered the ignominy of heading to the gravel in 2016, spinning in 2017, and the pressure is on for the pairing to nab a win in 2018. It’s all in for them with another 2nd place finish in the title race looming.
Behind these two are the TF Sport pairing of Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim. Farmer’s experience and Thiim’s raw pace have brought them wins this season, and they trail the Barwell pair by 1 point, and stand a slim chance of taking the title, but certainly the effort put in by them this season has caught the eye. Both this pair and Haigh/Adam face pit stop time penalties though courtesy of the 1st and 3rd finishes at the last round at Brands Hatch.
With the final chance for the GT teams to play this season, GT3 sees a welcome return for the #24 Nissan GTR, with Struan Moore and Chris Buncombe driving for the RJN team at Donington, and 2016 GT4 champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson get an upgrade in Balfe Motorsport to pilot the #101 McLaren 650S for the first time in a race.
GT4 is in a much tighter shape. Leading the pack is Jack Mitchell in the #43 Century Motorsport BMW, whose mid season performance has given him a 10 point cushion heading into the final race of the season over stablemates Ben Tuck and Ben Green in the #42 sister BMW. The main fight is between these two, with Mitchell holding the advantage of not being held back in the pitstops, whereas Tuck/Green will have 15 seconds longer to wait once the pit lane formalities are complete.
Also in with a shout are the HHC Motorsport #55 Ginetta drivers Callum Pointon and Patrik Matthiesen, who have kept themselves at the sharp end most of the season, mostly dogfighting with their near rivals Michael O’Brien and Charlie Fagg, whose #4 Tolman Motorsports McLaren 570S has been competitive all the way throughout. The chances of a Tolman title are slimmest though, as the gap for them to negotiate is almost as broad as that between Barwell and Optimum in the GT3 title race. Traditionally, in GT4, Donington has been a McLaren track with victories for the last 2 seasons for the marque, but the BMW is an unknown factor. We should not rule out anything obvious, but at the moment, the pendulum swings firmly in favour of Mitchell, who will hope for a clear run on Sunday.
Donington’s decider has come at the right time for some. Fortune favours the cautious here – as the track is notorious for biting those who push the limits (just ask Jon Minshaw, though he won’t forgive us for saying so), so getting to the flag will mean a lot more than just completing the race. It could mean wrapping up a difficult season with a minimum of fuss, or even snatching trophies from the jaws of your rivals. It’s all in the lap of the gods until 3:35 on Sunday afternoon.
©Pete Richardson 2018