Category Archives: British GT News – Previews – Reviews

British GT 2018 – Silverstone 500 Preview

It’s time to go long again.

June has finally arrived, and with it comes the blue riband event of the British GT season, the Silverstone 500. 500 kilometres is a fair distance for the championship to face, and the longest race of every season always brings a good scrap and a surprise result or two. So what can we potentially expect from this weekend’s endurance event? Perhaps we need look no further than last time out at Snetterton.

What happened at Snetterton was a massive display of V12 Vantage dominance from Aston Martin – try as the other GT3 teams might, there was little chance of an Aston not being top across the whole weekend. And this won’t have gone unnoticed by SRO. It’s unusual for one manufacturer to have such a good time of it across a race weekend. But to have almost all the GT3 Astons at the pointy end of the results will probably hit the Warwickshire concern with a change in Balance of Performance. Add to that the victory in May’s Blancpain Endurance race at Silverstone for R-Motorsport (incidentally running ½ of the Dane Train in the form of TF Sport’s Nicki Thiim) there will be severe concerns that the Aston will need the anchors added for the longest race of the season. While nothing has yet been disclosed, don’t be surprised for the V12 Vantage to be perhaps a little ‘fatter’ for the weekend ahead.

And yet, with the Aston dominance last weekend, it’s the ERC Sport Mercedes pairing of Lee Mowle and Yelmer Buurman who top the tables by 4 ½ points from the title-hungry #33 Barwell Lamborghini drivers Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen. Things never change for the Barwell pair – another year, another title challenge, but still second, for now anyway. Leading the Aston fight is the #99 Beechdean pairing of Andrew Howard and Darren Turner, who’ve a 12 point deficit from Mowle/Buurman.

So, there’s impetus for drivers to maintain points scores. Minshaw and Keen will want to repeat 2016 where they took victory at the Silverstone 500. Mowle/Buurman will want another endurance race win, and Buurman’s ability to charge for long periods of time will help that. Then we have last year’s winners – Rick Parfitt took the Bentley round to a majestic win, and there were green shoots of promising performance at Snetterton for he and Ryan Ratcliffe. A good race at Silverstone would bring a little joy to the Team Parker garage, where Ian Loggie and Callum McLeod’s podium at Rockingham in #7 has been the sole reason to shout loudly so far.

There’s always an augmentation to the field at Silverstone, and this year we welcome back the ABBA Rollcentre Racing Mercedes for a wildcard role in this year’s race weekend. Richard Neary has been driving the Merc in the Britcar Endurance series, but returns with factory driver Adam Christodolou for this one. Last year, Neary had a promising performance in the early stages of the race before suffering a spin. Also returning are new series regulars Balfe Motorsport, after their McLaren suffered a big hit at Rockingham. Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell had a great weekend in the McLaren during International GT Open’s visit in 2017, and there is no reason why they can’t have another crack of the whip on their return. Rounding out the new faces, Nissan’s Gran Turismo star Ricardo Sanchez will partner Struan Moore in the #24 GT-R for this weekend to have another hustle round after having had a play in the Blancpain race last month.

The battle for GT4 is even tighter than that for GT3. So tight infact that you can barely fit a sheet of paper width between Callum Pointon and Patrik Matthiesen’s #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta and the #4 Tolman McLaren pairing of Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien. The battle of the Silver cup drivers in GT4 is back again this year, and as we come to this round there is only ½ a point between Pointon/Matthiesen from Fagg/O’Brien. This is testament to how consistency vs wins works. Fagg and O’Brien have always loitered around the steps of the podium, whilst Pointon/Matthiesen have had a big win at Rockingham to take the larger points score.

HHC Motorsport can be proud of what they are doing in the GT4 series. To be at the top for the second year running in their second year of British GT competition is nothing short of spectacular. Snetterton for them wasn’t brilliant – no podiums allowed the Tolman #4 car to catch back up to their championship leaders, but keeping up the pace is tough, especially when you’ve two Silver drivers facing off against some fantastic professional drivers. Silverstone will be another hard ask for them, but with Ginetta struggling at Snetterton they may yet receive a BoP boost to help them against the McLarens.

We’ve another returnee to GT4 at Silverstone in the form of the Appleby Engineering Aston Martin driven by James Holder and Matthew George. Yes, that Matthew George. George will be piloting both the Jaguar F-Type and the Aston V8 Vantage, requiring him to drive all 3 hours of the race at Silverstone in one way or another. Anyone who frequents the paddock will have spotted him maintaining a thorough fitness routine, so at least physically he’ll be more than capable of coping. It’ll be a fair juggling act at pitstops though. Sadly, for this race, we’ve lost the Johansen/Anttila #54 Ultratek Nissan, which is beyond repair after a punishing race at Snetterton.

The cards are on the table for the weekend ahead at least. 3 hours is a long time to face, and there’s so much that can happen across the field in that time. Will the experience of Minshaw/Keen pay through? Will it be a fairytale return for Beechdean and Andrew Howard with Darren Turner backing him up before his Le Mans trip? Can either of the GT4 Silver pairings make advantage of the extra half point on offer for an endurance race win? All will be revealed on Sunday afternoon.

© Pete Richardson June 2018

British GT 2018 – Round 3 – Snetterton

A solid weekend all round

When you look back at the opening two rounds of the season at Oulton Park and Rockingham, you begin to wonder whether there’s any hope of there being a race weekend where the drivers can stop worrying about the weather and just get on with the job in hand. The first knockings of summer bring with them optimism, a feeling of serenity and the threat of those barbecue-quelling storms that make everything feel like a typical British year.

The weekend of 26-27th May though will go down as a generally pleasant weekend though, and for no reason less than we got our usual feast of GT action at the Norfolk venue of Snetterton, where drivers and teams stare down the barrel of a narrow, tight and twisting circuit surrounded by wonderful high speed blasts which brings with it a question of whether to make the most of cornering or fit the car up for the acceleration and top speed for the two 1 hour sprint races on Sunday.

Sadly, we were short of the #101 Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S which pranged at Rockingham’s Turn 4 last time out. Shaun Balfe is a canny man though, and knows to rush back would probably only have been a disadvantage. Better to be ready for the 3 hour blue riband Silverstone 500 event in a few weeks time where more points, and more space await the field. Also missing was Devon Modell from the #24 RJN Nissan, who was replaced by Jordan Witt, making his return to the championship after previously having wielded the “small but mighty” Chevron in past seasons in British GT.

The Mercedes was the car to have last time out at Rockingham, or at least Lee Mowle and Yelmer Buurman thought so, with justification. As free practice began though it was clear that a British Summer weekend needed a British manufacturer to make hay, and Aston Martin looked imperious, with Nicki Thiim in the #11 TF Sport Aston and Darren Turner in the #99 Beechdean cars leading the way with the other Astons looking serious behind them. Rather worryingly, the competition looked like not being at it’s usual strength. We are used to having Lamborghinis from Barwell being there or thereabouts at Snetterton, but Minshaw/Keen and De Haan/Cocker looked like being the best of the rest at best. Buurman was pushing the #116 Mercedes as best he could with the changed BoP on the Mercedes following the Rockingham win, but not even the flying Dutchman could halt the Warwickshire-made titans.

GT4 thankfully was as open as ever, and although the #62 Aston of Matt Nicoll-Jones took the second free practice session, it wasn’t by a huge margin, and the rest of the field, including the #66 Mercedes of Jones/Malvern which topped FP1 were still in close contention. It wasn’t all plain sailing though as the RJN Ultratek Nissan #53 of Fletcher/Plowman suffered engine troubles which would keep the car firmly in the garage needing severe transplant surgery under the bonnet, which the mechanics went at with heart and vigour to get the 370Z out on track once more.

Qualifying in GT3 though was all about one car and two men. Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim made the most of the improved weather in the #11 Aston to top both the qualifying sessions for TF Sport. A little adjustment to the set up saw the blue car take the pole from its rivals, much to the delight of the pairing. Mark Farmer has history at Snetterton of podium visits, and another wouldn’t harm his morale or reputation. Graham Davidson got P2 for race one with the #47 Jetstream car holding off the #1 Team Parker Bentley of Rick Parfitt and the #33 Barwell Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw, who made an effort to prevent it being a total walkover for the Astons for Race 1. Qualifying’s second session saw Yelmer Buurman and Maxime Martin attempt to topple Nicki Thiim’s top time, but both fell afoul of the rules – Buurman pushed the #116 ERC Sport Mercedes beyond the limits of inhabitable race track, and Maxime Martin set a blistering time only to not set enough timed laps to qualify the #47 car properly, sending him to the back of the GT3 pack.

GT4 qualifying saw the #42 Century BMW of Ben Tuck/Ben Green take pole for the first race, happily putting a different marque top of the times for each separate session up to and including Quali.1 in the class. Tuck made a very neat and tidy lap to give himself space over the #55 HHC Ginetta of Pointon/Matthiesen. Behind them, Will Moore in #62 Aston headed off the suddenly speedy #68 Toyota of Tom Canning. The Toyota is the least-cylinder bound car on the grid, but it has legs when it needs them. The second qualifying session saw Nicoll-Jones nab race 2 pole, heading off Jack Mitchell in the #43 Century BMW, who was riding on the crest of the wave caused by #42 earlier. Jan Jonck, fresh off a solid performance in the GT4 European Series at Brands, took the other #61 Academy Aston to third, with Scott Malvern pushing the #66 Mercedes to fourth spot.

Race one got underway with the #11 Aston pulling away from the start to try and keep itself there. Behind Mark Farmer, Jon Minshaw reminded Graham Davidson that being a newcomer in British GT should be an ‘experience’ by passing him to take 2nd place and try and keep up with Farmer. But Davidson soon got the bit between his teeth, back past Minshaw and started to close up to Farmer, bringing the #1 Bentley of Parfitt with him to keep him company in pursuit of the top step. Infact it was all going really well for Graham Davidson, and then the safety car came out. A 60 minute sprint with a safety car period is rather frustrating for everyone, especially when it coincides with the pit window opening. In came the drivers for a change around – Davidson got out and Martin got in, but were held up, so Nicki Thiim once again pushed to the front as the #11 Aston retook the lead, which it would hold to the finish, taking the first “Dane Train” win in British GT, a highly popular score with the fans. Behind the TF Sport car, Davidson/Martin held a solid second, with Minshaw/Keen taking third after pit stop calamities held back the #1 Bentley from achieving further progress.

The GT4 race was fairly similar at the start. Ben Tuck got his head down behind the wheel of the #42 BMW, but sadly it wouldn’t last as the safety car meant that it was advantage neutralised when the pit window opened. With the field closer than it had been before, it was down to who could change and profit best. Cue the entry of one of the most popular men in the paddock: Joe Osborne in the #56 Tolman McLaren. Osborne is fast at Snetterton (he’d set pole last year here and had a podium with David Pattison), and the McLaren was in good shape to profit from the extra time required to be taken by the Silver driver pairings. 12 seconds is a huge time in motorsport, so when Tuck and Green swapped round, they had to watch and wait as the Pro-Am McLaren with David Pattison having driven a reliable and neat stint gave the #56 to Osborne who promptly waved goodbye to the cars behind and hello to a GT4 race win. Behind him, Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien came through to take 2nd place, proving their speed and consistency in the Silver Class again in #4 McLaren, with Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones climbing up to 3rd after Martin Plowman’s #53 Nissan got a penalty for a pit infringement late on in the race, robbing it of a podium place when everything looked good for the rather unlucky 370Z.

Photo-Jakob Ebrey/British GT

So, Race 1 yielded two of the most popular wins of the season so far, but Race 2 was coming. To add to the drama and perhaps increase the blood pressure of some drivers, just as the field took to the formation lap, some drops of warm (but not unpleasant) rain started hitting the track. As the Pro drivers would take the start first, it was clear that the rain in the air was completely psychological and could be ignored. Sadly in GT4 though, this meant that when the field bunched up for the tight Agostini hairpin, the cars infront were psychological and could be ignored too, as the #86 Toyota of McDonald/Quinn hit the #72 track-club McLaren piloted by Ben Barnicoat, putting both cars out of the race, and the track into neutralisation with barely a lap gone.

Nicki Thiim wasn’t complaining though. He’d led from the first moment of the race and the #11 TF Sport would only have a 10 second penalty in the pit stop to serve which would knock them back down the order, but Thiim barely saw the back of anyone else in his stint, lest it were a backmarker or the safety car, which came out early to suspend proceedings a little. Behind him though was WEC teammate and fellow Dane Train driver, Marco Sorensen, who was in the #17 sister TF Sport Aston. And it was he who would profit from a lack of pit penalty this time round when the window opened.  Sorensen handed over to Derek Johnston, and Darren Turner handed over to Andrew Howard in the #99 Beechdean Aston, which would finally make a race distance having failed to manage it in race 1. What then happened was one of the finest pressure/defence drives we’ve seen as Howard nailed his nose to the rear bumper of Johnston’s car, in an effort to put the 2016 champion off his stride. Johnston is no fool though and kept his business to himself as the Beechdean car started to sniff out gaps and put pressure on him. The two cars finished neatly, cleanly and safely first and second, with Howard having to settle for second to Johnston/Sorensen. Behind them, Mark Farmer held on to 3rd with the #11 TF Sport car, which was holding off the #75 Optimum Aston driven by the scarily fast Flick Haigh, who was making up time hand over fist in the late stages. It would have been Astons 1-2-3-4-5, but for a penalty for the #47 car of Davidson/Martin, which went in a little too heavily on the #33 Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw in the last quarter of the race, putting Minshaw off the road, but thankfully not out. 1-2-3-4 still looks good for Aston though, if a little too dominant ahead of the next race.

Photo-Jakob Ebrey/British GT

Despite the messy beginning, GT4 played out pretty cleanly in the end, as Nicoll-Jones led the field to begin with, but Jack Mitchell squeezed the #43 BMW into the lead in the opening half of the race, showing his credentials as a solid racer in any machine once more. Behind them, the other BMW of Ben Green got nudged into a spin, and had to work hard to get ground back. As the pit stops came, it was now time for the third Tolman McLaren to take over the lead, as the #5 of Jordan Albert and Lewis Proctor got a shift on and went to the front. Behind them though, Ben Tuck had been shown the proverbial red rag, and was turning bullish laps to recover the time lost by Green’s earlier spin. He made up time and time each lap, and positions, to be in place when Proctor succumbed to pressure on the last lap of the race, demoting the #5 McLaren to second, and giving the #42 BMW a deserved win on sheer effort. Once again, Nicoll-Jones/Moore took 3rd place to remind everyone that Aston Martin weren’t done with GT4 yet either.

Snetterton had provided us with a fair bounty of racing again. And Aston Martin came away with a huge pile of trophies, a pair of happy Danes, and a potential headache of BoP, ballast and pit stop penalties to be applied at Silverstone next time out, for the 500km, 3 hour event which sees the winning drivers awarded the RAC Trophy and is the highlight of the British GT year. Good things come to those who work hard, but that doesn’t mean you can’t escape the hammer of racing justice of course… Silverstone, and its long race, await.

British GT 2018 – Round 2 – Rockingham Motor Speedway

 

What A Difference A Day Makes

 

 

After the controversy of Oulton Park, what British GT needed was a race weekend that ran smoothly, without things suddenly being thrown into doubt and confusion. So as the teams emerged from their garages on Saturday morning, it was a case of “oh no, not this again” as the weather decided that it would be a wet beginning to the weekend. Wet, and bitterly, painfully cold. Rain and cold are the enemies of successful practice. That said, any track time is a good thing, especially at Rockingham where drivers must contend with a lap of two distinct halves.

 

The main feedback from drivers was the lack of adhesion during practice. It was visibly evident that even the top drivers were reluctant to pile into the fearsome banked Turn 1 with any particular gusto. It’s possibly down to this that the Free Practice sessions ran so relatively smoothly. Only the #88 Team HARD Ginetta of Joshua Jackson and Ben Wallace suffered any heavy calamity, as they met heavily with a barrier and severely dented their front end. Tony Gilham’s team is all “never say die” attitude though, and the car was fixed for the afternoon’s qualifying sessions, a feat worthy of recognition. On the whole, most teams came out without much concern, other than helping the car stick to the road in right places.

 

If there’s one wonderful thing about wet and cold practices it’s the one lap pace of the classes. In the first session, Yelmer Buurman showed his strength in the #116 ERC Sport Mercedes, with the fastest GT4 car being the #4 Tolman McLaren of Charlie Fagg and Michael O’Brien. There was only 5 seconds between them, with the GT4 car outpacing some of the GT3 runners. Let it be said on record once more, that perhaps this should not be a surprise as the Bentleys, for all their excitement are a real trouble in the wet conditions, and Parfitt/Ratcliffe and Loggie/McLeod in nos 1 and 7 respectively didn’t really put down scintillating times while the big cars scrabbled for traction. The second session went the way of Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam in the #75 Optimum Aston Martin, whilst Will Burns set down a laptime good enough to give him and Mike Newbould top spot in GT4 in the #50 HHC Ginetta.

 

As Saturday wore on, the cold remained, but the rain lessened, and became a steady nagging drizzle, which in part relieved the tarmac of some excess water, but didn’t exactly improve grip around the course. As if to prove this, during the GT3 Am qualifying session, Jon Minshaw in #33 Lamborghini and Lee Mowle in the #116 Mercedes both rotated their vehicles at Deene and Turn 4 of the oval within moments of each other. Embarrassment for Minshaw, but heartbreak for Mowle, as the Barwell man went on to set second fastest time, but the Mercedes was buried firmly in the tyres protecting the pit entry wall. The fastest GT3 Am was once again the mercurial Flick Haigh, who went nearly a second faster than Minshaw.

The GT3 Pro session flipped things about though, with Phil Keen taking over from Minshaw and going nearly a second faster than Jonny Adam, who’d taken over from Flick Haigh. There was enough in it to give the green and red Lamborghini pole, which was handy considering the 20 second success penalty the #33 had to take in the pit stop during the 2 hour race.

 

In GT4, qualifying was pride and joy of the Tolman team, as the #4 and #5 cars took positions one and two on the class grid, with Jordan Albert and Lewis Proctor backing up Fagg and O’Brien from their earlier morning exploits. As cars received penalties for yellow flag infringements, the third car on the grid made it a McLaren 1-2-3, as the Pro-Am track-club #72 car of Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat backed up the Tolman development drivers.

As Sunday dawned, the grey layers of cloud over Northamptonshire remained, as did the unpleasantly chilly winds which swirl round the quad-oval at Rockingham on a year-round basis. Thankfully though, the rain which had saturated Saturday, didn’t decide to trouble the circuit on Sunday, but the cold still gave a prevailing absence of grip to the tarmac. Warm-up was interrupted briefly by a clash between the #66 Team Parker Mercedes of Jones/Malvern and the #10 Equipe Verschuur McLaren of McKay/Hutchison, but the field went out for the full allotted 10 minutes and finally got some relatively dry track time in.

 

With the cars and drivers prepared, the only thing remaining now was for the race to begin. As the field got away, the Minshaw and Haigh battle began at the front of the pack in GT3. What neither of them figured on was the sudden awakening of Sam De Haan in the #69 Barwell Lamborghini. The pink and black machine looked a colourful missile chasing the pair, eventually passing Haigh to make it a Lamborghini 1-2 in the early stages. And then the first safety car came out when the #101 Balfe Motorsport McLaren of Shaun Balfe clattered the outside wall of the oval at Turn 4, leaving him stranded on the high line. With the field neutralised it was time to take stock of the early proceedings. Balfe had managed to claw himself up to 4th behind MInshaw, De Haan and Haigh, before his unfortunate crash. In GT4, Charlie Fagg was giving it everything in the #4 McLaren for Tolman, but was being reeled in by HHC Motorsport’s Patrik Matthiesen in the #55 GInetta, which was benefitting from a drier surface on race day.

 

As the race returned to green flag conditions, it was clear that things were very different from Saturday. Rick Parfitt now had the bit between his teeth in the #1 Bentley and started to go up the order, and Derek Johnston in the #17 TF Sport Aston also fancied a piece of the action. Flick Haigh however wasn’t enjoying the pursuit of the Barwell pairing and she speared off the track in the #75 Aston at Tarzan before rescuing and rejoining. Lee Mowle also took to the outskirts of Tarzan in the #116 car, but came out unscathed.

 

A second safety car period ensued when David Pattison beached the #56 Tolman Pro-Am McLaren in the gravel at Chapman Curve, and required a snatch to pull him from the depths. By this time, Graham Davidson in the #47 Jetstream Aston had taken an interest in the chase of the Barwell Lamborghinis. Davidson is no stranger to the front end of the field and before long he had overhauled De Haan, and taken second behind Minshaw. Flying Scotsmen are no strangers in British GT and Davidson is the latest to prove his mettle. His charge was helped by what sounded like the imminent demise of the #69 Lamborghini, which suddenly took on a melodic tone not dissimilar to a selection of nuts and bolts in a tin can.

 

Behind the lead battle, there was a squabble for space at Tarzan between Johnston and Parfitt, and with the Bentley seemingly occupying the space that the #17 Aston should have been in, Johnston decided to assist the #1 car out of its path, causing Parfitt a nervous spin and an even more nervous wait for the traffic to pass around him before he wellied the throttle to point the Bentley in the right direction. Another hard charge had been ended, and from that moment the #1 Bentley failed to make any further inroads into the race. During his stint, Ratcliffe even had the misfortune of the car suddenly requiring a “hard reset” as he cruised to a stop just past the Deene hairpin.

 

Pitstops in British GT are a thing requiring precision and good timing. Every team member must be ready to play their part properly for any incident that may arise. The Optimum Aston squad had a small fire to deal with, which hindered Jonny Adam from getting a clean getaway back out to chase after the pack in his stint. The Barwell squad welcomed both their cars in, the #33 for the regular stop plus 20 seconds penalty, and the #69 permanently with transmission issues stopping the car from rejoining the race. Unfortunately, Phil Keen did not have his helmet equipped at the right point, and breached safety laws, which required the team to serve a further stop go penalty, denting their hopes of remaining in the top 3. Graham Davidson swapped for Maxime Martin in the #47 car, and the Belgian got to work on showing his factory talents.

In GT4, things had been relatively calm. The #4 Tolman McLaren led the #55 HHC Ginetta, and those positions soon reversed as Callum Pointon took over from Matthiesen. Making ground since the pitstops though were Finn Jesse Anttila, who had taken over in the #54 Ultratek Nissan, and was looking very competitive and very fast suddenly in one of the oldest cars on the grid, and Ben Barnicoat in the #72 track-club McLaren, where Adam Balon had once again put in an underrated but competent drive. Sadly, the track-club challenge blunted when the car started spitting a huge jet of flame from its exhaust. This left the way clear for the chasing pack, and the Tolman team were finally losing their grip on the weekend. Eventually, it was the #62 Academy Aston Martin piloted by Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones that seized the initiative for 3rd place in class, despite a hairy moment into Turn 1 when Moore brushed sidepanels with the #11 TF Sport Aston of Mark Farmer, thankfully without major damage to either car.

 

GT3 though, was about to change utterly. Maxime Martin had set off from the pits in the hope that outright speed would put him on top of the pile come the chequered flag. A penalty coming for Keen would give him breathing space. What he didn’t anticipate was for the penalty that would apply to himself as the overran the track limits one too many times for the clerk of the course’s liking, and that turned hope into “what if” for the Jetstream Motorsport team. Cue the surprise package of the weekend.

 

At Monza the weekend before, the German Black Falcon squad took their car to 3rdplace overall in the Blancpain Endurance Series race. One of their drivers that day, Yelmer Buurman, was more than keen to show off his ability in the driving seat. A good series of fast laps let him up to the tailpipes of the #99 Beechdean Aston Martin, which was now driven by Darren Turner, who had inherited a podium spot following Andrew Howard’s usual gritty drive.

 

Buurman didn’t like the Aston being infront, but being a fair man he decided to give him a real show. Buurman showed the nose of the #116 Mercedes down Turner’s inside at Tarzan, knowing the British driver would give him short change for the cheek of an attempt. Buurman and Turner then went side-by-side along the following straight, where the left-right-left of the Brook chicane was located. With no regard for the average way of overtaking, Buurman launched the Mercedes round the outside of Turner into the first left hander in what was a superb passing manoeuvre with no comeback. From then on, it was top spot or bust for the Dutchman, and so it proved to be, with the Mercedes barely missing an apex or a cylinder blast to the chequered flag, whilst others behind him squabbled, struggled, slithered and slipped back. Lee Mowle had until this weekend never won a British GT race. It was high time after some near misses for him to achieve this goal. Behind them, Marco Sorensen had taken over from Derek Johnston in the #17 Aston and taken second on the road, only for this to be rescinded following an additional time penalty for the team for causing the spin for Rick Parfitt’s Bentley in the opening hour of the race.

 

Whilst the #1 Bentley suffered, Callum McLeod made up for Team Parker’s rather under-par start to the season by inheriting 2nd place after pushing the #7 Bentley up to 3rd on the road at the flag, whilst the #99 Beechdean car of Andrew Howard and Darren Turner took 3rd spot on the rostrum.

GT4 finished as it had been in most of the second hour. The major change being the rise of the #62 Aston to 3rd spot, although the performance of the Ultratek Nissans in 2nd and 4th was definitely something of a remarkable achievement. It was a definite reversal of fortune for the Tolman squad though, whose cars went from top of the world to off the rostrum in a 2 hour period on Sunday. HHC Motorsport were now back again, and Matthiesen and Pointon look no less effective than Middleton and Tregurtha did last year.

 

The most remarkable thing though was this – the race winner, who nobody expected, started from the very back of the GT3 pack, following Lee Mowle’s spin and prang during qualifying. It often shows how much a difference a race makes, and how much time can pass between being nowhere and being somewhere. Next time out, it’s two one hour long races at Snetterton, where there’s usually always something occurring to change the order of the field, and usually quite spectacularly.

 

© Pete Richardson May 2018

 

British GT 2018 – Round 2 Preview – Rockingham

 

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.

McLaren Safety Car/ Jakob Ebrey

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.

Flick Haigh – Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage V12/ / Jakob Ebrey

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

British GT – 2017 Round 6 Review – Brands Hatch

The 2017 season is now drawing to its close, and in a return to tradition, the penultimate round of this season took place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit, which is a fantastic venue for sports car racing of almost any kind. British GT knows how to put on a show here for better or worse, and with titles on the line by now, everyone was gunning hard for a shot at glory.

Going into the round, in GT3, Minshaw & Keen held the standings lead over Parfitt & Morris. Neither team had scored perfectly at Spa last time out, although the Barwell Lamborghini did take one race win away from the Ardennes. The gauntlet was laid down to the Team Parker Racing Bentley boys: “catch us if you dare”.

GT4 is no less challenging, with even the Optimum crew in with a mathematical but unlikely shot at the 2017 honours, however the strength of the two Silver driver pairings of Middleton/Tregurtha and Pittard/Reed in the HHC & Lanan Ginettas has meant that the fight stayed between them as Brands arrived.

Saturday morning dawned with cloudy spells, and rather sadly, in the first Free Practice session the #19 GT3 Ginetta G55 of Century Motorsport, this weekend piloted by Tom Hibbert and Ben Tuck, found the bare Armco at the exit of Stirlings Bend and damaged itself beyond a feasibly safe repair. Century are a fantastically well run team, but Nathan Freke has struggled with misfortune in ways that scriptwriters could not manage. On the plus side, they had hired Niall Murray, a Formula Ford hot shot to partner Jacob Mathaissen for the weekend in the #43 GT4 car, and Murray took to it like the proverbial duck to water.

Meanwhile, things looked rosy at the front for both GT3 championship leading crews, as the Bentley took the first free practice session, and Phil Keen’s hot lap put the #33 Lamborghini second behind Jonny Adam, who showed that he was hardly fatigued from his recent title winning exploits at the 24 Hours of Spa the previous weekend.

With everything settling in well, the fickle gods of weather cast their hand. A rather dramatically timed short and sharp thunderstorm settled in on Brands Hatch. It came and laid a lot of water over the Kent countryside, making a mess of everyone’s hard work in setting up the cars, and instantly changing the face of qualifying.

With the Pro-Am qualifying format taking place this weekend, with aggregate times deciding the grid for the 2 hour race, it was clear that the turbocharged teams would suddenly be at a disadvantage. Aston Martin, Lamborghini and Mercedes cars were the ones to have. Sure enough, Minshaw and Keen put their experience of low grip to good use and bagged the overall pole, with the MacMillan AMR #24 Aston with its Silver pairing of Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn occupying second place on the grid. Not far behind were the #11 TF Sport Aston of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, with the #6 Lamborghini of Griffin & Tordoff also up high. But, for the Bentley, rain is the great enemy. As the big machine pulled out of the pit lane its traction control kicked in, it’s handling went to pot and the two Team Parker cars were nowhere near where they wanted to be for the Sunday afternoon start. Wet tracks, wet settings and the Bentley do not mix in any way, and the hope was that Sunday would be much improved. The #7 Bentley was already suffering this weekend as it was, after Callum MacLeod found the front brakes not working as he wished in free practice, narrowly avoiding a monster shunt at the fastest part of Brands.

By the time GT4 qualifying started, the rain had truly stopped, and a dry line began to appear. Pole in class went to the #62 Academy Motorsport car of Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones, whose slick tyre strategy decision in the second part of GT4 qualifying put them forward. Things were not so rosy however at Lanan, after David Pittard suffered the ignominy of falling off the road on the Grand Prix loop, and leaving Alex Reed a nervous wait to see that their #51 Ginetta would be allowed out for him to drive. The format of qualifying for GT4 showed the gap in quality between the Silver pairings and the Pro-Am ones. Joe Osborne’s time of 1:35 in the second half of the session was an excellent time, however the aggregate with his Bronze graded teammate David Pattison sadly wouldn’t see the Tolman car as high up as it could have been.

To the rescue of many teams, the sun came out on Sunday morning, and stayed out. Warm up went off without a hitch, and some teams even had the confidence to complete only one lap of the circuit. The sun beat down hotter, and everything was set.

As the lights changed, James Littlejohn sent out a warning shot to Jon Minshaw by attempting an audacious pass round the outside at the first entry to Paddock Bend, and Minshaw defended for his life. The game was afoot. Minshaw needed to break the field to extend his title lead, and having the hot pace of a Silver grade driver around wasn’t going to make matters easier. The big issue though wasn’t what was immediately behind him. Rick Parfitt had pushed the “go faster” button in the #31 Bentley, and he was making moves through the field. A dry track, a hot day and a point to prove, and Parfitt was off to prove it. He despatched Derek Johnston, Liam Griffin, Mark Farmer and eventually Jon Minshaw and set off in pursuit of the now leading James Littlejohn, who had cleared the Lamborghini and was trying to get away, knowing a pit stop penalty was coming for the #24 Aston for a podium finish in the last race at Spa.

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Fate though, would intervene with plans once more. The fast starting Will Moore in the #62 GT4 Aston had done his best to hold the lead in class, before eventually Sandy Mitchell in the #100 Garage 59 McLaren had given the Aston a lesson in overtaking. But as Moore exited Surtees with about 25 minutes elapsed, the Aston suddenly slowed, rattled a little and ground to a halt. The black Aston was abandoned and retired necessitating a Safety Car period to rescue the Academy car.

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A small respite ensued, and gave everyone a chance to take stock. GT4 was now back to its usual squabble between the #100 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggety, the #55 HHC Ginetta of Tregurtha/Middleton and the #51 Lanan Ginetta of Pittard/Reed. Nobody though, expected what was coming. What infact was coming was the #42 MacMillan Aston of Will Phillips and Jan Jønck. The Aston is usually a decent bet around Brands Hatch, and for whatever reason, it was all coming together for Will Phillips, who was having his best race of the year so far.

The theme of Brands Hatch was contrasts in fortune. Whilst one car was pushing up, another was struggling. Jon Minshaw had used up whatever the #33 Lamborghini had to give, and was now languishing in 6th place as the pit window approached. He was pushing no less hard than usual, but things wouldn’t work for him. He could see the Bentley disappearing, and could do little about it.

Just as the time ticked over for the pit window to open, the Bentley roared under the bridge at Clearways in what looked like a commanding lead. What had befallen James Littlejohn and the #24 MacMillan Aston which had led for so long? In it came to the pits, up it went onto the jacks. Back into the garage, and out of the race. A sticking throttle is a bad thing in itself, and sticking wide open is nothing short of terrifying. It was a sad end to a very commendable effort, and the Bentley was unchained to go on its way unopposed.

This is more or less what it did now. The pit stops saw Sam Tordoff, Jon Barnes, Jonny Adam and Phil Keen step into their respective cars behind Seb Morris in the Bentley, and this was the order to the finish of the race, with little hiccup or error. Tordoff put in a very solid drive holding off a pack which was little more than a couple of seconds away from his tail at any given time.

GT4 however, was still in the process of sorting itself out properly. David Pittard’s Ginetta suddenly found itself lacking the right kind of steering movement, and Alex Reed was not going to be taking over a fully fast machine. Sure enough, they fell by the wayside, and it was Will Tregurtha’s time to make hay while the sun shone. What he didn’t count on though, were three things. One was Ciaran Haggerty in the driver’s seat of the #100 McLaren. The second was Jan Jønck in the #42 Aston. And the third was Joe Osborne, in the #56 McLaren. Each one of them was on a real charge. Jønck had picked up where Phillips left off, and he began hassling Haggerty for all he was worth. Eventually, the pressure told, and the Aston went by. Haggerty then had Joe Osborne for company, and Joe went by as well, making the most of perfect conditions to push the #56 Tolman car harder and faster. Osborne would eventually get closest to the young Dane, but nobody would prevent MacMillan taking their first ever race win in British GT. Behind, Tregurtha had now got to Haggerty, whose tyres were suffering.

As the final lap approached, Tregurtha got a better run out of Stirlings, and passed Haggerty into Clearways. Haggerty wasn’t going to stand for this, and out came a flying dive up the inside at Paddock. The McLaren didn’t like this. The asphalt didn’t. The gravel trap at Paddock and the tyre wall did though, and they welcomed the unfortunate Scot with open arms. So close to a podium, and one moment changed it all. Tregurtha came home to extend a championship lead that will give him and Stuart Middleton a brief amount of breathing space going into Donington.

But even more elated were the Bentley boys. An unpromising start on Saturday had become a charge through the pack and a victory, and more significantly, a 10.5 point lead going into the final race at Donington, where titles are won and lost. It’s advantage to the Team Parker squad, but will fate be as kind to them this time round.

 

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A few thoughts on the future of the British GT:

Whilst LITP took their summer holiday to Spa, the SRO announced its plans to separate the GT3 and GT4 classes of British GT. The GT4 class will now become the British GT4 Cup, and will have races at the usual GT rounds of the season, and an additional standalone race at Thruxton, which will see a return to GT racing for the first time in a long while after the horror shunt for Bradley Ellis on the approach to the chicane. GT3 would run its own races as well, encompassing the usual rounds, but with the addition of entries from one-make GT racing series such as the Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Porsche Carrera Cup and Ferrari Challenge to bolster grid numbers.

Those dreaded words. “Bolster grid numbers”. It really doesn’t take a mathematician to see that GT4 is the most popular class in the series at the moment, and to separate GT3 and GT4 will mean that teams will have to choose their destiny for the season ahead. At Brands Hatch, there were 10 GT3 entries. One of these was not a regular season entry. One of the regular teams, AmD were missing due to an accident in a different series that left their Mercedes bent and broken. A race cannot be appealing to spectators, or teams when there’s potential for the starting number to be only in the single figures.

GT4 Cup will be the most popular option next year. More races, more competitors, a more appealing entry for Bronze graded drivers. More manufacturers making more new cars. More options. More and more and more, compared to the rather uncertain and unsure footing provided by the future of GT3 racing.

The general feeling according to many in the paddock over the last few seasons was that SRO were looking to promote GT4 harder than GT3, and that the trend was showing that the class was growing. While there is the message that “16 to 18 cars are expected for GT3 in 2018” the reality is that the teams are not able to commit to that number now. So where does that leave it all?

Part of the appeal of the series for the spectator is the noise, size and power of the GT3 class. The class is popular for its variety, the talent of the drivers, and the fact that the SRO BoP has made the racing very very watchable. This isn’t to say the racing is bad in GT4, or that the category is uninteresting or undersubscribed. It just lacks that extra appeal that GT3 has to myself, and to many others.

From what I have heard inside the paddock, it is going to take a lot of effort to save GT3 in Britain now. Teams will look elsewhere to establish true competition. There are very successful series in other countries, which run full GT3 grids. Admittedly, these are run outside the full control of SRO, but nonetheless they are very well subscribed and popular for it. It may be too late to bring in a similar set of regulations to those series to make it work in Britain.

Time will tell. My gut feeling is that Donington Park will be the last time we see a dedicated GT3 class race in a UK national series. Come 2018, if the GT4 Cup is the premier event of a British GT weekend, it will be the acid test for the true future. We lost GT1, GT2, and GT3 is looking ominously close to loss now as well. It is my hope that the series cannot, and does not go into a state of ever decreasing spectacle.

British GT – 2017 Round 4 Review – Silverstone 500

 

All’s well that ends well.

 

At the beginning of June, the British GT paddock descends upon the longest race weekend of its year. Granted that 3 hours may not seem much, but it’s the blue riband event of each season and every team involved wants to prove their worth round Silverstone’s Grand Prix layout.

Saturday arrived and for once the anticipation in the air was for genuine contest. There wasn’t a hint of elbows out bodywork bashing, more expectation of a race which promised to showcase driver talent and ability.

One team however who were not best pleased about the arrival of the race were Barwell, whose Huracans had taken a hit under the Balance of Performance adjustments applied by SRO ahead of the weekend to rein in the Lamborghinis after what has been more or less a runaway start to the year. Although only the #6 car of Tordoff and Griffin would take a success penalty of additional pit stop seconds on Sunday, the team faced a mountain to climb to defend their championship points lead.

Ginetta’s GT4 entries also felt the pressure at Silverstone. The nimble G55 is excellent in twisting corners, but on Silverstone’s vast and fast expanses, there is little to enjoy for the Yorkshire built machines. The change of Optimum to switch the #501 car of Johnson/Robinson to the McLaren 570S from this weekend onwards showed the shifting sands in the class, although there’s much to be said for the exuberance of youth, with Lanan, HHC and Garage 59 fighting out the top 3 points spots in the GT4 standings with 3 young driver crews proving that raw talent can be measured carefully.

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There was another factor that made the weekend a very pleasurable one for both driver and spectator alike. This time of year and this race is usually plagued by a unseasonable downpour, spoiling everything formbook wise even more so than usual, and turning Silverstone into an unpleasant quagmire. 2017 broke away from this though, and the entirety of Saturday and Sunday, Silverstone stayed dry, albeit a bit windy. Teams put on their sunglasses and stored the rain tyres safely so that the gods of motor racing could not be tempted to blow some adverse weather their way.

Practice threw up a new name to the top of the timesheets, as Adam Christodolou climbed into the familiar cockpit of the Mercedes AMG GT3 of ABBA Rollcentre Racing and put in a stonking lap around the circuit to lead the way by over a second. Christodolou’s British GT bow could hardly have been better for morale and for excitement. Rollcentre were saying a fond farewell to team boss Martin Short (as a driver, for now), and a top spot in any session is enough to put a smile on the face of any team principal.

GT4 had two interlopers to contend with this weekend in the Invitation class as Stuart Hall and Gavan Kershaw employed their talents in pedalling the Stratton Lotus Evora, whilst Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher did the same in the GPRM Toyota. Neither of these cars was there for show and the Evora fairly looked like trumping the entirety of the field as it wailed around the course, making light work of the bends in true Lotus fashion.

10 minutes of qualifying around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit isn’t a massive amount of time to get a good lap in, however needs must when there’s honour and points to be won. And each driver went around cleanly and admirably in each session. The pole position was eventually taken by the #24 MacMillan Racing Aston Martin of Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn, with two consistent times seeing them steal pole from the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt, who looked on course to make the most of a happily dry circuit.

Behind them, the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari driven by Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin just pipped the sister #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod from having Team Parker concerns in 2nd and 3rd on the grid. Christodolou once again topped the pro session times in the #88 Mercedes, but sadly the averages didn’t favour the team on this occasion.

HHC Motorsport didn’t let the balance of performance smother their GT4 drivers in qualifying as the young hotshots Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton put in a fine average timeset to get them to the top in their Ginetta. They were only pipped by the invitation class Lotus, as Hall and Kershaw put in times nearly a second faster than the rest of the field.

Sunday arrived bringing scores of spectators to the ticket gates, as the sunshine settled in for the day, allowing a sense of rude health and optimism to boost the support for this 3 hour race. A lot of teams sat out the warm up, not feeling the need to make adjustments or to seek any further improvement on their capabilities for the race.

The field duly formed up and rolled round to take the start, at which point, the two snarling Bentleys ganged up on the pole sitting Aston and pushed it backwards down the order. After last year’s disappointment it was time for Team Parker Racing to make up with a victory, and Rick Parfitt set off at an electric pace to try and establish the #31 at the head of the field. Behind him, Derek Johnston in the #1 Aston Martin suddenly found himself spinning off the road, but thankfully without damage to be able to rejoin the race, albeit dead last with work to do to catch up. In truth, TF Sport had a rather lacklustre weekend, and neither the #1 car of Johnston/Adam nor the #11 of Farmer/Barnes would make a heavy dent in the end results, although it would never be for the want of trying.

Richard Neary was having a good go in the #88 Mercedes from the start as well, and found himself making good pace up in the top 5 before he too dropped back after leaving the circuit, again, thankfully without damage to the car.

In GT4, the field had been joined by Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones in the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin, who were made to start from the back as their penalty for missing qualifying on Saturday in favour of going racing in the GT4 European Series at the Red Bull Ring. They would need a charge from the back of the field to have any effect on the final race results. There was no question that GT4 would be where the best battles would be fought this weekend, as the small cars revelled in the wide open spaces of Silverstone.

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Sure enough, as the race went on, there developed a fantastic battle for the lead of the class, which kept people on their toes. Academy had made the climb up the order, and was now dicing with the #29 In2Racing (Hoggarth/Graham) and #72 track-club (Balon/Mackay) McLarens, and the only other GT4 Aston, the #42 MacMillan car of Jonck/Phillips. These four conspired to swap places around the circuit, with the strongest looking like the #72 track-club car. Whilst the Silver class has hogged the limelight pointswise this season, the track-club team have arrived without pomp and ceremony and raced hard. Adam Balon and Adam Mackay were pushing the little white McLaren with the experience of two men who knew how to coax the most out of a lightweight rear engine sportscar.

Drama befell the HHC Motorsport team though, as a driveshaft in the #55 Ginetta decided to break under the strain of the high speed. Tregurtha and Middleton’s race was more or less over without affecting the scoresheets, but the team would rally, replace and repair parts, and send the car back out for a fine flourish towards the end.

Another strong performance came from Kelvin Fletcher in the #54 Nissan 370Z. Fletcher, to date had hardly set the world alight, but suddenly, he was making progress up the order in the baby Godzilla, and turning a few heads as he passed some well capable drivers (including Ciaran Haggerty in one of the title contending machines)! With Struan Moore stepping into the hotseat later, it would have been prime time to see how the car would fare, but unfortunately, a puncture halted their charge.

GT3 though was becoming the Parfitt and Morris show. Parfitt’s driving was cool, calm and calculated, and no matter how much Mitchell and Littlejohn pushed in the #24 Aston behind them, they couldn’t stop the #31 Bentley from going further into the distance. The big V8 powered beast barely missed a step or a beat at the front. Unfortunately, its stablemate #7 in the hands of Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod suddenly ended up exiting the track at speed and shunting, ruining a solid race for the team.

The two teams who gambled with longer driving stints, Spirit of Race and Barwell, endured the waiting game to see if gambling on a true endurance stint would pay off. Barwell’s gamble was to be the biggest one as they would have the most to lose at this weekend. In truth, 4th place at the flag for the #33 Minshaw/Keen Lamborghini would be enough to keep their title challenge rolling, although a podium finish (which eventually fell the way of the #21 Ferrari of Cameron & Griffin) would have been a nice little addition to the weekend.

As the race drew towards its close, the lead Bentley tangled with the #11 TF Sport car of Farmer/Barnes, but was found not to have been guilty of any indiscretion in terms of conduct, despite a spin for the Aston. Team Parker Racing celebrated 2 victories in the 2 longer races of the season so far, and another collection of 37.5 points to their total for the season, propelling Parfitt and Morris closer to Minshaw and Keen at the top of the standings. Second for the #24 MacMillan Aston gave plenty for Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn to smile about, with another podium to add to their driving CVs. The Ferrari rounded out the podium, and pushed Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin up the order in the championship standings too, behind the Barwell & Team Parker pairings. Still plenty to play for in that respect.

Behind the GT3 field, the GT4 class tried its best to keep up the excitement. After having its battle with its rivals, the #72 track-club car kept the momentum to the flag, as Balon and Mackay revelled in having no pit stop penalties, a quick and nimble car, and reason to drive it as fast as possible. Although Matt Nicoll-Jones and Will Moore would try their hardest to keep chase, they would fall short of a charge from last to first, and would have to settle with second place ahead of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham, who were making gains on the #62 Aston in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, making both teams and fans sweat in anticipation of an exciting close finish. There was no appearance on the podium for any of the top 3 in the GT4 championship standings, and the closest finishers frm that group to the top were David Pittard and Alex Reed in the #51 Lanan Ginetta. Their lead was now shrinking to single digits, closed in heavily by Balon and Mackay, who were looking a very strong pairing in what is in truth, not a very large or heavily sponsored team. Talent will out in motor racing!

The Silverstone 500 had one extra piece of excitement in store for the winners this year, as Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris collected the RAC Trophy for winning the blue riband event of the year. If there were ever a gloss to put on a race weekend, this was it. Tradition is a rare thing in racing, a sport which doesn’t stand still, and it is nice to have a championship like this share in an old and respected piece of silverware for its latest winners. The champagne flowed faster and higher than usual. Perhaps it was relief at completion of 3 hours. Perhaps it was the sunshine. Perhaps though, it was just that the best job had been done by everyone to make this an excellent race.

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Surmises from Silverstone:

One of the features of the weekend from a non-racing point of view was the Supercar display on the Sunday, which included everything from a Chevrolet Camaro, to a Dodge Viper GTS, several McLaren 675LTs, almost every Ferrari possible, and even a Jaguar XJR-12, as seen at Le Mans in 1990. A very impressive companion to an exciting weekend for the spectator.

On track, one thing missed from the entire weekend in terms of British GT and that was the often expected and much lamented Safety Car. There was no cause for it! Although there were incidents that required marshal attention and car retrieval, no need for a full course caution period was required. This ruined the caution to the wind strategies of some teams, but there’s nothing like the spectacle of drivers being allowed to run flat out for the full duration of a race. And that’s perhaps something that was needed after the last couple of years of this race!

The weekend welcomed a new championship as a supporting series this weekend, and it was one of the best we’ve seen yet. The Caterham 420R Championship turned a wheel at Silverstone, and during the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday, people were treated to a fine spectacle of racing. Up to 14 cars were nose to tail at one point during the race on Sunday following the leader, with barely an incident to report, but plenty of shuffling for position. We’d quite like to see these racers return to the timetables in future – after all, there’s only so many Ginetta G40s that can race during one weekend!

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British GT – 2017 Round 3 Review – Snetterton

There’s always something new under the sun

The second and final sprint round of the British GT championship has now been and gone in 2017, and a greater contrast to Rockingham and the remaining 2 hour races you couldn’t wish for. Long had the series anticipated a late spring flurry of activity in Norfolk, thanks in part to a Bank Holiday weekend and forecast sunshine.

Sure enough, the weather gods smiled upon Snetterton for the vast part of Saturday and Sunday, although a passing thunderstorm on Saturday morning did its best to dull the skies and leave some moisture on the already hot asphalt for the second Free Practice session of the weekend.

The entry list had been revised slightly following the withdrawal of Parker Chase and Harry Gottsacker from the championship, as Ginetta refocus the racing programme for the two young Americans. Nathan Freke moved down into the #111 Century Motorsport GT4 Ginetta to partner Anna Walewska, reforming their 2016 partnership. Euan McKay was also present in the #29 In2Racing McLaren, replacing Matty Graham.

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The sad fact that the GT3 field went down to 10 entries for the weekend didn’t really put a massive spoiler on the weekend. Teams still couldn’t quite fit into the packed pit lane, and tents were laid out for Academy Motorsport and HHC Motorsport, who lost the draw for the “teams without a solid roof for this meeting”. 27 cars would take part in all sessions, which was a fine effort, bearing in mind in recent times it’s been very easy to lose cars from session to session with crash or mechanical damage.

Saturday’s heat and sunshine helped to burn away any remaining water around the circuit, and teams had plenty of track time to get the cars fettled for the narrow and twisty sections of Snetterton. The layout of the revised track, opened in 2011, has a lot of long corners and a premium was placed on handling and acceleration. It wasn’t a surprise there to see that the GT4 Ginettas of Lanan Racing (#51, Pittard/Reed) and HHC (#55, Tregurtha/Middleton) would be up on top of the opening sessions, whilst the Barwell Lamborghinis pushed their credentials after a double win in 2016 for Minshaw and Keen. A double-double (both Sprint weekends) was on for them, so the pressure was on them from the start to deliver any promise the Huracan had.

On watching the cars take to the circuit in practice, it was impressive however to see the speed at which drivers were attacking Snetterton, as the nadgery infield and blistering heat would probably have a huge effect on tyre temperatures, making a long run tricky for any driver. Unsurprisingly #33 Lamborghini topped out the practices, but making a pleasing appearance behind them in the first session was the #7 Bentley of Ian Loggie and Callum McLeod. The Team Parker Racing camp was fairly subdued, even after the success at Rockingham. The Bentley doesn’t “fit” quite as well at Snetterton as it does elsewhere, so the weekend would be an attempt to make the best of a bad spot.

In GT4, the Lanan and HHC Ginettas shared practice topping spoils, but following up with 2nd in class in both sessions was the #56 Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S of David Pattison and Joe Osborne. Osborne in particular had nailed in some consistent and impressive lap times throughout the weekend, and maintained his composure through every moment. Sure enough, when qualifying did come around, Osborne used his experience and enthusiasm to secure pole for Tolman in Race 2 with a wonderful lap.

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Qualifying for Sprint races are broken down by class as usual, and the first race of the weekend was set by the Am drivers, and the second race was set by the Pro drivers. This is with the exception of the Silver graded drivers of course, who take the penalty of extra ballast in their cars to prevent them from truly disappearing against the Bronze graded drives in that particular section of each session.

Jack Mitchell took pole for race 1 in GT3 with the MacMillan AMR Aston Martin V12 Vantage. Mitchell’s speed is impressive to see, and although he was the Silver amongst Bronzes, he made the Aston Martin sing as he parked the white car at the top of the timesheets. A strong showing at Rockingham was obviously no fluke and certainly no flash in the pan either.

Pole in the GT3 pro session fell the way of the #33 Lamborghini again, but this time the sister #6 Lamborghini of Griffin/Tordoff was alongside. Team Parker Racing’s Bentley #31 of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris weren’t just limiting damage, they took 3rd and 4th in the two sessions to keep at the sharp end of the field. The #1 TF Sport Aston Martin of Johnston/Adam made an appearance in 3rd in Pro qualifying, making sure that there was still a glimmer of light for their title defence.

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GT4 Am qualifying was a Silver heavy session as #51, #55 and the #100 Garage 59 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggerty securing the top 3 spots ahead of Adam Balon in the #72 track-club McLaren, the first Am driver, who looked impressive behind the youth and exuberance of the teams he was chasing. But for a track limit infringement, the #100 McLaren of Sandy Mitchell could have surprised the Ginetta teams with a stonking pole lap, but over enthusiasm sadly saw him retain 3rd place only.

The Pro session, as earlier mentioned, was a show of Joe Osborne flexing his and the Tolman’s McLaren’s muscles. Osborne’s race in GT3 last year was a show of his driving ability, and he was unfortunate to fall foul of a driving misdemeanour. The Silver teams followed up behind Osborne, ready to pounce in the race later on Sunday afternoon.

Sadly missing had been the #42 MacMillan AMR Aston Martin (Phillips/Jonck) from qualifying as the team repaired a huge fuel leak which knocked the car to the back of the grid. The weekend hadn’t been smooth sailing either for the AmD Tuning Mercedes AMG #30 for Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, who made qualifying only after repairing gearbox electronics in the big Merc having missed second free practice.

Raceday arrived bathed in glorious late Spring sunshine, and raging heat. Thankfully for the drivers, a one hour race means that only 30 minutes in some of Britain’s most expensive and fast-moving saunas is required. The crowd around Snetterton was large, enthusiastic, and roasting as the field rolled out for the first race.

Jack Mitchell did what he needed to do as the lights went out as he left Jon Minshaw and the rest trailing behind him. The gap widened and widened as Mitchell went on towards the half hour mark in race one. Traffic was little of an issued and managed with aplomb by the pack. In fact, there was almost a feeling that the riot act had been read in terms of discipline, as the field pounded round the Snetterton bends with barely a hint of road rage or frustration. This was a disappointment in terms of the racing action, but pleasing for anyone who dislikes rough and tumble bumping and barging you could be wont to receive at a narrow circuit like this.

The #11 TF Sport Aston Martin suffered an unfortunate puncture, putting the car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes down a lap and out of the running for a strong result. A shame as the two drivers enjoy the circuit and could have made hay while the sun shone (figuratively, at least).

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The pit stops provided much wanted relief for both starting drivers and spectators, as the racing for the most part had turned processional. Mitchell pitted with a lead over 15 seconds over Minshaw and handed over to James Littlejohn, who would have the job of the ages holding back Phil Keen and others behind him.

The GT4 battle was between the three silver teams of HHC, Lanan and Garage 59, and you rarely saw the three teams out of each other’s sight, even amongst the snaking traffic. Eventually their battle fell in favour of the HHC #55 car of Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, who took their second consecutive race victory following their success at Rockingham in the 2 hour race there. Surprise was felt by the Ginetta teams at the 1-2 for the leading two, as there was a belief that McLaren would capitalise on success last year here, and dominate the event, but the handling of the G55 made it a tough prospect to beat.

In GT3, Phil Keen in #33 was eating away at the #24 Aston’s lead as Littlejohn couldn’t match the pace of the Lamborghini driver. And to match the ambitions, Sam Tordoff was also putting in some cracking times in the #6 Lamborghini as well. Behind them, Seb Morris had taken over the Team Parker Bentley, alas with too much enthusiasm, as their race result would be spoiled by a post-race 30 second penalty for a short pit stop. This promoted the #30 Mercedes up to 4th place by the end, but all eyes were on the white Aston and the green and red Lamborghini up front.

Littlejohn is not a Radical champion for nothing, and it was elbows-out defence from the Scotsman as Keen looked, teased and charged at the car holding him back from a 1st place finish. Eventually with just over 6 minutes remaining, the Aston took it a little too far into Williams, and the Lamborghini got a run onto the Bentley Straight, past and into the lead. The defence had also brought Tordoff closer too, and the #6 was soon past the Aston as well.

3 from 3 sprint races in 2017 then for Minshaw and Keen it was, as their stablemates Griffin and Tordoff backed them up with Mitchell/Littlejohn taking a second consecutive 3rd place in the championship.

Race 2 finally arrived a couple of hours later, and with a double-double on the cards, Keen pushed the throttle with Tordoff providing equal competition and support as they approached the starter’s rostrum.

Neither of them expected the reigning champion, Jonny Adam to go full throttle though and surprise them both by taking the lead into the first turn. The sight of the back end of the #1 Aston was a real surprise for the Barwell pair, and a throwing down of the gauntlet for the rest of the race. Challenge accepted, Phil Keen stole back the lead and began to make a run, to account for the 10 second success penalty that he would face at the pit stop. Behind them, James Littlejohn ran into grief at the Bomb Hole and dropped from top to bottom, negating the chance of a repeat podium for MacMillan.

GT4 was led by Joe Osborne, who carried on an impressive weekend for the Tolman team, pulling away from his rivals. The hard work of Osborne meant that the #56 McLaren looked in good shape for a fine result. All this, however would be undone by an incident between the #7 Bentley and the #55 Ginetta, which saw both cars irrepairable and out of the race, bringing out the Safety Car as an added bonus. Thankfully, everything seemed in order with the neutralisation of the race, although Osborne could bemoan the loss of his gap, with others closing on Pattison as a result. The incident for Middleton and Tregurtha though was a huge disappointment, as the youngsters could have been challenging for top points again.

As the race restarted, the #100 McLaren driven by Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty suddenly blitzed to the GT4 lead, which it would hold to the finish securing their first top step of the season. Behind them would be the #51 Lanan Ginetta with Pittard and Reed securing a second consecutive second place, and Tolman made the most they could of their moment in the sun with a fine third place, for which Joe Osborne received the mother of all champagne drenchings.

GT3 though was about to be turned upon its head. Back in the Race Control den, a sharp eyed timekeeper noticed that the #33 Lamborghini hadn’t been stopped long enough in pit lane, and out went the drive through notification. A massive let down for Minshaw and Keen, who were well on course for a race win and 4 out of 4. Minshaw diligently peeled off to take his penalty. This let through the #1 TF Sport Aston, the #6 Barwell Lamborghini and the #11 TF Sport Aston to lock out the podium, giving Johnston and Adam their first race win of 2017, Griffin and Tordoff another second place and Farmer and Barnes retribution for missing out on a trip to stand on the boxes in race 1.

With 3 rounds of the season gone, and the halfway point of the season at Silverstone approaching we can take a good look at the consolidated championship tables. GT3 is led by Minshaw and Keen on 101 points from Parfitt and Morris who have 77.5 and Johnston and Adam on 74 points. Already, a massive gap has formed thanks to Barwell’s 3 wins from 5 races but as history has proven nothing is truly insurmountable.

The table in GT4 is not as clearly dominated, though the early season standings are led by Middleton and Tregurtha, with 92.5 points from Pittard and Reed on 83 points and Mitchell and Haggerty on 73 points. This is a much closer fight, and it is pleasing to see 3 sets of young drivers duking it out for this title. Any slip ups from now to the end of the season could be a fatal blow to any of these drivers’ title ambitions.

 

Snetterton sentimentalities:

Drivers must be praised for the punishing physical task they faced at Snetterton this weekend, mostly due to the hot and muggy weather around the track vicinity. The sun was as fierce as the air temperature, and the heat of a cockpit was only exacerbated by this. Thankfully, none of the athletes behind the wheel let this get to them.

After the general explosion of rules and tempers at Rockingham, there was no repeat of the post-race confusion at Snetterton. Although there were post-race penalties applied, there was no massive controversy to rob fans and teams of a fought competitive race…

…that said, neither of the weekend’s races scored highly on the excitement meter. Both were rather processional and rather uninspiring as little more than a parade. Embellish it as we might, it was a case of “follow the leader” for most of the weekend’s races. And that was a shame after the mighty battles in the previous round.

British GT – 2017 Round 4 Preview – Silverstone 500

 

Where do we begin? It’s that time of the year where the British GT Championship reaches halfway and the blue riband event of the season comes with 3 hours of solid hard racing.

Of course though, 500km of Silverstone (or thereabouts) is nothing without the usual raft of amendments to driver and team rosters in the aim to make the most of the longest race of the campaign, and 2017 hasn’t failed to disappoint in any way whatsoever.

Thankfully for most of the paddock, the GT4 European Series isn’t tagging along to the race this year, and so the track will be considerably less crowded than in 2016, where a huge grid left a lot of competitors and teams musing over how to get around slow traffic. This year, there’s none of that to worry about so battle is purely within this series.

The biggest changes have come from Optimum Motorsport and Rollcentre Racing. Optimum’s title defenders, Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, have made the big and bold move of ditching their Ginetta G55 in favour of a McLaren 570S machine for the rest of the season. The drivers changing out their machinery is nothing new, certainly. However this particular move is a surprise as Optimum had been known for their support of Ginetta, and of course taking the title with the brand in 2016.

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Rollcentre Racing also see a change, as Adam Christodolou, one of AMG’s top factory GT3 drivers joins the team from this round onwards, with Martin Short taking part in his final British GT race at Silverstone with the aim of moving back into the manager’s chair on the pitwall. As one of the most respected people in the paddock, having years of sports car racing experience, there will be no finer time for Martin Short to step out of the hot seat. And Adam Christodolou will bring fine pace to the team for the remainder of the season.

Century Motorsport have returned to 3 cars for this race too, as Dane Aleksander Schjerpen steps into the seat previously occupied by Parker Chase alongside Charlie Robertson in the GT3 variant of the G55 Ginetta. Schjerpen is no slouch in a GT car, and could be well in the points by the end of Sunday afternoon.

There’s also a third driver in the #54 UltraTek RJN Nissan 370Z this weekend as Blancpain regular Struan Moore hops in for a spell in the baby Godzilla. Moore brings a heck of a lot of pace with him, and the GT4 machine will be a new challenge for the Channel Islander to enjoy.

We’ve also got entries for GPRM with their Toyota GT86 GT4 driven by Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher, a Lotus Evora for Gavan Kershaw and Stuart Hall, and a further Ginetta G55 for Ade Barwick and Bradley Ellis, who make one of their annual appearances in the paddock.

One of the biggest questions facing us at the weekend though is this: Can anyone stop Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen from repeating their win of last year in the #33 Barwell Lamborghini? The Huracan has been imperious of late on British and European soil, although results in the Blancpain Sprint at Zolder last weekend didn’t necessarily go the way of the flat and fast machinery.

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Aston Martin started a little fightback last weekend with a victory for Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam in the #1 TF Sport machine, a podium for the #11 sister car of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, and also a podium for the #24 MacMillan AMR car of James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell. Any resurgence for the Astons would be keenly shown here as they have gone for a while now without a win at Silverstone, and it would also be a statement of intent with only 4 long races remaining in the season, and at 37.5 points apiece for a win, there’s so much still to play for in the title race.

It’s not unusual for the Silverstone 500 to throw up a surprise or two throughout its course, partly because of it being the longest race of the season, partly because of the Silverstone climate. Last year’s surprise, and it was a pleasant one, was the appearance of Team HARD RCIB Racing’s Ginetta on the top step of the GT4 podium at the end of the race.

This year in GT4 things are being driven by the “Silver” teams of Lanan, HHC and Garage 59, the former two teams in Ginettas and the latter the McLaren. The Garage 59 crew of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell broke their duck last time out for 2017, and in the same place they took their first win. Silverstone will be the complete opposite of Snetterton coursewise, and the McLaren could take advantage of this by punishing the rather lacklustre Ginetta engine down the long straights and fast sweeps of the Northamptonshire track. It will probably, although don’t take my word as gospel when it comes to forecasting, take a lot of rain to get the Ginetta back on the top of the tree here, although the overall pace of David Pittard and Alex Reed in the #51 Lanan car and Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha in the #55 HHC Ginetta provides a strong argument for keeping the fight up for the 3 hours.

Another team hoping for a swing in fortune at Silverstone is Team Parker Racing, whose Bentleys have been captivating for fans for a long time, but rather sadly absent from the podiums for a lot of this season, a win at Rockingham (don’t mention race direction) aside. Last season’s 500 was a terrible disappointment for the Bentley boys. The weekend held much promise, and then of course, it rained, and the Bentley refused to play ball in the cold and wet conditions for Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt, rather spoiling their qualifying and putting the team in a deep blue funk. Without the weather, the Bentley could well be a machine to keep your eyes peeled for.

And what of the other strong pairing at Snetterton? The #6 Barwell Lamborghini of Liam Griffin and Sam Tordoff went on the podium twice in Norfolk, and they’re yet to take their first win. Tordoff’s confidence in the GT cars grows with every race, and it showed last time out, with some excellent pace throughout both races. The only thing standing in the way of these two are their rivals and maybe a dash of reliability and some good fortune!

As observers and fans of the race though, all we really want, and this is rare, is a Silverstone 500 that doesn’t have any rain. Just for a small change… Last year it even flooded the Simpson Racing garage, and nobody, nobody enjoys a cold and wet Silverstone. Unless of course you win there!

Five Hundred Thoughts:

There are no more sprint style rounds this season! Finally, we come back to the 3 hour and 2 hour format for the remaining races. This means no waiting around for hours between races waiting for the next instalment of excitement to get underway. It also means that we’re liable to see more close racing, as the only 2 hour race we’ve had so far at Rockingham, incidents aside, was an absolute and utter belter.

There aren’t as many wildcards at Silverstone this year, and that’s no bad thing in some ways. Having a strong field of regular teams and drivers is pleasing to see, and there’s less of a danger to teams’ title challenge from a “one race only” gung-ho drive from someone who just wants to be out there for the RAC trophy to be presented.

In case I’ve not made this clear enough already, please please please please please don’t let it rain at Silverstone for the 500. Wet Silverstone is not a pleasant place to be for anyone!

British GT – 2017 Round 3 Preview – Snetterton

 

It’s been nearly a month since the last time that the British GT Championship rolled its way around the Rockingham circuit, and passions and tempers have cooled following a nice break from the manic on track action that took place in Northamptonshire.

The vast wide open fields of Norfolk welcome the British GT competitors for 2 1-hour sprint races, as is customary at Snetterton. Last year’s race was a whitewash for the #33 Demon Tweeks liveried Barwell Lamborghini of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who will hope that the shorter race (and no time penalties) will put them at the front of the pack once more.

Any fallout from what took place during and after the Rockingham race will hopefully be a distant memory when things kick off on Sunday for the first of two races. The #31 Bentley of Team Parker Racing driven by Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt will suffer greatest for their effort last time out and face a 10 second pit stop addition for the first race, and will hope for better luck than their last trip out at Snetterton.

Their rivals on the day last time in the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari, Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin have previous at this circuit too. Back in the “golden old days” in 2010, they had a “lose one win one” day, when their Ferrari was shredded in the first race by a spectacular tyre explosion, only for Griffin to put the hammer down in the second race and hand over to Cameron to bring it home for a brilliant win. Ferrari might well do well here, as Snetterton has a similar nature to the Rockingham “fast outside, slow inside” layout.

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The reigning champions in the #1 TF Sport Aston, Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam had rather a disappointing weekend last time out as the Aston didn’t bite as hard as it is used to. They’ll be looking to make the most of the lack of penalty burdens and get their title challenge back on track, although there’s already a mountain for them to climb to get towards the top of the points standings.

Another feature of the 2016 round at Snetterton was the victory for the McLaren GT4 pairing of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty. The 570S GT4 took its first series win round Snetterton last year, making Mitchell the youngest ever race winner in the process. An impressive feat for the two Scotsmen, who will be looking to outdo their Rockingham performance of second place last time, but this of course relies on there being little resistance from their competitors.

The impressive and deserving victors at the previous round, the HHC Motorsport Ginetta team of Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha, will want to make the most of their impressive form in Norfolk this weekend, and there’s little doubt that their newfound partnership will reap rewards in the long term. For the near future, they’ll hope that the G55 will have the punch needed round Snetterton’s twisting infield to keep them in touch with the other class machinery.

Amongst their rivals for the class will be the #51 Lanan Racing Ginetta of the ever quick and consistent David Pittard and Alex Reed, the #501 Optimum Ginetta of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who are still yet to capture their first win of the new season.

One big surprise for this year has been the absence of Aston Martin from the GT4 podium steps, as last year there was always a V8 Vantage in contention for class victory, however this seems to have slipped with the loss of the young Beechdean squad, as we had become accustomed to seeing. Whilst MacMillan Racing (#42, Jan Jonck & Will Phillips) and Academy Motorsport (#62, Matt Nicoll-Jones & Will Moore) have attempted valiantly, a string of issues and penalties have caused Ginetta and McLaren to become the dominant force in the class. A balance of performance change may help matters, but that is a big hope for a very open field of racers.

We’re also yet to see a Mercedes hit the rostrum this year, and last year, Lee Mowle had a “so close” moment whilst still in his trusty BMW Z4. A nice, balanced car like the AMG GT3 could be just the tool for Snetterton, and the AmD Tuning squad have a lot of making up for lost time to do with the top 3.

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Another missing name from Rockingham was the impressive In2Racing McLaren 570S of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham. Damage prevented them from taking the start last time out, but once they got rolling at Oulton they made great shakes up the order. The Snetterton circuit could suit the northerners in the McLaren, and they’ll hope for more this time out.

Norfolk’s only drawback is the weather – the wind can really lash at the former airfield, and with wind, this can bring in the typically expected British Summer Weather© with it.  If it does, expect there to be a big shuffle in the order. Rain at Oulton left us with a double winner in GT3, and a surprise winner in GT4. We can only hope that the racing is as kind to us this time out as it has been at the last rounds.

Snetterton Supposings:

A fair few drivers took time out from the British stage to go and race in the Blancpain GT Series and the GT4 European Series at Brands Hatch and Silverstone in the last month. Seb Morris, Sam Tordoff, David Pattison & Joe Osborne, Matty Graham, Matt Nicoll-Jones & Will Moore and Jon Minshaw all went out and had a play, with varying degrees of success. Minshaw’s double race win in the Blancpain GT Sports Club races for bronze-graded drivers was a particular highlight.

We’re hoping and praying that the controversy seen over the last few weeks has dissipated and we don’t end up with a raft of penalties adjusting the race results this time around. Although the situation at Rockingham is something that still causes confusion to onlookers, it’s likely the events there will never be repeated. All we can hope for is that the drivers and teams oblige with a clean, fair and exciting display on track.

 

©Pete Richardson 23/05/17

 

British GT – Round 2 Review – Rockingham


Hardest efforts affected

When the history books look back at this race weekend at the Rockingham Motor Speedway, they will show the eventual result of Sunday’s race. But a race result can only tell part of a story and the story from this weekend is one that will take some time to tell, and we as observers may not be able to explain everything that has occurred, for better or for worse.

Going into the racetrack there had been a couple of changes to personnel. Firstly at Century, where GT4 Supercup star George Gamble had taken Mike Simpson’s seat in the #111 University of Bolton liveried car alongside Anna Walewska. At TeamHARD/RCIB Racing, Jordan Stilp returned alongside Britcar racer Simon Rudd in the #36 machine, as Mike Newbould and Michael Caine were unable to attend.

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Saturday dawned under a layer of cloud and the first gusts of the ripping wind which blasts and circles around the big banked oval expanses of Rockingham. By the end of Free Practice 1, there had already been a mechanical casualty, as the #33 Minshaw/Keen machine expired rather graunchingly on the apron of the banking approaching Turn One. Barwell carry plenty of spare Lamborghini Huracan parts, and they were able to repair the green and red machine in time for qualifying later in the day, well worthy of praise.  The session ended in their favour, with the fellow Italian machine of the Spirit of Race taking second fastest for #21 Cameron/Griffin. Rockingham, traditionally, has favoured Maranello machinery, and the Ferrari 488 looked like it picked up where the 458 left off.

Free Practice 2 saw the end of one half of the In2Racing squad as the #29 McLaren 570S of Marcus Hoggarth and Matty Graham came to grief and was unrepairable for the remainder of the weekend. A pity on two drivers who have come to terms with a change of car well, and were not slacking on the timesheets. With the #33 car missing, Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam hit the top of the timing sheets for the first time in the #1 TF Sport Aston, and looked at carrying on where they left off in 2016 with a win under their belts. In GT4, Lanan took the #51 Ginetta G55 of David Pittard and Alex Reed to P1, showing their consistency after the race 2 win at Oulton.

Qualifying followed, and a nearly full field sat in pit lane to await the aggregate qualifying for Am and Pro drivers. 10 minutes for each driver is plenty of time to get a solid lap in, although some would argue at Rockingham’s 1.94 mile lap length, space on the track is at a premium.

In GT3 Am, the barometer swung towards the Aston Martin side of the paddock, as Mark Farmer (#11 TF Sport), Jack Mitchell (#24 MacMillan) and Derek Johnston (#1 TF Sport) took the top 3 spots on the timing screens with Jon Minshaw (#33 Barwell Lamborghini) falling foul of the strict track limits rules and having his 2 fastest times disallowed.

Then, out rolled the Pro drivers, and the consistency lay with the #1 car, as Jonny Adam showed no cobwebs from his Monza trip (despite a headcold caught on Italian shores) to set aggregate pole. Jon Barnes in #11 backed up his TF Sport team mate and made it an all Aston front row. The second row was all Lamborghini as Phil Keen in #33 and Sam Tordoff in #6 put in some excellent laptimes to promote their machines up the order. Charlie Robertson in the #19 Century Ginetta and Matt Griffin in the #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari now fell foul of the track limits and saw their grid charges dented severely.

GT4 qualifying begun with the Silver graded drivers showing their hands early, and the #55 HHC Motorsport Ginetta G55 of Will Tregurtha was the fastest out of the blocks, with David Pittard going all out behind him for second in the Am session. With the top 5 covered by less than a second, it was always going to be nip and tuck when the Pros came out for their 10 minutes.

Despite the size of the GT4 grid there were no dramas for the returning drivers into the pit lane as they swapped over. Professional drivers Mike Robinson (#501 Optimum Ginetta), Joe Osborne, (#56 Tolman McLaren) and Martin Plowman (#53 UltraTek Nissan) put their cars through their paces in this session, although it would eventually be an all Silver front row as the #55 HHC Ginetta of Tregurtha/Middleton and the #51 Lanan Ginetta of Pittard/Reed locked out the top two spots.

Raceday begun relatively drama free. The only blotch on the record card for the warm up was the sudden stop of Liam Griffin’s #6 Barwell Lamborghini on the exit of the final corner, which thankfully did not curtail the warm up session. TF Sport again held the top two spots on the timesheets, whilst the #72 track-club McLaren of Adam Balon and Adam Mackay popped in a neat time to head GT4 warmup standings and throw doubt on whether Ginetta would be able to maintain pace, although the predominantly white machine would pull back to its garage with a technical issue in pit lane.

If there was one thing that made Rockingham an improvement on Oulton Park it was the lack of moisture on the racing surface. In fact, the only issue facing the drivers would be the traditional blast of wind across the circuit from north to south. There was some spring warmth in the air at least, and this meant that the Bentley could come into play by the closing stages of the race, as dry asphalt plays less havoc with the two Team Parker Racing machines of Loggie/MacLeod (#7) and Parfitt/Morris (#31).

The first two hour race of the year also brought the first success penalties of 20 seconds which would be served by #33 and #51 in each class. The #1 TF Sport Aston would have the advantage of pole but a 15 second pit stop penalty, whilst the #11 TF Sport Aston and the #501 Century Ginetta were to take an extra ten seconds at their pit stops. At Rockingham, the safety car is a frequent runner though, and with that, the opportunity for making up the time lost with these penalties is there to be taken.

The field set off on the pace lap in good order, and came round quickly to take the rolling start, and Derek Johnston put down his foot firmly in the #1 Aston, followed swiftly by Jon Minshaw in #33 who capitalised on a sloppy, slow getaway for Mark Farmer in the #11 Aston Martin. Within a few laps the race had its first and only retiree, as the #72 track-club McLaren of Adam Balon pulled into the pit lane and withdrew despite the best efforts of the team mechanics.

The GT4 lead went to David Pittard in the #51 Lanan Ginetta, but he had the determined Scot Ciaran Haggerty in the #100 Garage 59 McLaren on his tail, looking to make amends for a lost result in race 2 at Oulton by storming around after the red and white machine. Will Tregurtha dropped back to third but kept in touch with the leading two in class.

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The first safety car was called when the #69 Century Ginetta GT3 machine of Harry Gottsacker found the gravel trap at the tricky Yentwood corner on the infield. The incident was not too serious thankfully, and the young American brought the car back to his team to review the car and get it back out on track to make the most of some dry track time and gain a few points. As the green flag went out again to restart, it became clear there’d been a big change in GT3 as James Littlejohn in the #24 MacMillan Aston now followed Johnston and Minshaw in 3rd place, and looked hungry to go further.

We shall come back to GT3, because the GT4 lead had changed, and Haggerty took the #100 McLaren to the front of the pack and began one of the best battles of the race as the #55 HHC Ginetta with Tregurtha at the wheel was pursued by #51 (Pittard, Lanan Ginetta), #501 (Johnson, Optimum Ginetta) and then the impressive #63 (Webster, RCIB Racing Ginetta). This quintet were dodging, ducking, weaving and nosing about the twisty infield before Haggerty would sprint round the oval with a pack of snarling Yorkshire built machinery at his tail threatening to consume the McLaren, which Haggerty admitted wasn’t working as well as he’d wanted. The McLaren held on gamely as the 4 Ginettas swapped positions behind him to try and snap at its heels on the torturous and undulating road portion of the course. This is one of the great moments of racing, when a driver and car can be well in tune enough to maintain a lead despite a disadvantage, and it kept the pack close and the intrigue high.

Meanwhile at the top of GT3, Derek Johnston started testing the patience of the race director and dropped over the track limits to receive a 5 second time penalty. Suddenly, the #1 Aston started to roll back down the order. This let the #33 Lamborghini of Minshaw into the lead, but behind him, snappy Scot James Littlejohn could sent bull’s blood, and the #24 MacMillan Aston dived past to lead the race over all. Behind these two, the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Rick Parfitt was making up for lost dry race time as he headed the #21 Ferrari with Duncan Cameron at the wheel. Soon enough, the Ferrari was passed too, and the first strong showing from Mercedes this weekend came from AmD Tuning’s Lee Mowle, who was looking calm, confident and pacy in the #30 red Mercedes.

The safety car was scrambled again when the #43 Century Ginetta G55 GT4 of Steve Fresle “missed” Gracelands and beached itself conveniently in the gravel at the downhill left, necessitating a snatch recovery. The field bunched again, but at the green flag, Littlejohn kept his advantage as the field neared the pitstop window for a change of driver and tyres, and a big glug of fuel.

At the Tarzan hairpin (which I feel is rather a shadow of its Zandvoort precedent), Nick Jones in the #66 Team Parker Racing Porsche came into contact with the #54 Nissan of UltraTek Racing’s Tim Eakin, who had given a good account of himself in the first half of the race, bagging a drive through for the Porsche, and rather denting any hopes of a podium charge later on.

Also suffering from the wrath of the race director was Harry Gottsacker, who was aiming to press on in the #69 Ginetta, however in his haste he exceeded the track limit one too many times and copped successive penalties for time. A shame for the team and driver, as the new Ginetta GT3 had barely had enough running time at Oulton. The #19 stablemate driven by Parker Chase and Charlie Robertson soon pitted too and had the bonnet lifted for running repairs. Both cars eventually took the flag through trials and tribulations. Not the finest hour for either car, but with a new specification, there were always going to be teething troubles for the GT3 G55.

Littlejohn, Minshaw, Parfitt et al all pitted at around 60 minutes having completed their required minimum driving times, and whilst the #33 Lamborghini suffered its interminable wait to rejoin the circuit. James Littlejohn handed the #24 Aston over to Jack Mitchell, whilst Rick Parfitt accidentally overshot his pit spot as he handed the big #31 Bentley to Seb Morris, who would have the bit between his teeth ready to chase the Hesketh liveried Aston down for the lead. Also joining the leading trio would be the #21 Ferrari, now with the solidly fast Matt Griffin at the wheel.

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In GT4, the lead would change now at the pit stops as the #51 Lanan Ginetta paid the success penalty, and the #55 HHC Ginetta would benefit best from the pit stops as Stuart Middleton leapt past Sandy Mitchell who was now piloting the #100 McLaren. Behind them, Matt Chapman was now at the wheel of the #63 RCIB Racing Ginetta, and the reigning team champions held 3rd place in class.

At the front of GT3, Jack Mitchell was managing his race with aplomb. The Kent youngster is a very talented racer, and the #24 Aston was paying for its Silver Cup ballast as it fell backwards towards the charging Morris and Griffin behind. Mitchell wasn’t going to bow out easily though, and suddenly a thrilling trio of cars began to fight through the lapped GT4 traffic and amongst each other, taking little nibbles at different parts of the course. The Bentley and Ferrari did beautifully well on the twists of the infield whilst the Aston ran the length of the oval with its powerful V12 singing shrilly at the very nose of this high speed train, pulling a little back over the cars behind it. The watching spectators were goggle-eyed with anticipation of a tight switchback for the lead time and time again. Every time Morris made moves to take the Aston, he would be at the mercy of Griffin’s Ferrari, and the racecraft on show here was excellent to watch.

Now, sadly, once again, things began to turn sour from a racing point of view. Firstly, we must note that Griffin at some point, made contact with the #31 Bentley driven by Morris, and the stewards reviewed the contact and placed a 5 second penalty on the #21 Ferrari to be added to its overall race time. So, when eventually Griffin passed Morris, who in turn passed Mitchell and left the Ferrari and the Bentley leading. Griffin would have to stretch his legs and make a gap over the Bentley pushing him hard for position.

Unfortunately, the safety car would appear again as Matt Chapman fell victim to the inviting gravel trap of Yentwood corner, and ruin a podium chase for him. Whilst the #63 Ginetta was recovered, something unexplainable happened. The safety car allowed the #21 Ferrari of Matt Griffin to pass, while it held up the chasing #31 Bentley of Seb Morris in 2nd place. Cue utter consternation from teams, drivers and spectators. Suddenly the race leader had a lead of about half a lap from the pursuing pack as they were stuck behind the Safety Car. Nobody quite understood what was occurring. The timing screen showed Griffin as the leader, and the 5 second penalty remained on screen, but he now had clear daylight infront and behind him. The order remained until the flag fell on the race.

Confused and disbelieving teams and drivers bundled around the podium at Rockingham. Happily, the GT4 win had been finely contested and Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton proved they had earned their Ginetta Junior graduation. Haggerty and Mitchell held onto 2nd place and a fine rostrum finish in the #100 McLaren, whilst the #501 Optimum Ginetta took another 3rd place finish.

The GT3 podium felt less harmonious, as Parfitt and Morris did not celebrate their 2nd place finish in the #31 Bentley. The champagne flowed for the #21 Ferrari of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin, and for the 3rd placed MacMillan Aston of Littlejohn and Mitchell, who had proven that the Silver Cup weight disadvantage did not hinder determination at least. But, there was a figurative dark cloud over the pits, paddock and grandstand, as the result felt rather unbalanced with the release of the Ferrari from its berth behind the safety car in what seemed a rather farcical situation.

A few hours later, the race stewards came to their final decision. The #21 Spirit of Race Ferrari would be given a penalty of 26 seconds to be added to their final total race time, putting them behind the #31 Bentley of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris. Suddenly, the Ferrari team and drivers felt robbed of victory. A mistake which they had not made had penalised their team. Bentley felt that Ferrari gained an unfair advantage, which denied them an on track victory, which was unfair.

Unfair and unfair do not make fair, as much as two wrongs do not make a right. The series suffered today for the fact that one mistake turned the outcome of the race on its head. Drivers complained of a penalty system that robs them of a sensible racing outcome. Fans left the circuit not knowing the exact circumstance of a racing finish. It is a shame to not see the racing on track at Rockingham reflected in the results, as they only tell a tale of confusion, and a waste of hard effort from several drivers.

Rockingham rows and rambles:

A lot of people are now dissatisfied with the management of mid-race and post-race penalties, and there is certainly a worry, from me if from nobody else, that the series will suffer as a result. Teams, drivers and judicial teams should meet and discuss a suitable arrangement for the penalty system. The MSA will have watched this and been considering what to set up in the Yearbook of Sporting Regulations in the event that the Safety Car allows the leader by in error. Perhaps there is no easy way to settle this.

In addition to the point raised above, Track Limit penalties applied to no less than 6 cars during the race. A lot of drivers are in disagreement over these penalties. Many will probably tell you “there’s road there, use it” so long as it is to their advantage in helping the car go faster. Stewards would probably take a dim view of this on safety grounds, as one slip of wheel could see a potentially damaging accident occur. Again, there is no simple settlement to this, as you can argue both sides. Based on the number of penalties issued at Rockingham, more people would probably side with the drivers at the current point in time! We cannot know how to settle this without sensible and measured discussion.

In spite of all the penalties, controversy and aftermath, the race at Rockingham showed what the true capability of a battling batch of drivers and cars could do. 5 drivers battling for the GT4 lead? 3 drivers battling for the GT3 lead? It is the dream of any spectator to see a train of cars all with an equal chance of success. And that for the most part is what we got as observers and spectators. There were a lot of people on edge as the two lead battles had people glued to the short but twisty course and the racecraft of skilful and capable racing drivers in exciting and captivating racing cars. Snetterton has a lot to live up to in Round 3.

 

Pete Richardson