For the first time since Andrew Kirkaldy and Nathan Kinch won Round 8 of the championship in 2005, the teams and drivers of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship will head north to Fife and the twists and turns of Scotland’s premier race circuit at Knockhill.
Kirkaldy and Kinch went onto win the 2005 British GT title in their Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 360 but they had to fight all the way after a season long race to the title with the Embassy Racing Porsche of Ben Collins and Neil Cunningham, who were also race winners at Knockhill that year.
Seven different marques are represented on the 2008 British GT grid and like three years ago the Prancing Horse will be the car to beat in Scotland. The new Ferrari 430 proved to be the fastest car in the opening rounds at Oulton Park at Easter, with Allan Simonsen taking both fastest laps in the Christians in Motorsport F430 and Paddy Shovlin and Michael Cullen taking victory in the opening round in the CR Scuderia Ferrari. However the Maranello marque didn’t have it all their own way, with Tom Ferrier and Oliver Morley scoring the first victory in British GT for Lamborghini in the Tech 9 run Gallardo after Simonsen came in to hand over to Lester after the pitstop window had closed, resulting in a 20 second stop-go penalty.
The opening round at Oulton Park had its fair share of drama, with Hunter Abbott’s spectacular crash in the GT4 class Rob Austin Racing Ginetta G50, the sequence of images making most of the national newspapers and motorsport journals.
The outcome for Abbott was a happy one having only suffered minor burns to his hands; a testament to the safety standards built in by Ginetta and the bravery and dedication of the volunteer marshals. The restarted race was run over 30 minutes and an action packed sprint to the line saw a Ferrari 1-2-3, with the podium places decided by just 0.5 seconds.
The Irish flags were flying for Paddy Shovlin and Michael Cullen as they took the first victory of the year, underlining the strength in depth the trio of CR Scuderia Ferrari’s boast. Round 2 didn’t go as well for the Irish duo but 4th was enough to give them the championship lead as they left the Cheshire circuit.
The opening round of the season for Tom Ferrier and Oliver Morley was one of mixed emotions after a podium securing performance ended in the gravel at Hislops. However their fortunes were transformed in the second race. Morley was defending second place from Mike Meadows in the CRS Ferrari but trailing the CiM Ferrari of Simonsen when the Dane missed the pit window and the resulting penalty dropped them back down the field. Morley crossed the line less than a second ahead of Meadows but the resulting 10 points for the win put the Tech 9 pairing into joint second in the championship standings.
The Team RPM Viper proved to be the class of the 2007 season, with Bradley Ellis and Alex Mortimer taking the British GT title at the wheel of the V10 American supercar. Oulton Park isn’t one of the best tracks for the Viper but Steve Clark and Paul O’Neill scored twice in the opening weekend, with a 5th place in Round 1 and a podium finish in Round 2. The ten points gathered so far puts the pair in joint second place.
Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen are also on 10 points as they head to Knockhill but will be ruing the mistake that cost them the win last time out. Simonsen was clearly the quickest driver all weekend and the Christians in Motorsport team will be looking forward to twists and turns of Knockhill.
Phil Burton and Adam Wilcox raced with a Ferrari 430 in 2007 and have been using the knowledge gained last season to good advantage. A storming drive in Round 1 nearly gave the VRS Motor Finance team their first win, but, as was the case last year, technical issue robbed them of any points in Round 2. Expect the pair to be in the mix in Scotland on a track that will suit the nimble Ferrari.
Michael Meadows and James Sutton made an impact on their British GT debut in the #14 CR Scuderia Ferrari. Meadows took pole position in the opening round but an electrical problem forced the former British F3 racer into retirement. However in Round 2 Sutton and Meadows came through from 8th on the grid to finish second behind the Tech 9 Lamborghini Gallardo.
In 2007 the Porsche 997 struggled for pace against almost every other car on the grid. The latest version of the car was touted as a big improvement and in the hands of David Ashburn and Richard Williams the proof was there for all to see. A fighting 4th place in the opening round gave the Trackspeed team a much needed boost and spin denied them a possible podium finish in the second encounter of the weekend. On the tight Knockhill circuit they could provide the Ferraris with a few headaches.
The Team Trimite Brookspeed Viper of James Gornall and Jon Barnes was one of the quickest cars of the Oulton Park meeting. Gornall qualified a fine 3rd place on the Round 1 grid only to be demoted for a lower than permitted ride height on the Viper. However from the back of the grid the Viper came through the field into a points scoring position before problems forced the car to drop back towards the end of the race. The team fared better in Round 2 and were rewarded with 3 points for 6th place.
Another car worth watching out for at Knockhill is the Team Eurotech Preci Spark Ascari of David and Godfrey Jones. The Jones brothers were forced to miss the opening round after an off in qualifying damaged the car. They battled through to 7th in Round 2 but they will be looking to return to their normal position towards the front of the field in Scotland.
Another dark horse driver pairing worth watching out for is Matt Griffin and Peter Bamford. The pair are still getting used to the Chad Peninsula Racing Ferrari 430 following their 2007 campaign in a Porsche 997 but a points finish in Round 1 has certainly underlined their potential. The Team Modena Lamborghini will be back on the grid in Scotland after an accident in race 1 at Oulton Park damaged the car beyond repair. However Piers Johnson and Adam Jones will be missing and their place will be taken by Guy Harrington and Ben de Zille Butler, the 2007 race winners moving to Team Modena for the rest of the season. A second Team Modena entered Lamborghini will be back for Rockingham next month with Johnson and Rachel Green at the wheel. Last, but certainly not least, are 2007 race winners Michael Bentwood and Tom Alexander back for another year in the Aston Martin DBRS9 but now with Derby based team 22GTRacing. Two points finishes at Oulton Park got the new team partnership off to a solid start but expect them to push forward as the season progresses.
2008 has seen the launch of the GT4 class in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship and, for now at least, it is a fight between teams using the rapid Ginetta G50 and teams running the awesome Aston Martin N24. A win and a second at Oulton Park gives Matt Nicoll-Jones and Stewart Linn in the IMS Motorsport Ginetta the advantage going into the second weekend at Knockhill. Team RPM pairing Joe Osborne and Michael Broadhurst took the win in Round 1, leading home a Ginetta 1-2-3, but a non finish in race 2 left them trailing Nicoll-Jones and Linn in the championship table.
Charlie Hollings and Fulvio Mussi in the second Team RPM Ginetta kept the championship leaders honest taking two podium finishes to leave Oulton Park just 4 points adrift of the leading pairing.
According to his co-driver Andrew Howard, reigning British GTC Champion Jamie Smyth had to drive at 100% throughout round 2 just to keep up with the rapid Ginettas, however this fine display of race craft resulted in the Beechdean Motorsport team gaining the first GT4 podium for the Aston Martin N24. Peter Snowdon and Mark Thomas are also racing an Aston Martin N24, this one prepared by Chad Peninsula Racing and had a better race on Easter Monday, finishing 4th behind the Beechdean run sister car.
Ian Stinton and Neil Clark in the Stark Racing Ginetta got their 2008 British GT campaign off to a solid start with two points finishes in Cheshire swapping places in each of the two races with the third Team RPM Ginetta of Steve Tandy and Phil Bailey.
Highlights from the first British GT held in Scotland for three years will be shown on Channel 4 and MotorsTV. All the latest news and championship information can be found on the championship website.
The action packed opening rounds of the 2008 Avon Tyres British GT Championship at Oulton Park can be seen on Channel 4 and Motors TV this weekend, starting at 18:00 on Motors TV on Saturday 5 April and on Channel 4 at 07:30 on Sunday 6 April.