The Avon Tyres British GT Championship looks set for a superb season of competition in 2009 with the introduction of some fresh names to the championship - including a squad of ex-international footballers - the planned return of several front-running cars and drivers, and the rejuvenation of the exciting and competitive GT4 class.
Latest of the big names to announce their participation are ex-England players Luther Blissett and Les Ferdinand, whose team48 squad has joined forces with Team Modena to field a pair of Lamborghini Gallardos in the championship, the first stage in a three-year plan with the Le Mans 24 Hours as the goal.
"I am really looking forward to it," said Blissett, one of team48's five drivers. "For an up-and-coming team like ours to get the opportunity to work with a squad like Team Modena is something we had to grasp. Le Mans is the aim but we are not expecting to jump in the cars and win instantly; we have to build up and get experience over two or three years. The drivers will be headed by Callum Lockie, with myself, Les Ferdinand, Kevin Haggarthy, Darelle Wilson and Matthew Gore forming the pool of drivers."
It's as well that Blissett does not underestimate the strength of the opposition his team will face: among the pre-season favourites for top honours are the massively fast Ascari KZ1, which is to be fielded by Team Pyro for the David and Godfrey Jones, and the mighty Mosler MT900, which won the championship in 2003. Mosler Europe MD Martin Short plans to race the car himself: "It's five years since I raced in the UK and there's a fondness for the home circuits which I'm keen to indulge. I'm sure that the Mosler will be more than competitive - we will be up at the front and trying hard to win, and taking full advantage of the car's reliability." A twin-Mosler team is Short's aim.
Meanwhile, plans are well in hand to ensure a level and competitive GT4 class in the coming season. A series of equalization tests are scheduled for 17/18 March at the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France.
"The Balance of Performance tests at Paul Ricard will include the Ginetta G50 and other eligible GT4 cars," said SRO Motorsports Group General Manager Bernadette Fitzsimons. "The results of this equalization will be to balance the Ginetta G50 and the other GT4 marques against each other, creating performance parity across the GT4 grid.
"The key to British GT4 is diversity and affordability. Once equalization is complete we are confident that the GT4 grid alone will have at least 12 cars and five marques and we look forward to its further expansion."
A team new to British GT, Brunswick Racing, is among the first to announce its GT4 plans. Brunswick plans to field an ex-FIA GT Championship Aston Martin Vantage under the direction of team principal Giles Groombridge. "We have one driver already and we are actively seeking a second to join the team," said Giles. "The car won the opening FIA round last year at Silverstone, its pace is proven, and we are raring to go."
The Avon Tyres British GT Championship will be contested over eight meetings, commencing at Oulton Park over the Easter weekend (11-13 April). Six of the meetings - including May's visit to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium - will feature twin one-hour races, with those at Donington Park and Silverstone playing host to two-hour endurance classics.