GT3: Century’s BMW overcomes early setback to beat Cottingham and 2 Seas
GT3: Balfe and Mitchell clinch second win of the year
GT4: Academy’s Mustang overcomes the odds to also win on the road
Darren Leung and Dan Harper, and Erik Evans and Matt Cowley are the 2023 Intelligent Money British GT champions after GT3 and GT4 drivers’ titles were decided in dramatic fashion during a humdinger of a DoningtonDecider.
Barwell’s Shaun Balfe and Sandy Mitchell winning for a second time this year despite serving an early drive-through penalty perfectly illustrated what an unpredictable race this was. However, if further proof were needed then look no further than Academy’s Mustang overturning both a 16.5-point deficit and 46 seconds of additional pitstop time to emerge victorious both on the road and in GT4’s six-way title showdown.
However, for pure drama it’s hard to top Century’s 120 minutes.
Two Safety Car periods before the pitstop window ended Leung’s chances of negating his maximum Competition Time. A brilliant stint, which included a daring pass around the outside of pole-sitter Andrew Howard down the Craner Curves on lap one, meant he was 19 seconds clear when the second caution occurred just before the pit window opened. All appeared lost until Harper – who rejoined 13th but finished second – embarked upon one of the greatest stints in series history.
Their cause was helped by erstwhile points leader James Cottingham collecting a drive-through penalty for overtaking under yellow flags. His 2 Seas co-driver Philip Ellis battled back to score 1.5 points in 10th, but that wasn’t enough to deny Century.
Barwell’s other Lamborghini also celebrated a class title after Will Tregurtha sensationally passed title rival Chris Froggatt at the end of the penultimate lap. The winner-takes-all-scenario meant Tregurtha and Mark Sansom clinched the championship by just one point from Froggatt and his Sky Tempesta co-driver Kevin Tse who’d fought back into contention after serving an early drive-through penalty.
But there was disappointment at Optimum where Charles Clark and Jack Brown missed out on the overall GT4 drivers’ crown. The long-time leaders do at least end the season as Silver class champions.
Michael Johnston and Chris Salkeld were worthy Pro-Am title winners, while their Century squad – which includes Carl Cavers and Lewis Plato – also wrapped up the GT4 teams’ championship.
Pro-Am victory on the day, as well as second in GT4, went to RACE LAB’s Ian Gough and Tom Wrigley who, for a time, also topped the overall standings. DTO’s Josh Rowledge and Aston Millar completed GT4’s podium.
GT3: CENTURY OVERTURNS 2 SEAS’ ADVANTAGE
Donington Decider always delivers. But has there ever been a more sensational finale to a British GT season? Quite possibly not.
It began with Leung passing Howard on the opening lap and quickly building a five-second lead before Toro Verde GT team-mates James Townsend and Ian Duggan crashed heavily at Redgate. Both drivers were ok but only half-an-hour of the opening stint remained when the barriers were repaired and racing resumed.
Leung once again sprang clear, leaving Howard to defend from the likes of Ian Loggie, Cottingham, Morgan Tillbrook, Miguel Ramos and Richard Neary. Those in second to seventh then engaged in a ding dong battle that saw cars running nose-to-tail, banging doors and running three wide at times.
Enduro’s McLaren was the big winner during a skirmish that saw Tillbrook climb up to second. However, the battle also allowed Leung to build a near-20-second lead that would have been enough to leave the BMW out front after the pitstops.
But three separate incidents in quick succession and the resulting Safety Car period wiped out his hard-won advantage just before the pit window opened.
First, Iain Campbell and Mike Price came to blows at the Melbourne Hairpin. Then, Ron Johnson’s Aston Martin got stuck on the wet grass. And finally, John Seale took a wild ride down the Craner Curves run-off before crashing head-first into the Old Hairpin tyre barriers.
The Safety Car was withdrawn just as the majority of the GT3 field entered the pits, which were already full of earlier-stopping GT4 entries. And amidst the congestion it was 2 Seas who turned its #1 entry around fastest.
Gounon’s lead only lasted until the end of the Safety Car period, though, when the Mercedes-AMG slithered wide under braking for Goddards. Instead, Tillbrook’s co-driver Marcus Clutton assumed top spot from Barwell’s Mitchell and RAM’s Raffaele Marciello.
A long way down the order – in 13th to be precise – came Harper whose championship hopes appeared all but over now that the BMW – which had to finish fifth at worse – was also behind Cottingham’s co-driver Ellis.
What followed will go down as one of the great British GT stints as Century’s young BMW factory driver cut a swathe through the field. Rivals were dispatched at regular intervals, including Ellis who was informed of his co-driver’s penalty just as Harper found a way through.
30 minutes remained when he made the decisive move on Michael O’Brien for fifth at Redgate before going on to also demote Gounon, Marciello and Clutton.
The latter’s lead had lasted only 10 minutes before Mitchell forced his way down the inside at Craners and completed the move into the Old Hairpin. He went on to set fastest lap, just as he had in qualifying yesterday, and take the chequered flag nine seconds ahead of Harper.
Enduro’s duo completed the podium on their British GT comeback at a circuit where the team has frequently excelled, while RAM’s Marciello and John Ferguson ended their campaign with a hard earned fourth place. Gounon and Loggie were fifth, one place ahead of Beechdean AMR’s pole-winning Aston Martin which served 15 seconds extra in the pits where it lost further time navigating GT4 cars.
Optimum’s McLaren and the similar 720S of Orange/JMH completed the top eight.
Ninth went to Mark Smith, Martin Plowman and Paddock Motorsport who borrowed Enduro’s spare test-spec McLaren after theirs was badly damaged in qualifying. The car required significant changes, which weren’t completed until 5am this morning. That earned Paddock the Intelligent Money Team of the Weekend Award.
GT4: ACADEMY UPSETS THE ODDS
Evans and Cowley each produced the drives of their season to overcome significant odds and claim the GT4 title.
The Academy Motorsport pair went into the final race of the year as championship outsiders thanks to their 16.5-point deficit, additional 26-second Silver pitstop handicap and maximum 20-second Compensation Time for winning at Brands Hatch last time out.
But charging stints from both American youngster Evans and British GT4 stalwart Cowley, plus a smattering of Safety Car periods, helped the duo turn the tables in the most dramatic fashion, with Cowley grabbing the outright victory late on as their rivals hit trouble.
Title favourites Brown and Clark endured another difficult race in their Optimum Motorsport McLaren Artura, which suffered a battery issue during the pitstops that ultimately cost its drivers the championship and opened the door for their Mustang rivals.
The first half of the race was actually quite static, with R Racing’s pole-sitting Aston Martin leading in the hands of Josh Miller. Aston Millar’s DTO McLaren maintained second, while Zac Meakin snuck the Team Parker Racing Artura past Brown early on to establish the top four.
The exception to the rule was Evans who set up the Mustang’s title charge with a determined opening stint. Starting seventh, he gradually picked off the cars ahead to gain on the top four, before then working his way past Brown and Meakin to run third before a Safety Car stunted his progress just as the pit window opened.
Still, the extra time awaiting the Ford at its stop meant few would have bet on Evans and Cowley at this stage. The latter rejoined in 10th but was flying from the moment he climbed aboard and had soon worked his way into the top seven.
The big winners during the pit window were Gough and Wrigley in the RACE LAB McLaren, with their shorter mandatory stop time for being a Pro-Am pairing launching them into title contention. Gough had kept the car ninth before the entire field piled into the pits together under the Safety Car, with the slower stop times of the Silver runners jumbling the order massively.
This was also where Brown and Clark’s challenge fell apart when their Artura initially refused to fire up after its stop, costing a heap of time and dumping its drivers down the order and out of the running.
With the shorter stop time, Wrigley emerged not only in the overall lead but also in the championship box seat, albeit with Rowledge right behind after taking the DTO McLaren over from Millar. Both drivers knew they’d have to win to stand a chance of also taking the title, so Wrigley and Rowledge circulated with rarely more than a few tenths between them. But neither had an answer for the charging Cowley.
After working his way into the top four, Cowley zapped past Plato’s Century BMW and homed in on the top two. He got past Rowledge into the Melbourne Hairpin for second, and then relieved Wrigley of the lead on the run into The Esses. From then it was job done as the emotion overflowed in the Academy garage.
Gough and Wrigley took the Pro-Am win in second, with Millar and Rowledge completing the overall podium. Cavers and Plato were fourth, ahead of Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones’ other Academy Mustang.
Johnston and Salkeld struggled to keep pace with the frontrunners, but ninth overall and fourth in class was good enough to land the Pro-Am championship for the Century BMW pairing who began the weekend with a chance of also winning the overall title.
Season 32 of the Intelligent Money British GT Championship begins at Oulton Park on 29 March – 1 April 2024.