There’s optimism at Optimum Motorsport as the team gears up for the start of the 2016 Pirelli British GT Championship on the world-renowned Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit (15-17 April).
The Wakefield-based team has completed some 36 hours of racing with its new-for-2016 Audi R8 LMS GT3 since January and it is therefore fully prepared for what is tipped to be one of the most competitive seasons in the history of the British GT Championship, with increased competition from new cars and fresh driver pairings.
Outings in the opening two rounds of the CREVENTIC 24H Series powered by HANKOOK in Dubai and Mugello, twinned with an intense winter test and development programme gave Optimum time to take a methodical and considered approach to optimising its package for its maiden British GT3 foray, and its performances to date have been hugely encouraging.
‘Welsh Wizard’, Ryan Ratcliffe, has starred behind the wheel of the Optimum Audi in the 24H Series and he subsequently goes into the British GT curtain-raiser on the front foot, while teammate Will Moore had a solid runout at Rockingham Motor Speedway last week.
As Brands Hatch is Moore’s favourite circuit and Ratcliffe achieved a GT4 win there in 2014, both drivers are hopeful, although beating the seasoned pros might be a tall order while carrying a 45kg weight penalty as the only silver graded pairing on the grid.
There’s stability in Optimum Motorsport’s GT4 ranks, as Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson remain in the team’s Ginetta G55 for a second consecutive season.
Johnson and Robinson raced to the runner-up spot in the final 2015 British GT4 classification and then set the pace in two of three test sessions at last month’s Media Day, therefore the aim is to turn their speed into solid results straight out of the blocks, with a view of securing the title at the end of the year.
A presence in the British GT-supporting Ginetta GT5 Challenge means Optimum Motorsport is equipped to provide young prospects with an opportunity to break into car racing and then progress up the GT ladder within the Optimum fold.
Prolific kart racer, Steven Wells, is the latest to climb onto the bottom step of the team’s ‘stairway of talent’ and he joins Andrew Marshall, who re-enters the Ginetta GT5 grid in the GRDC+ class – natural progression for those drivers who have recently discarded their 'novice' plates – having been a regular podium threat during a year of training in 2015.
Optimum Motorsport Team Principal, Shaun Goff, said: “Everybody involved in Optimum Motorsport’s GT3, GT4 and GT5 programmes is optimistic going into the British GT and Ginetta GT5 Challenge seasons at Brands Hatch. I’m confident the Audi R8 will work well at Brands Hatch, as it’s a circuit that compliments aerodynamically efficient cars with good driveability, but it’s also Will Moore’s favourite track and one where Ryan Ratcliffe has seen some success in the past.
“Will was concerned about his relative lack of seat time, but he’s satisfied after a good day at Rockingham and he will have an additional two-hour test on Friday to ensure he’s dialled-in to the Audi prior to qualifying. The aim is to stay out of trouble and achieve a top ten finish and we will then re-evaluate our goals as we get further into the season. Consistency is key and everyone wants to win the British GT Championship, not necessarily the races.”
Goff added: “There are so many reasons why podium finishes from the outset are on the agenda for Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson in the Ginetta GT4. Both have one year under their belts, they finished runner-up in 2015 and set the pace at Media Day, so the title is the aim. Collecting solid points at Brands Hatch is critical and they need to capitalise on the fact that only a few driver pairings are returning to GT4 in 2016.
“Then there’s the Ginetta GT5 Challenge. We welcome Steven Wells to the fold and the return of Andrew Marshall in the GRDC+ class, who was a consistent podium threat in 2015. Steven is fresh from karting and he will have a lot to learn this year. He’s yet to do a full lap of the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and he will have two one-hour sessions in which to get familiar with the track before his first run in anger in qualifying. It’s looking great in every aspect!”