Additional entries set to rock the Ardennes
The British GT Championship heads to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium this weekend (July 21/22) for the first of three two-hour races in as many months that will ultimately decide the destination of this season’s GT3 and GT4 crowns.
SRO’s Speedweek event sees British GT sharing the bill with the GT4 European Series and Blancpain GT Sports Club, as well as BRDC British Formula 3. However, all eyes will be firmly on the battle for both class titles amidst a campaign entering its final third in the Ardennes.
GT3: BARWELL AND TF SPORT RENEW CHAMPIONSHIP BATTLE
With a total of 112.5 points still to play for there remains plenty of time for any number of entries to mount a late championship challenge. But, as it stands, two crews sit head and shoulders above the rest: current leaders Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, and Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim, who are just 2.5 points behind.
And it’s the TF Sport duo who carry most momentum into this weekend following two pole positions and victories in their last three outings, while the team’s Aston Martins are also unbeaten since Rockingham. Add to that record Farmer’s breakthrough victory at Spa in 2016 and it becomes difficult to look beyond the #11 V12 Vantage again this weekend.
Nevertheless, the tenacity of Barwell’s Minshaw and Keen has also served them well during a season featuring one win and three podiums. The last of those came at Silverstone, while victory at Spa 12 months ago – albeit during a shorter 60-minute race – also suggests the #33 Lamborghini will be on the pace again this weekend.
But finishing first and second last time out also leaves Farmer/Thiim and Minshaw/Keen with 20s and 15s pitstop success penalties to serve on Sunday, which opens the door for a new winner to emerge. With Optimum’s Jonny Adam and Flick Haigh (Aston Martin) – currently fourth overall – similarly compromised after completing Silverstone’s podium, perhaps the likes of Team Parker Racing’s Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod (Bentley) can repeat their victory from last season.
ERC Sport’s Lee Mowle and Yelmer Buurman remain third in the standings largely thanks to their stellar start to the season but could be back on form at a circuit that suits the Mercedes-AMG. Likewise Beechdean AMR’s Andrew Howard and Darren Turner who still await their first win of the season after favouring a super consistent approach so far.
TF Sport’s other Aston Martin has claimed the last three fastest laps thanks to Marco Sorensen who, along with co-driver Derek Johnston, triumphed at Snetterton to help establish the team’s current three-race winning streak. They’re currently fifth in the standings, 22 points shy of top spot but just one behind Mowle and Buurman in third.
They’re joined in the pitstop penalty-free camp by Jetstream Motorsport who could and probably should have won a race already this year. Graham Davidson and local hero Maxime Martin will have another chance to put that right at a circuit where the latter claimed overall victory in 2016’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The historic Belgian track is considered one of the most challenging anywhere in the world, an element that has again tempted several additional entries.
After re-joining the championship at Silverstone, Richard Neary and Adam Christodoulou’s Team ABBA Racing Mercedes-AMG is back for a second outing alongside another of the German manufacturer’s GT3 beasts entered by RAM Racing. The latter sees Tom Onslow-Cole return to a championship he last contested in 2014 as part of a Pro/Am crew also featuring British GT debutant Remon Vos.
GT4: A SEVENTH WINNER IN 2018?
Unpredictability remains the watch word in this season’s GT4 title battle, which has seen six different crews representing five teams and four manufacturers win the first half-dozen races.
Century Motorsport became the first outfit to win two races this season thanks to Jack Mitchell and Aleksander Schjerpen’s victory at Silverstone last time out. However, the full 20s pitstop success penalty and a new co-driver in the form of Dean Macdonald means Mitchell – who currently lies third overall – faces an uphill battle this weekend.
It’s a similar story for Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones who find themselves second thanks to an incredible run of four-straight podiums. The Academy Motorsport pair must once again overturn a pitstop handicap if they’re to catch HHC Motorsport’s Callum Pointon and Patrick Matthiesen whose sheer consistency has helped them establish an 8.5-point lead.
Indeed, just one podium – a victory at Rockingham – combined with a 100% points-scoring record has been enough to keep them out front since round two. And with both their nearest rivals hobbled by pitstop success penalties this weekend, that advantage could extend further at a circuit where HHC’s Ginetta claimed two podiums 12 months ago.
Following Ginetta, Aston Martin and BMW in the standings are McLaren, and specifically Tolman Motorsport’s #4 570S shared by Michael O’Brien and Charlie Fagg. They, like Bens Green and Tuck in fifth, are roughly 20 points behind Pointon and Matthiesen, while a run of two podiums in as many races has also brought Tolman’s second entry of Lewis Proctor and Jordan Albert into play.
However, it’s the Pro/Am crews who could be best placed to mount an overall victory challenge this weekend. Indeed, only a late puncture denied David Pattison and Joe Osborne last season while UltraTek Racing’s current class leaders Kelvin Fletcher and Matin Plowman picked up their first Pro/Am win together at Silverstone. What chance they could finally claim an overall GT4 win for Nissan this weekend?
To do so they’ll need to beat several other leading contenders whose seasons have yet to spark. Adam Balon and Ben Barnicoat’s Track-Club McLaren – so often denied by bad luck – can never be discounted, while Academy’s second Aston Martin driven by Tom Wood and Jan Jonck appears on the verge of regularly running up front.
But perhaps the biggest dark horse this weekend will be Equipe Verschuur’s McLaren, which in the hands of Finlay Hutchison and Daniel Mckay left Silverstone pointless despite dominating qualifying and much of the race. Based just two hours away in Holland, the team will be eager to make amends during a weekend that also sees Hutchison and Verschuur contesting the GT4 European Series races together.
Academy Motorsport are in a similar position and will actually take four Aston Martins to Spa, with two contesting each series. Nicoll-Jones will also be pulling double duty by splitting his time between British GT and the GT4 European Series.
Elsewhere, ProTechnika Motorsport’s Mercedes-AMG joins British GT’s grid for the remainder of the season at Spa-Francorchamps following the team’s recent establishment by Anna Walewska, who also drives alongside Tom Canning.
The latter’s switch, as well as that of Macdonald, follows Steller Motorsport’s decision to skip Spa in favour of making changes to its Toyota GT86s. The team is expected to make its British GT return at Brands Hatch on August 4/5.
Likewise Team HARD. Racing, neither of whose Ginettas travel to Belgium.
Sunday’s British GT race will not be streamed on its Facebook page, but fans can still follow the action from each session via the website’s live timing link. Alternatively, why not hop over to Belgium for SRO Speedweek, which is free to attend!
TYRE INFORMATION – PIRELLI
Pirelli supplies the GT3 class with the P Zero DHD2 tyre, which was introduced at the start of the 2018 season for GT racing around the world. The GT4 class uses the P Zero DH tyre. In the event of rain, both classes will use the Cinturato WH wet-weather tyre.
Jonathan Wells, Pirelli UK motorsport manager: “Spa is the most demanding circuit on the British GT calendar for the tyres, with its variety of different corners, fast straights and considerable undulation. In addition to the famous Eau Rouge, the long Pouhon corner provides sustained loading on the right-side tyres, while at Blanchimont the lateral forces are significant. The weather conditions can often influence races at Spa, but with extensive experience there, including our supply of the 24-hour race, we will be well-equipped.”
GT3 - 2m18.821s - Seb Morris - Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 - 2017
GT4 - 2m31.706s - Matthew Graham - Ebor GT Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4 - 2017
PITSTOP SUCCESS PENALTIES
20s - #11 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 - Farmer/Thiim
15s - #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 - Minshaw/Keen
10s - #75 Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 - Haigh/Adam
20s - #43 Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 - Mitchell/Macdonald
15s - #5 Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S GT4 - Proctor/Albert
10s - #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4 - Moore/Nicoll-Jones
Saturday 21 July
09:00 – 10:00: Free Practice 1
11:30 – 12:30: Free Practice 2
14:05 – 14:15: Qualifying – GT3 Am
14:20 – 14:30: Qualifying – GT3 Pro
14:35 – 14:45: Qualifying – GT4 Am
14:50 – 15:00: Qualifying – GT4 Pro
Sunday 22 July
09:50 – 10:00: Warm-up
13:40 – 15:40: Race