British GT Brands Hatch-bound for unpredictable season opener
12th April 2016
New cars, teams and drivers set to take on the established order
Season 24 of the British GT Championship gets underway at Brands Hatch this weekend (April 16/17) in what promises to be another thrillingly unpredictable showcase of hard fought racing contested by some of the world’s finest supercars.
And that’s not just standard PR hyperbole, either. 2016-spec British GT has all the makings of a classic campaign thanks to a host of new machinery, teams, drivers and official tyre supplier. Indeed, 30 cars built by 10 different manufacturers also make this one of the most varied grids in series history.
This weekend’s season opener also marks a break with tradition by visiting Brands Hatch’s 2.433-mile GP Circuit for a single, two-hour event. That’s in contrast to the previous 11 years when Oulton Park played host to the curtain raiser. It also means that no crew will have to serve a pit-stop success penalty at Brands, something that potentially masked a team’s true potential during previous campaigns.
But who will come out on top? Here’s the form book ahead of the opening round.
GT3: IT’S WIDE OPEN!
The dismantling of British GT’s reigning title-winning crew and its Teams’ champions switching to a new manufacturer mean once reliable variables can no longer be counted on to provide a fairly accurate assumption. But we’ll do our best anyway…
For the first time in five years Beechdean AMR’s Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 doesn’t feature Jonny Adam’s name above the door. Instead, it’s reigning GT4 champion Ross Gunn that steps up from the High Wycombe squad’s record-breaking junior entry to partner team owner and two-time British GT champion Andrew Howard. Both drivers have played down their expectations but there’s no denying the potential that exists within the line-up as the season progresses. Perhaps Brands will come a little early, especially given Howard’s ELMS commitments at Silverstone.
It’s a different story for Adam, who moves across to partner Derek Johnston at TF Sport. The team’s two-car Aston Martin entry, which this season also features Mark Farmer and 2008 champion Jon Barnes, was the strongest over the final third of 2015, culminating in a one-two – and first victory for Johnston – at the Donington finale. His podium at Brands Hatch six weeks earlier was seen as a breakthrough moment for the team, which has designs on challenging for both titles this season. Expect its presence to be felt near the sharp end.
Reigning Teams’ champions Barwell Motorsport has won the last two British GT races held at Brands Hatch but cannot take continuity for granted this season after switching from BMW to Lamborghini. Two of its new-generation Huracan GT3s make the trip to Kent, both of which have the potential to win first time out. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who remain with the Surrey outfit, were perhaps the fastest crew not to score a victory in 2015, while Liam Griffin – who won twice – moves across from Motorbase Performance to partner Platinum-graded Lamborghini factory ace Fabio Babini.
It was Barwell’s Ecurie Ecosse-entered BMW that won in both 2014 and ’15 but, here too, changes have been made over the winter. Having amicably parted company with Barwell the Scottish concern – now known as Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse – has linked up with McLaren to aid its title assault. Alasdair McCaig was a winner on his British GT3 debut in 2012 while factory partner Rob Bell heads to Brands defending a 100% domestic record having scored victory on his only outing to date, at Silverstone in 2010.
Elsewhere, Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle came within a patch of oil of scoring their first ever British GT victory together at Brands Hatch last season. The BMW Z4 GT3 was the car to beat that day and the pair’s AmDTuning.com-run example spearheads the Bavarian firm’s assault this time around, too. Their long-overdue first British GT wins will have to come against new-generation rivals, but if there’s a circuit where the BMW excels then Brands is surely it.
Bentley is another to bring new-generation machinery to British GT this year thanks to Team Parker Racing’s sole Continental GT3. Rick Parfitt Jnr moves from Team LNT to partner GP3 Series convert Seb Morris aboard a car that has achieved significant success on the continent since. Morris’ single-seater pedigree allied with Parfitt Jnr’s potential make this a line-up capable of securing significant results.
Audi is also back this year thanks to Optimum Motorsport, whose all-new R8 LMS GT3 has already proven itself in other series. The Silver-graded driver combination is an interesting one: 2013 British GT4 champion Ryan Ratcliffe excelled during a one-off appearance with Team LNT last season, while Will Moore was a revelation in the GT4 category. Indeed, such was the latter’s speed that he moves from Bronze to Silver this year.
Ginetta – 2016’s seventh full-season manufacturer – will again have two cars in the senior class thanks to Tolman Motorsport, which is stepping up from GT4 to run a pair of G55 GT3s. 2015 Rookie of the Year Luke Davenport and co-driver David Pattison scored a thrilling victory for Tolman at Brands last season, while Mike Simpson – who shares his example with series returnee Ian Stinton – was partly responsible for Ginetta’s first British GT3 podium during Oulton’s opening weekend. Good omens all round.
Brands Hatch will also be the setting for a British GT record when Pete Littler becomes the first disabled driver to compete in any of its classes, let alone GT3. Littler is classified as 40% disabled after losing the lower section of his right leg. He also has false hips and a pin in his lower back. A top-six finish for he and 2012 British GT4 champion Jody Fannin would be a significant achievement for the PFL Motorsport-run Aston Martin.
After a season’s worth of experience racing with McLaren, another former GT4 champion – Ross Wylie – will be eager to fulfil his potential aboard a V12 Vantage. The Scot partners Phil Dryburgh at 2014 Teams’ champions Motorbase Performance, who took Griffin and Rory Butcher to fourth in the Drivers’ standings last season. Switching to a Pro/Am crew could be just the opportunity Wylie needs to showcase his talents.
Martin Short and Rollcentre Racing also make their long-awaited British GT returns with a Team ABBA-entered BMW Z4 GT3. Short and co-driver Richard Neary will be the category’s only all-Am pairing but feature recent race-winning experience after triumphing at this year’s Silverstone 24 Hours.
GT4: YOU CAN’T WIN ANYTHING WITH KIDS. RIGHT?
Six marques spread across 16 entries make the trip to Brands, but with only one 2015 race-winning crew present the result appears absolutely wide-open, not least due to the nine Silver-graded driver line-ups comprising young, single-seater converts.
Bucking that trend will be last season’s championship runners-up, Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who look like strong contenders aboard their PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4. The Pro/Am pairing won first time out at Oulton Park 12 months ago and head into 2016 full of confidence after topping two of the Media Day test sessions. Their case is further strengthened by finishing second at Brands last season and being one of only two unchanged line-ups in the field.
Nevertheless, they’re sure to face stiff opposition from Beechdean AMR whose Silver-graded crews have won the last two GT4 Drivers’ titles. Teenage single-seater converts Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew are charged with maintaining that streak aboard the familiar blue and white Aston Martin V8 Vantage. Both drivers certainly have the pedigree to suggest they’ll be near the front.
Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse, so successful in GT3 but making their junior class debut with McLaren in 2016, has also opted for youth in the form of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell, who – aged 16 years and 41 days – will become the youngest driver ever to contest a British GT race this Sunday. Both know their way around single-seaters but, with this year primarily earmarked as one of development for the all-new 570S GT4, only time will tell how competitive the package is.
Century Motorsport is no stranger to the British GT4 paddock and returns with two Ginettas this season. Team boss Nathan Freke, who finished second during a one-off appearance at Donington last year, partners Anna Walewska while the second G55 features Sean Byrne and 2015 Silver Cup runner-up Aleksander Schjerpen, who remains with Century for a third British GT4 campaign.
One of 2016’s most popular, not to mention loudest, GT4 entries is sure to be the Ebor GT-run Maserati GranTurismo MC driven by Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton. But with team, car and drivers all making their British GT debuts this year, expect the programme to come on stronger as the season progresses.
One outfit eager to hit the ground running is the returning JWBird Motorsport. 2014 GT4 champion Jake Giddings spent last season helping co-driver Kieran Griffin get up to speed and expects the Aston Martin crew to be regular top-six contenders this time around. Continuity could be key amongst a grid comprising many fresh faces.
Lotus were an ever-present threat at the front of GT4 last season and the same ISSY Racing chassis as used by Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw to win the Pro/Am title returns in the hands of Stratton Motorsport’s Robin Shute and American Will Hunholz. Both drivers plied their trade in the US recently but are confident of being on the pace from the start of the season. Stratton’s second entry, an Aston Martin for David Tinn and Robin Marriott, is the only all-Am line-up contesting the class.
BTCC regulars Team HARD make their long-awaited British GT debut with a pair of RCIB Insurance Racing-entered Ginetta G55s, both of which feature intriguing Silver-rated driver crews. Former WRC regular Rob Barrable has his roots in circuit racing and will be counting on all of that experience alongside fellow Formula Ford graduate Wilson Thompson. Junior tin-top converts Jordan Stilp and William Phillips comprise the squad’s second entry.
Generation AMR is another new name this season, although its two Aston Martins race under different identities. The first features promising ex-open-wheel racers Matty Graham and Jack Mitchell who have the potential to be mixing it at the front. The second, SuperRacing-entered V8 Vantage would ordinarily have James Holder at the wheel, but his clashing business commitments mean reigning GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick has been drafted in to partner Matthew George aboard what could prove a very handy all-Silver entry.
Further variety is provided by GPRM’s single Toyota GT86 GT4. Stefan Hodgetts and James Fletcher know the car well and have looked fast when reliability has allowed. The team has worked hard over the winter to improve the package, which went well at Brands last season.
Build and delivery issues prevent the new-for-2016 Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsports from attending Brands, but both teams previously scheduled to run them – Lanan Racing and Simpson Motorsport – have worked tirelessly to be on the grid with Ginetta machinery. Although a distraction, both teams feature line-ups capable of challenging. Indeed, expect Scott Malvern and Joey Foster – both former single-seater champions – to be amongst the fastest Pros on show.
BRITISH GT TIMETABLE: BRANDS HATCH
Saturday 16 April
09.30 – 10.30: Free Practice 1
12.10 – 13.00: Free Practice 2
16.45 – 16.55: Qualifying – GT3 Am
16.58 – 17.08: Qualifying – GT3 Pro
17.11 – 17.21: Qualifying – GT4 Am
17.26 – 17.36: Qualifying – GT4 Pro
Track Days / Test Days / MotorsportDays.com