2017 SEASON REVIEW: BRITISH GT CHAMPIONSHIP – GT3
British GT celebrated its 25th anniversary in style this season by serving up not one but two record-breaking class championships. While Team Parker Racing’s Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jnr handed Bentley its first overall title – and the latter became the only driver ever to win both domestic GT3 and GT4 crowns – Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton were busy re-writing the chapter entitled ‘youngest championship-winning crew’ after HHC Motorsport’s 17-year-olds shared GT4’s spoils at their first attempt.
It could have been so very different, though. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen fell just short of the GT3 prize for a second year running at Donington, and Alex Reed and David Pittard gave everything to defeat their teenage rivals before being literally knocked out of the GT4 title fight just before the final bell.
Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson couldn’t retain their GT4 crown but did snatch second overall and Pro/Am honours at Donington after overcoming season-long rivals David Pattison and Joe Osborne. The Teams’ titles went to Barwell Motorsport and HHC Motorsport – the latter achieving the feat with, remarkably, just one car – and Jonny Adam became the winningest driver in British GT3 history by notching up his 11th and 12th victories.
GT3: Parfitt Jnr and Morris prevail after season-long battle with Barwell
Oulton Park’s opening rounds – spread across their traditional Easter Bank Holiday Weekend date – attracted a record crowd that witnessed a dominant display by Barwell’s Lamborghinis and, in particular, Minshaw and Keen. Parfitt and Morris took a pole apiece in the dry but it was a false dawn and, in the damp race conditions, the #33 Huracan was unstoppable en route to both victories despite serving a 10-second success penalty in the latter.
The warning signs were ominous for their Bentley rivals who endured two tough races just 12 miles from the manufacturer’s home in Crewe. However, Parfitt Jnr and Morris would hit back less than two weeks later at Rockingham when a loophole in MSA’s regulations covering track limits and Safety Car procedures helped Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin’s Spirit of Race Ferrari to win on the road. That later became second post-race when a time penalty applied for unnecessary contact with the #31 Huracan handed Parfitt Jnr and Morris victory.
GT3 debutants Macmillan AMR were the only squad to run a Silver Cup crew all season. And James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell – who carried extra weight to balance their natural performance advantage – proved themselves equals of the Pro/Am contingent by completing Rockingham’s podium. A month later they were once again up front at Snetterton where Mitchell claimed Race 1 pole and Keen top-spot for the second.
A 20-second success penalty at Rockingham had restricted the Lamborghini to fourth, but with no such handicap in Norfolk Minshaw and Keen once again looked imperious. They duly won the opener after beating team-mates Liam Griffin and Sam Tordoff, as well as fellow podium finishers Littlejohn and Mitchell.
The #33 Huracan then looked odds-on to make it four wins in the first five races only for a marginally short pitstop and resulting stop/go penalty to scupper its chances. Instead, TF Sport’s reigning champions Derek Johnston and Adam claimed their first win of 2017 to haul themselves back into title contention, while Griffin and Tordoff picked up their third second place of the year.
Elsewhere, Parfiit Jnr and Morris continued their bad-weekend, good-weekend sequence by picking up penalties in both races. A response was required and both duly delivered one at the championship’s blue riband, three-hour enduro – the Silverstone 500 – in June when an event that began with Europe’s first-ever ‘Circuit Safari’ and continued with ‘Supercar Sunday’ ended with the Team Parker crew lifting the 1932 RAC Trophy in front of a packed crowd.
The 37.5 points available for victory also helped slash their championship deficit to Minshaw and Keen, who finished fourth behind Cameron/Griffin and Littlejohn/Mitchell. But just like the previous two sprint weekends, Barwell’s crew were back in the ascendency at Spa where a fourth victory of the season swung the championship pendulum back in their favour. Its angle would have been even more acute had Minshaw not hit a GT4 car late in Race 2, but as it was the #33 duo left Belgium with their lead increased to 12 points after Parfitt Jnr and Morris were unable to capitalise. The same cannot be said of their Team Parker Racing team-mates Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod who finally fulfilled their potential by claiming a first British GT victory.
Brands Hatch welcomed teams and drivers for the season’s penultimate round in early August and, true to form, it was Parfitt Jnr and Morris who shone brightest and bagged maximum points over an endurance distance. Littlejohn and Mitchell, now third in the standings after another podium at Spa, were leading when an ECU failure side-lined their Macmillan AMR Aston Martin. But their misfortune was the Bentley’s gain as Parfitt Jnr and Morris claimed the championship lead for the first time in 2017 thanks, in part, to Minshaw and Keen finishing only fifth in the dry following a stellar wet-weather qualifying performance and pole position.
And so to Donington Park for the season’s final act. To win the title Minshaw and Keen would have to do something still missing from their 2017 campaign: beat Parfitt Jnr and Morris over a two-hour-plus endurance race while hoping the Bentley finished sufficiently down the order.
Parfitt Jnr and Morris’ full 20-second success penalty provided some hope, but when Minshaw spun while running second on lap two his and Keen’s chances diminished still further. Both drivers battled back into contention, although with the Bentley tracking their every move it was a valiant but forlorn chase 12 months after Johnston and Adam had successfully overturned their deficit to beat the #33 crew to 2016’s title.
Speaking of whom, the Aston Martin crew signed off as champions in style by leading home a TF Sport one-two, and claiming third in the final standings, ahead of Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, while victory also moved Adam one GT3 win clear of Minshaw, Keen and David Ashburn in the all-time list.
But it was Parfitt Jnr and Morris who celebrated hardest after sealing theirs, Team Parker’s and Bentley’s first British GT3 title, as well as the Pro/Am championship. Parfitt Jnr’s exploits throughout the season also saw him crowned Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Year and Sunoco 240 Challenge winner, which compares driver performances across several UK championships. His prize is a fully-funded outing in the 240-minute GT4 support race held as part of 2018’s Daytona 24 Hours.
Meanwhile, Keen’s speed just about everywhere the championship visited in 2017 netted him the Sunoco Fastest Driver of the Year Award.