2017 SEASON REVIEW: BRITISH GT CHAMPIONSHIP – GT4
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.
GT4: Tregurtha and Middleton’s teenage dream(team) so hard to beat
What were you doing aged 17? Unless your name is Jamie Chadwick the answer won’t be ‘winning the British GT4 Drivers’ title’. But that’s exactly what Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton can now also claim after a standout rookie campaign saw them arrive as Ginetta Junior’s champion and runner-up with a team also making its series debut and end the year as British GT’s youngest-ever title winners in terms of combined age.
While Chadwick remains the outright youngest to claim the crown, her and co-driver Ross Gunn were collectively 167 days Tregurtha and Middleton’s senior when they celebrated in 2015. Since then both the standard and number of Silver Cup pairings has increased, while rules have also been tweaked accordingly to ensure Pro/Am crews keep pace. That makes the HHC Motorsport duo’s title – achieved at a combined 35 years and 160 days – even more remarkable.
Their maturity and speed were both evident from the very start at Oulton Park where a podium in the opening race behind fellow debutants track-club, Adam Balon and Adam Mackay, and fourth in the second after overcoming a success penalty put them in perfect position to attack at Rockingham’s two-hour enduro where points-and-a-half were on offer. Meanwhile, Reed and Pittard announced themselves as a serious championship threat by coming through from last to sixth before then winning Oulton’s second race.
However, that also brought with it a 20-second success penalty for Rockingham where, instead, Tregurtha and Middleton claimed their maiden victory after a hard-fought battle with Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty’s Black Bull Garage 59 McLaren. The #55 HHC Ginetta then once again showed its class in Snetterton’s opening race by overcoming Reed’s pole-winning Lanan Racing Ginetta and the full 10-second penalty to make it back-to-back wins and establish an already imposing 27.5-point championship lead.
But with youth also comes inexperience and the crew’s only significant mistake of the season occurred in Race 2 when Tregurtha’s charge was halted after an over-ambitious move for the lead resulted in damage and retirement. Haggerty and Mitchell thus claimed their first victory of the season at the same venue as the latter became British GT’s youngest-ever race winner in 2016, while Reed and Pittard made it back-to-back second places to reduce HHC’s championship lead to 9.5 points. Pole-sitter Joe Osborne and David Pattison completed the overall podium and claimed the Pro/Am spoils on a day when an untimely Safety Car ruined their victory chances.
Silverstone’s blue riband 500-mile race was up next and HHC once again suffered contrasting fortunes when a driveshaft failure negated Tregurtha and Middleton’s dominant pole. Instead, it was the consistent Balon and Mackay who won the jewel in the championship’s crown while Reed and Pittard took the championship lead with fifth after serving their 15-second success penalty.
A one-off appearance by Ebor GT’s Maserati resulted in a double victory for Matthew Graham and Charlie Fagg at Spa, but with the crew ineligible to score points it was HHC, Lanan, Black Bull Garage 59 and Tolman who duked it out for maximum scores. Pattison and Osborne were just two laps away from top marks when a puncture ended their hopes of a first outright GT4 victory, which resulted in Pittard and Reed taking the maximum 25 points ahead of Tregurtha and Middleton. However, it was the HHC crew that left Belgium with the championship lead after finishing second in Race 2 (but taking maximum points) compared with Lanan’s P6.
Point-less weekends for erstwhile championship rivals Balon/Mackay and Mitchell/Haggerty meant Tregurtha and Middleton plus Reed and Pittard headed to Brands Hatch for the season’s penultimate round as the only realistic title contenders. Separated by just 2.5 points before the weekend meant one slip from either crew could hand the other a significant advantage, and so it proved when a steering arm failure resulted in Lanan’s first non-score of the year. Tregurtha and Middleton rubbed more salt into their wounds by finishing third behind first-time winners Jan Jonck, William Phillips and Macmillan AMR, while Osborne’s typically combative second stint helped he and Pattison finish as runners-up.
Reed and Pittard therefore faced an uphill struggle at Donington. 25 points behind with a maximum 37.5 available, they had to finish in the top-two to retain any chance of overturning their deficit. But that became academic after just 15 minutes of the race when Reed hit Will Moore’s stranded Aston Martin and retired. It was a tough end after such a consistent season, and especially when victory for Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson helped the PMW Expo/Optimum McLaren beat Reed and Pittard to second in the final standings.
Tolman Motorsport’s season and Pro/Am title chances ended in the gravel trap after brake failure halted Osborne’s customary charge. That handed second on the day to Tregurtha and Middleton – their seventh podium of the season and fourth in the final four races – while Century Motorsport’s Niall Murray and Jacob Mathiassen completed the final rostrum of the season.
Their record-breaking campaign naturally saw Middleton and Tregurtha named joint Rookies of the Year, while the latter also picked up Sunoco’s Fastest Driver of the Year accolade. Osborne’s Pro/Am achievements and fantastic season – his first back in British GT4 since 2010 – were also recognised with the championship’s coveted Allan Simonsen Award.
2017 will also be remembered for crowning British GT4’s first Sunoco Whelen Challenge winner. Middleton now has the incredible opportunity to race a Cadillac DPi sports-prototype at 2018’s Daytona 24 Hours as his prize for being the fastest and most consistent driver across a wide variety of Sunoco-supported series this year.