2019 BRITISH GT CHAMPIONSHIP KICKS OFF ON OULTON PARK EASTER WEEKEND
After seven long months of dark nights normal service resumes at Oulton Park this weekend when the British GT Championship awakes from its winter hibernation for its traditional springtime supercar season opener.
A 35-strong entry list comprising 13 GT3s, 21 GT4s and one GTC is scheduled to tackle a pair of hour-long races on Easter Monday. Amongst them are 10 former overall title winners, two reigning champions and 58 more hopefuls eager to etch their name on British GT’s roll of honour come season’s end.
GT3 & GTC: NEW CARS, TEAMS AND DRIVERS TAKE CENTRE STAGE
There’s plenty of new additions to British GT’s pack of big beasts this year thanks to Aston Martin, Bentley, Lamborghini and McLaren all introducing fresh GT3 hardware. BMW’s M6 also makes its series debut at Oulton alongside the returning Mercedes-AMG.
Aston Martin’s previous V12-powered Vantage became British GT’s most successful GT3 model during its seven-year stint, which leaves the new V8 version with big shoes to fill. Hoping to do just that is reigning champion Jonny Adam who has switched from Optimum Motorsport to TF Sport in pursuit of a record-extending fourth Drivers’ crown. He’s paired with Graham Davidson, whose pace throughout 2018 makes this crew one of the pre-season favourites.
But you don’t have to go far to find another potential title contender. In fact, they’re lurking on the other side of TF Sport’s garage! Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim came within a penalty of winning three times last season and, now armed with the new Aston Martin, should be at the pointy end again this time.
Optimum, who took Adam and Flick Haigh to the 2018 crown via victory at Oulton, has also upgraded to Aston’s latest GT3 weapon, which – dressed in its grey, blue and fluorescent yellow frock – might just feature the prettiest livery on the grid. Not that looks count for anything on the stopwatch where it’s up to Oliver Wilkinson and 2007 champion Bradley Ellis to make the difference.
The fourth and final V8 Vantage features a familiar name – Beechdean AMR – but an entirely new look. Two-time champion Andrew Howard warmed up for Oulton with a Le Mans Cup outing at Paul Ricard last weekend, while new co-driver Marco Sorensen – officially British GT3’s fastest driver in 2018 – switches from TF Sport.
Barwell Motorsport spent longer than anyone fighting Aston Martin’s previous model, and this year renews its battle with an even sharper implement: Lamborghini’s new Huracan GT3 Evo. Sam De Haan is again joined by Jonny Cocker in a partnership that has undoubtedly developed since their debut together 12 months ago. But it’s the arrival of Adam Balon – one of GT4’s fastest Ams over the last two years – that could really shake up the senior class. His co-driver and Lamborghini factory ace Phil Keen, who remains one of British GT’s benchmarks, will be desperate to finally claim that elusive first GT3 crown.
Questions also surround 2019’s third two-car outfit: reigning GT4 champions, Century Motorsport. How will young guns Jack Mitchell and Ben Green compare after finishing one-two in GT4 last season? How do their respective co-drivers, Adrian Willmott and Dominic Paul, stack up against British GT’s established Ams? And can BMW’s M6 cut it on British circuits? We’ll find out at Oulton.
Bentley’s new Continental GT3 also makes its domestic debut in 2019 with two intriguing entries. 2017 champions Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris are reunited after a year apart but join a team, former FIA GT1 World Champions JRM, with limited British GT experience. Then there’s Team Parker Racing who ran the previous Continental, incidentally with Parfitt Jnr, from 2016 to ’18. Their duo of Ryan Ratcliffe and 2011 champion Glynn Geddie will be battling Optimum’s Wilkinson and Ellis for Silver Cup honours as well as overall wins.
McLaren’s new 720S GT3 has gained plenty of admirers pre-season ahead of its British GT debut at Oulton with Balfe Motorsport who have the familiar duo of Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell on duty. The team’s previous 650S GT3 struggled in 2018 but there’s no denying the pace of its crew who won the International GT Open Pro/Am title in 2017 before switching.
Incredibly, only one GT3 model returns from last season: the Mercedes-AMG. Richard Neary and Adam Christodoulou are back for a first full season together aboard ABBA Racing’s chrome green machine, while race winners Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod move across from Team Parker to championship returnees, RAM Racing.
Unforeseen delays have forced G-Cat Racing to miss Oulton Park, which means WPI Motorsport’s GTC-spec Porsche, driven by Michael Igoe and Adam Wilcox, is the only 911 on the grid.
GT4: 21 SET FOR SEASON OPENER
Sure, we say it every year, but GT4’s Class of 2019 might genuinely be the best yet! And with Jack Mitchell graduating to GT3, a new Drivers’ champion is guaranteed.
Century Motorsport began its ultimately successful Drivers’ and Teams’ Championship assault by claiming two podiums in Cheshire last season. Its BMWs are on parade again this weekend when British GT debutants Mark Kimber, Angus Fender and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke, plus the returning Jacob Mathiassen, attempt to follow in Mitchell’s footsteps.
As in GT3, it’s Aston Martin that holds the numerical advantage with seven new V8 Vantage GT4s on the 21-car entry. Its big hitters include Beechdean AMR’s Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman who will be amongst the favourites for this year’s Overall and Pro/Am crowns, 2016 champion Mike Robinson and 2018 title contender Patrik Matthiesen who are paired in one of Optimum’s two entries, and TF Sport which joins the class for the first time since finishing second in the 2014 Drivers’ Championship. Academy Motorsport, which has also upgraded from the previous iteration Aston, completes the British manufacturer’s assault.
McLaren’s 570S has won at Oulton in each of the last two years and should be amongst the front-runners again this season thanks to a mix of stability and fresh blood. Tolman Motorsport came within a whisker of winning both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships last season and return with another two-car effort again featuring McLaren Driver Development Programme members.
HHC certainly know how to win a British GT4 title and will count race-winners Callum Pointon and Dean Macdonald amongst its ranks this term after switching from Ginetta, while Balfe’s 570S is crewed by 2016 champion (and three-time Oulton Park race winner) Graham Johnson plus McLaren Driver Development alumni Michael O’Brien.
Ford hasn’t featured on a British GT entry list since 2011 but that all changes at Oulton when three of its Mustangs arrive at once. Two are entered by the same team tasked with designing and building them, Multimatic Motorsports, who – in a change to previous billing – have paired American duo Jade Buford and Chad McCumbee in the second of its entries. RACE Performance bring a third for ex-BTCC racers Sam Smelt and Aron Taylor-Smith.
There’s also two Mercedes-AMGs on the entry list, both of which feature unchanged team and driver line-ups. Team Parker’s Nick Jones and Scott Malvern won Oulton’s rain-shorted second race en route to 2018’s Pro/Am title, while class rivals Mark Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst begin their second season with Fox Motorsport.
The Jaguar F-Type is also back in the familiar hands of Steve McCulley and Matthew George, Invictus Games Racing hoping a single entry will help them focus on extracting greater performance from the supercharged fan favourite.
And what about Track Focused’s KTM, which makes its championship debut at Oulton? Mike McCollum and Sean Cooper shared the same car last season but face a step up in class this weekend when the Austrian manufacturer makes its first British GT appearance since 2011.
Two previously listed entries won’t attend Oulton, although both are expected at Snetterton. GT Marques’ Porsche was only ever scheduled to join from round two, while Steller Performance continues to evaluate its plans.
Both British GT races will be shown live on the championship’s Facebook page and website, plus SRO’s GT World Youtube channel, on Monday 22 April.