BRITISH GT BOASTS BIGGEST GRID OF THE SEASON FOR SPA SOJOURN
The daunting Eau Rouge-Radillion corners await the British GT drivers once again – Photo: Jakob Ebrey
Six down, four to go: the 2017 British GT Championship season run-in begins this weekend, and what better venue for it than the legendary Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium?
A season-high grid of 34 cars – 14 GT3s and 20 GT4s – make the cross-Channel trip to the Ardennes for British GT’s annual away day, which for the first time features a pair of 60-minute races instead of the traditional single two-hour enduro on Saturday.
Some surprise results last time out at Silverstone have thrown both the GT3 and GT4 class titles wide open. And doubtless there will be a few more twists and turns to come up, down and around Spa’s daunting 20-turn, 4.352-mile rollercoaster this weekend.
The campaign’s largest GT3 grid – featuring four one-off entries – descends on Spa this weekend, but it’s the full-season contingent that’s expected to be fighting at the sharp end once again.
Victory in British GT’s blue riband Silverstone 500 last month has moved Team Parker Racing’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris to within striking distance of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, who have led the way since 2017’s season opener at Oulton Park. Just four points now separates the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini from the chasing Bentley with four races remaining.
Parfitt Jnr and Morris qualified on pole and came within 0.7s of winning at Spa last season, while their Bentley should also suit the Belgian GP venue’s fast, flowing layout. A 10-second pitstop success penalty – incurred for winning at Silverstone – will undoubtedly benefit their handicap-free championship rivals in Race 1 before a possible role reversal in the second. The balance of those results will determine who heads into the final two rounds with their noses ahead.
The battle for third comprises three crews separated by just 2.5 points, although the best of them – Spirit of Race duo Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin – are now 35.5 behind Minshaw and Keen. The third-placed Ferrari, as well as Macmillan AMR’s James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell, will serve pitstop success penalties in Race 1 as a result of completing Silverstone’s rostrum, which hands Barwell’s second crew comprising Liam Griffin and Sam Tordoff a slight initial advantage in the battle for third.
However, it will also come as no surprise if the pairings currently occupying sixth and seventh both emerge as serious victory contenders this weekend. Reigning champions Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam – the latter fresh from his Le Mans class-winning exploits – have endured a tough British GT season so far, with just one victory and two further podiums to show for their efforts. Spa proved just as challenging 12 months ago when a practice accident compromised the pair’s entire weekend.
The responsibility for showcasing Aston Martin’s potential therefore rested with TF Sport team-mates Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes, who duly demonstrated the V12 Vantage’s pace by claiming their maiden GT3 victory together. Repeating that result a year on at the calendar’s most revered venue would go some way towards rectifying a difficult campaign.
Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod’s meagre points total doesn’t tell the full story of their efforts aboard Team Parker’s second Bentley, which has set two GT3 fastest laps in 2017 courtesy of Macleod. The crew should have scored their first British GT podium at Silverstone, and will have another two opportunities to correct that oversight this weekend 12 months on from the practice accident that put paid to their Spa outing almost before it had even begun.
Adam Christodoulou impressed many last time out at Silverstone and he’s back to partner Team ABBA with Rollcentre Racing regular Richard Neary in one of three Mercedes-AMGs entered at Spa. The second, driven by AMDtuning.com's Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe, has become more competitive as the season’s progressed, while Blancpain GT Series regulars Kornely Motorsport make their British GT debut with Kenneth Heyer and Patrick Assenheimer on driving duties.
They’re joined by three more race-by-race entries, all of which also currently compete in the Blancpain GT Series. Audi factory squad Team WRT will run an R8 LMS for Alain Ferte and Stuart Leonard, while Ferrari-supported Kessel Racing have entered a 488 to be driven by Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo van Dam. A third Barwell Lamborghini for Blancpain GT Series Pro/Am title contenders Adrian Amstutz and Patrick Kojala complete Spa’s 14-strong GT3 entry.
20 cars make their way to Spa-Francorchamps this weekend for the start of what promises to be a terrific championship run-in.
One victory aside, it’s been the sheer consistency of Lanan Racing’s Alex Reed and David Pittard that has resulted in them leading the class standings by just 3.5 points from Adam Balon and Adam Mackay, who claimed theirs and track-club’s second victory of the season at Silverstone last time out. And both crews head to Spa with reasons to be optimistic once again.
Reed and Pittard are one of just three pairings to have scored points in each of this year’s six races, half of which they’ve finished on the podium. That’s a fantastic return given the number of pitstop success penalties incurred, something they won’t have to worry about in Saturday’s first race. Reed will also be relishing his return to Spa where he and Lanan scored their maiden British GT4 victory 12 months ago.
Mackay and track-club also have form in the Ardennes following their perfect Lotus Cup weekend – two poles, two victories and two fastest laps – there last season. GT4’s top Pro/Am crew do have the extra 10-second success penalty for winning at Silverstone but will benefit from all Silver Cup entries remaining stationary for additional time in order to balance performance across the class.
Very much in the thick of the title battle but with plenty to prove this weekend are HHC Motorsports’ Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton whose two DNFs in as many rounds have seen their 27.5 point lead after Snetterton’s first race become a 5.5-point deficit. A big result this weekend is surely essential if the teenagers are to get their title chase back on track.
The Ginetta, McLaren, Ginetta, McLaren run at the top of the GT4 standings continues with reigning champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson who somehow salvaged sixth from a tough first weekend at Silverstone aboard their new 570S GT4. They’re just half-a-point ahead of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty, who were on course for victory at Spa last season before a fuel issue curtailed their race. Black Bull Garage 59’s leading contenders remain 16 points behind Reed and Pittard at the the top of the standings.
Elsewhere, Ebor GT’s Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4 makes its first British GT start since Donington Park’s 2016 season finale following Matthew Graham’s move from In2Racing to partner series debutant Charlie Fagg. Finnish racer Jesse Anttila has taken Graham’s place alongside Marcus Hoggarth in the #29 McLaren, while Jacques Duyver is the team’s sole representative in the returning #14 570S. While he won’t swap drivers during the mandatory pitstop, Duyver will be required to get out of the car for five seconds and serve the minimum pitstop time.
There are also changes at Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing where Adam Hatfield and Benjamin Wallace combine to create an all-Silver line-up in the first of the Team HARD-run Ginettas. Their second will be driven by 2014 GT4 champion Jake Giddings who returns to the squad following his Snetterton cameo as replacement for Sam Webster.
A second Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport will also appear on British GT’s Spa grid courtesy of Delahaye Racing and Alexandre Viron, who currently compete together in the Le Mans Cup. Viron is joined by fellow Am Emmanuel Orgeval.
British GT’s trip to Spa wasn’t part of the championship’s original live TV deal with Front Runner. However, Channel 4, BT Sport and Motorsport TV will all broadcast highlights of both races from next Saturday, while a live stream from Spa’s CCTV system will be available on www.vwfuncup.eu.
Tom Hornsby (Source: British GT)