BRITISH GT TO STAGE THRILLING DONINGTON FINALE


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A fantastic 2016 season for British GT comes to a close this weekend – Photo: Jakob Ebrey

An entry list packing 29 cars will provide a fitting spectacle around Leicestershire’s 12-turn, 2.498-mile former GP venue where all eyes will be on who can finally snare this year’s titles. Plenty remains up for grabs: not only are the class championships on the line but also the GT3 Gentleman Driver, GT4 Pro-Am and GT4 Silver crowns, as well as both category’s teams’ accolades and, potentially, a little bit of British GT history, too.

All of which leaves just one question unanswered: who wants it most?

GT3: Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Bentley prepare for title showdown

Three teams. Three manufacturers. Three crews. But only one can secure the 2016 British GT3 Championship drivers’ title at Donington Park this weekend.

Recent form suggests championship leaders Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen don’t just hold a numerical advantage, heading the title chase as they do by 11.5 points. The pair also became the first since 2010 to win two British GT3 races on the same weekend last time out at Snetterton, helping maintain their run of impressive results since non-scoring at the opening round.

Indeed, their second and third victories of the campaign were enough to overhaul season-long championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam who have added just 61 points to the maximum 75 they scored over the opening two races. It was certainly the TF Sport pair’s title to lose post-Rockingham, and without a tangled seatbelt at Snetterton they would have likely gone into this weekend’s final round still marginally ahead.

However, both can take comfort from the events of 12 months ago at Donington where Johnston recorded his maiden British GT win and Adam, then alongside Andrew Howard, overturned a two-point deficit to pinch the crown. Nevertheless, the Scot – who is also aiming to notch up a record-equalling 11th GT3 victory this weekend – will be fully aware that no driver has ever retained the senior British GT title.

But, with a maximum of 37.5 points still available, there remain many ways of winning this year’s title. For instance, the Aston Martin pair could finish as low as sixth and snatch the crown provided Minshaw and Keen don’t score, while Barwell's Lamborghini crew might also miss out if they finish third or lower, although that would hinge on Johnston and Adam winning.

The GT3 drivers’ fight is complicated further by the presence of Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris who, 27 points adrift, must take their second win of the season at Donington to have any chance of gatecrashing the championship party. Do so and they would also rely on Minshaw and Keen finishing no better than seventh and Johnston and Adam fourth or lower to pull off a remarkable triumph.

That might sound far fetched but the Team Parker Racing pair do have one ace in their deck: success penalties. While their rivals must remain stationary for 20 and 15 seconds longer during the mandatory pit-stop for winning and finishing second at Snetterton, the Bentley’s fifth place sees it race handicap-free. Four pole positions from a possible eight this year also suggests Parfitt Jnr and Morris will be starting near the sharp end.

Second place could actually see the crew tie with Minshaw and Keen, but in that event Barwell's drivers would win the crown by virtue of having scored more victories this season.

So far so very unpredictable. And that’s without factoring in the role of Barwell and TF Sport’s second entries, both of which have won races this season. Not only will Liam Griffin and Alexander Sims’ Huracan, and Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes’ V12 Vantage be gunning for individual glory, not to mention helping their respective squads win the 2016 teams’ championship, but they will also be an important variable in deciding who claims this year’s drivers’ crown, especially as neither have pit-stop success penalties to serve.

On the subject of teams’ titles, reigning champions Barwell might lead the drivers’ standings but they trail TF Sport by 14.5 points in the teams’ race. However, with a maximum of 64.5 still available that particular scrap really does remain wide open.

Other entries that could play a role this weekend include AmDTuning.com’s Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne who came agonisingly close to winning their first British GT race together at Snetterton. The BMW went well at Donington last season and, 10-second pit-stop success penalty aside, should be a factor again at a circuit where they finished fourth in 2015.

Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse came to Donington this time last season leading the drivers’ standings but have endured a tougher time in 2016 and would dearly love to end their season with a good result. Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell have demonstrated plenty of potential but only have one podium result to show for their efforts thus far. Perhaps that will change this weekend.

Reigning champion Andrew Howard relinquishes the #1 plate after this Sunday but will at least be on the grid after skipping Snetterton due to crash damage sustained at Spa. With regular co-driver Ross Gunn again aiding Beechdean AMR’s GT4 title challenge, the team has drafted in 2015 title challenger and British GT race winner Rory Butcher to fill the Pro role.

Elsewhere, this year’s Pro-Am title boils down to the same three contenders as the overall championship, while Johnston and Parfitt Jnr must chase down Minshaw if they’re to win the Blancpain Gentleman Driver Trophy.

Victory, fastest lap and pole position would also give Morris a handy cushion atop the Sunoco Whelen Challenge standings. The Welshman, who currently leads the race to win a seat at the 2017 Daytona 24 Hours, will be the competition’s first front-runner to set a final average score before having to wait and see what his rivals from other series can muster during their own end-of-season run-ins.

GT4: Winner takes all in Johnson/Robinson vs Bartholomew battle

While GT3’s championship permutations are too numerous to list, the GT4 drivers’ title can be summarised as simply: winner takes all.

Well, just about…

With only 2.5 points separating leaders Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson from Jack Bartholomew, British GT’s scoring system covering positions first to ninth guarantees that whoever finishes ahead will be crowned 2016 champions.

And the battle couldn’t be more finely poised. Johnson and Robinson’s PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55 has undoubtedly had the edge over the course of the season. However, the two DNFs that accompany the crew’s three wins have allowed the more consistent Bartholomew to remain a nuisance, a nuisance who has now become a serious threat following his victory and second place at Snetterton alongside outgoing GT4 champion Ross Gunn, who returns for a second weekend.

How this one plays out over the course of two hours is anyone’s guess, but – as in GT3 – pit-stop success penalties could be a defining factor. That victory in the second race at Snetterton will see Bartholomew’s Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage remain stationary five seconds longer during the mandatory driver changes this Sunday, raising the tantalising prospect of both crews fighting back through the field – and against each other on track – over the race’s final stint.

Beechdean AMR has been here before, of course. Indeed, a Bartholomew title would represent the team’s third consecutive British GT4 drivers’ crown. But Optimum are also no strangers to success and were the last team before Beechdean to win the class title, in 2013.

With the protagonists’ 20 and 15-second success penalties likely ruling both out of victory contention, the way should be left clear for another leading crew to step forward. And with just 20 points covering positions three to seven in the championship, the fight for third in the final reckoning will be fierce.

Lanan Racing’s Spa-Francorchamps winners Alex Reed and Joey Foster currently occupy the final step on the podium but will be held 10 seconds longer in the pits as a result of finishing third in Snetterton’s second race. That could open the door for RCIB Insurance Racing duo William Phillips and Jordan Stilp, and the Ebor GT pairing of Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton, both of whom are still searching for their first wins of the season.

Sandy Mitchell became British GT’s youngest ever winner in the opening race at Snetterton, and the Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S he shares with Ciaran Haggerty should also carry a significant threat this weekend.

The season finale features a number of new and returning names, including the familiar pairing of Jamie Stanley and Fox Motorsport who are back for the second time this season along with karting protégé Sam Webster. Gavan Kershaw is also behind the wheel of a Lotus Evora – albeit a Stratton Motorsport/UltraTek example – as Tim Eakin’s co-driver. It will be the first time either has contested a British GT round since doing so at the same venue 12 months ago.

The GT4 teams’ title also remains undecided with RCIB Insurance Racing currently holding a 13-point lead over Beechdean AMR. Optimum’s single car operation is just 5.5 further back while Century Motorsport also retain an outside chance given the maximum 64.5 points still available for squads running two entries.

Elsewhere, Phillips and Stilp must win and hope Bartholomew finishes no higher than ninth if they’re to pinch the GT4 Silver Cup title, while Hoggarth and Eaton have to claim at least second to retain any chance of overturning their 26.5-point Pro-Am deficit to Johnson and Robinson.

Meanwhile, a record number of GT4 manufacturers are entered for this weekend’s British GT round, with no less than seven – Aston Martin, Ginetta, Lotus, Maserati, McLaren, Porsche and Toyota – due to compete. Six raced at Snetterton last time out.

Tom Hornsby