BRITISH GT UNLEASHED FOR THE SILVERSTONE 500
It's looking increasingly likely that the Barwell Lamborghini of Minshaw and Keen is fairly unbeatable – Photo: Jakob Ebrey
British GT’s annual blue riband event – the Silverstone 500 – promises plenty of cut-and-thrust multi-class action around the Home of British Motor Racing this weekend. With the season reaching its halfway mark and the maximum 37.5 points up for grabs, there’s no better time for GT3 and GT4 title contenders to stamp their authority on this year’s championship.
A total of 30 cars – that’s 11 GT3s, 18 GT4s and 1 Invitational entry – are expected for this Sunday’s three-hour, 500-kilometre race around Silverstone’s 3.66-mile GP circuit. But which of those will be standing on the podium’s top step this Sunday afternoon?
That four different manufacturers currently occupy the top five positions in this year’s drivers’ standings emphasises the diversity that exists within British GT’s senior class.
However, in truth, there’s one crew, team and car that has stood head and shoulders above their rivals so far in 2017. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen have dominated the first half of this season, and it’s difficult to look past their Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini when weighing up likely victory contenders at Silverstone.
Their #33 Huracan GT3 would have won four of the first five races were it not for a pitstop infringement during Snetterton’s second race, but that misfortune has only strengthened their hand for this weekend’s three-hour enduro in which the maximum 37.5 points are up for grabs. Finishing outside the top-three two weeks ago means they head to Silverstone – where they also won 12 months ago – without a pitstop success penalty, which could prove vital come the end of Sunday’s race.
23.5 points further back, and heading three crews within nine points of each other, are Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris whose similar lack of pitstop handicap could make them Minshaw and Keen’s nearest challengers this weekend. Their Team Parker Racing Bentley claimed pole position at the same venue last season and looked like a nailed-on podium finisher before terminal damage ended those hopes. Neither driver can afford to slip up this weekend if they’re to make a dent in the Barwell crew’s championship lead.
Hot on their heels are reigning champions Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam who claimed their first win since Rockingham 2016 at Snetterton, which also helped the latter to finally equal British GT’s GT3 wins record. On the one hand it was a much needed points haul, but on the other has resulted in the TF Sport crew incurring a 20-second success penalty this Sunday. Overcoming that, even at this stage of the season, might ultimately prove crucial to successfully defending their title.
Barwell’s second Lamborghini has also impressed throughout 2017 thanks to three second place finishes in the first five races. The third of those, sealed at Snetterton, ensures Liam Griffin and touring car convert Sam Tordoff head into this weekend with a 15-second success penalty, which they’ll first have to overcome before thoughts turn to finally claiming a place on the top step.
Next up is Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin’s Spirit of Race Ferrari, a car that could be the dark horse this weekend. The pair came close to winning at Rockingham, the only endurance race staged so far in 2017, while an FF Corse-entered 488 GT3 also finished third overall at Silverstone last season.
Another team that cannot be discounted is Macmillan AMR whose all-Silver-graded pairing of Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn has grown in confidence and speed as the season has progressed. The need to balance their Aston Martin’s performance against Pro/Am pace means they’re likely to star in the early half of Sunday’s race, while the longer stints – compared with British GT’s one-hour sprint format – and lack of a pitstop success penalty will also play into their hands. Worth keeping an eye on.
Elsewhere, expect TF Sport’s second V12 Vantage driven by Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes to be in the mix despite its 10-second pitstop success penalty, along with Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod’s Bentley, which has only shown flashes of its potential so far. AMDTuning.com’s Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe also looked stronger at Snetterton, while the entry list’s second Mercedes-AMG usually driven by Richard Neary and Martin Short moves from Am/Am to Pro/Am with the addition of a third driver, 2016 Nurburgring 24 Hours winner Adam Christodoulou.
One of Century’s Ginetta G55s is also back on the grid, with Aleksander Schjerpen joining Charlie Robertson in the #19 entry.
Whoever triumphs this Sunday will have the added bonus of lifting the ‘RAC Trophy’, which will be awarded to a British GT winner for the first time at Silverstone. The trophy was originally awarded at the Brooklands 500 in 1932 but will now be engraved with the names of each British GT winner since the Silverstone 500 began in 2012.
2017 is shaping up to be the most competitive in British GT4’s history, with a host of talented young chargers just starting out on their sportscar racing careers (grouped in the Silver Cup classification) taking on a series of established Pro/Am crews.
The battle for this year’s overall class title took another twist at Snetterton where 17-year-olds Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton were on course to win both races – and three in a row – before crashing out of the second. HHC Motorsport’s teenagers hung on to their championship lead, but only by 9.5 points on a weekend that might otherwise have seen them put daylight between themselves and the chasing pack.
Nevertheless, that DNF at least guarantees a pitstop success penalty-free outing at Silverstone where they’ll be amongst the favourites for victory once again.
Fellow Ginetta drivers Alex Reed and David Piattard were top of the pile after the opening weekend before slipping back at Rockingham. However, a pole position and pair of second place finishes at Snetterton – the second achieved by overcoming a pitstop success penalty – leaves them as Tregurtha and Middleton’s nearest rivals. Negating a similar handicap on Sunday – this time to the tune of 15 seconds – will be essential to their chances of applying further pressure as the season passes its halfway mark.
10 points further back are the crew that many regarded as pre-season favourites for this year’s GT4 title: Black Bull Garage 59’s Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty. That they currently occupy third owes much to a trying first round at Oulton Park followed by successive podium finishes, including victory at Snetterton, that has helped them to outscore all class rivals over the last three races. Serving the full 20-second pitstop success penalty will make a repeat very tricky at Silverstone, although the duo’s McLaren 570S did show prodigious pace en route to its maiden British GT pole there 12 months ago.
Those three Silver Cup crews have also faced stiff opposition from a number of Pro/Am entries over the opening three race weekends. First among them are reigning champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson who, in response to the youthful onslaught, have opted to switch from Ginetta to McLaren for the first time this weekend. There’s certainly no missing the bright orange PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport 570S, which benefits from racing without a pitstop handicap at Silverstone.
McLarens also fill positions five-to-seven, with the ultra consistent track-club entry driven by Adams Balon and Mackay first up. They find themselves in something of a no-man’s land in the overall standings, 13.5 points behind Pro/Am rivals Johnson and Robinson but a very healthy 19 clear of Akhil Rabindra and Dean Macdonald, and David Pattison and Joe Osborne. The latter pairing finished third overall in Snetterton’s second race thanks, in part, to Osborne’s storming pole lap and accomplished first stint, and might feature again this weekend given favourable circumstances.
Expect Will Moore and Matt Nicoll-Jones’ Academy Motorsport Aston Martin to also play a part despite starting at the back of Sunday’s grid after electing to skip Saturday’s qualifying session in favour of racing at the GT4 European Series Northern Cup round in Austria.
2007 GT3 champion Bradley Ellis makes a one-off appearance alongside Ade Barwick in an Optimum-entered Ginetta, Mike Simpson returns to Century’s GT4 fold with Anna Walewska, and Blancpain GT Series racer Struan Moore swaps his usual Nissan GT-R for UltraTek/RJN’s 370Z as part of a three-man crew comprising regular drivers Tim Eakin and Kelvin Fletcher.
Oh, and look out for the variety in GT4 this weekend when Porsche and Toyota, plus a Lotus competing as an Invitational entry, will battle against the aforementioned Ginettas, McLarens, Aston Martins and Nissans!
Tom Hornsby (Source: British GT)