Last season the Team WFR combination of Jody Fannin and Warren Hughes dominated the GT4 class of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship. However, with the team’s exit from racing (with both its four and two wheeled teams) and the splitting up of the driver partnership 2013 starts with race to succeed them wide open.
Though the class can be lost behind the squabbling hoards of GT3 cars fighting for overall wins the season the GT4 shows every sign of being just as competitive this season. Last year, behind the eventual champions, who won eight out of the ten races, six different teams took a second place finish during the season, including teams from Century Motorsport, APO Sport and Optimum Motorsport. All three teams return for 2013, with new teams joining them on the grid.
The Ginetta G50 – the winning car in GT4 all but one last five season – continues to be the weapon of choice with four teams starting the year with the machine that has become the benchmark in the class.
All three of the returning race runners-up continue with their G50 with Redgate/Lifetime Racing entering the championship, adding their new car to the grid.
The new combines the teams of Peter Smith and Dan Eagling, with Eagling and Smith’s son sharing driving duties. The team – or at least Smith’s Redgate Consulting oufit – step down from Ginetta G55 to G50 in order to step up to British GT grid after campaigning a Cup-spec G55 in the British Endurance Championship. The team ended their 2012 season with a podium at Donington, when Eagling joined both Smiths in sharing the drive.
Both Matt Smith and Eagling have prior GT racing experience, the father and son duo entering two race weekends in 2010 with their previous G50.
Like the Redgate/Lifetime squad many of their 2013 rivals are making a switch in series to join the GT4 grid. The one wholesale exception are the APO Sport team of Alex Osborne and James May who begin a second season in GT4. Their 2012 was hampered by missing the Oulton Park weekend after a blown engine early in the practice sessions but second places in both the Rockingham and Brands Hatch 120-minute races helped them to fourth in the championship.
The only driver from the top three of 2012 returning for this season is Zoe Wenham, who is looking to go one better than her second place in the final standings from her first season in GT racing with Nathan Freke’s Century Motorsport squad. Wenham, who joined the GT4 from the VW Racing Cup, completed the majority of last season with Welsh club racing winner Dom Evans. For 2013 she gains a new teammate in Declan Jones who stays with Ginetta cars in moving over after seasons in the marque’s BTCC supporting GT Supercup and Junior series. The driving partnership – with a combined age of just 35 – arguably start as favourites to take the 2013 title.
The two drivers taking over the Optimum Motorsport G50 this season are, like Jones, staying with Ginetta even as they move away from sprint racing. Both Rick Parfitt Jr. and Ryan Ratcliffe come to British GT from the Ginetta GT5 Challenge series that shares many of British GT’s dates. Despite showing consistent pace a race win in the GT5 challenge has eluded Parfitt while Ratcliffe is a race winner in the series where he finished 2012 third in the standings, as well as elsewhere with Optimum Motorsport.
All four Ginetta teams – based on previous results in British GT and elsewhere – are potential race winners, and so potential champions. But with a field, though strong, lacking in the depth that has grabbed the headlines for the GT3 class finishing races at all will be more important than stringing together victories when the champion is decided.
Though dominating the numbers Ginetta are not the only manufacturer in the class. After teams running limited schedules for the last two seasons Steve Chaplin’s Complete Racing team prepare to take the GT4 version of the Aston Martin Vantage for a full season.
Chaplin’s team burst into British GT at Snetterton last year, the VW Cup champion taking a surprise pair of podiums with Phil Keen sharing the car with Chaplin. For a full season Chaplin is joined by fellow VW racing graduate Tom Wilson.
Though Lotus and Mazda – both participants in GT4 last year – are missing from the entry for 2013 they class continues to attract new manufacturers with GPR Motorsport planning an entry for their new GT4-spec Toyota GT86. The car and the team – led on track by KX Akademy man Stefan Hodgetts – will miss the Oulton Park weekend with Hodgetts beginning a Clio Cup campaign at Brands Hatch this weekend but should begin their season on Rockingham’s early May date. Hodgetts, perennially under-funded in relation to his performance in his various past campaigns, will probably be the fastest man in the class on weekends but – regardless of who drives the second half of the races, and how the new machine compares to the Ginetta – giving their rivals a Oulton Park sized headstart is likely to prove too great an obstacle in the points standings.
theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have full coverage of the 2013 Avon Tyres British GT season, starting with this weekend’s opening event at Oulton Park.