2015 Avon Tyres British GT Season Review


It’s a remarkable achievement when one team wins one title, but for Beechdean AMR they went one better – claiming the Avon Tyres British GT Championship GT3 and GT4 titles in a dominant year for the Aston Martin squad.

The GT3 pairing of Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard proved experience pays off while their GT4 pairing of Ross Gunn and Jamie Chadwick, who had no previous sportscar experience prior to 2015, showed that youth and raw talent can conquer any competitor.

To see how they got their titles it is best starting, like all good reviews do, at the beginning…

GT3

A familiar Easter date was in store for the Beechdean boys with two one-hour races at Oulton Park ready to bank them some valuable points and start their charge to the title on a good foundation.

Unfortunately, it seemed as though not everyone had read the script as menace to teams everywhere – Salih Yoluc – managed to spin his VonRyan Racing McLaren at Knickerbrook and successfully wiped out Andrew Howard.

While Yoluc would be banned for race two, the Beechdean mechanics would have to pull off a blinder to get their Aston Martin Vantage to the grid with only a small window between the two races.

In what would become a trend for the season, the Beechdean crew played a blinder and got the car out for race two – which Adam and Howard promptly took to victory, Adam saying after the race: “Getting the win in this race is brilliant. Race one was just not our race with the crash and that left us with a lot of work to do in terms of repairing damage.

“The car was never going to be 100% but what our mechanics did in an hour and a half was just incredible. There were big things, like the chassis, that needed work doing to it but we always knew our pace was going to be good!”

Taking third on that day – behind a brilliant second for Steve Tandy and Mike Simpson in the factory Ginetta G55 GT3 – would be their main title rivals Ecurie Ecosse with Alexander Sims and Marco Attard firing a warning shot to their rivals.

While third might not be exactly the result they were wanting, the next weekend at Rockingham would show why they have the number one on their BMW.

Alexander Sims and Marco Attard would show off the BMW's cornering prowess at Rockingham (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)
Alexander Sims and Marco Attard would show off the BMW’s cornering prowess at Rockingham (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)

Ecurie Ecosse Combination Score Rockingham win  was how The Checkered Flag reported on Sims and Attard’s victory at Britain’s newest race circuit after Sims showed just how good an endurance racer he is by utilising the traffic to best effect in an hour long battle with Dan Lloyd in an Oman Racing Team Aston Martin.

Lloyd would put up a good fight but running too deep into the Deene Hairpin was the only invitation the BMW driver needed to sweep into the lead. With a late safety car allowing him clean track ahead, Sims admitted to putting in ten minutes of qualifying laps to take the flag with a ten-second lead.

Beechdean would finish down in seventh after a forgettable race for Howard and Adam and proof, if proof were needed, that this championship wouldn’t be plain sailing for anyone.

That was especially true if you had ‘VonRyan Racing’ written on the side of your car – this time both cars would be involved in an incident after Salih Yoluc majorly outbraked himself going into the Brook Chicane on lap one. The only other victim of this? His team mate Ross Wylie who was thoroughly t-boned by Yoluc. Thankfully both drivers were uninjured but we can’t speak for damage to their pride.

After that it was probably no surprise that entry had new drivers going into the showpiece Silverstone 500 at the end of May with Gilles Vannelet and Adrian Quaife-Hobbs guiding the car to victory in one of the tightest finishes seen this season.

That was because an outsider in the title battle, the Triple Eight BMW of Joe Osborne and Lee Mowle chased down the McLaren for the whole of the three-hour race and finished just half-a-second down on the bright orange machine – but, vitally, ahead of Ecurie Ecosse who could only take third. Jonny Adam would recover the Beechdean car to fifth after Howard span from first at Becketts on the very first lap.

Beechdean would come back in style in the Ardennes (Credit: British GT/Jakob Ebrey)
Beechdean would come back in style in the Ardennes (Credit: British GT/Jakob Ebrey)

However, when he field would depart on their jollies to Spa-Francorchamps and their summer retreat, Beechdean would again click up into top gear as they mastered the Belgian circuit and their title rivals suffered in the heat.

The first to falter was the Triple Eight BMW which saw its fuel pump fail just before Stavelot to put them out of the running before Marco Attard in the Ecurie Ecosse car slipped backwards to almost outside the top ten having started near the front.

While their title rivals weren’t putting up a fight, it was actually Leonard AMR – a one-time entry as they looked to get prepared for the Total 24 Hours of Spa – that were the ones to beat as teammates Stuart Leonard and Michael Meadows clocked up the laps in the lead in their Aston Martin Vantage GT3.

However, Adam seemed to have had his Weetabix before getting in to his Aston Martin and soon had the distinctive black and yellow car in his sights before making one of the moves of the season to pass Meadows at La Source.

It seemed as though Beechdean could take that momentum to Brands Hatch, and after claiming pole the team were confident of cutting down Sims and Attard’s points lead. However Adam told TCF at the time that pole was only half the battle: “If we can get a top four that’d be a mega weekend. We just don’t want a top four and Ecurie Ecosse win because they’re just gonna keep stretching the lead.”

And wouldn’t you guess it? That’s exactly what happened with the Beechdean losing time in the pits thanks to a success penalty carried over from Spa leaving it in fourth place.

What made matters worse was the charge of Sims from third with two great moves to jump into the lead which all came about because of Sims’ tenacity and courage to make small gaps become big advantages.

That all added to the team’s points total, and going to Norfolk the defending champions had more than 20 points in hand over their rivals.

Thankfully Snetterton could come along and shake up the pack a bit, starting with another Aston Martin joining in the title fun, that being the #6 Oman Racing Team entry of Liam Griffin and Rory Butcher. Always there or thereabouts for most of the season, taking victory in the first of the one hour sprint races in Norfolk helped them go from outsiders to serious contenders.

They were helped in their move up the table thanks to Beechdean only finishing fourth – though second, third and fourth were all nose-to-tail – and Ecurie Ecosse getting a 30 second time penalty for causing the Mike Simpson/Steve Tandy Ginetta to retire after a collision.

If they were looking to carry on that form into race two they would be in for a shock as a concertina-like crash saw Ryan Ratcliffe in the #44 Ginetta GT3 hit the back of the #6 which hit the #1 BMW. The latter two cars would have to pit to change tyres and their hopes of a podium were dashed as they came back out to the back of the grid.

The race was also notable for being the only race of the year cut short because of bad weather and honestly, the rain was so heavy, and the track so flooded, that powerboats would have been better than GT machinery. However, that certainly helped Andrew Howard as he happily cut short his wet-weather masterclass to take victory and cut the points deficit going to the #DoningtonDecider.

Going into the final round at Donington Park there were four challengers for the title (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)
Going into the final round at Donington Park there were four challengers for the title (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)

Triple Eight, Oman Racing Team, Beechdean AMR and Ecurie Ecosse. Those four entries were all in with a shout going into the last race of the year but a rear-ending incident between the Oman car and the #888 on the first lap saw Griffin retire with front-end damage after overshooting the Melbourne Hairpin and both Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne would have to deal with a damaged car for the remainder of the race.

When the Ecurie Ecosse BMW tried to dive down the Beechdean GT4 car and ended up in the barriers with terminal damage, all Howard and Adam had to do was finish sixth or better and with a fifth place the final result, they wrapped up the title with only a few points in hand.

After claiming the title, Adam said: “The cards definitely fell right today, that’s the nice thing about it because sometimes we’ve had bad luck like the first round at Oulton Park and we’ve had a few bad races through the year but today everything that could have gone our way did go our way – you can’t plan those things they just go your way through luck and we’ve had that.”

GT4

Stunning pace by the GT rookies in #407 would help them in their title success (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)
Stunning pace by the GT rookies in #407 would help them in their title success (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)

In GT4, the title battle had less contenders but just as strong racing as the junior Beechdean team – with Jamie Chadwick and Ross Gunn behind the wheel – did battle with their main rivals Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw in the ISSY Racing Lotus Evora.

It was honours even leaving Oulton Park for the two protagonists with Beechdean securing second in the first race before being disqualified in race two for ‘driving in a manner incompatible with safety’ following a collision with the #61 Academy Motorsport car. For the Lotus crew, a low placing in race one was countered with victory in race two meaning they left the North West with the upperhand.

Moving on the Rock and Chadwick showed just how fast she can be, setting the track alight to open up a 22 second gap on the Toyota GT86 in second in just an hour of racing. Gunn would carry on that good pace and would eventually finish almost a lap up on Mike Robinson in the PMW Expo Racing Ginetta. A poor eighth place finish for an off-form Yusuf and Kershaw would see the momentum swing to the young chargers.

That pace carried on to a wet Silverstone as Beechdean’s experience at the Britcar 24 Hours helped them to a second win on the bounce and already one hand on the title. It could have been so different though if the ISSY Racing car hadn’t spun from the lead early on in the race, they recovered to third but the pace was there to take victory if not for their mistake.

ISSY Racing had a Spa day in Belgium taking a well-earned victory (Credit: British GT/Jakob Ebrey)
ISSY Racing had a Spa day in Belgium taking a well-earned victory (Credit: British GT/Jakob Ebrey)

Although, when the series went south for its trip to Belgium it was ISSY that took victory and a warning to everyone that they were not going down without a fight.

It helped matters that the Lotus loves Spa, something attested to by Kershaw: “The Lotus loves this place, it can stretch its legs a bit. With the ballast on board we are one of the heaviest cars out there, so it is hard on its tyres – we’ve never done two hours on a set of tyres before so it was a risk. 

“But no it’s just a nice steady race, you’re always waiting for something to go wrong aren’t you? Hit, puncture, whatever. I’ve never let so many GT4 past that have been behind me, so no it’s great – we had a second and a third last year so to top it off with this is brilliant.”

It also helped them that the Beechdean crew had to deal with an AmDTuning.com Porsche of Jake Hill and Graham Coomes that was having its strongest race of the year as they took advantage of a well-timed safety car to end up in third place.

That said, the pendulum kept on swinging and as the field went to Brands Hatch, a retirement with a mechanical issue saw the Lotus fail to finish and after a collision between Jake Hill and Denis Strandberg in the Academy Motorsport Aston Martin, Gunn and Chadwick moved from fifth to a podium finish.

With that, it was mathematically possible that Beechdean could win the GT4 title going to Snetterton, but on home soil the Lotus team was trying all it could to upset the equation.

Race one saw an assured drive from Yusuf and Kershaw to top off all the other sessions they had led over the weekend and with a fifth-placed finish for the Aston Martin it seemed as though the fight would go to the final round.

The ISSY Racing Lotus tried to fight back at Snetterton but it was too little, too late (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)
The ISSY Racing Lotus tried to fight back at Snetterton but it was too little, too late (Credit: Nick Smith/TheImageTeam.com)

However, the rain was to play a big part in the second race of the weekend and with Yusuf admitting the car ‘didn’t have a wet set-up’ it was Beechdean’s to lose and with a solid drive to fourth place they stretched their lead over ISSY to 38.5 points, and with only 37.5 on offer at Donington the dynamic duo had won the title with a race to spare.

After the race, in a near-enough flooded pitlane, Chadwick said: “Becoming the champion is absolutely awesome, it’s slightly unexpected to do it today and after the first race we were a bit uncertain we could do it, but it is absolutely mega!”

Gunn echoed that: “It’s unbelievable, I’ve said that about five times now! I’m absolutely over the moon for everyone at Beechdean and Aston Martin, this season has just been a blur.

“I didn’t really have expectations coming into the season because I’m new to British GT, but throughout the year we’ve worked really hard, Jamie is really easy to get along with – it’s just been mega!”

It is probably a good thing they won the title at Snetterton because they caught some uncustomary bad luck in the East Midlands – being lapped by Marco Attard the two cars tangled and the Beechdean car immediately retired with suspension damage.

But ultimately that didn’t matter – with only that blemish on an absolutely outstanding year for not only those two, but for the whole Beechdean team.