Only a few years ago the Avon Tyres British GT Championship looked like a series in terminal decline, falling grid numbers under pressure from other series.
2011 could not have been further away from that low point.
2011's bumper grid brought new teams and new cars into the premier GT3 class. Speedworks Motorsport brought the Corvette Z06 for its British debut, 2009 champions the Jones twins – Godfrey and David – traded in their Ascari for the brutal Mercedes SLS, teams brought the new Ginetta G55 in the championship, United Autosports returned with the Audi R8 LMS for a full season with a two car effort, a two teams opened the year with brand new Ferrari 458 – four more examples would be seen by the end of the year with Hector Lester the last to convert to the new car, leaving just Predator CCTV with the old car by season's end.
That CRS Racing men Jim and Glynn Geddie won the title without winning a race is a statistical anomaly, but one that shows the terrific level of competition over a season where seven different duos did score victory and six pairings started the Silverstone finale with a mathematical chance at lifting the title.
The winners rightly stole the attention.
David Ashburn – thrice a victor – a brace each of Beechdean Motorsport duo Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard and series newcomers Scuderia Vittoria with Michael Lyons and Charles Bateman and single successes for MTECH, United Autosports, Gregor Fisken and Tim Bridgman in the second Trackspeed Porsche and Alex Mortimer and Andrew Tate in the sister Ferrari to the Geddies' example.
But 2011 was title decided, almost be stealth, by reliability and consistency.
Glynn and Jim Geddie made a stuttering start at Oulton Park on the Easter Weekend, forced to start the year in the older Ferrari 430 Scuderia, powerless as Lyons and Bateman showed the potential of the latest Ferrari by winning one of the two races. Winners in the other race where David Ashburn and Richard Westbrook, the latter assisting the defending champion whenever his international commitments allowed.
However, ahead of the two race winners, it was United Autosports' Matt Bell and Michael Guasch who led the championship out of Cheshire after being the only team to end both of the races on the podium.
Bell and Guasch's championship lead grew again after their victory at Snetterton – the first of three two-hour races in a calendar nearly as varied as the cars contesting it. If the Geddies' championship win is one rare oddity in the season, then Bell and Guasch's win at Snetterton is another.
When Bell crossed the finish line under the checkered flag it was the only lap the no.23 Audi had led all afternoon and formed a fitting end to a topsy-turvy race – a race where too many of the title contenders to be ended as spectators
Ashburn crashed out in an embarrassing incident at Williams, spinning out of the right hander leaving Gregor Fisken in the second Trackspeed entry with way to avoid the no.1 car broadside ahead. The accident prompted a lengthy safety car to recover two heavily damages Porsches and effect repairs to the barriers Fisken had clouted after the initial contact.
Lyons was the next to retire with suspension damage, leaving Glynn Geddie and Matt Griffin to battle for the lead, then what had been a Ferrari 1-2-3 was reduced to a Ferrari 1 when Griffin retired after contact with Tom Black while lapping the Aston Martin driver at Riches.
The same incident had forced Geddie wide, and the front bodywork of the 458 was chattering alarmingly along the faster sections of the 300 circuit and the time lost on each lap meant Bell was two, even three seconds, a lap faster until being lumbered with a second penalty of the race- this time for passing under yellow flags.
Then, in a final late twist, Geddie was called into the pits to fix the wobbling front end. The most cursory of repairs – a few squares of race tape that spent only seconds on the car – Geddie returned to the track with only seconds of the race remaining, but the one lap of racing that remained was enough for Bell to take the lead and the victory.
It was to be Bell and Guasch's only win of the year, and as close as the Geddies got to taking the checkered flag first.
The victory in May gave Bell and Guasch the championship lead they would hold until September, though their grip was never as strong as the longevity of that lead might suggest.
Guasch ended the Brands race in the Druids gravel while the Geddies and MTECH drivers Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin both picked up podiums behind victors Bridgman and Fisken.
Both Ferrari teams repeated their podium feats at Spa-Francorchamps before the series' summer break, Cameron and Griffin hitting the kind of form that was expected from them pre-season by winning the second race in Belgium after Ashburn and Westbrook had picked up their second win of the year. Bell and Guasch meanwhile took only a fifth and sixth place away from the Ardennes, their points lead further chipped away and making them vulnerable when the series returned to action at Rockingham.
If it is possible to pick out one weekend as a turning point in a season of racing then the damp weekend at the Northants roval would be it. In changeable conditions none of the lead teams truly excelled – that honour went to Beechdean Motorsport who were untouchable in the first race, romping to a simple victory after guessing right on tyre choice – but Bell and Guasch could easily look back on the weekend as an opportunity lost.
American Guasch – one of the faster of the 'second' drivers in the championship – had claimed pole for the first race but a technical problem left him stranded on the grid as the rest of field started their formation lap before the rolling start.
Treacherous conditions minimised the damage – both MTECH and Geddie crews failed to score after being forced to change onto wet tyres early in the race, but the United Autosports crew themselves only scored a single point from pole position after having to make the same stop.
That missed chance was made all the more costly be the second race, when, late in the race Guasch dropped from third to fifth after challenging Jim Geddie for second – the CRS team had already lost time by serving a penalty for running outside the track limits.
The faster of the two Guasch followed Geddie around for several laps but was unable to pass the Scot armed with the Ferrari's better handling through Rockingham's twisting infield section.
Behind winners Mortimer and Tate Geddie took second place and the championship lead away from the Audi duo who lost out Cameron – the MTECH team another to have served a drive through – and Lyons when the pair caught up the battle for second. The points lost in those two late moves dropped Bell and Guasch back into the chasing pack behind the Geddies, who having been title chasers all season were no presented with an improbable opportunity to wrap up the championship with one race weekend to spare.
Of course, central to that possibility was the need to win the Donington 500 three hour enduro, where – in keeping with the season to that point the Apex Tubulars backed pair scored solid points while their title rivals hit further setbacks.
And each other.
Early race contact with Duncan Cameron at the Melbourne hairpin forced a lengthy pitstop for Guasch as he and Bell lost more ground to the points leaders. With the race starting in damp conditions it was Jonny Adam and the Beechdean Aston who shone again, building a big lead during the opening stint.
Also making the best of the difficult conditions was Tom Sharp in the Rollcentre entered Ginetta G55. The newest Ginetta had been a constant presence through the season but had always struggled for raw pace against the bigger GT3 cars, but with rain always the great equalizer the Ginetta GT Supercup front runner was able to slice up the field during his race opening stint.
Unfortunately both fell back as the race progressed Adam's teammate Andrew Howard leaving the Aston in a gravel trap leaving the pair of Trackspeed cars to score a 1-2 with Ashburn picking up his third win of year, and his first with Jelley.
Still, with additional points awarded for the longer race, Ashburn was part of the six way battle for the title that arrived at Silverstone for the final round of the season.
Family Geddie still led the way, but with Cameron and Griffin, Lyons and Bateman, Bell and Guasch, Fisken and Bridgman and Ashburn – all capable of ending the season ahead.
Jonny Adam and Andrew Howard won their second race of the season – the pair in irresistible form in both qualifying and the race – giving the venerable DBRS9 a final win in its last race before Aston's new GT3 racer takes its place in 2012.
Meanwhile the title was being decided further back in the top ten. Geddie, Cameron and Guasch all racing each other while Ashburn, Fisken and Bateman – comparative outsiders in terms of their title chances – ran further up the order in the early running.
The race ended early for Bell and Guasch – the American spinning out at Club before Bell retired the car later in the race – a disappointing end for the team that had been the championship benchmark for so much of the season.
There was also disappointment for Micheal Lyons and Matt Griffin who were taken out of title contention by penalties.
Suddenly David Ashburn – despite three retirements over the season – was the main threat to the Geddies' title hopes. Richard Westbrook, returning to the British GT fold, took second away from United Autosports co-owner Zak Brown in the team's third Audi for a one-off appearance, and started to chase down Adam in the leading Aston.
For Ashburn to retain the title for a second year he needed the points for a with the Geddies off the podium would.
And for a time that looked very, very possible.
Pulse rates at CRS were settled when Glynn Geddie fought past Brown to take third place, but then rose steadily as he caught Westbrook, harassing the Englishman through the final laps despite the team telling Geddie over the radio to back off.
Geddie ultimately followed Westbrook across the line to become half of the first father and son duo to win the championship – and to give the new Ferrari a title in its first season and another accolade to CRS Racing in what will sadly be a fleeting return to British GT action as the outfit pull out of racing to focus on their role with the McLaren MP4-12C.
The story of the season in GT4 was no less interesting, though it followed a very different pattern. ABG Motorsport drivers Marcus Clutton and Peter Belshaw were the pace setters from the start of the season, despite ending the second race at Oulton Park in the tyre wall at turn one.
Wins in the two-hour races at Snetterton and Brands Hatch cemented their place at the top of the class points table – though both came in somewhat abnormal circumstances.
Their Snetterton success came after a whopping 1:11 penalty for missing the pit window, Clutton passing the Lotus Evora of Leyton Clarke and Freddy Nordstrom late in the race to complete a race win every bit as unlikely as Bell and Guasch's success in the GT3 class.
Victory at Brands Hatch came only after the Scuderia Vittoria Ginetta G50 of Dan Denis and David McDonald had gone off at the last corner of the final lap to drop victory into the KTM X-Bow driving pair.
It was to be their final win of the year as performance balancing began to claw back the apparent advantage the machine had over its rivals.
The two teams Clutton and Belshaw had bested to take the wins became their strongest rivals. McDonald and Denis hit form during the late summer, scoring three class wins in four races, including a double victory at Rockingham. However, just as is the GT3 championship consistency proved to be crucial.
Clutton and Belshaw picked up podiums in each of the final three races and, helped by the crew of the other Lotus Sport UK Evora – James Nash and Phil Glew at Donington and Glew and Chris Holmes at Silverstone – stealing points for victory took a comparatively easy title with Clarke, Nordstrom, McDonald and Denis all tied for second.
Another statistical oddity – another product of the superb, evenly matched racing that the Avon Tyres British GT Championship produced in 2011.
Final GT3 Class Standings (drivers shown together scored all points as co-drivers)
|Ferrari 430 Scuderia
|2||David Ashburn||Porsche 911||Trackspeed||130|
|Ferrari 458||Scuderia Vittoria||116.5|
|Aston Martin DBRS9||Beechdean Motorsport||113.5|
|Audi R8 LMS||United Autosports||110.5|
|Mercedes Benz SLS||Preci-Spark||98|
|9||Richard Westbrook||Porsche 911||Trackspeed||89|
|10||Hector Lester||Ferrari 430 Scuderia
|11||Allan Simonsen||Ferrari 430 Scuderia||Rosso Verde||76.5|
|Ferrari 430 Scuderia
|Ferrari 430 Scuderia||Predator CCTV||23.5|
|14||Phil Keen||Porsche 911||Trackspeed||23|
|Audi R8 LMS||United Autosports||23|
|16||Stephen Jelley||Porsche 911||Trackspeed||18|
|Ferrari 430 Scuderia||Chad Racing||14|
|Audi R8 LMS||United Autosports||12|
|Gordon Shedden||Ferrari 458||Rosso Verde||12|
|Ginetta G55||LNT Century Motorsport||12|
|Corvette Z06||Speedworks Motorsport||10|
|22||Julien Draper||Ginetta G55
|LNT Century Motorsport
|23||Matthew Draper||Ferrari 458||MTECH||6|
|Ginetta G55||Stark Racing||3.5|
|Ginetta G55||LNT Century Motorsport||3|
|26||Freddie Hetherington||Ginetta G55||LNT Century Motorsport||2|
Non scorers: Tom Ferrier (Chad Racing) Tom Black, Stuart Hall, Alan Bonner (Vantage Racing) Peter Bamford, Thomas Mutsch, Bradley Ellis (RPM) Tim Muller (CRS Racing) David Back (MTECH) Andrew Jordan (Rollcentre, LNT Century Motorsport) Colin White, Benji Hetherington, Steve Quick (LNT Century Motorsport) Adam Morgan (JHR Developments) Stefan Hodgetts (Stark Racing, JHR Developments)
Final GT4 Class Standings
|KTM X-Bow||ABG Motorsport||205.5|
|Ginetta G50||Scuderia Vittoria||164|
|Lotus Evora||Lotus Sport UK||164|
|Ginetta G50||LNT Century Motorsport||157|
|5||Phil Glew||Lotus Evora||Lotus Sport UK||139|
|6||Ollie Jackson||Lotus Evora||Lotus Sport UK||101.5|
|7||Chris Holmes||Aston Martin Vantage
Lotus Sport UK
|8||Peter Erceg||Aston Martin Vantage||Secure Racing||59|
|KTM X-Bow||ABG Motorsport||51|
|10||James Nash||Lotus Evora||Lotus Sport UK||37.5|
|Jack Drinkall||Lotus Evora||Lotus Sport UK||37.5|
|Ginetta G50||Magic racing||15|
|Aston Martin Vantage||Secure Racing||12|
|14||Tiff Needell||Aston Martin Vantage||Secure Racing||9|
|Aston Martin Vantage||Aston Martin Belgium||9|
Final GT3B Class Standings
|Lamborghini Gallardo||Backdraft Motorsport||37.5|
|Aston Martin DBRS9||22GT Racing||27|
Non scorers: Paul Hogarth, James Pickford (MTECH) Andy Ruhan, Paul Whight (Barwell Motorsport)
Final GTC Class standings
|Chevron GR8||Chevron Racing Cars||100|
|Chevron GR8||Chevron Racing Cars||13.5|
|Ginetta G50||Magic Racing||13.5|