At the end of a season where the expanding Avon Tyres British GT Championship grid pitted old and new against each other it was fitting that the winning crew mixed a little of both.
An ever growing grid began the season at a wet Oulton Park, brands Porsche, Ferrari, even Audi and Mercedes representing the old guard of the series in the face of British GT debuts for the BMW Z4, and new GT3 cars from Aston Martin and Nissan, in the shape of the GT-R.
The teams too mixed the established names in the paddock with adapting to a new series, Dave Bartrum’s Motorbase Performance joining the series with a pair of Porsches after leaving the Carrera Cup the previous winter. Ecurie Ecosse – one of the historic names of British racing chose the series to make their full time return to competition, while one of 2011’s winning driver pairings – Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam – took on a new challenge with the brand new Aston Martin Vantage GT3, the Beechdean Motorsport pairing the first privateer team to run the new car.
Such was the influx of new teams and drivers to the championship that Adam and Howard – despite starting only their second year together were one of the more experienced duos forming the ‘old’ guard. On that side of the divide they were joined reigning teams’ champions – Trackspeed – beginning the season with David Ashburn and Richard Westbrook as the lead pairing in a newly expanded three car team, and MTECH and Rosso Verde representing the Ferrari camp, Hector Lester’s team beginning their first full season with the Ferrari 458 GT3 they introduced in the twilight of the previous campaign.
The blend of new and old kept the strength and depth of the past season – maybe even more so. So, perhaps in hindsight, it is unsurprising that the ‘anomaly’ of 2011 was element of continuity as it re-emerged as ill-luck and ill-judgement made their final appearances of the season in a final race which seven different teams began with a chance of taking the title.
Five of them would hold the provisional championship lead at some point in the two hour race at Donington Park.
The title was decided in the final laps. Contact between two contenders only benefitted a third. And so Michael Caine and Daniele Perfetti – though finishing fourth – scooped their fifth podium sized haul of points to jump from fifth in points starting the weekend to follow in the footsteps of the 2011 champions in taking the title without ever having stepped up to the top of the podium in the season.
Though winless, their five podiums was the highest count of anyone in the series as consistency was again proved the most valuable commodity in the championship.
The they ended the season without a victory is little reflection on the pairing’s pace throughout the year, in fact Perfetti was one of the strongest ‘gentleman’ drivers in the series – the relative consistency (yep, that word again) between the two drivers adding stealthy strength to the combination.
Though relatively even the new Motorbase team escaped sanction under the new rules for teams fielding two silver-graded drivers. Only one combination – that of United Autosports – begun the season facing the longer pitstop demanded by the new rules but at a very wet Oulton Park on the Easter weekend when the season begun the extra penalty seemed to be little obstacle as Matt Bell and Charlie Bateman led every lap of the race and so begun the final lap with a comfortable lead, seemingly en route to victory. However, a fuel pick-up problem was to leave Bell stationary half way round the final lap, leaving Oliver Bryant and Alasdair McCaig to collect victory for Ecurie Ecosse on their series debut.
Poor results elsewhere – Bateman and Bell would bank just 21 points in the first half of season, while leader into the summer break David Ashburn 96.5 – would seemingly count them out of the championship race.
With two races remaining in the season the race for the championship looked to be a three-horse race between David Ashburn, and the teams of MTECH and RJN Motorsport.
Each had a win to that point in the season, Ashburn with Westbrook on the first weekend of the season, winning the second race of the Easter Monday. On the British championship’s annual trip abroad travelling to the Nurburgring Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron had taken a surprise win for MTECH, not only because Cameron’s race ending stint took him past the supposedly faster Porsches but because, speaking to theCheckeredFlag.co.uk after the race Cameron explained that the first he knew of leading the race was when he drove under the flag greeting him home.
Ashburn, again sharing his Trackspeed ride with Westbrook, finished second with Perfetti and Caine third, the eventual title winners the only pairing to stand on the podium after both races in Germany.
RJN’s Alex Buncombe and Jann Mardenborough had only become a genuine contender for the championship mid-season when the team confirmed that what was initially a preparatory race for a Blancpain Endurance Series campaign had morphed into a domestic title tilt.
They came close to taking a first win in Germany, only failing to convert Mardenborough’s race one penalty into a victory because a compulsory one second too short. The penal drive through dropped them to third place, the win instead going to Jonny Adam, Andrew Howard and the new Aston Martin Vantage GT3 – the car’s first win anywhere.
A month later – at Brands Hatch it would be Nissan versus Aston Martin again – but with a different outcome in thrilling fashion.
In changing conditions – the drying process from an early shower interrupted by a brief return of the rain – Buncombe and Mardenborough had led almost the entire race, Mardenborough leading into the closing stages of the race chased by Oliver Bryant, trying to add a second win for Ecurie Ecosse. Bryant’s challenge was dented when he opted for the cautious approach during the second tranche of rain, but Adam was charging through the field, passing Bryant a few laps from the end for second and closing in on the rear of the Nissan for the final lap. A small slide through the final corner by Mardenborough allowed Adam a run on the outside to the line, but the Scot was to come up short by just 0.022 seconds in the closest finish in British GT history.
At the penultimate race of the year – three hours at Silverstone – it was extremely unlikely that the championship would have been settled, just two points covering the top three, but the events at Silverstone would do the exact opposite of decide the title as all three struggled to take points away from the Grand Prix track.
Phil Keen retired Ashburn’s Porsche shortly after taking over the car at the first pitstop. Mardenborough and Buncombe were one of many pairings to be hit by penalties after using too much of Silverstone’s inviting tarmac run-off, only finishing eighth one place behind an MTECH Ferrari team that looked so strong in Matt Griffin’s taking pole position. Though he and Cameron took the championship lead they were limited to seventh place by damage to the front of their Ferrari while other drivers took strong results, the additional points for the longer race helping transform the fight for the title into a seven way war for the final weekend.
Behind a United Autosports win Caine and Perfetti had taken third, but Ecurie Ecosse had finished second, despite the BMW Z4 GT3 limping home with a diff problem, to propel Alasdair McCaig into second in the championship, the new behind MTECH’s old – Griffin and Cameron the common disappointed denominator in the title chase the last two years.
Mardenborough, Buncombe, Ashburn and the Caine-Perfetti combination completed the top five for the final, the teams in sixth (Bell and Bateman) and seventh (Steve Tandy and Joe Osborne for Trackspeed) – outside shots for the championship – counter-intuitively the only ones to have won twice in the season.
Alex Buncombe would star in the first half of the race, charging through from 14th on the grid to a lead that put them into the championship lead as it stood. However, the role of Mardenborough, so often the headline in his first season of racing, would only be a cameo, the left-rear suspension on the GT-R collapsing on the way down the Craner Curves.
Their retirement gave the championship lead back to Griffin and Cameron, though only just as they battled in the middle of the top ten. A safety car period – the Speedworks Corvette ending the season in the gravel at McLeans – meant there was one last chance for old and new to clash – literally. Bryant dived for the inside of Matt Griffin at Goddards, spinning the Ferrari down the order, briefly putting teammate McCaig into the championship lead before, inevitably, he was penalised, leaving Caine and Perfetti to collect the title.
The race meanwhile was won by the same combination that had missed out on starting the year with a win. Bell and Bateman collected the points for the win, their third such result in four races in the McLaren MP4-12C, the pace of the car – introduced by United Autosports for the second half of the season only promising another battle between old and new for 2013 as the Anglo-American team confirmed a pair of the machines for 2013.
The GT4 class was a more straight-forward affair. The combination of the experience Warren Hughes and Jody Fannin – the latest driver to step into British GT from Ginetta’s ladder from their Junior series – proving too strong for the rest of the GT4 field.
The Team WFR pairing won eight of the ten races during the year, only missing out in the second race at the Nurburgring and the first race at Snetterton, victory in those races falling to Phil Glew and Sailesh Bolisetti for Lotus Sport and Optimum Motorsport’s Lee Mowle and George Murrells respectively in those cases.
The title was claimed at Silverstone, with a race to spare. Behind the class winners there were promising British GT debuts by Zoe Wenham and Dominic Evans, who took second and third for Century Motorsport, the pair split on points as Evans missed the opening weekend of the championship.
James May and Alex Osborne, moving into British GT after winning the Britcar Production Cup in 2011, finished fourth in class. Also debuting in the series after racing in Britcar the previous year Owen Mildenhall and Mike Ticehurst battled a temperamental Mazda MX-5, finishing only half of the races they entered.