The old adage it’s not the quantity it’s the quality that’s important has arguably never been more relevant than it is when used to describe this year’s Porsche Carrera Cup GB grid. The first round at Brands Hatch this weekend is expected to see only around a dozen Porsche 911 GT3 Cup Cars take to the track but the quality of drivers behind the wheel is undisputed, meaning we could be in for one of the closest, most competitive years in the championship’s history.
Defending champion Michael Meadows returns and unsurprisingly is hot favourite to retain the title. However, after three years driving for Redline Racing he has switched teams to the newly formed and indeed branded Samsung Smart Motorsport, a move which he himself has said is like leaving the family. It will be interesting to see how the switch affects Meadows, if at all, as he adapts to the change of surroundings. The signs from media day are that it will not be much of an issue as he topped the times by over two tenths of a second. Joining Meadows at the team will be Richard Kent, who returns to full time motorsport after a two year hiatus. It will be interesting to see how the former single seater driver adapts to the 450bhp rear wheel drive Porsche but with the current champion as his team mate, he should have an extremely useful reference point. By the end of the season Kent will hope he can secure podiums and maybe even a victory.
While Kent is not necessarily expected to be a serious title threat to Meadows, there are three experienced Carrera Cup campaigners driving for three different teams who are expected to provide the most competition. Jonas Gelzinis, Rory Butcher and Dan Lloyd finished fourth, fifth and sixth in the standings respectively in 2012 and are the next highest championship finishers from last year to return following Ben Barker’s move to the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup and Sam Tordoff’s switch to the British Touring Car Championship. All three have hinted that it will be their final year in the series and will all aim to make a big impression; a top three championship finish will be their minimum aim but the real goal is to dethrone Meadows.
Gelzinis remains with his family run team, Juta Racing and will be extremely strong this season. He’s undoubtedly better in qualifying conditions than the other two and rivaled Meadows with his consistency on that front last year. However, he is sometimes error prone when put under pressure, a trait he will need to lose if he wants to mount a more significant challenge this year than last. If he can do that and repeat his qualifying pace then there is every chance he can give Meadows a run for his money.
Butcher had an incredibly underrated 2012 where he really came of age, from Pro-Am1 podium finisher he became a regular front runner, even securing his first two overall victories at Croft. This season he continues with the Celtic Speed team and will look to add to his win tally. He seems determined to be in the title hunt this year and if he starts the season the way he ended the last there’s no reason why he won’t be. His only possible achilles heel is qualifying but having said that Butcher has proved before that he can and will overtake in this championship so if he does have a particularly disappointing grid slot for a given race don’t be surprised to see him rectify it with a fighting drive through the pack.
Lloyd continues with Team Parker Racing and will be exciting to watch this season; after an impressive debut year in the championship he’s desperate for title glory. He’s made no secret of the fact that his long term career aim is to one day become a Porsche factory driver and in order to do that he knows a Carrera Cup title would look far better on his CV than runner up or lower. There is no doubt Lloyd has the pace to challenge but he has to be careful that he doesn’t overdrive or get caught up in silly incidents as he did occasionally last year. If he manages this then there is a feeling up and down the paddock that he could well pose the greatest threat to Meadows.
Reigning teams’ champions Redline Racing may have lost their star driver of 2012 but they have still assembled a strong professional driver lineup with two ex-single seater aces Dean Stoneman and Dan De Zillie signing for the Stockton-On-Tees based squad. Former F2 champion Stoneman returns to competitive motorsport on a full time basis for the first time since being diagnosed with testicular cancer at the beginning of 2011 and the early signs from winter testing are that he will be on the pace from the off. For De Zillie, the switch to sports car racing marks an important period of his racing career and it will be interesting to see how quickly he can get on the same pace as Stoneman.
In Pro-Am1 Victor Jiminez of Redline Racing is probably the slight favourite to edge what should be an equally close category. The Spaniard was a front runner in the category last season and with rivals from last season Ahmad Al Harthy, Oly Mortimer and Derek Pierce all opting not to return it should allow Jiminez to establish himself as the man to beat in the category. His closest competition could come from his new Redline team mate Kyle Barnes who has looked impressive in pre-season testing. The pair will also be joined in the team by experienced Turkish driver Yucel Ozbek.
It won’t be all Redline drivers fighting for Pro-Am1 honours though as Celtic Speed’s George Brewster will again run a part season campaign beginning this weekend at Brands. Brewster grows in confidence and pace with each season he competes in so don’t be surprised to see the Scot on the top step of the Pro-Am1 podium at some point this season.
Pete Smallwood is the only driver to compete in the Pro-Am2 category at the opening round of the season as he steps up from the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge with Parr Motorsport. The signs so far are that he may well be on the pace of the tail end Pro-Am1 runners which is a promising start for the company director from Towcester.
Absent from Brands Hatch is Keith Webster after breaking his arm last week when he was knocked off his bicycle. He is expected to return to the series at Thruxton.
The series will celebrate its 200th race on Saturday at Brands Hatch and it should be a fascinating curtain raiser to one of the most eagerly awaited years of Porsche Carrera Cup GB racing.