After the season opening races Easter Monday at Oulton Park the Avon Tyres British GT Championship returns to action this weekend at the Rockingham ‘roval’ in Northamptonshire.
Just as to start the season the series take advantage of the extra day afforded by the back holiday weekend to race on Monday (May 6). However, unlike at the Cheshire track it is a single two hour race on the schedule, rather than the twin hour-long races that began the campaign at the start of April.
Just as the challenge facing the teams is different the look of the grid will be a little different with the series continuing to attract new teams while other squads reshuffle their drivers for the second of the year. The series is led – at least in terms of points – into the Corby track by the Trackspeed duo of Nick Tandy and David Ashburn. Despite Ashburn claiming to have retired at the end of last season the massive points lead he and Porsche works driver Tandy left Oulton Park has been enough to lure him back for at least another race. Their Trackspeed teammates Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen are their ‘closest’ challengers at 18 points back, but with extra points on offer for the longer race this weekend the leaders’ advantage could easily be lost.
“I’m pretty confident about this weekend at Rockingham,” said Tandy. “Trackspeed have tested there before and have an idea of base setup, which is a plus; David has always gone well at Rockingham too and has managed to pick up points at most visits there. I also think the new Porsche will be a lot better suited to the infield section this year rather than the fast banked section; the new aero on the Porsche will be a real boost. Rockingham is a local circuit for me and one that suits my driving style a lot and its one of the reasons why I was pushing David to race again, we had so much fun at Oulton it made sense to go for it again.”
While all three Trackspeed line-ups remain unchanged (Gregor Fisken and Richard Westbrook still hunting their first points after a disastrous Oulton Park meeting) elsewhere changes abound.
They start with the Fortec Motorsport squad, with whom Benji Hetherington and Ollie Hancock completed the race one podium at Oulton Park behind the two Trackspeed teams. Hetherington remains with the team, though he will drive with Jason Minshaw who drove the team’s second Mercedes SLS with James Walker at Oulton. The second car is now driver by open-wheel man Oli Webb, part of Fortec’s Formula Renault 3.5 squad this season after a year in the Indy Lights in America. He will share with Paraguayan driver Danny Candia.
Also reshuffling their pack at United Autosports. Entering the weekend fifth in the points Matt Bell and Mark Patterson remain together in the team’s Audi R8 LMS ultra. After missing the opening round – with Glynn Geddie deputising – Alvaro Parente is set to make his seasonal British GT debut alongside team owner Zak Brown in one of the team’s two McLaren MP4-12C GT3. In the team’s other McLaren Jody Firth moves in to share with Mark Blundell who will be hoping to get his first race of the season after a qualifying crash by Oulton co-driver Roger Wills ruled the car out of the races.
Surprisingly all the cars involved in incidents and accidents at Oulton Park return for Rockingham. That includes the Redgate/Lifetime GT4 Ginetta G50 of Matt Smith and Dan Eagling that was the other casualty of qualifying at Oulton and the two Ginetta G55 GT3 of Team LNT and CWS–IDL respectively that both succumbed to dramatic fires on race day in Cheshire.
The British GT Championship continues attract new teams. GT racing stalwarts Shaun Balfe and Tommy Erdos making their return in a Ferrari 458 run by Balfe Motorsport. Also joining the fray at Von Ryan Racing who add a fourth McLaren to the entry list with drivers Duncan Tappy and Greg Demoustier joing the team. The Anglo-French pairing drove at McLaren in last year’s Blancpain Endurance Series with ART Grand Prix. The Von Ryan team, owned by former McLaren Sporting Director Dave Ryan, will contest the rest of the season save for the series’ September outing to Zandvoort due to a calendar clash.
“We’re on the back foot big time,” admits Ryan. “We’ve never been to Rockingham as a team, but we’ve driven past it though; that’s all part of the fun. Duncan knows the circuit and has raced and tested here before, but Greg hasn’t been here before and needs to get familiar with it. From what we know it is a tough track, very hard on tyres. The team will only meet each other properly when they get to the track too, so we’ve got our eyes open to what kind of challenge it will be. I’ve heard great things about British GT, it sounds like a neat championship, and we’re going to go out to do as well as we can this weekend.”
The Avon Tyres British GT Championship is scheduled to qualify on Sunday afternoon with the two hour race starting at 1:05pm on Monday May 6. theCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have full coverage of the full weekend of racing.