When it was first announced that Ginetta were to produce a GT4 version of their G55, joining the GT3 variant of the model as well as the car that has become the backbone of the Ginetta GT4 Supercup one of the key parts to the news was that a single car would be eligible for both the BTCC supporting GT4 Supercup and the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.
The intention – or at least part of the intention – was that teams and drivers would be able to get the maximum amount of racing out of a single car.
However, while a handful of teams have embraced the opportunity to race in both championships only one man is to personally perform double duty.
The fact that the man in question – Tom Oliphant – is to attempt the feat in his first full year of sports car racing makes the task, on paper, all the more daunting. To do so he has joined Century Motorsport for the season, having entered three race weekends with Nathan Freke’s team in the second half of 2013
Speaking before the start of season to theCheckeredFlag.co.uk Oliphant explained that the plan to enter both series was a plan that came together soon after the news about the G55 GT4; “as soon as that was announced and as soon as Nathan told me it was an obvious choice.”
He continues, outlining the potential problems which the ability to use the G55 GT4 for both series eases. “I’d have really struggled going from this car with all the downforce, the grippy tyres and new paddle shift system – which is brilliant – back to the G50. It’s just a completely different car. At least this way, even if they alter it slightly it is still fundamentally the same car I’m sitting in all the time.”
After three years in Formula Renault equipment, the most recent two as part of the BARC Formula Renault grid, Oliphant joins Century having raced with them at Rockingham and Silverstone in the GT Supercup, and at the British Endurance Championship ‘Into The Night’ race at Donington, sharing driving duties with team boss Freke too finish third overall.
Oliphant, 23, describes his first moves into sports cars as “invaluable experience” and over the racing-free winter months he has added further experience, perhaps more than any other driver on the grid.
“We’ve had a really, really solid winter testing,” he says. “We’ve been over to Portugal for a couple of days which was really useful and we’ve been round the country since. I think this is my eighth or ninth test day. We’ve just built and built and built. I think we have a really quick car and obviously I’m continually learning so I should get quicker and quicker.”
“Personally every time I get in the car I feel very confident to go out and push it, I think we’ve started finding the limit of the car which is always a nice feeling. Whenever we make changes we can definitely tell, it’s quite noticeable. Over testing we’ve set some really quick pace, had some good lap times and I’m starting to get the consistency that’s needed in my races as well.”
Only when the Ginetta GT4 Supercup season starts at Brands Hatch this weekend will the advances in, and advantage of, this off-season schedule be seen, but with the start of Oliphant’s British GT debut season still four weeks away the work really is only just beginning.
When the GT Championship gets underway it introduces one of the biggest challenges of the dual campaigns – the simple logistics of needing to be in two different places at once with the British GT Championship’s Easter Weekend opener at Oulton Park clashing with the second GT4 Supercup weekend at Donington Park.
Oliphant addresses; “I’ve got to get from Donington for Supercup to Oulton and again from Thruxton in Supercup to Rockingham for GTs. It’s going to be challenging.” He only half laughs off suggestions of a helicopter commute between the tracks.
The occasional need for rapid relocation aside while the convergence of rules means the same car can be used for both series (though the two clashes between the calendars ensure it can’t be exactly the same car) the styles of racing remain very different. The GT4 Supercup remains a sprint racing series, while British GT will present longer races – 60 minute events are the shortest of the year
“There’s two different modes that I’m going to have to drive in,” the driver acknowledges. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two series is that Oliphant will be joined by a co-driver for the GT events, the series rookie joined by Rick Parfitt Jr. as he defends the GT4 class title he won last year.
Knowing that his new teammate is defending champion could produce pressure on Oliphant to help him repeat in the class. However, he explains that it actually relieves some pressure in his upcoming debut season.
“Rick’s a known entity, he won it last year, he’s a brilliant driver, he’s got what it takes and on my side it means I can just go and drive how I normally would and we can work together to get the best set-up. It’s really positive I’m really happy to be running with him. I think it will be a brilliant year and we will be title contenders.”
Despite his lack of endurance racing experience – last November’s Donington outing was his first such race – Oliphant already has his mind set on what may become the decisive factor in the class championship.
“Who can manoeuvre round the traffic properly to let them through and not lose time. I think that’s what is going to decide the championship. Obviously having an experience partner like Rick and obviously Century have got a lot of good years behind them in British GT that will really help. They’ll be able to give me a lot of advice especially with the radio they’ll be able to give me constant updates.”
“I’ve done endurance racing before but I’ve always been up the front. I’ve always been the one overtaking, I always like to think I’ve been in the top three in that sort of thing.”
“I don’t see that as a problem, it’s something I’ll be able to get the hang of quite quickly.”