As the Avon Tyres British GT Championship has grown into one of Europe’s top GT series under the management of the SRO Motorsports Group the GT4 class has all too often been consigned to the shade below the premier class.
This season, however, just as the GT3 class grid can boast new brands, and championship winning teams and drivers joining the fray, so can GT4.
A dozen teams, bringing together five different brands will begin the season this weekend at Oulton Park, where a pair of hour long races on Easter Monday will give the first clues as to who will be fighting for the title. The grid is a far cry from the seasons of the blurred G4 class, when teams running cars to different specifications competed against each other.
At the head of the class are two of the drivers who fought for the 2013 title. However, both Rick Parfitt Jr. and Declan Jones face the 2014 campaign in new cars, with new teams and new co-drivers.
With Ryan Ratcliffe taking a step towards a GT3 drive with an intensive testing plan with Triple Eight defending champion Parfitt Jr. moves from Optimum Motorsport to his rivals last year at Century Motorsport. There he joins Tom Oliphant, the lone driver attempting twin campaigns in both the Ginetta GT4 Supercup and British GT Championship as the new Ginetta G55 GT4 is eligible for both series.
The Yorkshire based Ginetta marque have become the established benchmark in the GT4 part of the British Championship. And, despite the increased competition from other manufacturers the G55 GT4 remains the most popular car in the class.
Century Motorsport have two cars, Oliphant and Parfitt Jr. joined by Scandanavian pairing Morten Dons and Aleksander Schjerpen – a Dane and Norwegian respectively – who join the British GT grid after successful seasons aboard Ginettas in Sweden.
Dons, in particular, is another example of the ladder through series that Ginetta prides itself on, coming to GT4 racing after a championship winning season in the Swedish version of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge. His British counterpart Oli Basey-Fisher is making the same step up, though he remains with the Academy Motorsport team he won the GT5 title with as he co-drives the team’s G55 GT4 with team manager Matt Nicoll-Jones, himself a former GT4 champion.
He is one of three previous class champions – as well as one overall champion – looking to add to their personal British GT honours.
Bradley Ellis, who won the overall title in 2007, returns to the championship with Twisted Team Parker after entering the final race in 2013 at Donington Park, where he scored class pole position in the car he shared with Adrian Barwick who will again serve as co-driver.
2010 GT4 champion Jamie Stanley shares the Fox Motorsport G55 GT4 with Paul McNeilly while Peter Belshaw, one his successors at class winners with ABG Motorsport, makes his return as co-driver in the first BMW M3 GT4 in British competition alongside 2013 class runner up Declan Jones. The car is to be run by the same ABG Motorsport team that took Belshaw and Marcus Clutton to the championship.
Liverpudlian Jones, who will start the season on home ground at an Oulton Park circuit where he won both races to start last season, leaves Century Motorsport – where he is replaced by former Porsche Carrera Cup GB driver Tania Mann and GT racing regular Matt Draper.
As part of the Century Motorsport team Jones was part of a title fight against Optimum Motorsports that came to a close (and slightly controversial) climax over the course of the last two weekend of the 2013 season, and with more teams contesting the class this season there is a similar season in prospect.
As ABG bring the GT4 BMW to the British GT paddock for the first time Porsche specialists Team Parker Racing do the same for the GT4 version of the Porsche Carrera for Barrie Baxter and Dan Cammish, runaway champion in the British Formula Ford Championship last season who was confirmed in the series with a late deal after a frustrating winter hunting for sure footing for the next step in his racing career.
The Lotus Evora returns to the championship for the first time since 2012, with Oz Yusef and Gavan Kershaw sharing ISSY Racing’s example.
The final brand in the class is Aston Martin. Just as in the GT3 class the British brands’ cars have proved popular with teams over the winter with three GT4 Vantages due as part of a capacity grid at Oulton Park.
The fact that both GT3 champions Beechdean and series newcomers TF Sport have a GT4 car alongside their GT3 entry says a little about the increasingly serious nature of the racing in the ‘second’ class.
Both teams start the season with potentially title winning teams. Beechdean bring together two of the front runners from the series that make up the undercard on the majority of British GT weekends. Jake Giddings combined races in the Ginetta GT5 Challenge with a Renault Clio Cup, while new teammates Ross Wylie proved to be one of the front runners in both the VW Racing Cup in the UK and the Scirroco R-Cup on continental Europe. How both cope with the move towards endurance racing will, however, be the key to their season.
TF Sport’s line—up is no less illustrious as Andrew Jarman makes the natural step up after winning the Aston Martin GT4 Challenge last season. While his previous means that he will be somewhat at home in the car and the series the move to GT is more of a leap for teammate Devon Modell for whom this season will not only his first in the championship, but his first in a rear wheel drive car.
The Vantage GT4 trio is completed by Andy Ruhan and Harry Whale, racing under the Silverstone Auctions AMR banner. Both men have GT racing experience in a range of series including Ginetta Challenge, Carrera Cup and GT Cup, where Ruhan is a past champion.
Whale meanwhile, was another driver to end his 2013 season with a British GT start, co-driving with Aston works man Richie Stanaway at the Donington Park closer, finishing second – a clear signal of potential ahead of a full season campaign.
www.theCheckeredFlag .co.uk will have full coverage of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship, complete with live text commentary of each and every race starting with Easter Monday’s pair of hour long events.