At the end of the 2014 season they stood on the top step of the podium together, celebrating the GT4 title but differing fortunes over the off season mean that Jake Giddings and Ross Wylie start the 2015 Avon Tyres British GT Championship in separate teams at different ends of the pitlane
For both men 2014 was their first in the British GT championship, Wylie arriving in the series from the VW Racing Cup, Giddings from the Ginetta GT5 Challenge. Despite their collective lack of experience in endurance racing right from the beginning theirs looked to be a partnership that worked, with victory in the first race of the season. They ended the year – another two wins later – atop the Donington Park podium.
Having risen to the challenge in the lower class, the logical step would have been for the duo to progress into GT3 together. However, while the 2015 season dawns with the two young drivers both facing new, vastly different, challenges.
Wylie, whose rapid progression now has him as part of McLaren GT’s driver development program, starts the season alongside Andrew Watson with returning team VonRyan Racing, facing another step up into GT3. Giddings, meanwhile, struggled to find a race seat in the championship, remaining in GT4, with JWB Motorsport.
Giddings’ position was not for the want of trying. Speaking to www.theCheckeredFlag.co.uk he admits that the obvious aim for 2015 was to progress into the premier class but, as he says, “that just wasn’t possible”. Instead he faces a year with the mantle of defending champion over his head in GT4. However, after getting his start in the series in the junior squad of the Aston Martin Racing supported Beechdean squad he will defend his title with Nick Beaumont’s JWB Motorsport team. Following Wylie’s route into GT racing the team arrive in the championship via the VW Racing Cup and Aston Martin Challenge, where Giddings’ new co-driver Kieran Griffin also joins from.
His standing in the team has seen Giddings – part of Aston’s new Evolution Academy – move quickly from GT3 rookie to senior driver, helping the team learn about their new car bringing his knowledge of the series and the car across to his new team
“I can bring the experience of last year to them,” he explains. “When I heard Nick and his team were moving up from the Challenge with Kieran so it sounded like a great opportunity to get involved with them and bring forth my experience from last year.”
Wylie, on the other hand, faces a fresh learning curve not only with a new team, but with a brand new car, VonRyan one of the first teams to run the new McLaren 650S GT3 in the UK.
“It’s a beautiful looking car and it certainly gives you great pleasure to drive every time you hop in the thing,” says Wylie. “Just driving the car in one thing but racing is a different thing altogether so far throughout testing my teammate and I, and the whole team have gelled well.”
Like Giddings, Wylie has his aims trained on GT3, particularly, he says after he “ticked the box in GT4”.
He continues; “I was fortunate enough to have quite a few options at the end of the year”. One option led him to test McLaren’s GT3 machine at Snetterton where he was – in his own words – “surprisingly very quick”.
“I didn’t know what to expect on my first time out in a GT3 car but I adapted to it fairly quickly. The team seemed to be impressed as well and I hoped I’d done a good enough job. It’s been a great winter just relaxing and enjoying what we achieved last year and of course I’m over the moon to be given the opportunity to race the GT3 car with Von Ryan and McLaren.”
He compares the McLaren to his GT4 charge; “I think having the engine in the rear of the car and having a little bit more aerodynamics is one thing. If anything I think the GT3 is probably slightly easier to adapt to but on the flip side of that I’ve got to adjust my car from a front-mid engined car to a rear engined car was the biggest aspect.”
Though the GT4 Aston carries some upgrades into this season, Gidding’s largest change is in the nature of the team he is racing with, though he explains the move to the family run team is a move back towards his beginnings in racing.
“Last year I was like a rabbit in the headlights going from a small team into a factory supported team so this year is more dialled back to what I’m used to. I started off in a small, family run team so for me I’ve jumped straight in and gelled really well with Nick. He knows what he’s doing and you can’t take anything anyway from him, he’s doing a great job so far. I’m just here to help out a little bit.”
Even though he complements both the team and his new co-driver on their performance he knows it will difficult for him to successfully defend his share of the GT4 title, especially as he will have to do so against a grid that has grown once more, accounting for half of the capacity British GT grid for 2015.
Of course that means that the other half of the field is contesting the GT3 class alongside Watson and Wylie. They have the advantage of being one of the few pairings of two silver graded drivers in the series, putting them at an immediate advantage. However, in an effort to balance them against the Pro-Am teams around them they will have to carry an extra 80 kilo. It’s a fact that only cranks up the learning curve for both drivers and team as they both learn about the 650S, which replaces the MP4-12C as McLaren’s GT3 entrant.
“It’s the start of a new era with a new car,” he says. “We’ve had a good winter training program both with McLaren GT and Von Ryan Racing so in terms of developing as a young driver it’s been a great opportunity and we’ve done a fair amount of testing and hopefully that pays dividends this year.”
With Gidding’s deal coming together rather later his preparation has been shorter, having only met his teammate for the first time day before tCF speaks to him during the series’ media launch a fortnight before the season opener at Oulton Park.
From what he says he has had more contact with his former co-driver, and though fortunes have taken them apart for 2015 there is no resentment of the GT3 Scot.
“Ross did a great job last year and he’s got that seat. We’re still great friends and we’ve been speaking to each other all though the off-season trying to find out what each other are doing and it’s great to catch up with him. It’s nice that he’s up in the GT3 but I’m happy still in GT4 and I wish Ross the best of luck just as he wishes me.”
Wylie replies in kind: “I’m over the moon for Jake,” his words of support echo the joy at his own move. “That he’s been given an opportunity and that he’s still racing this year. He’s a great driver and I’m sure he’s got a bright future ahead of him but I certainly have missed him during winter testing but I’m gelling well with my new partner and wish Jake all the best.”
And, if there is to be a silver lining to splitting up a winning driver pairing, it may come in easing – if only a little – what is likely to become one of the talking points of this season, the problems the GT4 cars pose to the faster GT3s with Giddings explaining “I’ll give him a little more respect,” before adding in jest “and probably try and hold his opponents up.”
“I’m sure the feeling’s quite mutual.”