TF Sport and PMW World Expo Racing have won the GT3 and GT4 titles respectively as the 2016 British GT Championship came to its climax at Donington Park.
There was action throughout the field leaving some title battles near enough decided before the two-hour race was even halfway complete while others swung to-and-fro continuously.
At the start of the race, the 29 car field didn’t even get round the first corner before there was a rather nasty incident as Liam Griffin seemed to lose control coming out of Redgate and slammed into Mark Farmer in the TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage – putting him into the barriers and retirement.
That didn’t stop the leaders though and Derek Johnston, in the title contending TF car, was quickly pulling away into the distance as Alasdair McCaig pulled up to second and started to pull away from Jon Minshaw in the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3.
However, they didn’t have long to enjoy the green flag running as the safety car was called for three minutes in to recover Farmer’s Aston which had stranded itself on the grass at the bottom of the Craner Curves.
As the safety car pulled itself back in, the GT3 leaders set off in formation order but in GT4 there was a bit more argy-bargy as Sandy Mitchell had to fight off the attentions of Joey Foster in the Lanan Racing Ginetta for the lead of the class.
Elsewhere in that class, Jack Bartholomew’s Beechdean AMR Aston was recovering after a poor start and found himself behind his chief championship rival Graham Johnson in the PMW Ginetta G55 GT4 but couldn’t find enough to get round what had become one of the widest Ginettas in British GT.
They were lucky not to get involved in a rather large incident for a GT3 title contender though as Minshaw tried a little too hard to get past Alasdair McCaig’s Black Bulle Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S – which was lapping traffic at the time – and put two wheels on the grass and looped round at significant speed, ending up in the gravel and contacting the barriers at the Old Hairpin. Minshaw got out of the car and their championship battle was over.
That meant TF Sport only had to finish in the points to claim the crown but as Derek Johnston told The Checkered Flag after the race, he couldn’t lose focus: “We knew what we had to do, we just had to concentrate. All day I’ve been thinking about what I’ve got to do, it was just about getting my head down and doing it. Jonny told me I had to pull 20 seconds [for the pit stops] every minute of every day this last week, I think I got 18 in the end. By the time Jonny got in the car I knew that was it, he’s been buzzing all week so I knew he would be on it.”
As the pitstops unfolded, McCaig handed the McLaren over to the rapid Rob Bell who made the most of new tyres and a relatively clear track to bang in some fast laps and open up a gap over Jonny Adam who appeared to be willing to accept that the race victory was beyond the Aston crew and decided instead to make sure of their second place.
Maintaining second was at points a tough challenge though as Seb Morris, who had taken over the Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 from Rick Parfitt, decided to try his best to at least claim second place in the championship having realistically lost their chance of the title following the strong performance of the TF Sport crew.
Try as he might, every time Morris set a quick lap and closed the gap Adam responded with a quick lap of his own to keep the status quo. After the race, Adam told TCF that Minshaw’s off was a mistake that they’ve had in the past: “We all make mistakes, unfortunately it’s hit them at the wrong time of the season. We’ve had a few mistakes midway through the year but we’ve managed to make it back on the final round.”
An added bonus for Adam was the fact that he now holds a rare honour, he’s the first driver to successfully defend his British GT title: “As much as I’ve driven with Andrew [Howard for Beechdean AMR] for four of five years, it’s nice to do it with a new team and a new teammate as well. I thoroughly enjoyed, yet again, a great British GT season and the Aston has been superb, it’s been one of the cars to beat – the Lamborghinis and the Bentley have been strong but yet again the trusted Aston has been up there.”
For Minshaw and co-driver Phil Keen, who came into this race with an 11.5 point lead to their name, they should take some consolation in the fact that firstly, they had the speed and consistency to put themselves in the position to claim the title and secondly, on any other day they wouldn’t have gone off and would have easily taken the fight to Adam and Johnston.
Elsewhere in GT3, claiming sixth place – and the Am Cup – was the Team ABBA by Rollcentre BMW Z4 GT3 of Richard Neary and Martin Short who were running as high as fifth at points before a stop/go penalty for a pit stop infringement, combined with Alexander Sims on a charge, saw them relegated down to a still season high finish of sixth place.
Of course, in the midst of the titles being awarded it was important to remember that Rob Bell and Alasdair McCaig cruised to a great win in the McLaren 650S – their first of the season.
In GT4, fellow McLaren driver Ciaran Haggerty took over the McLaren 570S and proceeded to disappear into the sunset – a performance made more remarkable by the fact that the Scot was effectively driving one-handed after severing a tendon in his hand in what he described as a ‘Hack saw accident at work’ in the week leading up to the race.
With Haggerty driving into a comfortable lead, the battle moved to who would claim the GT4 drivers title and with Ross Gunn installed behind the wheel of the Beechdean car it seemed like a mouth watering battle with Mike Robinson in the PMW Ginetta would entertain the assembled crowds for the last hour of the race.
Unfortunately for the Beechdean crew, and the spectators at a gloriously sunny Donington Park, Robinson only had to fend off a ten minute assault by Gunn as the Aston started suffering from brake issues which had affected the end of Bartholomew’s stint. Losing time, and eventually positions, hand over fist Johnson and Robinson found themselves in a comfortable third place while Gunn languished down in sixth place.
For Robinson, crossing the line and claiming his and Johnson’s first GT4 title was a huge relief after practice and qualifying showed them lagging behind the Beechdean boys. He told TCF: “At the beginning [of the stint] I was just so worried that Ross was going to have more pace than he did but I was just talking to Graham and I think he got mixed up with some other cars and there were cars in between us. When I saw some of the other GT4 cars that might have been a lap down I just thought ‘I really hope they don’t get in my way’ and thankfully not many of them did.”
After the scare Robinson had with the Beechdean pace in practice and qualifying, Robinson was pleased with the Ginetta’s race pace: “To be honest I thought it would be the other way round I thought we might have had an advantage in qualifying, the Ginettas always go really well in qualifying, and I thought they would have better race pace than us but actually it was the other way round. I wasn’t expecting that to be honest, but we’re so pleased – delighted.”
Sandwiched between the Ginetta and the Aston was the Ebor GT Maserati of Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton. Finishing fifth on the road, but promoted to fourth after the exclusion of Lanan Racing for a yellow flag infringement, the pair once again showed that with some more development on the chassis they can become regular title contenders.
Elsewhere in GT4, the teams title went to RCIB Insurance Racing after a good season for Robert Barrable, Aaron Mason, William Phillips and Jordan Stilp in what is Tony Gilham’s first season in the British GT Championship.
For the rest of the field, there is now the off-season to put development of their own into their charges before the season gets underway again at Oulton Park on April 15&17 2017.