To say that 2016 was the story of one man may be an understatement to the all-dominant Ollie Chadwick. With over a round to spare, the 20-year-old took the Ginetta GT5 Challenge title at a sunny Spa-Francorchamps.
The season, which consisted of nineteen races from seven rounds, saw Chadwick begin with blistering pace that he wouldn’t relinquish throughout the year, collecting fourteen victories.
Winning is nothing new for the Xentek Motorsport driver though, having finished as runner-up in the past two seasons. Prior to that, he collected three wins from eleven podiums over two years in the Ginetta Junior Series.
This however was Chadwick’s first title and he left nothing on the table for his opposition who all found themselves dealing with various incidents or mechanical problems throughout the year. With Chadwick finishing no lower than fifth in any race, it became an impossible task for his rivals.
Going into the Spa-Francorchamps round, it became clear it was only a matter of time before the title was decided. As it turned out, the second of the three races finally allowed Chadwick to mathematically pull away from his main rival Ryan Hadfield.
The team joined him atop the podium with his family, including sister Jamie Chadwick, the 2015 British GT4 champion, cheering from the pit lane below.
A Strong Start
With Chadwick the highest returning driver on the grid, pressure was immediately on him to perform, though didn’t let his critics down with a pole time almost a second quicker than the opposition around the Brands Hatch GP.
A large pile-up at the start of race one cost a number of the drivers expensive body parts, but it proved no hindrance to Chadwick who built up a five second after one lap without a safety car. The first podium of the year was completed by fellow returnees Nick Zapolski and Jack Minshaw.
While the 2016 champion did go on to win race two, it had proved that Chadwick was not infallible. A poor start allowed Zapolski and Minshaw to break away before the pair retired in the forest section. Chadwick inherited the win, though wouldn’t be able to fight back in race three as R. Hadfield took the flag in the reverse grid affair.
The trip to Thruxton proved that Chadwick’s domination was no one-off as another pole was followed up by a double win and double fastest lap, the perfect weekend.
Having collected second place in the final race at Brands, Matt Chapman was determined to prove his credentials in the series, though was forced to watch as his rival simply drove off into the distance. Two second places announced him to the series as a genuine challenger, but it would require a lot more to outdo the championship leader.
Elsewhere, a third and fourth for Zapolski and Jonathan Hadfield brought them to the foray. Sadly for Zapolski he relinquished his chance to fight for the title as he sat out the following two rounds.
Rivals Fight Back
With Zapolski out of the equation, the R+J Motorsport drivers mounted their attack along with Chapman, who was enjoying a spectacular debut season. The first two wins at Oulton Park still went the way of Chadwick though, with each Hadfield brother following him home in race one and two.
The opening race was not another case of Chadwick driving off into the distance as a poor start dropped him down the order. J Hadfield put up a strong defence and kept up after being overtaken, but it wasn’t enough to reduce the points gap.
Race two was put under safety car after Minshaw and Glen Broster came together after just three corners. The remaining laps were spent under neutralised conditions, with the cars extracted and Minshaw not starting the final race.
Race three finally saw another winner added to the roster with Chapman taking his first of the series. The result helped him narrowly close the gap as J Hadfield held off Chadwick for second.
Jonathan would claim his only win of the year at Silverstone, but it was arguably the race Chadwick proved his overtaking ability on top of his natural speed. A fuel pump issue early in qualifying saw the series leader start from the back of a 40 car grid, (split between three classes) only to finish third.
His 37 place recovery, which included 25 cars on the opening lap, was demoralising for his three closest rivals, especially Chapman who had been briefly leading until he was spun by Ian Robinson.
In the end J Hadfield was the only contender to close in on Chadwick, who finished third behind Matt Flowers, recording his best result of the season.
The remaining Silverstone races went as expected with Chadwick’s ability in the rain seeing him win by over four seconds. Meanwhile a disastrous final race from J Hadfield saw him drop back as Chadwick once again disposed of the field.
Another double win from pole saw the championship all but confirmed after Croft, though it was quickly becoming a story of the battle for best-of-the-rest as Ryan Hadfield took second in both of the fifth round races.
Croft itself was scheduled to be a support round of the BTCC, with Steve Perez, team owner Andrew Richardson and Porsche GT4 Supercup driver Tom Hibbert also joining the grid. Hibbert and Richardson prove their pace early on, but both struggled to keep up with the leaders, as Richardson recorded the best result of fourth in race two.
Chadwick’s Championship and Runner Up Roulette
The quick succession of rounds, over two months, was finally completed at the series fly away event to Spa-Francorchamps. Chapman took only his second win of the year in race one, out-dragging Chadwick to the line as the Hadfield’s continued to fall behind.
Fortunately for Chadwick he would clinch his championship with a win in dramatic style. Chapman had been on form all weekend and was the only driver able to keep up with the runaway Xentek man. He kept the lead for the majority of the race, but Chadwick would not be denied, taking the opportunity on the final lap to cross the line first.
Behind them, R Hadfield managed to keep his runner-up chances alive as he overtook Mohammed Elshimy, claiming the final podium place.
The reverse grid encounter proved to be just as frenetic with Chadwick scything his way through the field to lead after just four laps. The race was cut short soon after Dan Collinson crashed at the top of Eau Rouge. The results were counted back a lap and Chadwick was handed the win, instead of Chapman.
With the championship now sewn up, the focus shifted to the battle for second, a terrible weekend for the Hadfield brothers saw them fall back.
Chadwick’s tenth lights-to-flag victory of the season saw him further extend the points advantage as Ryan Hadfied led his brother to take second and cut the gap on Chapman, who was fourth.
Race two would be far more controversial though. After a poor start and a spin, Chadwick fell to the back with the usual three up front, battling with Jac Constable. J Hadfield tangled with a backmarker, retiring, while his brother went on to win the race.
Despite this, both drivers were docked 15 points for infringements, effectively handing the crown to Chapman. Ryan had been a mere one point behind thanks to his win, but failed to make up the ground in the final race, despite finishing second behind Chadwick.
Chapman had finished the final race in eighth, but ended the season on 456 points, compared to R Hadfield’s 453. Elsewhere Jonathan had fallen behind to finish fourth overall, while a consistent season was rounded out with a third place in the final race for Matt Palmer, ensuring he ended the championship in fifth.
To the shock of few, Chadwick ended the year with a total great than last years champion, James Kellett. In total, his 634 points was 178 in front of Chapman. Palmer’s season was categorised by his strong start and finish to the campaign, but troubled middle.
Elsewhere, an impressive final round from Flowers, saw the Academy Motorsport driver beat GT5 Am winner; Robinson, who was often a contender for overall podiums.
A number of retirements destroyed Minshaw’s chances as his season resulted in a lonely eighth place finish. Steven Wells highlight of the season was his front row start in Spa which resulted in a fourth place, but will be hoping for podiums in future seasons.
Tenth was collected by Constable who was largely outshone by team-mate Chadwick, though will be hoping for improvements after his first year in car racing. Zapolski, who didn’t race for large portions of the season and Broster, who missed the first round, completed the top twelve.