The British GT Championship awakes from its winter slumber with a double-header of 60 minute races at Oulton Park over the Easter weekend.
For the first time, the ‘baby’ GT4 class has a number advantage over the headlining GT3 class with 20 GT4s entered for the season-opener, compared to 12 GT3s.
Prior to the big kick-off, The Checkered Flag looks at the entry list and some of the most pressing questions from over the winter.
What’s the score with GT4?
As mentioned above, the cost-effective GT4 class has gone from little brother to grand daddy in British GT for 2017. Seemingly kick-started by the arrival on the customer scene of McLaren’s 570S, the class now includes Porsche’s Manthey Racing tinkered GT4 Clubsport, the venerable Ginetta G55 GT4 and Aston Martin Vantage, as well as the full-season debut of the Nissan 370Z and return of the Toyota GT86.
The McLaren was the revelation of 2016 at the hands of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell, and that pairing will return again as the factory Black Bull Garage 59 team run a pair of cars. One car will be taken by Haggerty and Mitchell with the other taken by BRDC F3 convert Akhil Rabindra and karting ace Dean Macdonald, who will be taking part in his first ever car race at Oulton Park.
Also taking two McLarens is In2Racing. Moving into British GT for the first time, the Porsche Carrera Cup GB regulars will be running Gareth Howell and Richard Marsh in one car, with Marcus Hoggarth the only confirmed driver in the second.
Running a car each is track-club, making their series debut with a pair of Adams – Balon and Mackay, and Tolman Motorsport, who have stepped down from the GT3 class to run a car for Joe Osborne and David Pattison.
McLaren might be the up-starts in the class, but traditional GT4 manufacturer Ginetta still have the number advantage with their updated-for-2017 Ginetta G55 GT4 with a number of tweaks including engine updates and ABS brakes.
Last year’s champions Mike Robinson and Gary Johnson are back with PMW World Expo Racing, and one new team has arrived in the championship with HHC Motorsport entering a car for Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha. Every other Ginetta running team has changed its line-up going into the 2017 season.
GT4 teams’ champions Autoaid/RCIB Insurance Racing have completely changed their driving crew as Mike Newbould joins with British racing journeyman Michael Caine in one car, and Matt Chapman partners Sam Webster in the second G55.
Perennial Ginetta competitors Century Motorsport have expanded to two GT4s with Anna Walewska returning to partner new team-mate in the form of factory racer Mike Simpson. The second car will be familiar to followers of Britcar as Steven Fresle and Jacob Mathiasen make the switch to British GT.
Elsewhere, Alex Reed will be hoping that a better pre-season with Lanan Racing – after dramas last year waiting in vain for a Porsche 911 GT4 Clubsport that never arrived – combined with new team-mate David Pittard will be a recipe for success.
Can new manufacturers make an impact in the ‘junior class’?
With the arrival of McLaren, the news that Nissan will make a return to British GT slipped under the radar slightly. While not in the GT3 class the introduction of two Nissan 370Zs into the series after a number of years plugging away on the continent is a welcome one.
The pair are being campaigned by UltraTek Racing/Team RJN, marking their departure from the Lotus Evora they campaigned in the past. While the cars are new, the drivers are familiar as Martin Plowman makes his return to British racing alongside Richard Taffinder, while Tim Eakin will partner BTCC convert Kelvin Fletcher.
Also looking to make a proper go of it this year is Porsche, their new GT4 machine was heavily delayed last year meaning eventually only one Cayman GT4 Clubsport appeared on the grid – at the hands of Nick Jones and Scott Malvern.
The pair will be looking for a successful full-season in the car – which has received the Manthey Racing upgrade kit – now they’ve had the winter to get miles under their belts.
What will come from GT4 old hands?
After the announcement from Beechdean AMR that they wouldn’t return to British GT, the size of the Aston Martin contingent on the grid took somewhat of a nose dive. Only two Aston Martin Vantages appear on the entry list for 2017, as Macmillan AMR return to the championship for a second consecutive season with William Phillips and former BRDC F3 competitor Jan Jonck.
The second car is run by Academy Motorsport, returning after a year away in Europe, and Matt Nicoll-Jones will pedal the car alongside Will Moore.
Also coming back for another crack at something like a decent season is GPRM. Try as they might, the Toyota GT86 still looks unlikely to be tamed, with mechanical issues striking the car every time it goes out. With no drivers confirmed, it might not make an appearance in the North West.
Can GT3 still deliver?
The sign that GT3 isn’t what it used to be should be clear in just how far down this preview the category makes its first proper appearance. However, while many predicted the demise of GT3 over the winter, a healthy 12 cars will tackle the peaks and troughs of Oulton Park which – for the first time in many years – boasts an entry list where every car has a good chance of getting a podium at the very minimum.
Headlining the class in GT3 is reigning champions Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston once again competing as part of a TF Sport Aston Martin team that also features handy competition on the other side of the garage in the shape of Jon Barnes and Mark Farmer. The latter pairing started to build up a strong head of steam towards the end of last season, with a victory at Spa-Francorchamps starting a chain of good results for the duo, they’ll hope to carry that form on in 2017.
Also back to carry on what was a titanic title fight is Barwell Motorsport, championship runners up Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw are back in their green and red Demon Tweeks Lamborghini Huracan but arguably the most exciting partnership on the grid is in the second Barwell machine. That’s because it’s occupied by BTCC ace Sam Tordoff, who has left the world of touring cars for a chance to ascend the GT ladder. He’ll be joined by a former BTCC racer who is quickly developing himself a niche as a dependable pair of gentleman hands – Liam Griffin.
The third team in the title fight last year was Team Parker Racing. For 2017, Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jnr will be back behind the wheel of a Bentley Continental GT3 with the hope that their blistering pace can be converted into championship success. They’ll be joined by a pair eschewing the Blancpain GT Series to return to Britain – Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod.
Will the American invasion pay off for Century?
Taking on the mantle of Ginetta factory team for 2017 is Century Motorsport, combining a two-car GT3 programme with their GT4 entries, the team have found themselves with two vastly different Ginetta G55 GT3s.
For starters, the engine in the car is now the same as that found in the G57 Prototype and the aero has not been so much as tweaked as ripped apart and started again. A new front splitter complements rear aero that was tweaked last year for what should be a much quicker Ginetta.
In the cars is a very different driver line-up, two rising stars of the Pirelli World Challenge have swapped the sunshine and warmth of America for the cold and varying weather of the UK to continue their GT development. Harry Gottsacker and Parker Chase are those two Americans and, while they may still be young, their performances in the company’s GT4 G55 has more than earned them a shot at GT3.
Both will be in safe hands as Gottsacker is slated to drive alongside Century team boss Nathan Freke and Chase will race alongside Ginetta’s newest factory driver Charlie Robertson in his first race programme in Britain since he won the Ginetta GT4 Supercup title in 2014.
What can the new GT3 cars bring?
Joining the GT3 party once again are two teams putting their BMW Z4s out to pasture in favour of the Mercedes AMG GT3.
The first is Team ABBA with Rollcentre Racing. Martin Short and Richard Neary were the first crew to announce they were moving to the three-pointed star and will be hoping the car – which many have said is one of the friendliest to drive – will help them as the only AM crew a good chance against the Pro-Am masses.
The second team to go for a Mercedes is AmDTuning.com. In the car is Lee Mowle, who will be working with a new team-mate for the first time in a number of years as former British GT4 champion Ryan Ratcliffe jumps in the AMG alongside him.
It isn’t just Mercedes providing a new car smell for the grid, as Ferrari’s 488 GT3 will be given a full-season run by Spirit of Race who will be running a British Racing Green example for Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin – the pair electing to swap to British GT from the Blancpain GT Series.
Finally, while not a new car it is certainly a new team in GT3 as Macmillan AMR graduate to the top class with an Aston Martin for Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn.
The quartet will be hoping their new cars/entirely new operation respectively will throw a cat amongst the pigeons of the teams more experienced in the game.
The Checkered Flag will be providing full coverage of the British GT season opener at Oulton Park over the Easter Weekend.