Proving its success as a feeder category, the Ginetta GT5 Challenge title battle came down to two Ginetta Junior Championship race winners as Lewis Brown came from behind in the final round to beat Shane Stoney to the crown.
The title was a godsend for Brown, who has now proven himself twice within the Ginetta family. A move up the order is on the cards for 2018, though many will be unwise to simply disregard Stoney for his excellent charge in a year where he never finished below seventh.
Elsewhere, four other drivers took victories, two of which; Geri Nicosia and 2016 champion Ollie Chadwick only made occasional appearances.
The other two, Max Bird and Ryan Hadfield, would win the opening and closing rounds of the year as a win-less season from Oliver Wilkinson still saw him clinch third place in the overall standings as Brown and Stoney asserted their dominance.
A New Generation
With defending champion Chadwick choosing not to return, the door was open for his contemporaries to step up as the third place driver Ryan Hadfield became pre-season favourite with many tipping veteran drivers Nick Zapolski and Matt Palmer.
The new season was not kind to the latter two though, with Bird, Stoney and Brown taking one win apiece at Oulton Park as Hadfield and Zapolski picked up a single podium with Palmer barely making the top ten.
Stoney had taken the first pole and left the opening round with the early advantage as Brown, Bird and Zapolski made up the chasing pack. Brown would hit back at Rockingham though, with a win and two seconds to push above Stoney and thus setting the stage for the year ahead.
The traditional visit to the ToCA package saw GT5 arrive in Thruxton with two familiar faces. Unable to secure a full-time drive for 2017, Chadwick re-entered the series in order to gain more exposure, with him and fellow newcomer Nicosia dominating the weekend.
As for the championship leaders, Brown, Stoney and Hadfield all struggled, with Wilkinson and Zapolski picking up the spare podiums to catch up with the leaders. As the season approached its half-way stage at Silverstone, Brown lead by 4 points, with the top five still all within 50 points.
With Wilkinson on pole for the first Silverstone race, all eyes would be Brown and Stoney who sat just behind. Brown though was spun through Brooklands allowing Stoney to claim an easy win from Hadfield.
Not wanting to be outdone though, the R&J Motorsport supported driver took a commanded two victories in the following races with Stoney forced to settle for second both times.
Silverstone had seen the most bizarre incident of the year though with race two being delayed due to an uncertainty over the grid because the sheer amount of penalties applied in race one for track limits.
Stoney had taken the championship lead, extending it as the series headed over to Zandvoort. Lewis would be caught out in race one, crawling across the line in twentieth as a dismal race two saw him fall further behind. Instead it was the returning Chadwick who dominated from Wilkinson.
Meanwhile, Hadfield’s inability to race at Zandvoort put him out of title contention with even Wilkinson’s late surge appearing to not be enough to keep him in with a chance.
With the GT5’s once again meeting the ToCA package at Knockhill, it was Nicosia who took two further victories on his return as Simon Traves had his best result of the year, holding off Brown and Zapolski.
As the cars reconvened for the final round at Donington Park, Stoney continued to lead, 17 points ahead of Brown. With Wilkinson 105 off the leader, it was down to the top two.
Brown started his weekend in the perfect form, stealing the lead from Bird in race win to record a win as an early red flag was called. With Stoney and Brown now equal on points, all results counted as Bird, Brown and Stoney battled for supremacy in the second race of the weekend.
The teenager would come out on top, with a penalty forcing the Richardson Racing down to fourth overall while Bird spun. The reverse grid would thus decide the outcome as Brown showed his true championship potential by scything his way through and claiming third, while Stoney settled for seventh.
Hadfield might have won the race, but it would be Brown the happiest man on the podium as he signed off his maiden GT5 campaign with the sweetest prize of all.
Wilkinson would keep third overall despite dropping down the order in the final encounter.
Old Favourites Pressure the Young Stars
Behind the top three, the field was a mess of rookie campaigners attempting to prove themselves against the established opposition.
Max Bird’s win in the opening round proved to be the only winners trophy he’d receive, as the Century Motorsport driver had a far more promising season than his Ginetta Junior exploits just one year earlier. Should he return, a title challenge would be expected as his links with Century could prove invaluable.
What Bird will want to avoid though, is the season R. Hadfield has experienced. The R&J Motorsport driver was instrumental to Brown’s title assault, but a missed round and just two wins will seem like a failure for many that expected the Buxton racer to walk away with it.
Zapolski meanwhile went into the final round in fourth overall, but a double retirement crippled his charge and ensures he ended the year in sixth. Traves would not appear for the final round and thus secured seventh in the standings, but surprised many with his impressive qualifying pace.
Behind the leaders Katie Milner was best of the midfield runners, though the Junior Saloon champion will be disappointed to have not secured a podium. Reverse grids would often offer a lifeline, but the Team One Call driver appeared to simply not have the pace of the leaders.
A strong final round, in which he recorded a third, saw Palmer end the year in ninth, while Steven Wells would round out the top ten after his early pace in the opening two rounds faded off.
GT5 Challenge will once again return to the British GT support bill in 2018, with the series continuing to be one of the closest and most exciting championships in the UK.