Season Review: 2017 Porsche Carrera Cup GB

Charlie Eastwood claimed his maiden GT title in a fraught and at times controversial Carrera Cup campaign, which brought to a close the era of the first generation Type 991 GT3 Cup.

Credit: Dan Bathie

After two consecutive seasons of Dan Cammish domination, the narrative of Porsche Carrera Cup GB for 2017 was always guaranteed to diverge from the stories of 2015 and 2016. Pre-season, the focus was on Cammish’s decision to prioritise his Porsche Mobil1 Supercup campaign over his GB effort, which instantly ruled him out of the Snetterton meeting.

Effectively he guaranteed himself a points deficit which he would have to work over the course of the campaign to reverse the effects of. At Brands Hatch in April, the reigning double champion looked ominously imperious. Two dominant victories, both from the Porsche GB Scholar Charlie Eastwood in his second season of Carrera Cup, were exactly the start Cammish needed to his 2017.

However, the deficit to his Redline Racing team-mate Eastwood had notably decreased over the winter. There was still the JTR challenge to factor in, with Nick Tandy’s team making their debut in GT racing and instantly proving a force to be reckoned with. Lewis Plato put to bed any demons from a rapid but wild 2016 with a podium in the team’s debut race, with Dino Zamparelli similarly climbing the rostrum heights in the second race.

Across fifteen races Zamparelli would stand on the podium a staggering thirteen times. Only the Brands opener and at the subsequent Donington Park meeting would he fail to reach a top three position. With the benefit of hindsight Donington can very much be highlighted as a pivotal point in the season. First Cammish fell victim to the bad luck that would begin to blight his season. Contact with Rupert Martin in qualifying forced him to the back of the grid for both races without a representative qualifying time.

This left Eastwood clear and the Irishman stamped his authority across the weekend, emulating Cammish’s Brands Hatch form with a dominant double. His ultimate championship ambitions were further boosted when Zamparelli and Plato, underlining JTR’s inherent potential with second and third on the road, were excluded for a technical infringement after the first race. This elevated Cammish to second from the very back of the grid, although he would narrowly fall short of the rostrum in the second race.

Cammish was imperious but luckless throughout 2017. Oulton double a highlight. (Credit: Dan Bathie)

The opening Donington encounter would prove to be the highlight of the year in the Pro ranks for In2Racing, with Tom Wrigley bringing the team their only podium of the season. In2 always produced a rapid car and Wrigley drove impeccably but bad luck persistently prevented the package from delivering its full potential.

Pre-Snetterton absence Cammish unleashed form reminiscent of his two title winning campaigns, unstoppable in both races at Oulton Park. Half of the field were wiped out after the first corner of the Saturday race, when contact spat Tio Ellinas’ JTR machine backwards at the exit of Old Hall into a field of traffic.

Whilst this was the low point of his season, Ellinas would finally reach the podium during the second half of the campaign. From the final eight races the Cypriot featured five times on the rostrum, and richly deserved the Rookie honours he claimed at the end of the year. Two second positon finishes at Silverstone and on Finals Day at Brands Hatch reflected the kind of progressive improvement that will make him a contender in 2018.

Eastwood struggled during the first Oulton race and a tangle with Zamparelli forced him off the podium. Whilst Zamparelli was docked two championship points for his part in the incident, he held on to his second position and complimented it with another second in the following race.

At Le Mans, the Carrera Cup GB contingent utterly starred in an enthralling duel for victory. Cammish hauled himself to the front of the order with a superb move around the outside of the fearsome Indianapolis corner to underline his place in Carrera Cup history. The result further extended his GB points lead, with Zamparelli building quite the championship charge with another second.

Tom Oliphant (Redline Racing) was another stand out, fifth overall and third in GB to claim his first of ultimately three podiums. Oliphant never quite had the pace to challenge for victory but his subsequent rostrum successes at Knockhill in race two and the opening Brands Hatch GP event demonstrated his improving grasp of the unique GT3 Cup. Dovetailed with occasional Mobil1 Supercup appearances, Oliphant could well join the International ranks full time in 2018.

With Cammish absent, and deputising Scott Malvern adapting to his new machinery, Snetterton was all about the battle between Eastwood and Zamparelli – Which was fast emerging as the story of the year. Eastwood was untroubled in the first race, but Zamparelli progressively reeled him in during the second and snatched the victory with a daring move at Montreal. JTR thus claimed their first category victory on a weekend when all three of their drivers would stand on the podium, Plato and Ellinas sharing third in race one and race two respectively.

Snetterton was the highlight of JTR’s season. A maiden GT win and all three drivers reaching the rostrum. (Credit: Dan Bathie)

On his return at Knockhill Cammish was immediately back in control, instantly closing the gap that Eastwood and Zamparelli had established in Norfolk. Then came race two and that incident. Whilst there can be little dispute that Eastwood was at fault, moving across the road in determined defence of his race lead and forcing his team-mate and championship rival on to the grass and out of the race, the extent of his awareness of his actions will never really be known. What cannot be argued is that it all but ended Cammish’s dreams of a historical triple title, and with Eastwood allowed to keep his race victory placed the Irish driver as the firm favourite.

Zamparelli was not ready to give up on his hopes and produced arguably his best performance in Carrera Cup GB to storm to a double success at Silverstone. With Eastwood recovering from a ten place grid penalty for his Knockhill indiscretions, Zamparelli went toe to toe with Cammish and emerged the victor in the first race.

However, the second race provided perhaps the perfect encapsulation of Cammish’s hopeless task in 2017. Out front and dominating, he was forced to abandon a smouldering Nationwide backed car in the gravel after a freak blaze at the rear of his 911. That, as they say, was that. Heading to Brands Hatch, Eastwood held the championship lead but by finishing second Ellinas had allowed his team-mate Zamparelli to gain a few extra points which would prove key in the final showdown. Cammish retained an all but meaningless mathematical chance.

Zamparelli stunned at Silverstone, taking on Cammish in a head on fight and emerging victorious. (Credit: Dan Bathie)

That didn’t stop him delivering a typically dominant double on the Brands Hatch GP circuit. In both his championship winning campaigns Cammish was beaten once on Finals Day, on both occasions by the Rookie champions from those seasons – Namely Tom Sharp and Eastwood. However, he was unstoppable on a day when winning the title was not possible.

Neither Eastwood nor Zamparelli would make it to the podium in round fourteen, the championship protagonists forced to dice for fourth. Eastwood would emerge victorious from this dice but despite extending his championship lead found the crown slipping through his fingers in the final race of the season.

As Zamparelli ran second, Eastwood was frenetically trying to wrestle fifth from his team-mate Oliphant. After a fantastic dice he would succeed in so doing on the penultimate lap of the season to claim the 2017 Porsche Carrera Cup GB title. You could create a convincing argument for any one of Eastwood, Zamparelli and Cammish being deserving of the championship, and undoubtedly 2017 will always be reviewed with certain caveats. Equal on points, Eastwood’s greater number of race victories indisputably make him a worthy champion. Oliphant, Plato and Ellinas rounded out the top six in the standings, creating a fifty/fifty split between Redline and JTR in the top half dozen of the points table.

Euan McKay and Dan McKay ultimately validated their move to Redline Racing with consistent top six performances but never seemed in danger of troubling the podium runners. The Pro-Am1 kings from 2016 could reasonably be expected to return in 2018 targeting the rostrum on a consistent basis.

Tom Wrigley ended the season just inside the top ten, but early Donington podium aside was beset with bad luck. Jamie Orton joined him sporadically towards the end of the season but never truly had enough time to get a proper grip on the machinery. Ross Wylie and Slidesports spent their first season on the fringes of the top ten, and it would be easy to argue that the Pro-Am1 contingent were able to get a little too close at times. However, both team and driver did their best to stay out of trouble and gain valuable experience that should act as a springboard to a vastly more competitive campaign next year.

Eastwood emerged victorious after a tremendous final race scrap with team-mate Oliphant. (Credit: Dan Bathie)

Pro-Am1: Martin vs Sherwood

Pro-Am1 always produces some tremendous action, and the class was a highlight of 2017. The season opened with the spectacular one off appearance of G-Cat Racing team boss Greg Caton, who promptly claimed the first class win of the season. In truth the title fight didn’t really become distinguished until the second half of the season. After Caton burst to the fore at Brands, he stood aside and allowed Peter Jennings to take over for Donington. Jennings promptly claimed a class win and a class second and was then never seen again.

Graeme Mundy was the only class contender to survive the opening lap melee in the first race at Oulton Park for Team Parker Racing. Meanwhile the top two in the championship, the similarly Team Parker Racing supported duo of Alex Martin and Justin Sherwood, were stealthily picking up the points.

Whilst Martin was victorious in both the second races at Brands and Donington, Sherwood won race two at Oulton and claimed the class initiative with his rival unable to compete due to damage sustained in the earlier race. Martin then headed the order at Le Mans to close the gap.

Across Snetterton and Knockhill the pair alternated first and second, Martin winning the opening race of both events and Sherwood taking the second. Former Pro-Am2 champion John McCullagh returned for Redline Racing from Snetterton onwards and was immediately on the pace, claiming a class third on his return. Across the final eight races McCullagh would feature on the podium four times.

Martin’s ultimate success can strongly be linked to his double at Silverstone. ‘The Home of British Motor Racing’ was also the point at which Karl Leonard burst back onto the Carrera Cup GB scene for his annual cameo at Team Parker Racing, and once more made an instant impression finishing second in both races. Sherwood finished third in the first race but a puncture deflated his tyre and ultimately championship hopes in the second race.

As Leonard swept delighted to a double at Brands, second in class in the penultimate race of the season allowed Martin to claim the 2017 Pro-Am1 title. After two tumultuous seasons in the frenetic British Touring Car Championship, Martin came back to Carrera Cup GB and underlined his pace as GT contender. He and Sherwood delivered a hard but fair season of fantastic racing and should be applauded for providing quality entertainment.

Martin and Sherwood diced hard but fair in enthralling Pro-Am1 scrap. (Credit: Dan Bathie)

Pro-Am2: Kyle-Henney Can’t Stop Jennings

Peter Kyle-Henney’s Pro-Am2 championship hopes were ultimately over before the season itself had truly started for In2Racing. An accident at the exit of Paddock Hill bend on the first lap of the first race of 2017 ruled Kyle-Henney out of the entire meeting. He would end the season only a point behind class champion Shamus Jennings.

Ian Dockerill (Asset Advantage Racing) and Jennings (G-Cat Racing) would split the victories at Brands Hatch before Kyle-Henney claimed four consecutive victories, his personal party in the parks at Donington and Oulton. An error during the first race at Snetterton prevented him winning that race, however he would then not be stopped for the rest of the season. Seven wins from race two at Snetterton, through Knockhill, Silverstone and Brands Hatch GP was an outstanding feat and allowed him to claim the overall record for Pro-Am2 class wins.

David Fairbrother provided the high point of Slidesports‘ tough debut season with victory in the opening Snetterton race, as Jennings failed to make the podium in either race in Norfolk. However, after claiming third in the Knockhill opener, Jennings was second in each of the final five races to protect his shrinking championship advantage. Despite Kyle-Henney’s best efforts, Jennings did the dictionary definition of just enough to claim the Pro-Am2 title. Rupert Martin produced his best season to date to claim three podiums for Team Parker Racing and was far more consistent than in previous seasons. Peter Parsons (The Race Car Centre) appeared at Brands, Donington and Le Mans and claimed two podiums. Matt Telling (Welch Motorsport) endured a baptism of fire and was the only Pro-Am2 contender who failed to make the rostrum.

Kyle-Henney claimed seven of the final eight Pro-Am2 successes but fell short of the title. (Credit: Dan Bathie)

2018: Into the Unknowns

So to next season and the introduction of the second generation Type 991 GT3 Cup machinery to Carrera Cup GB. Monza replaces Le Mans and one of either Jamie Caroline, George Gamble, Daniel Harper and Esmee Hawkey will step forward as the Porsche GB Junior.

It is virtually impossible at this point to speculate about the future of the leading lights from this season. Eastwood, Zamparelli, Oliphant, Plato and Ellinas could all make reasonable cases for a Supercup bow, Cammish will almost certainly enjoy a sophomore season, and Carrera Cup GB is very much firmly on the map as a key cornerstone of Porsche’s global motor sport programme.

Martin and Jennings could reprise their roles in Pro-Am1 or potentially step into International GT competition and would make worthy additions to any Pro-Am line up. Both Jennings and Kyle-Henney likewise should not be dismissed as the very fastest of Gentleman competitors.

The only thing you can guarantee is that the organisers will continue to strive, push upwards and with the benefit of the latest machinery take Carrera Cup GB forward to even greater success.

The shape of things to come. Gen 2 car comes to the UK for 2018. (Credit: Dan Bathie)