2018 British GT Championship: Oulton Park – Preview


Team Parker Racing will kick-off their title defence at Oulton Park. (Credit: Nick Smith/theimageteam.com)

The treacherously tight confines of Oulton Park play host to the opening rounds of the 2018 British GT Championship, with a myriad of illustrious driver entries in both GT3 and GT4 this year leaving fans abuzz with excitement ahead of what could be the most enthralling and dramatic season in the series’ decorated history.

WHAT HAPPENED IN 2017 AT OULTON PARK?

Last year’s curtain-raiser at the Cheshire circuit took place under cloudy skies and torrential rain, producing predictable drama across an incident-filled weekend. Having fallen agonisingly short of the GT3 crown in 2016, Barwell Motorsport began 2017 in perfect fashion – completing the clean sweep and powering to an opening-weekend double as Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw in the #33 Lamborghini Huracan cemented themselves as early title favourites.

A catastrophic collision into the Knickerbrook chicane between Bentley team-mates Seb Morris and Callum Macleod in race two dashed Team Parker Racing‘s hopes of earning a first win of the season in the top category, with their frustrations further compounded by a heavy accident for Macleod’s partner Ian Loggie after a tangle with Richard Neary‘s Mercedes on the run down to the same chicane later in the race.

2016 champions TF Sport registered one of their strongest results of a disappointing season, finishing third twice whilst also grabbing a second-placed finish to cap a solid points haul.

In GT4, Track-Club burst onto the scene with a memorable victory in race one against the odds, whilst Lanan Racing began their title assault in perfect fashion with a win in the weekend finale – fairing better than eventual title-winners HHC Motorsport, who could only secure a single podium and a modest points haul on opening weekend.

Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen claimed victory in both races at Oulton Park a year ago. (Credit: Nick Smith/theimageteam.com)

You can read the full race reports from last season’s opening races at Oulton Park here:

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR THIS YEAR?

GT3

There are tantalising partnerships and exciting new entries aplenty for British GT fans to feast their eyes on in 2018, with a flurry of off-season alterations seeing some new and old faces recruited in both categories to bolster a star-laden grid in this year’s championship.

Reigning GT3 champions Team Parker Racing and Rick Parfitt Jr return to defend their 2017 crown without Morris, whose stunning speed earned him a coveted promotion to the international GT stage and TPR’s Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup lineup for this season. Replacing Morris in the #1 Bentley‘s cockpit is Ryan Ratcliffe, who returns to partner with Parfitt Jr for the first time since the duo surged to the GT4 title together in 2013. Reunited for the upcoming campaign, there seems no better partner to replace the hole left by Morris as Team Parker Racing look to fend of a fleet of Lamborghini once again in 2018.

Ratcliffe reunites with Parfitt Jnr for TPR’s title assault. (Credit: Jakob Ebrey Photography)

Having been denied top spot yet again in 2017, Barwell have ramped up their pursuit of GT3 honours by adding a third Lamborghini to their lineup this year, with a pair of previous series champions in Jonny Cocker and Leo Machitski recruited alongside veteran duo Keen and Minshaw to aid their hopes of defying Bentley this time around.

Another head-turning move sees Optimum Motorsport step up once again to the GT3 fold, adding double-champion and the series’ all-time record wins holder Jonny Adam in addition to veteran GT competitor Flick Haigh in the team’s sole Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.

Despite the sizable loss of Adam from their ranks, TF Sport more than dressed the wound by securing the arrival of ‘The Dane Train’ – Nicki Thiim and Marco Sørensen – into British GT for 2018. The star-studded pairing will lead the team’s two-pronged attack on the title this season, whilst simultaneously juggling a full World Endurance Championship schedule under the Aston Martin Racing banner in the GTE Pro class.

Fan favourites Beechdean AMR and team boss Andrew Howard return to British GT after a year out to focus on their international exploits, bringing an AMR GT juggernaut and three-time Le Mans winner along with them in the form of Darren Turner.

The departure of Spirit of Race‘s Ferrari 488 is softened by the additions of RJN Motorsport‘s Nissan GT-R NISMO, ERC Sport‘s Mercedes-AMG and Balfe Motorsport‘s McLaren 650S to an incredibly diverse and eye-catching GT3 field.

Four AMR factory drivers will compete in British GT this season. (Credit: Darren Turner)

GT4

An equally pulsating fight lies on the horizon in GT4, with a number of new manufacturers storming onto the scene to disrupt the two-horse race between Ginetta and McLaren from a year ago. Series stalwarts Century Motorsport march into battle with the BMW Motorsport-backed, 2018 specification M4 GT4, to be driven by dynamic young duo Ben Tuck and Ben Green in 2018.

Jaguar returns to the British GT grid for the first time since 2007 under the stewardship of Invictus Games Racing – with two F-TYPE SVR to be inspirationally piloted by four injured veterans of the British Armed Forces under the guise of professional racers Matthew George and Jason Wolfe.

Three teams will field the newly-developed Mercedes-AMG GT4 chassis, whilst Steller Motorsport join up with the Toyota GT86.

The departure of two title-challengers from 2017 in Optimum Motorsport and Lanan Racing from GT4 leaves the category crown firmly up for grabs, with reigning champions HHC Motorsport expanding to a two-car entry this year looking to nullify the loss of last year’s championship-winning teenage sensations Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha. Leading the charge instead for the outfit this season are Callum Pointon and Patrick Matthiesen, who will have to fend off stiff competition if they’re to reclaim GT4 honours for HHC.

Reigning GT4 champions HHC Motorsport field a fresh line-up for 2018. (Credit: Nick Smith/theimageteam.com)

WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THE WEEKEND?

SATURDAY 31 MARCH

09:30 GMT – Practice 1
12:10 GMT – Practice 2
15:55 GMT – GT3 AM Qualifying
16:09 GMT – GT3 Pro Qualifying
16:23 GMT – GT4 AM Qualifying
16:38 GMT – GT4 Pro Qualifying

MONDAY 2 APRIL

09:24 GMT – Warm Up
11:10 GMT – Race One
15:25 GMT – Race Two

WHERE CAN I WATCH THE BRITISH GT AT OULTON PARK?

All necessary ticket information is available on the MSV website, with advanced tickets still purchasable and details regarding on-the-gate purchases also on display.

Each race, in addition to a selection of the supporting races, will be streamed live on the British GT’s Facebook page.

HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE BRITISH GT ACTION ACROSS EASTER WEEKEND

If you’re unable to attend the opening races live or watch through the various streaming services available, you can keep updated with all the action here at The Checkered Flag – we’ll be offering you in-depth reports of all the action from practice, qualifying and the races in addition to a number of exclusive interviews from drivers and teams as the drama unfolds.

WHERE IS THE OULTON PARK CIRCUIT?