From the tight, undulating road course of Oulton Park for two one-hour races, the 2018 British GT Championship switches into a different mode this weekend when the field heads to Corby for the first endurance race of the season. Rockingham Motor Speedway plays host to the championship this week for a two-hour encounter on the International Sportscar circuit and a more different circuit could be hard to find.
WHAT HAPPENED AT ROUNDS 1 & 2,
In short, rain and lots of it. Oulton Park reprised its role as the traditional season opener for the British GT Championship, hosting two one-hour races on Easter Monday. History was made on Saturday when Flick Haigh claimed the first ever overall pole for a female racing driver. More history was made on the Monday morning when in company with Jonny Adam, Haigh took the first ever overall win for a female racing driver too, Optimum Motorsport’s switch from Audi to Aston Martin vindicated on the first time out.
Just behind the leader was the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini for much of the race and a thrilling dice in the making between Adam and Phil Keen was brought to naught when the Huracan clipped a Team Hard Ginetta GT4 in passing and was forced to pit with wheel damage. That left a titanic battle for the final two podium spots between two greats of our sport, the Aston Martin factory driver Darren Turner facing off in the Beechdean AMR machine against Mercedes rival Yelmer Buurman for ERC Sport. Despite a determined effort from the AMG man, Turner came out on top.
GT4 was claimed by Track-Club and the McLaren 570S GT4 of Adam Balon and new co-driver Ben Barnicoat. Continuing the Anglo-German slugging match from GT3 was the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4 of the Ben Tuck and Ben Green who took second ahead of the O’Brien/Fagg crewed Tolman Motorsport McLaren.
Race two was a different story, with the only loser coming in the form of the winners of race 1. Jonny Adam had a moment avoiding slow traffic on the way to the grid and damaged the Aston Martin Vantage GT3 to the point it bypassed the grid and went straight in for the attentions of the team. That meant that the car fell right to the back of the pack when the race started under safety car and stayed there when the red flag was thrown four laps later.
The decision on if a race had actually happened was passed to the stewards who ruled that enough had happened to count as a race. That meant that Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw took an early lead in the championship fight headed to round 3.
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2017?
For 2017, Rockingham also hosted the third round of the championship, the second race weekend of the season. It was also the first endurance race of the year comprising two hours on May Day Bank Holiday Sunday. This year the race is being run on a normal weekend rather than a Bank Holiday but that should have no effect on the racing, nor the crowds.
It was a confusing race in 2017 with the win initially being claimed by the Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. The result was overturned in the steward room though after a five second time penalty for the Ferrari led to safety car confusion and the 488 gaining an unassailable lead despite the punishment. The win was given to the #31 Bentley Continental GT3 of Team Parker Racing, their first of the season.
Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen took second place in their Lamborghini, one of few pairings which arrive at Rockingham unchanged for 2018, with a surprise podium for the MacMillan AMR Vantage of James Littlejohn and Jack Mitchell who had stepped up to GT3 at the opening round of the season.
GT4 went to HHC Motorsport with the Black Bull Garage 59 McLaren GT4 of Ciaran Haggerty. Third went to a determined but ultimately thwarted effort from the defending champions PMW Expo Racing McLaren.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN 2018?
Rick Parfitt is the first to look out for, the 2017 Champion has changed co-drivers from Seb Morris to Ryan Ratcliffe but goes well at Rockingham and Ratcliffe is no stranger to the UK’s only ‘Roval’. The confusion of last year will burn on the champions tongue though and the #1 Bentley will be determined to take the top step of the podium on the track.
Elsewhere in GT3 attention needs to be paid to the army of Aston Martin factory drivers, each paired to a capable Bronze or Silver driver. Of obvious note here is the #75 Optimum Racing machine, which will need a strong performance to overcome the problems of Oulton Park if Jonny Adam is to take his third British GT title. Former champion, in fact the driver with whom Adam claimed his first title, Andrew Howard will be mighty and more settled now he has had a weekend to re-acclimatise to the British GT way of doing things after a season of ACO rules racing with his Beechdean team. Darren Turner is as capable a co-driver as any man could want and is unlikely to be phased by the high-speed nature of Rockingham after racing Daytona in 2015.
You are also crazy to discount the Lamborghini of Keen and Minshaw, who again enter the second weekend of the championship in the lead of the series. Successive years of disappointment at the final round will be bitter and expect the long serving duo to capitolise on their championship lead. If the #33 doesn’t take pole, expect startling moves into Deene early on. Lee Mowle and Yelmer Buurman have shown at Oulton Park that pace is not lacking in the big Mercedes so they could well challenge at a circuit which favours outright speed over the poise and balance of a mid-rear setup. Grunt from the big V8 in the Mercedes-AMG GT3 will come in very handy on the long run from the Brooke Chicane round Speedway 1 and into Deene.
The same could be said of the RJN Motorsport Nissan GT-R of Struan Moore and Devon Modell, if only the car were more developed and the driver pairing a Pro/Am rather than Silver Cup entry. As it is Rockingham rewards big bravery, firm footing and daring overtaking. It’s not certain if the car or the crew can offer this.
Time to go out on a limb and say that GT4 will be a battle between the German brands. Big power is essential at Rockingham which favours the Mercedes-AMG GT4, throw in the fact that Fox Motorsport took the opportunity to test at Rockingham a few weeks ago when Britcar came to play and you have a well setup car, from a well organised team, with all the advantages of a new-generation GT4 car. Despite the high-speed run round the speedway, the circuit also rewards a machine which is ‘on the nose’, the big engine at the front will help the Benz through the corners. Expect Mark Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst to feature prominently, likely battling with the similarly equipped Nick Jones and Scott Malvern who have the advantage of experience after racing the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport at the circuit last year.
The same big motor, front-rear setup advantages will go the way of Century Motorsport too, with the BMW M4 being arguably the more developed of the new for 2018 GT4 entries. Which of the two cars to pick is more than I am willing to wager but I’ve an inkling that if Ricky Collard is aboard the second car again, it could well be very quick indeed.
For British built cars there is less hope, though only a fool would write off the #501 PMW McLaren, now being run by Balfe Motorsport. Its hard though to shake the feeling that the Ginetta and Aston Martin offerings might find themselves wheezing to keep up with their newer GT4 fellows. On the flip side of the argument you have the Stellar Performance Toyotas and Invictus Games Racing Jaguars which might well be too new, either to the team or to GT4 at all, to have much chance of doing more than troubling the top ten.
The McLarens are the jokers in the deck, with a probable pace deficit against the high torque big banger V8s of their German rivals set to be most pronounced at Rockingham. That being said, if the rain comes, controlling the rear becomes more important that outright pace and the balance offered by a mid-rear setup could bring an army of 570S GT4s through the field and into a scrap for the top step of a soggy podium.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THE WEEKEND?
SATURDAY 28 APRIL
09:30 GMT – Practice 1
11:45 GMT – Practice 2
15:25 GMT – GT3 AM Qualifying
15:39 GMT – GT3 Pro Qualifying
15:53 GMT – GT4 AM Qualifying
16:08 GMT – GT4 Pro Qualifying
SUNDAY 29 APRIL
09:30 GMT – Warm Up
13:10 GMT – Race One
WHERE CAN I WATCH THE BRITISH GT AT OULTON PARK?
All necessary ticket information is available on the Rockingham 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 THE WEEKEND?
For those unable to make it to the circuit TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk will have coverage throughout the weekend including reports from Saturday, live race coverage and photography from our team at the track.
WHERE IS THE ROCKINGHAM MOTOR SPEEDWAY?
Rockingham Motor Speedway is in Corby, Northamptonshire within easy distance of the A14. The postcode for your navigation device is NN17 5AF. For those traveling by public transport there is a bus stop just outside the driveway to the gate and it is within 10 minutes from the town centre by taxi.