Preview: British GT Championship – Silverstone 500

by Nick Smith
The British GT Fans enjoying a pit walk at Silverstone.

The pace changes this weekend as the 2019 British GT Championship switches from a 1 hour sprint series to an endurance competition. The jewel in the British GT crown is the Silverstone 500 three hour race brings the sound of V8 thunder to the Northamptonshire/Buckinghamshire boarder with action kicking off on Saturday morning with free practice from the home of British Motorsport.

What Happened in 2018 at the Silverstone 500?

GT3: Thiim and Farmer Take Victory at Silverstone.

A TF Sport Aston Martin at Club Corner during the 2018 Silverstone 500
Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography

The three hour race format is only run at Silverstone and it was Aston Martin who triumphed in 2018 over all other comers. And there were quite a few comers to this event as well, just as in 2019, the largest entry of the year came to the British Grand Prix circuit for the British GT race.

Pole went the way of RJN Motorsport and their #24 Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 and Ricardo Sanchez stormed away at the front at the drop of the green. The Nissan built its lead at a rate of a second a lap in the early running, finally stabilising at five seconds over the #11 TF Sport Aston Martin of Nicki Thiim and Mark Farmer.

Farmer would remain in contention throughout his stint, even when the Jetsream Motorsport Aston Martin of Graham Davidson knocked the #11 machine into a spin at Maggots and Becketts. Davidson’s co-driver Maxime Martin would later serve a drive through due to the contact.

Other cars were dropping by the wayside too.

A five lap loss for Team Parker Racing and the #7 Bentley Continental GT3 after contact with a GT4 car at Abbey, put paid to Callum MacLeod‘s hopes of something special in the car he shared with Ian Loggie. An earlier spin for Rick Parfitt Jr, out in the ‘pro’ start as his co-driver was ill and short notice super-sub Seb Morris was still on the M6, knocked the Geoffrey sponsored machine a bit back too.

After the first stops mistakes and issues again wrote the story of the race. Jonny Cocker had a spin on the Wellington Straight. Struan Moore in the Nissan shared with Sanchez lost out of a podium spot complaining that the drivers seat had slipped back and he couldn’t reach the pedals. Supporting his story was the fact the Nissan was first into the pits for stop #2. Sanchez went back out.

It was through the second stops of three that the #11 TF Sport machine of Thiim and Farmer finally made it to the front of the pack, and as the box commands went out it was an all Vantage provisional podium. Derek Johnston in the second TF Sport Aston Martin headed Flick Haigh in the Optimum Motorsport run car.

It is worth noting that in 2018 the rules were the same as they are for 2019. ‘Success Seconds’ incurred for performance in the previous round must be taken on the final stop of the 3 hour race. That mixed up the field a bit more with Marco Sorensen losing out on a potential win thanks to success ballast from Snetterton.

Nicki Thiim continued to extend his lead at the head of the field, eventually crossing the line 3.533 seconds clear of the #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw in second and the Flick Haigh/Jonny Adam driven #75 in third. The podium finishers held almost 30 seconds of advantage over the RJN Nissan in fourth care of a post race penalty for the #1 Bentley of Morris and Parfitt Jr for passing under yellow flags.

GT4: Century Motorsport Continue Dominant GT4 Season.

In GT4 it was a different story with survival being the biggest challenge of the race. Of an impressive 22 car entry only five had a trouble free run.

Fox Motorsport were disqualified from the result, two of the three Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S GT4 entries retired, David Pattison the victim of a first lap scuffle with the #77 Fox machine. One of the two Invictus Games Racing Jaguars, the #44, managed just nine minutes of the race while Steller Performance dropped out 23 minutes in with a problem for their Toyota GT86 GT4. The #86 was first out but the #68 didn’t manage to clear the first hour either.

The #4 Tolman McLaren 40 minutes in while the Track-Club 570S just limped over the first hour before joining its classmates in retirement. The only GT3 retirement of the race was the #8 Team ABBA Racing Mercedes at almost exactly the halfway point.

In fact even the #43 BMW failed to make the finish, despite taking a pad change at the final stop to cure a braking problem. Engine failure on the hangar straight with less than ten minutes to go put Jan Jonck and the Century Motorsport machine out of the running.

Equippe Verschuur looked good for a strong finish until suspension failure dropped them out of the battle which left the #42 BMW of Ben Green and Ben Tuck to take the win ahead of the #5 Tolman McLaren and the #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin.

What Happened Last Time Out?

A Lamborghini and a Ford Mustang on a race track.
Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

In GT3 the two races at Snetterton proved to be just what the doctor ordered for Barwell Motorsport. Their Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO racers brought home three trophies from two contests, the #72 of Phil Keen and Adam Balon taking the top spot in both outings.

A brutal first race saw four retirements in the first six minutes with two Aston Martins, one BMW M4 and a GT3 Mercedes-AMG all littering the Norfolk countryside before the pit stops. Remarkably the McLaren 720S Safety Car stayed at pit out for the entire race while the Invictus Games Racing Jaguar and Balfe Motorsport 720S GT3 both dropped out in the second half of the race.

Even those who finished the race were in the wars and finding an undamaged car in parc ferme was a challenge few tried to meet. The result however saw the #72 Barwell Lamborghini atop the podium for the first time in 2019 with the #7 Team Parker Racing Bentley and #47 TF Sport Aston Martin for company. In GT4 a remarkable debut for the Steller Performance Audi R8 LMS GT4 gave the crew first in class ahead of a pair of Tolman Motorsport McLarens. The #4 led home the #5 with HHC’s #57 in fourth, assuring the Woking brand of a good result.

Race 2 was much cleaner and a good qualifying for the #72 put Phil Keen hot on the heels of Nicki Thiim in the #2 Aston Martin. The Dane held off the Lamborghini’s advances througout the opening stint but Mark Farmer proved unable to cope with the pace of Adam Balon in a well hooked up Huracan. Sam de Haan made equally short work of the Aston Martin and proved Balon’s only real rival through the second half of the race.

The final podium spot in a race which seemed positively dull compared to the ‘fight club’-esque first encounter, was taken by Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell who were rewarded for a strong if doomed showing in race 1 by silverware in race 2. The McLaren was also aided by a TF Sport 4-5, where Graham Davidson seemed unwilling to give his team mate Farmer the tough love required to claim fourth and fight for the podium.

GT4 was a tale of heartbreak pure and simple. Nick Jones and Scott Malvern in the #66 Team Parker Racing Mercedes-AMG GT4 were the undisputed dominant race winners for 55 minutes. No-one had an answer, or a prayer of finding one, for the pace of the Benz. Malvern’s opening stint was a masterclass in securing a lead and Jones’ time at the wheel was a virtuoso display. Until the puncture.

The old saw of ‘to finish first, first you have to finish’, struck home with all the subtlety of Thor’s hammer. A puncture on what turned out to be the car’s final lap saw Jones take the chequered flag in the pit lane. Robbed of the chance to make up some places our dominant race leaders placed a gut wrenching 30th, 17th in class.

Victory in the end went to the #5 Tolman Motorsport McLaren who led home a 1-3-4 for the 570S GT4. TF Sport took second in class with the #97 machine ahead of the #57 and #58 HHC Motorsport McLarens.

A Tolman Motorsport McLaren at Murrays on the Snetterton 300 Circuit.
Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

What’s New for the Silverstone 500?

GT3: Two New Arrivals Increase Grid to 15 Cars.

Hold on to your hats on Sunday as a record grid of 42 GT3 and GT4 machines take the start of the longest race of the season. Thats four more than the record breaking full season entry and the largest GT3 and GT4 combined grid assembled on the Silverstone Grand Prix layout.

GT3 gain’s just a single car but the newcomers aren’t messing around. JMH Auto join the championship for a test run ahead of a planned full season entry in 2020. John Seale and Jamie Stanley will pilot the brand new #55 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO, bringing the number of bulls in our stable to four. They are equipped for success too, the Barwell Huracans currently hold a 1-2 position in the drivers standings with a 30 point advantage over third place!

The other new arrival in GT3 is the promised and long awaited return of Porsche to the top class. Having lost out on our GTC Porsche with WPI Motorsport switched from the Stuttgart cup car to a Huracan GT3 at Snetterton, fans of the brand have been forced to settle for a GT4 718 Cayman as the only representative in the championship.

No more. G-Cat Racing‘s supply problems are over and the 991 shape 911 GT3 R has been rolled out of the truck. Shamus Jennings and Greg Caton share the driving and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility for the Porsche to be quick. G-Cat may be new to the championship but they have been running Porsches in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB for many years and know how to make a 911 go fast.

GT4: Three New Entries Make for Record Breaking 26 Car Field.

The #19 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang.
Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

Yes, 26 cars are to take the start on Sunday afternoon in the GT4 class. Thats 4 more cars than the entire Carrera Cup GB field.

The boost is thanks to three new cars which are making one off appearances at the big event of the year. James Holder boss of SuperDry and backer to Invictus Games Racing is returning to the driving seat for a weekend. Rather than using the spare Jaguar F-Type SVR GT4 though, Holder and Matthew George, who will still fulfill his Jag driving duties, will share an Aston Martin AMR Vantage GT4 run under the Generation AMR SuperRacing banner.

Having tasted success at Snetterton, Balfe Motorsport are raising the stakes too, with a second GT4 McLaren upping the crew’s burden to three cars. The #21 machine will be piloted by Maria Flewitt and Stewart Proctor, neither of whom have raced at this level before. That makes them unique in the championship field, the only Am/Am pairing on the grid but they are not without any experience at all.

Flewitt took victory in the 2018 Pure McLaren one make series for the 570S GT4 while Stewart Proctor, father of Tolman Motorsport’s Lewis Proctor raced in the same series and claimed race wins.

Former GT3 contestants ERC Sport are making their return to the championship this weekend with a single Mercedes-AMG GT. Not the GT3 model they raced last year but a GT4 spec car for 2011 GT4 class winner Peter Belshaw. The crew have lined up exceptional support too as the race by race programme, which at the moment also includes Spa-Francorchamps in July, comes with Maximillian Buhk. The Mercedes factory driver and former FIA GT3 European Champion with the SLS GT3 was involved in the development of the AMG GT4.

The final changes in GT4 come as the merry-go-round of drivers for Multimatic Motorsports, continues to wend its way around the current crop of un-employed racers. Harrison Newey joins the #19 Ford Mustang GT4 crew, sharing with Chad McCumbee for a single round only. Both drivers will be replaced by Sir Chris Hoy and Bobby Johnson at Donington Park.

What is the Schedule for the Weekend?

Saturday 8th June

09:30 GMT – Practice 1
11:50 GMT – Practice 2
16:05 GMT – GT3 AM Qualifying
16:19 GMT – GT3 Pro Qualifying
16:33 GMT – GT4 AM Qualifying
16:48 GMT – GT4 Pro Qualifying

Sunday 9th June

09:00 GMT – Warm Up
12:35 – Race

Where Can I Watch the British GT Championship at the Silverstone 500?

All necessary ticket information is available on the Silverstone website, with tickets also available on the gate. Fans attending on Sunday will also be treated to the now traditional ‘Supercar Sunday’ event where hundreds of supercars and performance models are displayed in paddock areas and around the circuit. Everything from Ferraris and Lamborghinis to TVR and very hot hatchbacks and saloon cars are available for you to enjoy.

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 This 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.

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