Preview: 2019 British GT Championship: R7 Spa-Francorchamps.

by Nick Smith

The 2019 British GT Championship season heads abroad this weekend for a two hour race on the jewel of the Ardennes; The Circuit de Spa-Fracorchamps. Both GT3 and GT4 classes will contest the endurance race on the circuit which hosts the Belgian Grand Prix, starting a speedweek of action from the Stephane Ratel Organisation which will culminate with the Total 24h Spa next weekend.

Its a new departure for both the SRO and the British GT Championship. Usually the premiere domestic GT racing series shares its weekend abroad with the 25h FunCup race, prompting a Friday/Saturday race meeting. This year, with the big race taking part a weekend later, the British GT Championship competitors are the headline event at the circuit.

What Happened in 2018 at Spa-Francorchamps?

GT3: Maiden Victory for Davidson in Jetstream Holiday Dream.

Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography

2018 saw a busy race for the British GT Championship field at Spa. The victory in GT3 was a breakthrough win for the Jetstream Motorsport pairing of Graham Davidson and Maxime Martin. An early fall for Davidson saw the front row starting Aston Martin Vantage GT3 drop from second to fifth, but a controlled drive by the amateur racer saw the car rise to the top of the order come the pit stops.

The Jetstream machine had more than just faster starters to contend with. A clash between the #30 RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ramon Vos and the Mark Farmer driven #11 TF Sport Aston Martin at the frightful Eau Rouge second of the track caused carnage which accounted for much more than the two cars involved. Farmer’s Aston Martin, shared with Nicki Thiim suffered significant damage, caught fire and dropped much of its oil on the circuit.

Andrew Howard in the #99 Beechdean AMR machine was also caught up, going off on the resulting slick of oil and taking bad damage to his radiator. The former champion limped on for eight laps but was forced into retirement before his team mate, AMR pro Darren Turner could take his spell at the wheel.

The incident was judged the fault of Vos, who was hit with a 60 second stop and go penalty for his actions, which dropped the car well out of contention by the time Tom Onslow-Cole could take the wheel.

A clash between the RJN Nissan of Jordan Witt and the Team Parker Racing Bentley of Ian Loggie helped Davidson make up for lost time. A spin at turn 5 put the race leading Aston Martin down the order, Optimum Motorsport‘s Flick Haigh rotating before handing over to Jonny Adam, which allowed Davidson to take the lead of a dramatically winnowed class.

Both the Balfe Motorsport McLaren 650S GT3 and the Team ABBA Racing Mercedes-AMG would join the TF Sport and Beechdean Aston Martins in retirement, the McLaren before the pit window opened with the Mercedes just after. Adam Christodoulou had the wheel when the big Benz caught fire, prompting the second of two safety cars.

The two Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3s of Sam de Haan and Jon Minshaw had their own coming together at La Source, the #69 being judged at fault and hit with a ten second stop and go. Witt in the Nissan was given a 20 second stop and go for his part in the contact with the Loggie started, Callum Macleod finished Bentley.

The kurfufle had allowed Rick Parfitt Jr to slip into second place in the Team Parker Racing Bentley he shared with Ryan Ratcliffe, the latter holding down second place after the stops behind the Jetstream machine.

The pressure from behind was immense, Ratcliffe sucking up challenges from Mercedes-AMG factory pro Yelmer Buurman who took fourth for ERC Sport. Also piling on the pressure was AMR Pro racers Marco Sorenssen and Jonny Adam. Not a bad effort from the only non-factory pro in the top five.

Adam completed the podium with Flick Haigh, while Sorenssen and his team mate Derek Johnston were bumped to seventh by a post race time penalty. de Haan’s Lamborghini, shared with Jonny Cocker was similarly demoted post race.

GT4: Century Motorsport Take GT4 Title Lead Abroad.

GT4 was positively dull in the first half of the race. At least compared to the fireworks of the top class.

Fox Motorsport was about the only car to achieve note from the lower class, retiring early on as a result of contact. The Mercedes-AMG GT4 would be joined in retirement by the end of the race by Paul Vice‘s Jaguar from Invictus Games Racing, two of the three Tolman Motorsport run McLaren 570S GT4s and the similarly equipped Balfe Motorsport crew in the #501.

Indeed, a processional first half of the race meant that despite the top four running almost nose to tail, there was little in the way of overtakes. The opening of the pit window spiced things up though as the #5 McLaren was retired in the pits due to fire.

Charlie Fagg‘s Tolman McLaren, the only one of the three car stable still fighting fit, was the hope of the British brand come the end of the race. Despite trying all he could, and setting the class fastest lap in the process, there was nothing he could do to stop the Century Motorsport duo of Dean MacDonald and Jack Mitchell not only sealing victory, but taking the lead in the championship fight. Third place went to the Equippe Verchuur entered #10 570S GT4.

What Happened Last Time Out?

Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography

Just as Graham Davidson took his first win of the year at Spa in 2018, he claimed his first of 2019 at Donington Park last time out. Now paired with Jonny Adam, the TF Sport crew converted a hard won pole into an even harder won victory in the first of two visits to the East Midlands venue for this year. In a hotly contested GT3 class, the Scottish pairing can rejoice in having lead every lap of the race outside the pit window.

Davidson’s drive was that of a champion, and it sent signals throughout the paddock that the Aston Martin GT3 had arrived, and that Davidson had a weapon worthy of his talents in his hands. It is just to be hoped that the TF Sport team haven’t taken too long getting to grips with the new for 2019 V8 powered GT3 Aston. Barwell Motorsport sit 32.5 points clear of the Vantage at the top of the table after Donington Park, with only 75 points available.

The main rival for the win came in the form of a McLaren for the second time in two races. Rob Bell inherited a strong position from the pit stops thanks to his team mate Shaun Balfe. The Balfe Motorsport team owner had not only assured the #22 McLaren of a strong position with his drive at Donington Park, but with the lack of success seconds incurred after a woeful pit lane performance at Silverstone. The car was twice given a drive through for pit lane speeding.

For much of the final 20 minutes, Bell and Adam fought both close range dogfights and longer range wrestling matches as the traffic expanded and compressed the gap at the head of the field. Come the dying minutes, a chance for Deja Vous was offered to Adam. The Aston was under pressure from behind, in a twisty and technical section of the track, (Old Hairpin and Schwanz) and faced with a Multimatic Mustang out on its own.

This time the result favoured the Aston Martin. Adam made good and decisive progress through the traffic, while Bell was caught behind the Ford, and again behind traffic at McLeans. The final winning margin was 3.47 seconds, an eternity given how close Bell had been on multiple occasions to the top step of the podium.

GT4 repeated the pattern laid down by the larger cars. A lights to flag victory from the headlines but a different story under the surface. The #15 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4 of Seb Priaulx and unexpected star of the GT4 show Scott Maxwell lead from the start and at the end of the race but between these points they had to earn every step of the podium.

From lights out Maxwell was on the back foot. Fast starting McLarens swamped him on the run down to Redgate corner, the fact he emerged to Holly Wood in third is impressive. A swift parry saw the Mustang past the #57 HHC Motorsport McLaren of Callum Pointon and off in pursuit of the #5 Tolman Motorsport McLaren of Josh Smith.

The Mustang wasn’t forced to be so decisive with the Tolman car though as Smith brought the car into the pits and out of the race, allowing the Ford uncontested passage to the lead of the class.

Here the pit stops played their part and when Sen Priaulx joined the track after taking control, he wasn’t in the lead but battling for control behind a determined Mark Kimber. Century Motorsport‘s BMW M4 GT4 made for a difficult target to pass but after mounting a withering onslaught of attacks on the BMW, the Mustang finally managed to slip up the inside at the Melbourne Hairpin to secure victory. With 20 minutes to go there was no one left who could hold with the pace of the #15 Mustang.

Kimber all but threw away a podium after a trip into the gravel dropped the M4 GT4 from second in the class and 16th overall to 34th place. Pointon and Dean Macdonald took second place for HHC ahead of Lewis Proctor and Jordan Collard for Tolman Motorsport in third.

Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography

What’s New for Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps?

Headlining the news for the seventh round of the championship is the arrival of another GT3 machine on the grid. A single round entry being run by M2 Compeition, its no also ran. Tony Quinn, the twice bridesmaid of the Australian GT Championship fills the role of am in the team, which has five Toyota Racing Series NZ titles to its credit already, while being currently engaged in its first Formula Renault Eurocup season.

Darren Turner is the big pro name in the car, which will run under the Keltic Racing team name used by Quinn in the Antipodean series. The back up is good too, with a Total 24h Spa winning team principal and several DTM titles to the engineering staff’s credit.

In GT4 there is also big news. One of the two Academy Motorsport Aston Martin Vantage GT4s has suffered a big change heading to Spa. Whilst racing in the GT4 European Series at Zandvoort recently, the #61 machine was involved in an accident and cannot be repaired in time for the Spa round. Fortunately the crew have a spare, the former #10 Equippe Verchuur McLaren which took podium glory in Spa last year. The #62 machine will continue to be an Aston Martin.

The Multimatic musical chairs continues to Spa as well, with Sir Chris Hoy in need of a replacement for Billy Johnson who has vacated the second seat in the #19 for this round. Fortunately a team mate in the #15 car has some sway with a respected Ford man. Andy Priaulx MBE will share the second car. Unfortunately title considerations make it impossible for us to see what we really want, which is Priaulx and Priaulx in a single car.

Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography

Finally, there is sad news. The Peter Belshaw and Maximillian Buhk driven ERC Sport Mercedes-AMG GT4 which took a class podium at the Silverstone 500 will not be making the trip to Belgium. It brings the entry for the sole international event on our calendar down to ‘just’ 40 cars.

What is the Schedule for the Weekend?

Saturday 20 July

09:00 – 10:00: Free Practice 1

11:20 – 12:20: Free Practice 2

15:10 – 15:20: Qualifying – GT3 Am

15:27 – 15:37: Qualifying – GT3 Pro

15:44 – 15:54: Qualifying – GT4 Am

16:01 – 16:11: Qualifying – GT4 Pro

Sunday 21 July

09:00 – 09:10: Warm-up

12:30 – 14:30: Race

Where Can I Watch the British GT Championship at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps?

If you are lucky enough to be in Belgium this weekend and have the time to get to Stavelot, head down to the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Don’t worry about tickets as its free entry all weekend. Some of us are not so fortunate however but British GT have now catered for those of us stuck at home. The 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 race 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 live blog action from all the televised sessions and a round up of the news from the event.

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