Preview: 2019 British GT Championship: R8 Brands Hatch

by Nick Smith

The 2019 British GT Championship season has already reached forte with great races at both Donington Park and Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps shaking up the top order with only two rounds to go. The crescendo continues this weekend as the full season entries only head to Brands Hatch in Swanley, near Dartford, for the penultimate round of the championship.

Both Donington Park’s first race of the year and the annual trip abroad to Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps provided accents to the seasons complicated melody. With it statistically possible that both drivers championships be decided in Kent this weekend, all eyes are on the Barwell battle and Multimatic’s astonishing debut season.

There is a lot more to look at than just the battle at the front though.

What Happened at Brands Hatch in 2018?

Credit: British GT/Jacob Ebrey Photography

The GT3 race for the 2018 British GT Championship was, the headlines would have you believe, a lights to flag victory for the eventual champions Optimum Motorsport with Jonny Adam and Flick Haigh. The victory gave the #75 Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 the points lead in the championship for the first time since Flick Haigh became British GT’s first female overall race winner at Oulton Park to start the season.

It wasn’t however as easy as start, pitstop, win as the pair had to contend with safety cars, success seconds and a determined Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini. Haigh took the green flag and raced away to a commanding early lead. A 5 second gap was quickly established, then pushed out to 18 seconds. Mike Newbold caused the safety car though when he lost control of his HHC Motorsport run Ginetta G55 GT4 on the Brabham Straight, causing a long outing for the 570S Safety Car while barrier repairs took place.

That still left Haigh enough time to negate much of the #75 machine’s 10 second success penalty before the halfway mark and handover to AMR Pro driver Adam. It left the Scotsman and 2016 champion with only the #69 Lamborghini ahead. Behind a battling pack of Phil Keen, Nicki Thiim, Darren Turner, Marco Sorenssen and Yelmer Burmann, the duel of the factory drivers thrilling the crowds and allowing Adam to close on and pressure former ELMS GTE Pro champion and 2004 British GT Champion, Jonny Cocker.

Adam and Cocker fought in close proximity for much of the second hour before a mistake by the Lamborghini allowed the Aston Martin to slip past at Hawthornes and pull away to a 4.688 second margin at the flag.

Behind, Cocker held on to second place while his team mate Keen in the #33 Lamborghini he shared with Jon Minshaw saw his title hopes slip away after a damaged radiator forced the car to retire from the five way scrap for the final podium spot.

The retirement promoted Nicki Thiim to fourth place behind the Beechdean AMR Vantage of Turner, who shared with the ice-cream company founder Andrew Howard. The move in the final laps of the race was vital, not only to promote the #11 TF Sport Vantage to the podium, but to keep the title hopes alive for both Thiim and his Am co-driver Mark Farmer. Turner took fourth ahead of Yelmer Burmann’s ERC Sport Mercedes-AMG GT3.

A freak accident caused a massive off for the #47 machine of Graham Davidson and Maxime Martin. Somehow a large piece of concrete was pitched airborne on the circuit, it cleared the bonnet of the Jetstream Motorsport Aston Martin and came into the cabin through the windscreen. Maxime was fortunately unhurt in the incident but was taken to a nearby hospital for checks.

Credit: British GT/Jacob Ebrey Photography

In GT4 it was a welcome return to the top step of the podium for defending class champions Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson. The pair were aided by the normally excellent British GT BoP system which means Silver/Silver driver line ups have to spend extra time in the pit lane compared to the more traditional Pro/Am crews. With the safety car which made Flick Haigh’s life interesting coming so close to the pit window opening, it wasn’t possible for the Silver Cup crews to build the normal advantage one would expect over the Pro/Am crews.

That meant that despite a great start which saw Ben Tuck leapfrog his team mate Dean Macdonald in the Century Motorsport BMW M4 GT4s, he was unable to build a big enough gap to negate the silver seconds when he handed over to his co-driver Ben Green. It left the Balfe Motorsport run McLaren 570S GT4 of Johnson and Robinson well placed at the close of the pit window.

A healthy lead for the colourful McLaren was further aided by the fact that second place was held by Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman who had mirrors full of Scott Malvern in the Team Parker Racing run Mercedes-AMG GT4. Initially the trio were rather well spaced out but as the stint wore on the gap came down to two seconds covering the podium.

As Plowman became increasingly concerned with defending the advances of first the Mercedes-AMG, then the BMW M4 of Green which had scrambled back through the order to challenge for podium places, Mike Robinson was able to make good his escape at the front of the field. The eventual winning margin was over six seconds. Malvern and Plowman would both eventually succumb to the pressure of Green’s relentless advance.

The Nissan and the Mercedes held out as long as they could though, with Malvern losing out at Pilgrim’s Drop on the final lap while Plowman was passed on the run out of Clearways, the final corner of the Grand Prix circuit’s lap.

What Happened Last Time Out?

Credit: British GT/Jacob Ebrey Photography

The last round of the championship for 2019 was the annual trip across the channel to Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps and the race on foreign soil did its usual trick of turning up a different result. This time it was a return to the top step of the podium for the first time since victory at Brands Hatch in 2018 for Optimum Motorsport. It was also Bradley Ellis‘ first victory in the series for eleven years.

The only crew to have a relatively easy race, Ollie Wilkinson made a prompt escape from the line and romped away up Eau Rouge as the chasing pack were slowed by incident. Adam Balon, sharing with Phil Keen and starting the championship leading Lamborghini, was almost instantly on the back foot as he attracted a stop and go penalty for a startling infringement, second place in the title was hobbled too, this time by a nudge from the #31 Bentley Continental of Rick Parfitt Jr. Sam de Haan tumbled down the order, Parfitt attracted the ire of the stewards and a penalty of his own.

Away at the front and success seconds free, Wilkinson was enjoying a nice drive in the Ardenne before handing over to Ellis for the second stint. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3 emerged from the pits with a commanding advantage over the #22 McLaren of Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell and the Jonny Adam and Graham Johnston driven #47 TF Sport machine. A stop and go for Adam, the result of a first stint transgression, knocked the Aston Martin out of contention and allowed Bell to concentrate on pushing up towards the leading Vantage.

That was before Bell was joined in battle by Glynn Geddie who shared the Team Parker Racing Bentley with Ryan Ratcliffe and the Callum Macleod driven RAM Racing Mercedes. After a small while of scrapping amongst themselves, all decided to go for advantage, which left us with the stunning spectre of a three wide battle for position through Eau Rouge. Ratcliffe came through in third, Bell in fourth but Macleod was the winner, jumping from fourth to second in one bonkers move and securing RAM Racing a second place for Mercedes-AMG.

Of the championship leaders there was no sign. After serving his penalty at the start of the race, Adam Balon retired the #72 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini on lap 14. Jonny Cocker got back in seventh place in the #69 he shares with de Haan which sent the crew to Brands with a 0.5 point advantage over the team car.

In GT4 it was a reverse of GT3. A fairly tame, by Spa standards anyway, opening stint gave way to carnage at the end. TF Sport came away celebrating a 1-3 finish while Tolman Motorsport were licking the wounds of a certain win for the #4 machine being ripped from their grasp at the Bus Stop chicane on the penultimate lap, the only consolation being that the last lap retirement of the leader put the #5 machine into second place and closed them up on the championship leaders in class.

Credit: British GT/Jacob Ebrey Photography

At the start Tom Canning, who secured pole for TF Sport, was passed almost instantly by the fast starting #4 of James Dorlin. A more contested pass for Jordan Collard put the #5 machine into second place at the stops, giving Tolman a 1-2. The #5 was to fall in the stops though, victim to the success seconds system which gives a longer minimum stop time to the podium finishers from the previous outing.

That left the #97 and the #95 in second and third and working together, they closed on the leading McLaren. With victory close at hand Canning made the move at the Bus Stop but contact was made. A racing incident for sure but enough to puncture the radiator on the race long leader, Josh Smith retired both his and Dorlin’s hopes at La Source on the final lap of the race.

The confusion, and ice rink left by the contents of Smith’s evacuated radiator, allowed the #5 to split the TF Sport machines which otherwise would have claimed a 1-2 finish.

Whats New at Brands Hatch?

Credit: British GT/Jacob Ebrey Photography

There should now be a little more stability in the entry list heading into the final two rounds of the season. Organisers the SRO have said that no single round entries are being accepted for neither Brands Hatch nor the second race of the year at Donington Park. That still leaves room for changes though. One car change and a quartet of driver line up changes.

In GT3, fans of the Stuttgart shield will be disappointed as the G-Cat Porsche 991 GT3 R has been withdrawn from the round. Shamus Jennings has been forced to cancel his participation in the meeting due to business commitments but will be back for Donington Park.

On the driver front in GT3 the Century Motorsport super-sub search continues for the fifth round. Adrian Willmott is still sidelined with his injury picked up before Snetterton back in April. Having since shared the #9 Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 with both JM Littman and Tom Gamble, Jack Mitchell has been promoted to the lead driver of the car. Thats because also promoted is Angus Fender who moves up from the #43 BMW M4 GT4 to the team’s GT3 effort.

Nathan Freke, the team owner at Century, will take Fender’s place in the GT4 machine, which gives the #43 a strong chance in qualifying. Freke still holds the GT4 class lap record around the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit.

Meanwhile Valentin Hasse-Clot makes his British GT debut aboard the #99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3. Marco Sorenssen has not yet returned after his 24 Heures du Mans travails which leaves Andrew Howard looking for a co-driver for his return after a round out. The Beechdean crew instead raced in the Michelin Le Mans Cup at Barcelona which clashed with the Spa round of this series.

The final change in a line up is that Tom Onslow-Cole heads to Brands Hatch to reprise his role as go to stand-in for Team ABBA Racing. The Mercedes-AMG crew needed a driver to replace Adam Christodoulou who has been recalled to manufacturer duty at the Nordscliffe for the VLN. The Touring Car driver turned racer will share with ABBA Commercial’s boss Richard Neary for the two hour race on Sunday.

What is the Schedule for the Weekend?

Saturday 3 August
09:40 – 10:40: Free Practice 1
12:50 – 13:50: Free Practice 2
16:30 – 16:40: Qualifying – GT3 Am
16:44 – 16:54: Qualifying – GT3 Pro
16:58 – 17:08: Qualifying – GT4 Am
17:13 – 17:23: Qualifying – GT4 Pro

Sunday 4 August
09:05 – 09:45: Pitwalk and driver autograph session
10:00 – 10:10: Warm-up
13:00 – 15:00: Race

Where Can I Watch the British GT Championship at Brands Hatch?

Tickets are still available on the circuit website www.brandshatch.msv.com so if you can get to the circuit for the weekend you can still get in. You can also get tickets on the gate. If you are not able to make the journey, the race along with 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 qualifying and race sessions along with reports on free practice and insights from the Brands Hatch paddock.

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