2019 British GT Championship: Review – GT3

by Nick Smith

The 2019 British GT Championship season was a remarkable 19 hours of multi-class GT racing, but keeping the GT4 battle in focus was very difficult thanks to the astonishing battles in the bulging GT3 class. Eight manufacturers were represented by thirteen different teams with a total of Sixteen GT3 cars at the peak of the season.

That’s not bad given that as recently as the end of 2018 we were talking about the death of GT3 as a class in British GT.

Seven winners from nine rounds is impressive, with only the Champions and the perennial championship unfortunate, Phil Keen’s car netting two in the year. What was remarkable is that throughout the season, there wasn’t a single car in the class which didn’t look good for either pole, a win, or both. 

As with our GT4 review, we will start off with some notable mentions before looking at each of the top ten crews and how they built their championship challenge.

Notable Mentions

Technically Adrian Willmot should be mentioned here, a full season entry but only 12 points before injury sidelined him for the rest of the year. We will cover this story more in the section which covers his car. 

Otherwise there are a few others who shined more than their results would suggest. Rick Parfitt Jr. surprised many when he came out of retirement to drive the new for 2019 Bentley Continental GT3 with Seb Morris. Run by JRM Racing, few were surprised when the pair took the first round of the championship. That victory though made for 25 of their 58 points, the rest of the season was a combination of disappointment and bad luck.

The #31 JRM Racing Bentley Continental GT3 of Rick Parfitt Jr and Seb Morris at pit in on the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps. Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography.

The same is true for the other Bentley, run by Team Parker Racing who, unlike in GT4 where they had a strong season of performance mixed with a huge dose of bad luck, had a season best described as wrong place, wrong time. A couple of stand out results, two third places at Snetterton and Spa-Francorchamps, were more than overshadowed by the misfortune which befell the crew of Ryan Ratcliffe and Glynn Geddie. Nurfing off the race leader in an abysmally timed move at Hislops on the second lap of the season springs to mind here. 

They were of course part of the jaw-dropping, hold my beer moment of the season, where RAM Racing’s Ian Loggie, Balfe Motorsport’s Rob Bell and Geddie engaged in a three wide, foot to the shag pile battle THROUGH EAU ROUGE!! It was astonishing and led to third place but no doubt the team’s misfortune a week later at Spa in the 24 Hours can be partly blamed for the lack of points at Brands Hatch a week further hence.

Finally, we will mention Richard Neary and the Team ABBA Racing Mercedes-AMG. Overshadowed somewhat by brand mates RAM Racing, Neary had perhaps his best season yet, despite having a variety of co-drivers as Adam Christodoulou was regularly called up to factory driving duties for AMG in the VLN. It’s good to know that Neary will be back next year, joined by his son Sam for the first time.

Tenth: Jack Mitchell – Century Motorsport BMW M6 GT3.

The #9 BMW M6 GT3 of Century Motorsport’s Jack Mitchell and Tom Gmable on the Senna Straight at Snetterton during the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

It isn’t Century Motorsport’s first dance in GT3, but it is their first with a competitive car. The team previously ran Ginetta G55 GT3 entries to the British GT Championship in 2017 but stepped up with a brace of M6 GT3 machines from BMW this year. Much was expected of the effort, especially the pairing of Jack Mitchell who graduated from the championship winning BMW M4 GT4 run by Century in 2018 with Adrian Willmot sharing the driving. 

A neck injury put paid to that though, knocking Willmot from the driving roster for the rest of the season. Mitchell had to persevere with no less than three different co-drivers over the course of the year, including Tom Gamble who claimed pole on his first outing in the car, JM Littman whose stint in the car unfortunately coincided with a three race dry-spell for points, and Angus Fender, who split his year between the GT3 and GT4 cars. 

Over the two rounds Fender contested in the BMW, only the champions and Balfe Motorsport outscored the #9 BMW M6 GT3. Not a bad effort at all. 

The musical chairs on the second seat though means that only Jack Mitchell can claim to have finished tenth in the championship. That’s an improvement over the sister car though, who despite a consistent driver lineup managed only 17th in the standings, behind both Fender and Adam Christodoulou.

Dennis Lind (ninth) and Michael Igoe (seventh) – WPI Motorsport Porsche 991 GT3 Cup and Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO.

WPI Motorsport brought both Porsche and GTC back to the British GT Championship this year, debuting at Oulton Park before shocking the series by switching after two pointless races to the GT3 class and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO. With the switch came a change in driver line up. Adrian Wilcox drove second seat for Oulton Park and Snetterton before Lamborghini Squadra Corse driver Dennis Lind replaced him. Wilcox managed only 9 points, courtesy of the Lamborghini at Snetterton, but those 9 also explain why Lind and Igoe hold two different championship positions. 

79.5 points for Igoe, 70.5 for Lind, is an astonishing tally for their first season in the championship, having graduated from the Porsche Carrera Cup GB. Third place at Silverstone for round 5 was the highlight of their season, the benefits of a factory driver becoming instantly obvious. The Endurance season was by far the kindest to the team, Their worst finish in the Endurance segment was 9th at Spa-Francorchamps. 

All that paled into insignificance though with four minutes of the championship left. Conspiracy theorists will be salivating for years over the on-track action. All we know for certain is on the run down to Old Hairpin, Dennis Lind hit the back of Jonny Adam’s Aston Martin. At the time, the TF Sport machine was winning the title, once the WPI Lamborghini and Jonny Cocker’s #69 Lamborghini had passed the Vantage, the Lamborghini crew had their hands on the trophy by half of a point.

The stewards hummed and ahhed over the circumstances for hours after the race. In the end it was judged that Lind had taken an advantage from the contact, he was given a 5-second penalty. The change in positions gave the title back to Adam and his co-driver.

It was a bad taste in the mouth at the end of an otherwise entertaining and astounding debut in British GT. People will need to remember the 4 very impressive races, and the 116 exceptional minutes of the Donington Decider when they look back on WPI’s 2019 and not that questionable move.

Eighth: Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim – TF Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage AMR GT3

The #2 TF Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT3 of Mark Farmer and Nicki Thiim on the Grand Prix layout at Donington Park during the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography.

When an Am’s performance is so bad even his Pro starts questioning it in public you know you have problems. Looking at 2019 for the #2 TF Sport Aston Martin, you have to say one of the very few things to Mark Farmer’s credit is that he didn’t replace Thiim when the Dane made public his disquiet at the standard of Farmer’s driving.

That driving really was disappointing though, the pattern was set at Oulton Park where a single point for tenth was the reward in race 1 for a litany of errors from Farmer. No points in race 2 after Farmer beached the Aston Martin just after the halfway mark. 

Looking back over the season for the #2 the only things which really stand out are the constant mistakes from Farmer and a succession of recovery drives from Thiim which almost, but only almost, make up for his verbal slips over the driving of his team mate. Perhaps the fact that Thiim can take the nastiest of lemons and turn them to the sweetest of lemonade explains why the pairing was kept together until the end of the season. 

Sixth: Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis – Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage AMR GT3

Forget the fact that Wilkinson and Ellis had only the remotest chance of taking the GT3 Drivers title at the final round of the championship. Forget it because while it would have been nice, it was also not strictly relevant, they were already champions in the British GT GT3 Silver Cup, a title they claimed at Brands Hatch just two weeks after winning the Spa-Francorchamps encounter outright.

Of course, that win was the highlight of their season but third in the opening round and fourth at Silverstone were also strong results given the extra weight aboard the Aston Martin compared to those run by TF Sport and Beechdean AMR. 

The non-finish at Donington Park thanks to a fire in the pit lane could well be the low point of the season for the crew. In terms of the overall championship however, the non-scoring result at Brands Hatch did just as much damage. Spinning from the lead of the race at Paddock Hill will no doubt go on Ollie Wilkinson’s list of regrets, the #96 Aston was 39.5 points shy of the title at the end of the year. Had Wilkinson held on and the #96 taken that victory, they would have been overall champions.

Don’t let that detract from an amazing year though. New car, new drivers and a busy GT4 programme were all challenges for the team and for a Silver/Silver pairing to be even in with a chance of the overall title with 2 hours to go in the season is an amazing achievement. 

Fifth: Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod – RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3

The RAM Racing run Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod at Holly Wood on the Donington Park Grand Prix layout in the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

Consistency is the key to a championship, everyone knows that. Unfortunately, with the exception of race 2 at Oulton Park where the car came back from a monster race 1 accident to place 7th in GT3, RAM was consistently either on the podium, or 10th in class. That’s not the way to win.

Two second places at Spa-Francorchamps and in the final round of the championship join their British GT Silverstone 500 victory as the key moments in their season. Unfortunately so too does the aforementioned ‘monster accident’.

Ian Loggie was the race leader that Ryan Ratcliffe ‘nurfed off’ at Hislops. The Mercedes-AMG was minding its own business and taking its line into the chicane which also includes Knickerbrook corner when Ratcliffe hit the rear at speed. The Bentley driver apologised for the incident but the damage to the sprint season was done. 6 points from four hours to start the year put them on the back foot almost instantly.

Snetterton was no-ones fault. The car was withdrawn after Ian Loggie injured himself in a cycling accident. It happens.

Fourth: Adam Balon and Phil Keen – Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO

2019, more so than any of the other years Phil Keen has had a shot at the big trophy, has to rank as the one that got away for the Pro driver in this lineup. The pairing of a seasoned veteran and newly promoted Am driver served them very well indeed. Any concerns with Adam Balon’s lack of GT3 experience were instantly banished by second place in the first race of the season and fourth in the second. 

By far their best weekend though came at Snetterton where the duo completed the very difficult trick of back to back wins on the same weekend. It set them up for glory and had them leave the sprint season leading the title fight. A lead which lasted all the way to Spa-Francorchamps where Balon’s class inexperience finally showed. 

A bungled start put the team on the back foot and a later issue forced the #72 Lamborghini into retirement 14 laps into the contest. 

Brands Hatch was almost a gift for the duo who rocketed forward from ninth on the grid, at the hands of Balon, to battle their team mates and the championship leaders for fifth. It was a race long battering match which resumed after the pit stops with Phil Keen piling the pressure on Jonny Cocker for the position, finally getting it done in the dying minutes of the race. The championship pendulum swung once more in the #72 machine’s favour.

Biggest disappointment of the year has to be Donington Park’s second British GT weekend, the Donington Decider. Keen and Balon came into the meeting with a six point advantage over the resurgent Aston Martin #47. 

Again, as per regulations, Adam Balon took the start and was locked into battle with Angus Fender’s BMW M6 GT3. Firm but fair racing ensued until the pair came across the #32 KTM X-Bow GT4 of Track Focussed Racing at Schwanz. Fender stuck to the left, KTM went to the right and Balon shot for the middle. 

Unfortunately, the gap closed and the #72 came together with the #32. Steering damage happened to the Lamborghini but Balon was able to drive around the problem, he dropped back a bit but still, the team were hopeful of a result. 

The pit stops came, Keen climbed aboard and fired up for victory, set some of the cars best laps of the race. In the process, he literally drove the wheels of the car, the off-side rear suspension having been damaged in the coming together with the KTM, finally gave way under the blistering pace and pounding Keen was giving the car. 

The #72 retreated to the pits and the Barwell mechanics quickly replaced the damaged suspension. Unfortunately, when Keen returned to the track, the erstwhile championship leaders were five laps off the lead and out of the points.

Championship lost.

Third: Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell – Balfe Motorsport McLaren 720s GT3

The Balfe Motorsport run McLaren 720S GT3 of Shaun Balfe and factory driver Rob Bell at Melbourne Hairpin on the Donington Park Grand Prix layout in the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

It was a season of firsts for the sole McLaren in the GT3 contingent in British GT. First pole for the 720s GT3 on home soil, first podium for the 720s on home soil, first win for the 720s on home soil, first victory for Balfe at Donington Park in 16 years.

Oulton Park was the weekend to forget for the team, arriving with a car so new it didn’t even have a livery on it, the team were sidelined before the weekend really got started with an electrical problem. No points were the killer for their entire season as even a pair of eighth places in Cheshire would have served to give the McLaren its first domestic championship too. 

The first race at Snetterton was going to be the reboot Balfe Motorsport needed, running in second after the pit stops and battling hard. That was until contact with a GT4 car punctured the Pirelli on the big McLaren and forced Rob Bell to limp back to the pits. Delamination in the tyre, however, caused significant damage to the McLaren and Bell finished the race trackside. 

The second race was almost perfect though, the pair working together to finish third and giving McLaren the first home podium they have craved with the new GT3 machine. 

The Silverstone 500 looked to be even better for Balfe Motorsport, the car leading the motor race after the stops but pit stop infringements put paid to their hopes. A stop and go penalty depriving them of the lead of the race and demoting them to 10th in class. To be successful in such a close fought championship everything has to be right, a lesson learned by the team after the crushing disappointment of the biggest race on the calendar. 

Second place at round 6, the first Donington Park visit was followed by fourth at Spa, as Bell lost out to Geddie and Callum MacLeod in that legendary three wide Eau Rouge manoeuvre. Second again at Brands Hatch not only gave confirmed that Balfe Motorsport and their McLaren were a force to be feared but gave the Balfe/Bell pairing a fighting chance at the overall title at Donington Park in September.

The weekend started off perfectly with pole for the 720s on the twists and turns of the Donington Park Grand Prix circuit. The race was perfectly executed too, with victory coming the way of the team at the final race of the year. Bell and Balfe had done all they could and it just remained to be seen what would happen further back. Unfortunately, that run of three non-finishes at the start of the year came home to roost and bronze was the best the team could achieve. 

Second: Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker: Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO

The Barwell Motorsport run Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO of Sam de Haan and former ELMS and British GT Champion Jonny Cocker at the Crainer Curves in the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

One of only two GT3 cars and three cars in total to score points at every round of the championship, the second year pairing of Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker was, at the chequered flag at least, the key to championship victory for Barwell Motorsport. What is strange is how the car built its championship points haul of 128.5 over the course of the year. 

Only one victory, at the second round of the championship, two-second places, three thirds. Thats six podiums compared to only three for the rivals who beat them to the title by 3 points. Being quick out of the box was the key to their championship hopes.  While others struggled to understand their new cars, Barwell hit hard from the off and the 2nd place duo took 67 points in the sprint season. 

The fruits of a busy off season, in which Barwell did over 3000 miles of testing, ripened early and built the Lamborghinis into an almost unstoppable force. 

That being said, it was also the team car which cost the #69 the championship, a late move at Hawthorne’s during the Brands Hatch round deprived the crew of at least 15 points, the six they claimed after dropping down a close-packed field when Phil Keen made his move was 3.5 short of what they would have needed to take the title. 

Help from brand mates WPI Motorsport in the final round, and we are not saying here that it was planned or orchestrated, only that it helped, was actually enough to give them the title. For about 3 hours that was. 

The stewards ruling that Dennis Lind had taken advantage from his contact with the #47 Aston Martin, and the five-second penalty that attached, reversed the positions at the top of the championship table and De Haan and Cocker were deprived of a fairytale ending to their second season together.

As it is, the duo did claim the British GT3 Pro/Am title by two points from the #47 Aston Martin. 

Champions: Graham Davidson and Jonny Adam – TF Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage AMR GT3

The 2019 British GT Championship overall champions, Jonny Adam and Graham Davidson for TF Sport. Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography.

32 points were all that the sprint season netted for our champions. Thats less than half the largesse granted to their nearest title rivals and it shows long distance strengths of both the driving line up and the team which finally lifted the title. 

Three podium visits across the year; a third place at Snetterton matched to two victories, at round 6 Donington Park and Brands Hatch, built the core of their points haul.  

Silverstone was the dark spot, retirement in the final four minutes of the race after clipping the Ford Mustang GT4 of Chad McCumbee should have broken their run of nine points finishes in nine rounds. If not for the general level of attrition in the race it would have too, the Davidson/Adam car still scored 3 points for ninth place despite being stopped on the hangar straight. 

How tight it was is made all the more evident by the fact that De Haan and Cocker pipped the Aston Martin crew to the top spot in the Pro/Am title fight. Still, only true statisticians look to the sub-classes, the result which will stand in history is that Jonny Adam took his fourth British GT Championship and Graham Davidson his first. 

Additionally, Jonny Adam was honoured for the second time with the Allan Simonsen Award. This trophy was inaugurated following the death of British GT stalwart Allan Simonsen at Le Mans in 2013 and is presented to the driver which shows the same spirit and speed as the late Dane. Jonny Adam is the awards first two-time recipient.

Teams Championship and other titles

In the British GT3 Teams championship, it was Barwell Motorsport who secured the spoils. 250.5 points were, somewhat ironically given the car numbers this year, a clear 47 point advantage over TF Sport’s two car entry. Most of the other runners were single car efforts but Century Motorsport will be ruing the situation which forced them to rotate drivers; their two car outfit finished in the championship behind Balfe Motorsport’s single McLaren and the one Mercedes-AMG entry of RAM Racing.

The Blancpain Trophy, a separate championship for the gentleman drivers, was claimed by Sam de Haan. The crucial difference here, which put overall champion Graham Davidson into second place, comes on Saturday. The Blancpain Trophy is the one championship where you do get points for Qualifying; the fastest Am lap in the grid setting session attracts five points. De Haan’s performance on Saturday gave him the edge here, overcoming the 3.5 point deficit in the overall title fight. Shaun Balfe and Adam Balon rounded out the top four in this title fight. 

We already know that three of our cars will be back next year. Adam Balon and Phil Keen were the first to confirm their entry into the 2020 championship, though Richard Neary’s announcement that he and his son would be in it for the full season came hot on the Barwell announcement’s heels. Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell are also confirmed to return.

The other confirmed GT3 runner for 2020 is the JMH Automotive Lamborghini of John Searle and Jamie Stanley. The duo entered for a single round in 2019 alongside their title-winning campaign in the GT Cup championship, 2020 will mark the pair’s first full tilt at the British GT crown.

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