For the final part of our three part review into the 2019 British GT Championship season, our British GT writer Nick looks back at the year with a critics eye.
The first thing to put to bed here is that in my opinion, British GT 2019 was a vintage year. The capacity entry of 38 cars and the variety of entries was amazing. The on track action was the best I can remember and the presentation level was top notch.
That being said, there were two significant problems in the championship in my opinion.
First and foremost is the calendar. The closure of Rockingham Motor Speedway had a massive effect on the championship. It meant that of the seven race weekends, five were run on MSV owned venues. Photographically, it left us with a shocking lack of variety. I was, at the start of the season, actually fairly glad that I wasn’t shooting the year for TheCheckeredFlag.co.uk, but writing.
The solution chosen was to visit a venue twice, which given the speed of GT3 cars and the size of the grid, was about the only thing they could have done. Other tracks in the UK just cant support British GT, either on the grounds of safety or because the cars are just too big for the facilities.
The series chose Donington Park to host the championship twice, which in my opinion was a mistake. It gave MSV too much control for one, but the solution of basically having two identical race weekends was a missed opportunity. Why not go for two different layouts? Or perhaps different race formats? They could have had one sprint weekend and one endurance. Or they could have run later into the year so that it was getting dark at around 1730, and run an into the night race.
My personal favourite solution would have been a 2 hour race on the Silverstone International circuit. That’s the layout which uses the Wing pits and turns right, rather than left at The Loop, cutting out the Wellington Straight through to Maggots and Becketts, with the cars rejoining the track at Chapel and heading off down the Hangar Straight. Perhaps as the final race of the year running into darkness.
Driving Standards – Started at Poor and Just Got Worse.
The other gripe I have about the year was the driving standards. By far the worst round was R3 at Snetterton where the field finally made it back to Parc Ferme looking more like a BTCC grid than the top flight of GT racing in the UK. I don’t think from memory that a single car made it back to the pits without some form of damage on it. It was a disgrace.
The crash which took RAM Racing out of the lead in round 1 was another example. Ryan Ratcliffe’s excuse was that Ian Loggie braked early and it caught him out. I know racing is different to road driving but the principles are the same and one of the key principles drummed into me in my HGV driving career is, ‘Leave Yourself an Out’. Ratcliffe is far too experienced to put himself in a position where he cant get out of it without nearly writing off two very expensive GT3 machines.
The worst culprit for driving standards was the #19 Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4. Chad McCumbee springs to mind most readily, his lack of awareness putting him in a dangerous position at Silverstone. If he had been looking at his mirrors, or watching for blue flags, he wouldn’t have put himself in a position where Jonny Adam had to make the split second call, which went wrong and robbed the #47 machine of the win. Most of the drivers in the #19 were a let down this year though, not just McCumbee. There should be a driver change rule in place, as in the BTCC, where you lose your entry if you swap drivers more regularly than you change the oil!
Enough Moaning; Now for the Good.
Presentation was fantastic this year; both the teams and the series stepped it up a gear in the turnout and it made for a much more professional appearance on race weekends. The series presented the paddock and the circuit to a very high standard and the TV production was second to none. Adding in live coverage of the Spa-Francorchamps round was the final addition needed to make the series one of the easiest in the world to both follow and report on.
The support series were the same as well. The SRO assembled a great package to share the bill with British GT this year and with the exception of a couple of the single round joiners, the series and their entrants presented themselves just as you would expect from supports to one of the premiere race series in the UK.
From the teams it was even better though. Over the season we saw 16 different GT3 machines and its fair, if a bit crude, to say that there wasn’t a minger in the bunch. A couple looked a bit plain, the #22 McLaren and the JMH Automotive Lamborghini fit in this category but even these liveries looked well designed to suit the car. There was none of the throw the logo at the car design which tends to infect BTCC and much of the American racing I watch.
Barwell Motorsport, TF Sport and Century Motorsport set the standard for GT3 livery design in my opinion. Best of all, and in stark contrast to most of the other series in the UK, there was no colour-coordination. By this I mean that you can look back over the seasons, in British GT as well as other national series and think that the organisers got a bulk deal on a single colour of vynal. There was a period not long ago where every other car had a horrible, in my opinion, shade of chromed blue vynal splattered all over it. None of that this year.
In GT4 there were a couple of poor livery decisions. Track Focussed for example, who chose a GT4 car with a face not even a mother could love, then did nothing with it. Century Motorsport’s BMWs looked professional but there was no inspiration in them, it was the standard factory livery with drivers sponsors added in. They did that for the #3 machine in GT3 too but offered variety with a different and well executed design on the #9. Do the same in GT4!
Most questionable of all in my opinion was TF Sport GT4. The GT3 livery was stunning; pure class. The same pattern on the GT4 made it clear that all four cars were part of the same team but here is a tip for Mr Ferrier. When your livery designer turns up with just a black Sharpie and a yellow highlighter you have a problem. Looking at the field as a whole, the year’s theme seemed to be classy, the #95 and the #97 stood out like the dogs danglies, which at least had the benefit of getting the sponsors noticed.
Balfe Motorsport’s GT4 car on the other hand took bright, almost gaudy colours and crafted them into a well formed and beautifully presented design.
The other thing I saw more and more throughout the 2019 season was a changing of the guard. Forget the fact that the overall champions have been in the series for as long as I have been covering it, the real impressive performances were from people either finally finding their form or new names. Adam Balon is a case in point. Two years ago the series didn’t know who he was and this year he was right in the fight for the overall title until the final round.
It’s the same throughout the field. Jack Mitchell was in Protyre Formula Renault when I started covering British GT, he’s worked his way up to being in the most competitive domestic GT3 championship in the world and didn’t look out of place. Ben Green and Dominic Paul in the #3 machine are both new and up-coming names. Bradley Ellis isn’t an old man but his co-champion in GT3 Silver Cup, Ollie Wilkinson, is only 2 years older than my ‘baby’ sister and his pace and composure will give the old hands in GT3 pause.
The old hands started showing their age too. I discussed Mark Farmer in the GT3 section and won’t labour the point but the pace wasn’t there. Same for Andrew Howard in the Beechdean AMR machine. If I mentioned the #99 car more than 5 times this season it was too much for the performances they turned out.
Those who can, do, those who can’t write about it; so I won’t say that Andrew and Mark are bad drivers. At the end of the day they are both former champions in the series and have a drastically better claim to a seat in the main game that me! That being said it looks like their era is ending. Both hit their peak in the last generation Aston Martin GT3 machine, it just seems that the big hairy chested V12 brute is more their style and the new PlayStation generation V8 supermodel has them stumped.
The Pro drivers are the same.
In previous years all the ink would have gone to Phil Keen and Jonny Adam. This year it was the likes of Rob Bell and Bradley Ellis who moved to the fore, dishing out the headline grabbing performances, Adam Christodoulou is another who has risen to prominence in the series, though he is aided and abetted by a long served career at the forefront of Mercedes-AMG’s GT racing programme.
Then there is Nicki Thiim.
The loveable Dane has so much character he needs a separate transporter to bring it all to the track with him. Distinctive in looks, social media savvy and not afraid to say what he thinks, Thiim is a great ambassador for the series. He can back up those credentials on the track too. 9 times out of 9 I sat watching qualifying with a building tension until Thiim took the #2 out on a flying lap. Most of the time that was then followed by a, “How the £@%&?” when he blasted out a marker that only be best could hope to match or exceed.
Im already missing the 2019 British GT Championship and wish it could run later in the year, or have more rounds. Cost control is important but I really do need my fix. The slow trickle of news about the 2020 season is just rubbing the salt in the wound. Thankfully I have the SRO GT World Youtube channel to keep me entertained, on which all the races are available in their entirety.
Based on 2019’s performance it will be another astonishing year. I can’t wait for Easter weekend to arrive so we can go again.