2019 British GT Championship: Season Review – GT4

by Nick Smith
GT4 and GTC cars on track at Donington Park during the 2019 British GT Championship Media Day.

The 2019 British GT Championship was a record-breaking year, with the championship hitting over forty cars taking the start of the blue riband event, the bumper grid owed much to an impressive GT4 contingent. Victory eventually went the way of TF Sport’s GT4 #97 Aston Martin V8 Vantage, but along the way, it was a hard-fought battle. For much of the season, it looked like no-one could topple the manufacturer-backed might of the Multimatic Motorsports run Ford Mustang GT4.

Outside the Top Ten

The top ten crews in the championship all have stories to tell but that doesn’t mean that positions 11 to 26 in the points table of the GT4 Drivers Championship had a dull year. Only two drivers, Ben Hurst and Micah Stanley failed to score a point, though neither completed the full season. For Paul Vice, of the Invictus Games Racing team, only four points is a poor return for a season of effort in which he shared the Am role with Major Steve McCulley, who places fifteenth overall behind team Pro driver Matthew George.

Much of the list from outside the top ten is made up of super subs brought in for a single round, or the rotating driver lineup of the #19 Ford Mustang, which not only lacked a reliable driver line up during the season but also any attention thanks to the success of their teammates. Notable exceptions to the rule include Angus Fender, whose sole points in GT4 came at the Silverstone 500 but also spent parts of his season subbing in GT3 for the injured Adrian Willmott.

Cruelly some might say, Nick Jones and Scott Malvern rank only eleventh in the driver’s standings after their best ever year. Strong performances in the early rounds came to nought with mechanical issues and just pure bad luck. The breakthrough win came at Silverstone where Malvern, faced with piling pressure from the Mercedes-AMG factory driver Maximillian Buhk, put on a virtuoso display to claim the pair’s first overall win in GT4. Team Parker Racing who run the Mercedes-AMG GT4 can look to that performance on a power circuit in a car built to handle, as a sign of both their driver’s talent and their own skills with the setup of a GT4 machine.

The Team Parker Racing entered Mercedes-AMG GT4 of Scott Malvern and Nick Jones on the Donington Park Grand Prix layout in the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

Tenth: Mark Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst – Fox Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT4

The key to a championship season is consistency, its as true in tenth place as it is in championship winning positions. While the aforementioned Team Parker Racing crew picked up all the Mercedes-AMG ink for lap records in qualifying and race leading or winning performances, Mark Murfitt and Michael Broadhurst went about their business, steadily racking up the points.

While Jones and Malvern hit the big time at Silverstone and also took 12 points from the second race at Oulton Park, only twice in nine outings did the #77 machine fail to place in the top ten. The pair’s best result was sixth place at Brands Hatch, their worst points scoring finish tenth in the first round at Oulton Park.

The cruelty for the #66 continues though as they missed out on the top ten, to their brand mates but class rivals, by just 0.5 of a point. That just shows the importance of banking points each time out.

Ninth: Patrik Matthiessen and Mike Robinson – Optimum Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4

A best finish of fifth place doesn’t seem like much in such a hotly contested class as British GT4 but doing it three times, combined with three other points finishes was enough to secure a place in the top ten for Optimum Motorsport’s GT4 effort. Patrik Matthiessen is known to the team but not the new for 2019 Aston Martin, the team being one of the many who defected to other marques at the expense of Yorkshire’s own Ginetta. 

The Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4 of Mike Robinson and Patrick Matthiessen run by Optimum Motorsport at Silverstone during the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

Mike Robinson also changed to Aston Martin for 2019 but returned to the team who ran for 3 years his joint effort with Graham Davidson. 2018 saw him driving a McLaren though which no doubt stood him in good stead through 2019 as the only real challenge to the Aston Martin, except of course for the #15 Mustang, was the 570s GT4.

It was a season of what might have been, contact in race 1 at Snetterton had the car parked before it got to turn 1 while a lack of straight-line speed hampered efforts at Silverstone. The first visit to Donington Park looked to be a good result until a procedural error netted a stop and go and wiped out progress. At Spa-Francorchamps the crew benefitted from attrition in the class to rise from tenth to fifth while the GT3 side of the garage dominated the weekend before another first lap incident hobbled their run at Brands Hatch. 5th was a good result but it could, and probably should, have been a lot better. 

The final round of the championship was probably the only round where everything went right for the crew and they netted a season best 4th place in class.

Eighth: Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien – Balfe Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4

Finishing ahead of his old teammate no doubt showed Graham Johnson that he made the right decision to stick with the McLaren and Balfe Motorsport combination as Mike Robinson set off for pastures new. Second in the second round at Oulton Park was matched by the same result at Spa-Francorchamps, headlining the crew’s season which, just like former teammate Robinson, consisted of three podium finishes, three other points-scoring finishes and three non-scoring rounds.

The Balfe Motorsport run McLaren 570s GT4 of former GT4 champion Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien at Old Hairpin on the Donington Park Grand Prix layout in the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

8th, 2nd and 7th from the first three rounds and then a non-scoring outing started the year. On the back end of the season it was eighth, fourth, no points and eighth, the longer races meaning though that the run to the close netted 2 more points. This is despite the fact that for Silverstone and Spa, the team had to contend with running a second GT4 machine and a suddenly front running GT3 car. 

The non-points finishes seemed to be more aberrations than fair results for the effort. Snetterton’s second race saw the car dropped from contention by a stop and go for contact. Pitstop trouble denied the crew overall points at Silverstone, though they did finish fourth in class and claimed points in the Pro/Am class. A mechanical retirement in Kent was the final nail in the coffin of the GT4 overall title aspirations.

Seventh: Sennan Fielding and Richard Williams – Steller Performance Audi R8 LMS GT4

How do you go about a championship season in which you finish seventh of nineteen full season runners? Enter every round, score consistently, study the form book and pick a car which has proven results and have plenty of experience running that machine, pick a crew that knows each other well. That sounds like a plan for success.

Steller Performance threw that well laid plan completely out of the window. Their previous season was run in the ageing and never particularly speedy Toyota GT86 GT4. Their car for the 2019 season was a brand new Audi GT4 machine, they debuted the model in the UK. Their driver line up of Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding hadn’t run the championship together before and the car wasn’t even ready for Oulton Park meaning they started a 9 round series at round 3. They only scored twice all year.

If you are looking for impressive debuts though look no further. Williams and Fielding went into the doubleheader at Snetterton looking for experience, and stood atop the podium for their first ever race with the car. It was a feat they duplicated only once though, taking victory in the final round at Donington Park, but it is no doubt a campaign that the drivers, the teams and the fans will be talking about for years.

Remarkable.

The Steller Performance Audi R8 LMS GT4 of Sennan Fielding and Richard Williams at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in the British GT Championship. Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography.

Sixth: James Dorlin and Josh Smith – Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4

When you look at the British GT Championship’s GT4 field for 2019, Tolman Motorsport is the team you would have expected to take the title. They were the only front running team to have consistency in chassis from year to year. They are the chosen team to run McLaren’s young driver academy programme and coming out of the sprint races, the #4 machine had a fifteen point advantage over their team mates. 

For James Dorlin and Josh Smith its a season of missed, or at least lost, opportunity. A podium in round 1 could have been duplicated in the second contest if not for a pit lane speeding penalty. Second place in round three, the first of two races at Snetterton looked set to put the championship challenge back on track, second place behind the winning on debut Audi. Round 4 was where the season turned for the worse though. 

Ninth place was bitter disappointment for the crew, especially as it was again the result of a pit lane infringement resulting in a stop and go penalty. It was also to be their last point scoring result until Spa-Francorchamps. The pair caught 9 points in the Ardenne and then won overall in Kent but by then the title damage was done. 

Engine problems at Silverstone, while leading the biggest race of the year no less, robbed them of 37.5 points. That result alone would have put them third in the title fight and best McLaren. Again at Donington Park, James Smith had out-dragged the championship leader into the first corner to take the lead and despite having trouble with lapped traffic, kept the Mustang behind. Contact with one of the GT3 Lamborghinis put paid to their chances of a victory though. 

Had the #4 McLaren taken the Donington Park win too, they could have been 19.5 points clear at the top of the championship when the flag flew on the second visit to the East Midlands.

The story of the year for the #4 McLaren has to be summed up as a strong campaign, with sloppy execution and appalling luck.

Fifth: Kelvin Fletcher and Martin Plowman – Beechdean AMR Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4

Forget Kelvin Fletcher’s achievements as an actor, or his efforts in the British Touring Car Championship. His notable accomplishment for 2019 doesn’t even cover his run on the hugely popular, (with everyone but this writer) BBC TV show Strictly Come Dancing.

Kelvin Fletcher and his team mate Martin Plowman were the only GT4 crew, and one of only three crews in the entire championship, to score points every time they took the green flag this year. 

A reasonable performance was never really in doubt. Fletcher and Plowman were one of the few driving pairs who could get a strong result out of the UltraTek Nissan 370Z GT4s and pairing them with Beechdean AMR on their return to the class just added to the frisson of excitement. Beechdean AMR are after all the team which took back to back GT4 titles with the old Aston Martin and with experience running all grades of Aston Martin racing cars except LMP1, if there was a team who were going to get their heads around the new Vantage quickly, it was the Buckinghamshire crew.

Rounds 3 and 7 were the low points of the season for the Beechdean crew. Tenth place in both the first race at Snetterton and the only race at Spa-Francorchamps netted 2.5 points to the total while their best finish was third on the road at Silverstone. Now the Silverstone 500 is an event that pulls in a lot of single round entries and this year was no different. Fletcher and Plowman finished behind the eventual winners, the #66 Team Parker Racing Mercedes, and the ERC Sport run single round entry for Maximillian Buhk and Peter Bellshaw. The #30 Mercedes though didn’t qualify for points so the #11 took the 27 points for second place.

It was an amazingly consistent and trouble free championship for the Beechdean machine, which also netted the crew the GT4 Pro/Am championship title. Not a bad effort for an Am who started racing properly 3 years ago in the bang and crash world of the BTCC. Of Martin Plowman there is little to say, he did just what he has been doing for years; Getting in a car, doing up his belts and driving the socks off it. It seems he has but one trick, impress.

Fourth: Jordan Collard and Lewis Proctor: Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4

Jordan Collard / Lewis Proctor Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S GT4. Credit: BritishGT.com/Jakob Ebrey Photography.

A baptism of fire for second generation racer Jordan Collard and his team mate Lewis Proctor at Oulton Park put their season chances on the back foot almost from the off. Contact led to ignition later in the lap and the car retired from the first round in flames. Sixth after the repairs in the second race bought a handful of points and smattering of hope to the #5 pit box. 

Third and victory in Snetterton rebooted their championship challenge headed into the Silverstone 500 but the endurance opener wasn’t kind to the McLaren at all. Three laps in Collard collected a spinner and was forced into the pit lane for repairs, but the crew couldn’t get the car back out in time so retirement beckoned.

Third and second at Donington Park and Spa respectively marked the high points of their endurance season. Brands Hatch was a bust for the duo who were forced to make their pit stop just after a safety car intervention and so lost ground with the bunched up pack. 

The final round at Donington Park was a chance, if a slim one, for the title. More to the point, Tolman Motorsport already had a hand on the British GT Teams Championship trophy. It was disaster for the crew though, and for the team. 1.5 points was all that could be drawn out of the final encounter of the season, scored by Collard and Proctor in the #5 for 10th in class. 

They dropped to fourth in the GT4 class at the end of the year while the team suffered a 33.5 point swing away from them. They lost out on the Teams title by just a single point to TF Sport.

Third: Dean MacDonald and Callum Pointon – HHC Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4

Back at the start of the season we tipped McLaren as the strongest hope of disrupting Aston Martin’s campaign on British GT4. What we didn’t do was tip HHC Motorsport to be top 570s GT4 by the end of the year. Dean MacDonald and Callum Pointon proved us wrong from round 1.

Having switched cars from Ginetta to McLaren, we expected it would take a little while for the HHC crew to bed in for the new season but victory in the opening race set them up for a strong championship run. Even a blob on the score card for round 2 didn’t really disrupt them too much. Oulton Park race 2 was joined only once in the season, by a failure to score at Spa-Francorchamps. MacDonald took the fastest GT4 race lap accolade on the podium but the car was out of the race long before the chequered flag flew.

The HHC Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4s performed strongly in their debut year with the car. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

The duo peaked early, their one visit to the top step being in round 1 but two second place finishes formed the foundation of a strong championship challenge. A pair of ninth places were their two worst points scoring finishes of the year, both coming in the endurance section of the championship at Silverstone and the second visit to Donington Park. 

The HHC campaign shows the critical need to get to grips with British GT’s multi-format calendar. 52 points from the sprint campaign was married to 60 in the endurance season. It gave the MacDonald and Pointon pairing a 13 point advantage over their McLaren rivals from Tolman at the end of the year. It also left them 28 points short of the champions, oh what could have been had they not dropped scores at Oulton and Spa.

Second: Scott Maxwell and Sebastian Priaulx – Multimatic Motorsports Ford Mustang GT4

The Multimatic Motorsports season was a confusing one, and all the more so for the #15 crew of Seb Priaulx and Scott Maxwell. Throughout the season they looked dominant but when you refer back to the points table, it doesn’t tell that story.

Two non-points finishes, both in the sprint races at the start of the year in the first race at each venue, show a car which struggled to find the sweet spot. That doesn’t chime with my recollections though, I left both circuits saying that they had to change the Balance of Performance to throttle back the big American interloper into our fine British jewel.

Perhaps the performance of the #15 crew was flattered a little by the shocking performance of the merry-go-round #19, where driver line ups changed so frequently, they stopped becoming news. Perhaps it was also flattered by the mediocre performance of the RACE Performance run Mustang, though we understand the issues with speed for that car were at least as much political as sporting.

What ever the cause for their shine on race day rubbing off like a knockoff Rolex’s gleam, you can’t deny that Maxwell and Priaux put together a strong effort for the title and fought like dogs to bring it home. They were stopped by a single position come the end of the second visit to Donington Park.

A sprint season which netted only 35 points was married to an endurance campaign which brought home the bulk of the 132.5 point tally. Their worst on the road finish in the endurance season was 6th, at Spa-Francorchamps in the GT4 carnage of that encounter. Their worst points finish though was ninth place after third place at Brands was taken away for a pit stop safety infringement. 

The highlight was the champions drive to the second place at the final race, just one place short of the total they needed to keep their title hopes alive to the end of the championship. Had it not been for an astonishing run by the Steller Performance crew, the championship result could have been so different.

The story which ran through their campaign was the performance of Maxwell. With a last name like Priaulx, it was almost inevitable that Seb would impress. Maxwell though was a less known quantity but he started the season well and just got better and better.

Champions: Tom Canning and Ash Hand – TF Sport Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4.

The Tom Canning and Ash Hand driven Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT4, run by TF Sport, at the Melbourne Loop on the Donington Park Grand Prix layout in the 2019 British GT Championship. Credit: Nick Smith/RacingPhotographic.co.uk

You have to look to ninth place in the championship to find a worse start to the season than that suffered by Ash Hand and Tom Canning. 20 points from the sprint component, all scored at Snetterton, put them on the back foot headed to the big race of the year.

They only took one win over the season, almost a gift after a tussle at the bus stop chicane at Spa which could have resulted in a penalty, but put in a strong performance across the longer races. Only once from Silverstone onwards was the bright yellow Aston off the podium, their worst finish a fifth place on the first trip to Donington Park.

The duo also managed to claim the title in the GT4 Silver Cup contest.

The result is all the more impressive given that the team were pushed to the limit. Tom Ferrier’s outfit were established GT3 contenders but the team expanded in 2019 to run 4 cars.  All 4 were brand new for the season and only one two drivers were carry overs from the previous season. There was an ELMS and Le Mans campaign to contend with, using the old GTE car and prep for another new car, the new Vantage GTE they are contesting the 2019/20 FIA WEC with.

Oh, and as we will find in part 2 of this season review, they were fighting back into a title-winning position in GT3 too.

It was an amazing season to watch and in the end, the winners were very deserving. If you missed any of the action you can relive it either through our comprehensive coverage or via the full race replays available on the SRO GT World Youtube channel.

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