British GT

SEASON REVIEW: 2020 British GT – Part 1

14 Mins read
Credit: James Roberts

The 2020 Intelligent Money British GT season continued to uphold the series reputation of as one of the most competitive and exciting GT championships in the world.

With seven different GT3 winners with four different manufacturers in the GT3 ranks from nine rounds and with a four car title fight for the final round, the series once again served an exciting, unpredictable and closely fraught battle despite the disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

The restrictions put in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic meant a delayed start to the season and a much altered season calendar which saw the rearrangement of some events and cancellation of the popular Spa round.

However the result arguably resulted in a more varied schedule compared to previous years and it was topped off with the final round becoming the Silverstone 500 an one-off blue ribbon event in early November which attracted which attracted plenty of star entries, from previous British GT champions, to top European entries making their British GT debuts to even a former F1 world champion.

The pandemic also had an effect on grid sizes too, with the lineup that arrived at Oulton Park in August being much changed from the one announced at the beginning of the season.

Gone were last year’s championships, Jonny Adam, Graham Davidson and the TF Sport team, the financial impacts of the Coronavirus pandemic as well as calendar changes and restrictions to combat the virus forcing their withdrawal.

Their absence meant no top running Pro-Am Aston Martins for the first time in many years and in their place emerged new runners and riders eager to take up the honours.

Amongst the new entrants was the Jensen Team Rocket RJN McLaren entry, a team-up between the RJN Team and 2009 F1 Champion Jensen Button, who entered an all Silver crew of Michael O’Brien and the winner of the World’s Fastest Gamer competition James Baldwin, whose prize was a full season drive in the series and would make his racing car debut at Oulton Park.

Another new entry was the all Silver crewed two-car assault of the Anglo-Bahraini 2Seas Motorsport team, an organisation that was only formed at the beginning of the year.

All told, the series would see a record amount of Silver Class entries, 6 in total, which would see a full season equal split between the Silver and the traditionally dominant Pro-Am entries, a difference which

Despite the new entries the hot favourites for the season was the Barwell Motorsports Lamborghini team, with drivers Phil Keen and Adam Balon, who heartbreakingly lost out on the title at the final round of 2019 season, and new Silver pairing of Sandy Mitchell and former BTCC star Rob Collard who would be making his GT Racing debut with the team, hoping to end the team’s run of bad luck of coming so near and yet so far in the final round title battles.

After just missing out on last year’s title, Phil Keen and Adam Balon were hot favourites for the 2020 title. Credit: David Lord Photography

The GT4 field was the one that was mostly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the original 16 car entry list having been almost halved by the time the season kicked off at Oulton Park.

Yet despite the reductions, a strong and promising field took to the grid spearheaded by a 2 car effort from reigning champions TF Sport with former single seater champion Jamie Caroline partnering Daniel Vaughan in the #97 Aston Martin Vantage with Connor O’Brien and Patrick Kibble, the category’s youngest driver at 18 years old, sharing the #95 car.

Their main rivals would likely be the two HHC Motorsport McLaren 570Ss with the #57 shared by Gus Bowers and Chris Wesemael and the #58 shared by the category’s most experienced driver pairing Jordan Collard and Patrik Matthiesen, who were touted as championship favourites due to their combined experience.

All but one of the full season line-up came from the Silver class, with Balfe Motorsport’s #21 McLaren of Euan Hankey and Mia Flewitt comprising the only full season Pro-Am entry.

Hence the crew were odds on favourites to take the Pro-Am title, yet the pair were determined to take the fight to their Silver class rivals intending to fight for overall championship honours.

Oulton Park

After a four month delay, the opening round of the British GT championship kicked off at Oulton Park and immediately saw the season kick off to a dramatic start and also showcased how the balance of power had changed in the top GT3 class

Qualifying witnessed the closest ever margin for pole as Lewis Proctor in the #96 Oltimum Motorsport‘s McLaren secured pole by just 0.001 seconds from the similar #10 2Seas Motorsport McLaren of Jordon Witt.

Baldwin had initially put the Jensen Team Rocket RJN McLaren 720S on pole in his first ever qualifying session, but had the time disallowed due to a track limits violation.

James Baldwin and Michael O’Brien took victory in the opening round of the championship. Credit: SRO Motorsport Group.

Yet in the race, he and Michael O’Brien made amends by taking opening honours but only after benefitting when the race leading 2Seas Motorsport McLaren of Jack Mitchell and Witt received a 10 second stop go penalty for a pitstop infringement.

The podium witnessed a McLaren lockout for the first time as polesitters Proctor and reigning Silver Champion Ollie Wilkinson managed to hold off the second of the 2Seas Motorsports car of Angus Fender and Dean MacDonald to take second place.

All of the top three crews Silver entries with the highest of the traditionally top running Pro-Am entries coming home in sixth place, that of the #6 RAM Racing Mercedes of Ian Loggie and Yelmer Buurman.

In fourth place was the first non McLaren, the Silver crewed Barwell Lamborghini Hurracan of Sandy Mitchell and former BTCC star Collard who got his British GT debut off to a good start by snatching fourth from Sam de Haan‘s #69 RAM Racing Mercedes at the start, with the positions staying that way to the end.

In GT4 Connor O’Brien and Patrick Kibble gave TF Sport’s title defence of to the best possible start with a dominant win.

O’Brien was in unstoppable form in the opening stint and had built up a comfortable nine second gap by the time he pitted to hand over to co-driver Kibble, who continued the good work to bring the Aston Martin home by almost a lap from the chasing pack.

This level of dominance was helped by a pitlane penalty for their closest rival, the brand new #23 Speedworks Motorsports Toyota Supra of Sam Smelt and James Kell.

The Supra had showed impressive pace in practice and Smelt had comfortablely held second throughout the opening stint, but their pit stop was found to be too short under the regulations and the resulting drive-thru penalty saw them drop out of the podium positions, but their raw pace saw them finish in fourth place.

Ultimately the performance would be symominous with Speedwork’s season, as they proved to have plenty of pace but their results never came their way.

TF Sport’s hopes for a 1-2 were dashed by Jordan Collard and Patrik Matthiesen securing second place to back up their claim to as championship favourites, as they held off TF Sport’s other Aston of Jamie Caroline and Daniel Vaughan.

In Race Two it was last year’s front runners of Phil Keen and Adam Balon who took victory in their Barwell Lamborghini, but throughout the weekend they were pushed hard by their team-mates Collard and Mitchell.

The Silver rated Mitchell proved he had the pace to match Keen, who is widely regarded as the fastest driver in the series, despite the weight disadvantage his Silver crewed Lamborghini had compared to its Pro-Am sister, who the two cars never more than three seconds apart during the first stint.

Keen stayed out for as long as possible, eventually pitting with only five seconds of stint time remaining, in order to give Am co-driver Balon as much as a safety buffer as possible.

The plan worked as Balon left the pits with a comfortable margin over the chasing Collard, but the question was, would the Innocent Drinks co-founder be able to hold off the 15 time BTCC winner in the 20 minutes remaining.

Unfortunately that question never got answered as the race unfortunately finished under safety car when the #66 Team Parker Racing Bentley of Nick Jones made contact with GT4 Race 1 winner O’Brien which saw the Aston Martin spin off into the gravel at Cascades with its lose wheel striking the hapless #9 2Seas McLaren of Fender, with all three cars retiring on the spot.

With the Marshalls unable to remove all cars on time, the closing race of the weekend had a very anti-climatic feel but the GT4 winners left Oulton Park feeling very relieved.

The #21 Balfe Motorsport McLaren of Euan Hankey and Mia Flewitt had taken pole position but Hankey was immediately jumped by Caroline in the first of the TF Astons and lead throughout the first stint yet he was unable to mitigate the extra mandated length of a Silver crew pitstop and Caroline’s success penalty from race one.

The only full season GT4 Pro-Am entry of Euan Hankey and Mia Flewitt took the fight to the all Silver crews in the GT4 and won at Oulton Park race two. Credit: JEP

Hankey had retained second throughout, having held off Kibble in the second TF Aston throughout the first stint and handed over to Flewitt (the only Am driver in the GT4 field) with a comfortable lead that was sadly wiped by the safety car, which would have left her at the mercy of her Silver rivals.

Fortunately for Flewitt, racing did not resume and she became the first female British GT winner since Flick Haigh in 2018, ahead of Vaughan and Matthiesen who left Oulton as joint championship leaders.

Donington Park

The first of two rounds at Donington Park saw the competitors not only tackle the Leicestershire circuit but also treacherously wet and changeable conditions and witnessed some outstanding drives.

The #19 WPI Motorsport Pro-Am Lamborghini delivered a masterclass performance in the 2 hour Race 1 as Andrea Caldarelli, on his first ever visit to Donington Park, shrugged off the awful weather to deny Sandy Mitchell and Patrick Kujala with just nine of the 120 minutes remaining to take victory.

Michael Igoe's #18 WPI Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo during the 2020 Intelligent Money British GT Championship
Andrea Caldarelli sensationally took victory in wet conditions on his first visit to Donington Park. Credit: Jakob Ebrey for britishgt.com

Yet the impressive performance of his team-mate Michael Igoe laid the foundations for Caldarelli’s drive, as within the first 25 minutes he had made his way from ninth on the grid up into fourth place, displaying remarkable wet weather performance from an Am driver.

In front Collard had snatched the lead from Pole sitter Michael O’Brien, whose McLaren struggled in the conditions, and reamined comfortablely in front but in order to negate the success penalty from the previous round, Barwell decided on a bold strategy call to take victory.

Instead of diving into the pits at the first opportunity like most of their rivals, Collard stayed out lap after lap, in the hope that a Safety Car or the potential need for slicks would overcome their Huracan’s 15s Success Penalty.

The plan did not pay off however and when Collard finally pitted with 41 minutes left, new driver Sandy Mitchell emerged behind the earlier stopping #69 RAM Racing Mercedes of Kujala.

However, the heavier Silver cars were now at the mercy of the lighter Pro-Am machinery and the charging Caldarelli quickly dispatched Baldwin and Mitchell before gradually whittling away Kujala’s six second lead over the next 20 minutes.

Biding his time, the Italian finally made his move exiting Goddards before sweeping around the outside at Redgate with nine minutes left on the clock and went on to win by 6.3 seconds.

Mitchell dropped back to fifth by the finish after being passed by Kujala’s team-mate Buurman and Keen, who set the fastest lap of the race to finish fourth in what was a fine recovery drive after having to serve a 20 second success penalty due to their win at Oulton Park.

Just behind Mitchell was the impressive Sam Neary, whose #8 Pro-Am Team ABBA Mercedes, which he shared with his father Richard, had carved its way through the field to finish sixth.

In GT4 things were a little more calmer as Connor O’Brien and Patrick Kibble returned to the top after their accident at the second race at Oulton and TF Sport also managed to make it a 1-2 as Caroline and Vaughan took second place.

This result however did not reflect the dominant performance Caroline put in the first hour of the race, as he shot off into the lead and held a gap of almost 20 seconds until contact with a GT3 car damaged the rear splitter which dragged on the floor, compromised the Aston’s aerodynamics.

This opened the door for Kibble, who ate into Caroline’s lead to trail by just nine seconds when he dived into the pits to hand to O’Brien with just over 40 minutes left.

Qualifying pace setters HHC Motorsport found out that their GT4 570Ss struggled in the wet as much as their bigger GT3 brothers and both cars dropped back to fifth and sixth places by the flag.

For race 2 the conditions were drier but the was still slippery which meant tyre selection would consist of weighing up the risks versus rewards.

In the end most of the field went for wet weather tyres which initially seemed to be the right decision as slick shod front row men Joe Osbourne and Scott Malvern dropped back to fourth and fifth respectively, as Jack Mitchell’s banzai start catapulted 2 Seas Motorsport’s #10 McLaren from seventh to first after a frantic opening two laps.

Yet the wet tyres advantage only lasted a few laps and working in tandam, Osbourne and Malvern fraught their way back up to the front and subsequently disappeared into the distance.

Both pro drivers waited until the last possible moment to hand over to their Am drivers, but Nick Jones and Stuart Proctor emerged well clear of their Silver class rivals.

But while Jones accelerated away into a comfortable lead, Proctor, who was competing on his GT3 racing debut, struggled in the conditions and eventually dropped back to fifth place at the end.

But it was an impressive and well deserved result for Malvern and Jones, who had stepped up from the GT4 class last year and their performance was even more impressive considering the Bentley they were piloting has a notorious reputation for its lack of pace in slippery conditions.

In GT4 Chris Wesemael in the #57 HHC Motorsport McLaren earned the perfect birthday present as he snatched victory from Mia Flewitt with just five minutes remaining.

Chris Wesemael got the perfect birthday present for Donington Race 2 as he and co-driver Gus Bowers took victory after snatching the lead from Mia Flewitt with a handful of laps to go. Credit: Dom Gibbons Photography.

Both Wesemael and Flewitt’s team-mates (Gus Bowers and Euan Hankey) had both started on slicks from the pitlane but after a handful of laps a dry line began to emerge and Hankey, in particular, began to fly.

Lapping seconds faster than anyone else, Hankey was into the lead by lap seven and charged into a huge class lead and even ran as high as seventh overall, his superior grip allowed him to mix it with wet-shod GT3 cars.

Bowers progress wasn’t as quick but by lap nine he was in second place, but he couldn’t contend with the pace of Hankey and was 30 seconds down but in turn he was over 30 seconds ahead of the chasing pack.

Hankey’s storming drive had given Flewitt a comfortable 35 second margin for the final 20 minutes, but an inspired birthday boy Wesemael set about reducing the gap til with four laps to go he executed a perfect outbreaking manoeuvre at the Melbourne hairpin to take the lead and the win.

Second for Flewitt and Hankey was a disappointing outcome but still a good result for the field’s only Pro-Am entry who had taken a large lead in the Pro-Am championship while HHC Motorsport had now showed themselves to be very creditable rivals to TF Sport, who had a disappointing second race, with Caroline & Vaughan only managing to come here in fourth position.

Brands Hatch was the next venue and it was to provide plenty of fireworks in the GT4 battle.

In the overall race, Collard and Sandy Mitchell took their first victory together and also claimed the championship lead, after a mid-race Safety Car period wiped out Jenson Team Rocket RJN’s early advantage.

It was cruel reward for James Baldwin, as the World Fastest Gamer had dominated the opening 60 minutes of the race from pole and had amassed a near-30s lead when the Safety Car was required just before half-distance.

The Safety Car period not only slashed the race leader’s advantage but also prompted most of the frontrunners to pit at the first time of asking and once the stops had cycled round, Baldwin’s co-driver Michael O’Brien found himself in second place due to pitting a lap later than new leader Mitchell.

Despite O’Brien’s best attempts to catch Mitchell, the Lamborghini driver was able to hold the McLaren at arm’s length for the rest of the event, even with another safety car period to deal with Rob’s son Jordan Collard’s stranded GT4 McLaren was not enough to prevent the Black Bull Lamborghini from taking victory which also saw them take the championship lead.

Another consistent run to fourth place saw the #69 RAM Racing Mercedes of de Haan and Kujala end the mid-way point of the season in second place but 16.5 points behind the leaders, while a 15s Pitstop Success Penalty hampered Barwell’s second Lamborghini shared by erstwhile championship leaders Adam Balon and Phil Keen as they finished out of the points and dropped to fourth place.

Most of the excitement at Brands was provided by the GT4 field which saw a new winner and championship contender, BTCC style racing and a very contentious clash between team-mates.

Jordan Albert and Matt Cowley took a surprise victory in the Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang after they overcame engine sensor issues during qualifying, which limited them to eighth on the gird, to best the front running TF Sport Aston Martins and catapult themselves into championship contention.

Matt Cowley and Jordan Albert took victory at Brands Hatch and propelled themselves in GT4 championship contention. Credit: Jakob Ebrey

As in the GT3, the battle for the lead was completely changed by the emergence of the safety car.

Connor O’Brien had taken the lead from team-mate Vaughan at the start and managed to get away in the lead while Vaughan found himself in a desperate battle to hold off the fast-starting Speedworks Toyota in the hands of Sam Smelt.

By the time Smelt found his way past the Aston, O’Brien was six seconds up the road, but Smelt put in a furious charge to reduce the gap to just two when the Aston was turned around at Druids by Richard Neary’s #8 ABBA Racing Mercedes-AMG, which dropped him to fourth place.

Smelt therefore inherited the lead but not for long as when the safety car came out with just a few seconds before the pit window opened was the Speedworks team elected to stay out an extra lap behind safety car in order not to get a penalty.

Unfortunately for them, most of the field elected to take this chance and jumped the Toyota which was forced to spend a lap behind the safety car before pitting.

After the stops Caroline, having taken over from Vaughan, emerged in the lead, but Cowley, which had progressively picked off cars to work their way into third place, was right behind the Aston as the safety car came in.

As the race went green Cowley wasted no time in selling Caroline a dummy on the run toward Hawthorn Hill before diving inside for the lead and pushing hard to build up a lead.

Yet Cowley’s efforts seemed to have been in vain when the safety car was called out again to clear debris from Hawthorn Hill after Collard’s HHC McLaren suffered a tyre delamination.

The safety car came in with 20 minutes remaining and the top four cars were bunched up together with Ben Green in the lead Century BMW joining the battle for the lead in fourth place and upon the restart he nipped past Kibble for third when he was run wide by a lapping GT3 at Graham Hill Bend.

Although Kibble attempted to close the door, Green made the move stick into Surtees and set off in pursuit of team-mate Caroline.

On the penultimate tour Kibble tried to fight back with a dive inside on the exit of Clearways just as Green was attempting to undercut Caroline, a move which forced the BMW into the leading Aston, resulting in all three cars making contact on the front straight.

Thankfully the contact was slight but Caroline’s loss of momentum allowed the BMW to dive down the inside at Paddock Hill bend to take second place, despite Caroline barging into the side of the BMW on the run up to Druids.

Yet the drama was not over as on the final lap, Kibble attempted to replicate Green’s manoeuvre upon his team-mate, but in attempting to defend his place, Caroline attempted to cut back but only succeeded to spinning his team-mate off into the gravel, an action that resulted in a 40 second post-race penalty which dropped the Aston to sixth place on the leaderboard.

But all of the drama had allowed Cowley to finally get away and took a well deserved victory ahead of Green, who recorded Century BMW’s best result of the season after a disappointing couple of races with few results.

Third place went to Bowers and Wesemael McLaren a result, along with Caroline’s penalty, saw them take the championship lead going into the mid-point of the season, but only by the narrowest of margins available, 0.5 points over the Aston Martin.

TF Sport team-mate O’Brien and Kibble were in third place in the standings following their second retirement of the season, while victory at Brands meant the Academy Motorsport Ford Mustang was now only 11 points off the top going into the Donington Three Hour Endurance Race.

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