Preview: Oulton Park set for British GT Championship season opener
It’s been a long time coming. But finally, 79 days later than scheduled, the 2020 Intelligent Money British GT Championship gets underway at Oulton Park this weekend (August 1-2).
Two 60-minute races kick off the campaign in rural Cheshire, which traditionally hosts British GT over Easter Bank Holiday Weekend. Instead, the 2.692-mile, 17-turn parkland circuit will be in full mid-summer pomp when the championship stages its first event anywhere since September last year.
GT3: FRESH FACES IN NEW PLACES
Forget Oulton’s recent form book: a raft of changes and fresh faces make it impossible to gauge the contenders ahead of 2020’s season opener.
But we have to start somewhere, and where better than reigning Teams’ Champions Barwell Motorsport whose Lamborghinis have won at least once at Oulton since the Huracan GT3’s debut in 2016. They also bring stability and speed in the form of 2019 championship contenders Adam Balon and Phil Keen who has annexed Oulton’s Pro pole positions for the last two years.
RAM Racing’s Ian Loggie also bagged a GT3 pole at Oulton last year (before being unceremoniously barged into retirement) and returns with an upgraded Mercedes-AMG featuring the talents of factory ace Yelmer Buurman. The flying Dutchman’s only previous British GT campaign included a memorable last-to-first victory at Rockingham two years ago.
Bentley’s second-generation Continental returns to the scene of its only British GT triumph with a new-look line-up this year. Nick Jones and Scott Malvern graduate with Team Parker who oversaw the pair’s GT4 Pro/Am title success in 2018. Plenty of pre-season testing ensures they should hit the ground running.
It’s a similar story at WPI Motorsport who began their British GT adventure with a one-off GTC entry at Oulton last year before switching to the Lamborghini Huracan, which has covered plenty of mileage before and since lockdown. Michael Igoe and Dennis Lind – now confirmed for all six rounds in place of fellow Squadra Corse driver Franck Perera – renew a partnership that has already tasted GT Cup success this year.
ABBA Racing’s father/son duo of Richard and Sam Neary also won races together elsewhere last year before committing to a British GT campaign. They run the same previous-generation Mercedes-AMG GT3 with which Neary Snr and Adam Christodoulou claimed the team’s first-ever podium at Oulton in 2019.
Elsewhere, Ferrari make a welcome return to the UK’s domestic GT3 class courtesy of the Scuderia’s long-time Pro/Am partnership of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin. And what’s more, AF Corse UK have the new-for-2020 488 GT3 at their disposal. The Anglo-Irish pairing are no strangers to British GT success with Ferrari at Oulton where they won both races during 2010’s season opener.
Pro/Am has remained the backbone of British GT’s senior class in recent years. However, this season the category faces a renewed challenge from a resurgent Silver Cup ensemble.
Indeed, British GT’s only returning reigning champion, Ollie Wilkinson, headlines a class packed full of young talent. He remains with Optimum but now partners GT4 graduate Lewis Proctor in the team’s 720S GT3.
Meanwhile, Sam De Haan’s 2019 championship run sees him move from Bronze to Silver and, as such, join a new co-driver in the form of Patrick Kujala. De Haan won Oulton’s second race last year with Barwell and will be eager to repeat the feat, albeit aboard a Mercedes-AMG after switching to RAM Racing over the winter.
Dean Macdonald also occupied Oulton’s top step last year courtesy of a GT4 victory. The Scot – frequently amongst 2019’s fastest GT4 drivers – now embarks on a first senior class campaign with series debutants 2 Seas Motorsport. He’s joined in the McLaren by Angus Fender who claimed podiums in his two previous GT3 outings at the end of last season.
A third 720S, the Jenson Team Rocket RJN example, completes McLaren’s formidable Silver Cup collective. Michael O’Brien, another McLaren junior, steps up alongside esports convert James Baldwin who secured his real-life drive by winning World’s Fastest Gamer 2.
Barwell also boast a significant Silver Cup threat in the form of BTCC legend Rob Collard and Sandy Mitchell – the youngest driver to claim a British GT victory, pole position and fastest lap. Still only 20, the Scot has spent the past two years racing Barwell’s Lamborghini in GT World Challenge Europe. Keep a close eye on this pairing.
GT4: REIGNING CHAMPS START AS FAVOURITES
Reigning Teams’ and Drivers’ Champions, TF Sport, will be going all out to begin this year’s campaign just as they finished the last when their two Aston Martins notched up three podiums in the final four races. Patrick Kibble returns with new co-driver Connor O’Brien, who raced Optimum’s Vantage throughout 2019, while former British F4 champion Jamie Caroline and Carrera Cup GB frontrunner Daniel Vaughan look like a very capable new pairing.
HHC crews have finished in the top-four ever since Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha’s title success in 2017, and there’s no reason to suggest that will change any time soon. The Yorkshire team’s McLaren won at Oulton last season, while Jordan Collard and Patrik Matthiesen are – perhaps – this year’s most proven GT4 pairing. They’re joined in HHC’s garage by debutants Chris Wesemael and Gus Bowers.
The other 570S, featuring Balfe’s Pro/Am pairing of Mia Flewitt and Euan Hankey, will have the added bonus of shorter pitstops and less ballast than its Silver Cup rivals. Flewitt – the double reigning Pure McLaren champion – makes her full-season British GT debut following three outings in the middle of 2019.
Multimatic’s Ford Mustang claimed two poles and one win at Oulton last year so expect Academy Motorsport’s Matt Cowley and Jordan Albert to also be a factor. The latter was a 2016 title contender with Beechdean AMR but failed to hit similar heights with Tolman two years ago. Could 2020 finally be his year?
Century, meanwhile, welcome back Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke who showed flashes of pace during his debut GT4 campaign, as well as ex-Academy Motorsport driver Ben Hurst. They’re joined in the BMW garage by Tegiwa duo Luke Sedzikowski and David Whitmore who make one of their two planned outings at Oulton.
However, the car likely to garner most attention is Speedworks’ new-for-2020 Toyota Supra. The model makes one of its first competitive GT4 outings anywhere in the world at Oulton, but if anyone can hit the ground running it’s surely Speedworks who also oversee Toyota’s factory BTCC programme. Sam Smelt returns for a second season in the class alongside debutant James Kell.
Both British GT races will be shown live on the championship’s Facebook page, Twitter account and website, plus SRO’s GT World Youtube channel, on Sunday 2 August. You can also find it on the Motorsport UK Facebook page.
Sunday’s support races will also be shown live on britishgt.com/live throughout the day.
OULTON PARK TIMETABLE
Saturday 1 August
09:30 – 10:30: Free Practice 1
12:10 – 13:10: Free Practice 2
16:10 – 16:20: Qualifying – GT3 Q1
16:24 – 16:34: Qualifying – GT3 Q2
16:38 – 16:48: Qualifying – GT4 Q1
16:53 – 17:03: Qualifying – GT4 Q2
Sunday 2 August
12:00 – 12:15: Warm-up
13:15 – 14:15: Race 1
16:45 – 17:45: Race 2
GT3 – 1m34.624s – Callum Macleod – Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental – 2017
GT4 – 1m43.674s – Luke Davenport – Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 – 2015