Preview: British GT roars into life at Brands Hatch
The British GT Championship fires back into life at Brands Hatch this weekend. Here is our lowdown for the opening contest.
Can Sandy Mitchell become only the second driver in British GT history to retain a title? Will a change of scenery finally deliver Phil Keen the crown? Can the rekindling of Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam’s Beechdean AMR partnership deliver another championship? And which crew will reign supreme in the new Silver-Am class?
In GT4, TF Sport’s absence guarantees new Teams’ and Drivers’ Champions. Century and BMW were the last different combination to lift both in 2018 but it’s Team Rocket RJN who start with a numerical advantage thanks to their three McLarens. Toyota GAZOO Racing UK – run by Speedworks – can call on a year of experience with their Supra, Assetto Motorsport enter Ginetta’s brand-new G56, and two previous title winners (Jake Giddings and Jamie Stanley) are each bidding to become British GT4’s first two-time overall champion.
Elsewhere, the Intelligent Money British GT Championship is proud to announce that all 20 teams racing next weekend will support SRO Motorsports Group’s new Carbon Neutrality Competitor Programme throughout 2021. Carbon credits purchased by all entrants, each of whose cars will feature a green Corporate Social Responsibility logo, are invested into a forest conservation project in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia, overseen by the independently verified tropical forest protection and restoration specialist, Permian Global. The British GT round at Brands Hatch features SRO’s first fully carbon neutral entry since the initiative began at the start of 2021.
14 cars – nine featuring Pro-Am crews and another five entered in the new Silver-Am class – tackle the season opener. But with so many reshuffles over the winter it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly who will hit the ground the running.
So let’s start with reigning Teams’ and Drivers’ champions, Barwell Motorsport, where there’s a reasonable amount of familiarity. Sandy Mitchell switches from the now outlawed Silver Cup class to partner 2020 team-mate and title rival Adam Balon. Both know the team and their Lamborghini Huracan inside out, while Mitchell claimed victory at Brands last August en route to the crown.
Barwell’s other Pro-Am pairing of Leo Machitski and Dennis Lind are renewing a combination that first raced and won together at the 2019 Barcelona 24 Hours. Lind’s most recent British GT outing also came aboard a Lamborghini, albeit with WPI Motorsport, last season, while his Russian co-driver – the series’ inaugural GT3 champion back in 2006 – makes his first appearance since 2017.
Only two full-season Pro-Am crews remain unchanged from last year, and one of them – reigning class champions Ian Loggie and Yelmer Buurman – also arrive armed with the same GT3 machine – Mercedes-AMG – and team – RAM Racing – as in 2020. The other, Donington Park sprint race winners Nick Jones and Scott Malvern (Team Parker Racing), switched from Bentley to Porsche over the winter but gained useful insight during their recent GT Cup outing on the GP circuit. Could that be a factor next weekend?
British GT partnerships don’t come any more iconic than Andrew Howard, Jonny Adam and Beechdean AMR who have reunited for their first full-season assault together since winning the 2015 Drivers’ title. Their one-off outing at Brands last year convinced Howard to return with his former co-driver who claimed three more titles with different teams between 2016 and ’19.
Despite the absence of his long-time rival, Phil Keen still fell short of an elusive first GT3 title last term but begins 2021 in new surroundings after linking up with WPI Motorsport and Michael Igoe in what looks like a very promising combination. The latter scored his first British GT victory at Donington last season and has made considerable progress since debuting in 2019. Expect this Lamborghini to go particularly well if it’s wet, cold or both.
The pandemic accounted for JRM Racing’s sequin-studded Bentley last season but we’ll finally hear the Rumba of thunder when Strictly winner Kelvin Fletcher and his dance partner Martin Plowman fire up their Continental for the first time. Indeed, Brands Hatch will stage the couple’s GT3 debut after they waltzed to GT4’s Pro-Am Cha Cha Cha-mpionship in 2019.
Two McLarens are also fighting for GT3 honours, and both are entered by new full-season teams. One of them – Enduro Motorsport – feature the talents of Marcus Clutton who leads a Pro-Am crew also featuring GT3 debutant Morgan Tillbrook.
The other is one of three full-season Silver-Am entries. Ross Wylie and his Simon Green Motorsport co-driver Lucky Khera move up to GT3 after sampling the championship’s GTC class together at Silverstone last November.
They will face stiff opposition from two ‘dad and lad’ duos. Team Abba Racing’s Richard and Sam Neary impressed many throughout 2020, while Lewis Proctor – who shares Balfe’s McLaren with his father, Stewart, claimed pole position first time out at Oulton.
RAM Racing’s second Mercedes-AMG, currently competing on a race-by-race basis and shared by 2020 runner-up Sam De Haan and debutant James Cottingham, is bound to be a threat, while Ultimate Speed’s Michael Brown and Matt Manderson complete a five-strong Silver-Am class.
GT3’s 14th entry – the G-Cat Racing Porsche – features the sole Am/Am line-up of Greg Caton and Shamus Jennings.
A resurgence in Pro-Am interest tops GT4’s pre-season headlines, which also include the return of 2020’s runner-up, a new car in the form of Ginetta’s G56, and the resumption of McLaren’s Driver Development Programme.
Indeed, the latter includes the same four drivers who would have contested last year’s championship were it not for covid-19. Michael Benyahia, Harry Hayek, Katie Milner and Alain Valente finally get their chance to shine, albeit with Team Rocket RJN which has been selected to run both DDP-crewed 570Ss on McLaren’s behalf.
Rocket’s third entry is also of the Silver Cup variety and features 2020 runner-up Jordan Collard who’s partnered by former Speedworks rival James Kell. Given their respective performances last season – Collard was always impressive aboard HHC’s McLaren and Kell’s first British GT campaign featured several standout moments – this entry is bound to be a title contender come #DoningtonDecider in October.
As the only other multi-car entrant, Century Motorsport are likely to be RJN’s biggest threat in the Teams’ Championship. But, on paper at least, they also have the potential to challenge for myriad Drivers’ titles. Pairing 2020’s Ginetta GT4 Supercup champion (Will Burns) and runner-up (Gus Burton) appears to be a masterstroke, while its second new Evo-spec BMW M4 – featuring Chris Salkeld and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke – is sponsored by celebrity chef Ainsley Harriott.
We also find another of last year’s race winners, as well as a championship hopeful, in familiar surroundings. Matt Cowley turned plenty of heads aboard Academy’s Ford Mustang and is joined by team stalwart Will Moore in what amounts to another strong Silver Cup ensemble.
British GT debutants Assetto Motorsport have entered Ginetta’s new G56 and can count on factory ace Charlie Robertson to extract the best from Mark Sansom, who also makes his series bow at Brands.
Elsewhere, and following a promising first season, the Speedworks operation that oversees the Supra will now be known as Toyota Gazoo Racing UK. The change highlights both the factory’s trust and its new Young Driver Programme, which has selected Ginetta graduate Scott McKenna to lead a Pro-Am crew also comprising John Ferguson.
No driver has won two British GT4 titles outright. But that statistic will change if either Jake Giddings or Jamie Stanley claim the crown this year. The former – who won the championship in 2014 – partners Dave Whitmore at Ciceley who return with Mercedes-AMG for their first-ever full-season assault. Stanley, meanwhile, is joined at Fox Motorsport by former Ginetta GT4 Supercup Am front-runner Nick Halstead.
Last year’s Pro-Am champions, Balfe Motorsport, switch to the Silver ranks with Jack Brown and Ashley Marshall where they’ll compete against Steller’s Audi crewed by Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding – the same combination that won twice together in 2019.
Elsewhere, this year’s sixth full-season Pro-Am entry – Newbridge Motorsport’s Aston Martin – will join the championship from Round 2 at Silverstone.