GT TO THE FOUR?

GT4 is boom­ing, but GT3 will still have its place . By Rob Lad­brook

Motor Sport News - - British Gt Preview - CAL­EN­DAR 2016 British GT Cham­pi­onship TF Sport As­ton Mart­in­van­tage GT3 Bar­well Motorsport Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can GT3 Team Parker Rac­ing Bent­ley Con­ti­nen­tal GT3 PFL As­ton Mart­in­van­tage GT3 Beechdean Am­r­van­tage GT4

We could be wit­ness­ing a chang­ing of the guard within British GT this sea­son, and in more ways than one.

By far the big­gest talk­ing point ahead of the cham­pi­onship’s 24th cam­paign is the growth of the GT4 di­vi­sion. Ahead of the sea­son opener at Brands Hatch this week­end, British GT boasts 18 GT4 en­tries against 15 in GT3.

Is GT3 about to give up its long-held slot as Bri­tain’s pre­dom­i­nant sportscar class? Not quite yet.

The rise of GT4 has been driven by two fac­tors – ap­peal and cost. It co­in­cides with a stream of younger driv­ers switch­ing to GT rac­ing in­stead of pur­su­ing sin­gle-seater ca­reers. The cost of grad­u­at­ing up from the base for­mula cat­e­gories has proven pro­hib­i­tive for some and, with few ca­reer op­tions at the top – ex­cept for the very lucky or very well funded – the ap­peal has dried up for many.

GT4 was es­tab­lished in 2008 and de­signed to be a feeder cat­e­gory for GT3, where driv­ers could learn at a lower bud­get, but strug­gled for num­bers. The early prob­lem in the UK was lim­ited car se­lec­tion as few com­peti­tors were keen to go up against Ginetta’s G50, seen as be­ing too rapid by some. GT3 bud­gets at the time also weren’t too dis­sim­i­lar.

How­ever, over time GT3 bud­gets have risen as the rac­ing has be­come more pro­fes­sional and com­pet­i­tive.

Con­stant new cars and up­grade kits (all of which have also forced the pace up), along with big­ger out­fits opt­ing for ad­di­tional staff and spares, such as new brake pads ev­ery ses­sion, have con­trib­uted to GT3 bud­gets grow­ing.

With GT3 costs ris­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ers have wo­ken up to GT4. The cars are largely road-go­ing sportscars with ho­molo­gated race parts, so are easy to pro­duce and the grow­ing num­ber of young driv­ers means there’s an ex­pand­ing mar­ket. Seven brands – As­ton Martin, Ginetta, Lo­tus, Porsche, Toy­ota, Maserati and Mclaren – make up this year’s grid, mean­ing the va­ri­ety is there in a way that sim­ply wasn’t seen in the early days of British GT4.

Among the sin­gle-seater driv­ers to have con­verted are Wal­ter Hayes Tro­phy win­ners Scott Malvern and Joey Fos­ter, BRDC For­mula 4 grad­u­ates Jor­dan Al­bert, Jack Bartholomew, Matthew Gra­ham and Ciaran Hag­gerty, and MSA For­mula racer Sandy Mitchell.

In re­cent years some teams have called for a split in the grid to give GT3 and GT4 sep­a­rate races. That won’t hap­pen while British GT is fill­ing a grid and at­tract­ing just a hand­ful of re­serves. There is also a dan­ger that GT3 could be phased out of British GT al­to­gether if costs con­tinue to rise, with GT4 be­com­ing a more ap­peal­ing na­tional op­tion and GT3 to op­er­ate mostly in in­ter­na­tional classes like the Blanc­pain GT Se­ries.

SRO head Stephane Ra­tel says he’s happy with the GT4 growth, but in­sists GT3 will al­ways have its place in Bri­tain. He told Motorsport News: “If you look at last year we had around a 50/50 split be­tween GT3 and GT4, but to have GT4 the big­ger class this year is very sat­is­fy­ing.

“GT rac­ing has changed. It is now where young driv­ers go be­cause it is where tal­ent gets no­ticed and where they can chase man­u­fac­turer deals. With GT3 get­ting more ex­pen­sive there is a gap for a lower cost cat­e­gory and GT4 has filled it. It al­lows driv­ers to race real GT cars in front of man­u­fac­tur­ers and gain ex­pe­ri­ence.

“But British GT will al­ways have GT3, I be­lieve that. GT3 rac­ing has maybe be­come more in­ter­na­tional in re­cent years, with big events like the Nur­bur­gring 24 Hours, Dubai 24 Hours, Abu Dhabi, Bathurst all us­ing GT3. You can race any­where in the world on any week­end if you own a car. There will al­ways be peo­ple that want to race those cars in Bri­tain, if only to learn be­fore go­ing to some­thing like Blanc­pain.”

One of the most in­ter­est­ing GT4 en­tries will be the new Mclaren, which both prom­ises, and threat­ens, to re­de­fine the class.

The 570S GT4 is the first car in the class to run a car­bon­fi­bre chas­sis as it is based on the road-go­ing baby Mclaren. CRS GT, which has co-de­vel­oped the car, has had its work cut out to get the 3.8-litre twin-turbo ma­chine down to GT4 pace. The car will likely carry a load of bal­last and small en­gine re­stric­tors for equal­i­sa­tion. Hag­gerty and Mitchell will han­dle the car for its devel­op­ment year. Priced at a whop­ping £159,000 it is one of the most ex­pen­sive GT4 cars around – weigh­ing in about £30,000 more than the all-con­quer­ing Van­tage.

The 570S has great race po­ten­tial, and mar­ket­ing po­ten­tial for Mclaren, so ex­pect it to go well. Let’s just hope it doesn’t kick-start a GT4 arms race.

Only two new mod­els – the Lam­borgh­ini Hu­ra­can and Audi R8 LMS – will ap­pear on the grid this term, thanks to Bar­well and Op­ti­mum Motorsport re­spec­tively.

Bar­well’s deal to move from BMW to Lam­borgh­ini was clinched by the prom­ise of fac­tory sup­port from Squadra Corse, so ex­pect the Hu­ra­cans to be run­ning well right from the off. The team has racked up the miles in Italy and Spain over the win­ter, be­fore head­ing to Brands, and other ex­am­ples have al­ready proved rapid in North Amer­ica.

“The Hu­ra­cans are a big step for­wards over the old-gen­er­a­tion GT3 cars,” says Bar­well head Mark Lem­mer. “First thing we did was strip the chas­sis down to learn about them and they are su­perbly put-to­gether prod­ucts in ev­ery area.

“The big­gest strength of the new cars won’t be out­right lap time, we’re not ex­pect­ing to smash records – it’s in their con­sis­tency. A lot more con­sid­er­a­tion has been given to mak­ing them ac­ces­si­ble to the ama­teur driv­ers, mak­ing them eas­ier to drive on the limit. That breeds con­fi­dence, which is key. The cars are still hugely chal­leng­ing to find that fi­nal few tenths from, so the Pro driv­ers still have a lot of work to do, but the Ams should be closer to them in the new cars.”

One of the big­gest changes comes from the reign­ing champions, with An­drew Howard and Jonathan Adam part­ing ways for the first time in five years. To­gether they have been fron­trun­ners, twice tak­ing the ti­tle, once to­gether (2015) and once (2013) for Howard on his own af­ter Adam picked up a penalty.

This year Howard will line-up along­side GT4 cham­pion Ross Gunn in the Beechdean As­ton Martin Van­tage GT3, while Adam moves to AMR cus­tomer team TF Sport to part­ner Derek John­ston.

“It’s like a di­vorce, but I’ve got all the kids,” jokes Howard. “It will be weird not shar­ing with Jonny, but as a team Beechdean has to help young tal­ent come through. I’m not ex­pect­ing to win the cham­pi­onship, or even races, this year, and I don’t care. This year is about help­ing Ross adapt and learn as a driver. The step be­tween GT4 and GT3 is still quite big and there are new things to learn and he’s only 19 with not a huge amount of ex­pe­ri­ence.”

In con­trast, Adam is in prime po­si­tion to fight for a sec­ond ti­tle. John­ston is one of the most proven Ams on the grid, and TF Sport showed last year how good its bal­ance with the Van­tage was with two straight poles and a maiden win. To­gether with Adam’s ex­pe­ri­ence from the AMR fac­tory squad, more pace will un­doubt­edly be un­locked.

Af­ter a dif­fi­cult few years, Mclaren is also back with a promis­ing new pro­gramme. The Ecurie Ecosse en­try this year will be a gen­uine con­tender. Its 650S GT3 is run by the Garage 59 fac­tory squad and has works driver Rob Bell and Alasdair Mccaig at the wheel. Mccaig nearly won the British GT ti­tle at the first at­tempt back in 2012 and has since gained ex­pe­ri­ence in the Blanc­pain classes.

While there are no new BMW M6s, AMD Tun­ing has taken over the run­ning of Lee Mowle and Joe Os­borne’s Z4 GT3 fol­low­ing the with­drawal of Triple Eight. A se­lec­tion of tech­ni­cal staff – in­clud­ing multi-ti­tle win­ning chief en­gi­neer Keith Cheetham – have moved across to help AMD get up and run­ning, and Mowle and Os­borne have more than enough ex­pe­ri­ence to fight at the front.

There may be a chang­ing of the guard in terms of the con­struc­tion of the grid and the ti­tle con­tenders on it, but British GT has a golden chance this sea­son to prove that change is good. ■

Ecurie Ecosse Mclaren and Beechdean’s As­ton

Bar­well’s new Hu­ra­can, Mclaren’s 570S GT4 (r) No new M6 mod­els, but the Z4 re­turns with AMD

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