BRITISH GT SHOWDOWN
istakes decide titles. But what’s most crucial is the timing of them. Stumble at the right time, and there’s often a chance to come back. Err at the wrong one and it’s game over.
That was the story of this year’s British GT Championship fight. Jonathan Adam and Derek Johnston were gifted the GT3 title by an uncharacteristic error by Barwell Motorsport’s Jon Minshaw.
TF got its bad luck out of the way last time out in Norfolk, when a mix-up in a pit stop and an on-track clash twice handed Minshaw and Phil Keen the laurels, and the championship momentum. But the timing worked out for TF.
For Minshaw, his error left no room for return, leaving him watching on from a gravel trap as his title hopes faded away.
In truth, this year’s two-hour finale at Donington wasn’t a classic. But neither was it predictable. In terms of the racing, Ecurie Ecosse swept all before them with GT3 and GT4 wins for Mclaren. But Aston Martins were on top for most of the weekend, a fact that was compounded when Johnston and Adam claimed top spot in qualifying.
The Vantage was nothing short of a monster in sectors one and two, with both TF cars topping the speed traps, with the rest of the Gaydon contingent close behind. In contrast, the Lamborghini crews had to seek solace through the more flowing second sector, when the Huracan’s strong aero balance paid dividends.
“The Vantage is a beast around here, so we have to push like mad through the middle of the lap to stay in the game,” said Keen, who would line up in third. “But Jon’s not feeling the pressure, as what happens happens.”
While technically three crews came into Derbyshire in contention for the title, one felt out of it after qualifying. Team Parker Racing’s Bentley Continental crew of Rick Parfitt Jr and Seb Morris knew only a win would do, and it looked unlikely when they could only line up in fifth position.
“We’re just really struggling on traction, and for some reason on the brakes too,” said Morris. “We should be quick here, but we’re struggling getting out of every hairpin and the others just drive away from us. To be honest the title is a long shot.”
However, with Johnston up front, and with his favourite track clear ahead of him, the tag of title favourite began to swing gradually towards TF.
Johnston got a great start to open up an early gap over Alasdair Mccaig’s Mclaren 650S, which had qualified a fine second. The GT3 ranks were thinned by the end of turn one, when Liam Griffin and Mark Farmer clashed around Hollywood and Farmer’s Aston was spat into the barriers.
Cue the safety car, and annoyance for Johnston: “In our pre-race chat, Jonny just told me to do exactly what I did at Rockingham and here last year [where Johnston scorched away early on, resulting in a win both times]. I’d got a few seconds clear at the start and then it was gone. Also our Achilles heel is tyre pressures. Once they go down it takes two or three laps to get them up again. I knew I’d be hanging on at the restart.”
He was. Mccaig piled the pressure on until Johnston hit GT4 traffic, which squeezed the top three together and contributed to the flashpoint of the race. Minshaw had made a solid start to shadow Mccaig in third. But, knowing that third wouldn’t be good enough for the title should Johnston/adam win, knew he had to make a move on track to stand a chance.
Minshaw tried that move around the outside of the Craner Curves, just as Mccaig was lapping Paul Hollywood’s GT4 Aston. Minshaw was caught out by the closing speed as Mccaig had to get off the throttle and Minshaw was forced wide, dipped a wheel on the dirt and spun violently down the track and into the Old Hairpin barriers. Game over. “Jon was devastated, but it was sheer bad luck,” said Barwell head Mark Lemmer. “He was simply caught out in traffic, which can happen to anybody at any time. It’s just sod’s law it was at the trickiest part of the track. He’s been superb all year regardless.”
With the Demon Tweaks Lambo stranded, Johnston knew it was his to lose. “I saw the Lambo in the gravel and got on the radio shouting ‘He’s off, he’s off !” said Johnston. “The team kindly reminded me there was 90-minutes left, so I just got my head down.”
Johnston pulled a sizeable gap by the time he handed across to Adam, but the 15-second pit stop success penalty handed the lead to the Mclaren, now with Rob Bell installed. Bell put in a superb stint to surge into a lead he’d never lose, with a content Adam happy to trail home in second.
It was Mclaren’s day, but Aston Martin’s season.
“It’s just amazing as we were pretty downbeat after Snetterton, but this race was almost perfect,” said Adam. “Derek’s stint was excellent and we put in so much preparation work for this round. It feels amazing.”
Seb Morris took third in the Bentley ahead of Andrew Howard/rory Butcher’s Beechdean Aston. Griffin/ Alexander Sims were fifth ahead of Richard Neary/martin Short.
Optimum Motorsport’s Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson snatched the GT4 title after a tense run to third place, amid constant pressure from their title rivals Jack Bartholomew and Ross Gunn in the Beechdean entry.
The Ginetta wasn’t the strongest package over the weekend, and again lagged in qualifying against the more fancied Aston Martins as Beechdean bagged pole. But the star of the race was again the Mclaren 570S of Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty, who doubled the Ecurie Ecosse team’s joy.
Mitchell put in a stunning first stint to pull well clear of the pack and, with no success penalty to serve in the stops, the car stayed out front in Haggerty’s hands, despite the Scot suffering badly from a major hand injury inflicted a few days before the race ( see Racing News).
“Ciaran drove like a hero and was in a lot of pain afterwards,” said Mitchell. “My stint was great and I managed to get a gap. After that it was the longest race ever watching the final laps as I was worried about him.”
With the Mclaren long gone, the championship fight centred on the battle for third. Bartholomew got a terrible start and was mugged as the pack hit turn one. He fought back to sit seventh when the pit window opened and he dived in for Gunn. Gunn set a furious pace when he rejoined, and gradually towed into fourth and got within 10 seconds of Robinson, before a braking issue spelled the end. “The pedal was going to the floor, there was nothing I could do,” said Gunn, who had to cruise around to an eventual sixth.
Matthew Graham and Jack Mitchell took second for Generation AMR, but the real party was with Optimum. “It’s amazing as we didn’t have the fastest car and we’ve been up against it all weekend,” said Robinson. “Being British GT champion will take some getting used to.”