OPTIMUM’S GT4 SUCCESS
Among the thriving GT4 field, familiarity proved the key as Optimum Motorsport duo Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson celebrated a maiden title in their second campaign.
The rise in popularity of GT4 brought with it a wave of new drivers and teams, with record numbers signing up for the all-semi-pro Silver Cup contest with young prospects graduating from junior single-seaters and tin tops.
Within the busy grid, consistency and grabbing results whenever possible became vital. Johnson and Robinson took full advantage of their head start on experience and the sorted Ginetta package early in the season to snatch a lead.
“The key to this year was understanding everything,” says Johnson. “Mike and I know each other so well – we work together and race together – so we have that understanding of how each other behaves and drives. We used last year to learn the car and the team, and this year was about putting all of that together.”
Of last year’s field, 2015 runners up Johnson/robinson were the only top pairing to return unchanged, and they stated their intent when they won the season opener at Brands Hatch by a clear lap and also took a dominant double on the third weekend at Oulton Park.
However, the pair weren’t flawless. Johnson crashed out of a solid lead during round two at Rockingham. Their car was also taken out at Silverstone by a clash with a GT3 machine. Both incidents allowed their rivals to make a fight of it.
The defending Beechdean AMR team ran BRDC Formula 4 graduates Jordan Albert and Jack Bartholomew. The pair didn’t lack pace, but had a lot to learn.
The pair took advantage to finish second in Corby, which would become the win after Nathan Freke/anna Walewska’s Century Ginetta was thrown out for passing under yellow flags.
That set up a battle between the top two crews. Beechdean certainly had the consistency, being the only car in the class to score points in every race to stay on Optimum’s tail. But there was a twist in the tail when Albert was ruled out of the final three rounds due to a contractual issue. Beechdean paired Bartholomew with Ross Gunn for those rounds in an attempt to haul in the leaders, but a braking issue at Donington ended their challenge and left Bartholomew a solo second in the points.
A major fillip for GT4 came when Mclaren GT announced it would run its new 570S GT4 for its development season with Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell driving. The car was a game-changer, being the first carbon-chassied entry for the class. It showed rapid pace but lost early points and a near-certain win at Spa to teething trouble.
Other new marques also provided drama, but none more so than Porsche. The new Cayman Clubsport GT4 caused a stir on release, but for all the wrong reasons. Due to production delays the cars were shipped out to teams late and without GT4 upgrade packs or homologation. Lanan Racing was due two, but had its order cancelled after a pair came up for sale on the internet from a mystery seller. Lanan instead rented a Ginetta and won at Spa with Joey Foster and Alex Reed, who will both be in the title hunt when they return next year.
Scott Malvern and Nick Jones did bring a Cayman to the series, initially with Simpson Motorsport before finishing the season with Team Parker. The car was well off the pace, but got faster with each upgrade toward the end of the year. Malvern ended the year only 0.4s off the flying Mclaren’s fastest lap at Donington, signalling good things for 2017.
Johnson and Robinson were ultra consistent