Club col­umn: James New­bold

The de­ci­sion to visit a venue twice next year may seem un­der­whelm­ing, but plans are afoot to add an in­trigu­ing twist to the ad­di­tional Don­ing­ton Park round

Autosport (UK) - - CONTENTS - JAMES NEW­BOLD

“I WANT TO MAKE THAT FOR­MAT DIF­FER­ENT, WE’RE GO­ING TO TRY TO MAKE IT SPE­CIAL”

When news of Rock­ing­ham’s im­mi­nent demise broke, it pre­sented na­tional cham­pi­onships with an op­por­tu­nity to fill the va­cant slots on the cal­en­dar with some­thing dif­fer­ent. But these hopes proved short-lived, as Bri­tish GT fol­lowed the lead of the Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship in opt­ing for a se­cond visit to a track al­ready on the sched­ule, in its case plump­ing for Don­ing­ton Park for the June 22-23 week­end. Yet this ap­par­ently un­ad­ven­tur­ous de­ci­sion has a streak of logic to it that could out­weigh the nov­elty of change. Aside from a one-year ex­per­i­ment with switch­ing the sea­son opener to Brands Hatch in 2016, the Bri­tish GT cal­en­dar has been fairly sta­ble in re­cent years, with Oul­ton Park and Don­ing­ton book­end­ing the sea­son and Spa es­tab­lished as the cham­pi­onship’s one over­seas round since ’14 af­ter vis­its to the Nur­bur­gring (’12) and Zand­voort (’13). But while re­turn­ing to one of those fa­mous cir­cuits on the con­ti­nent would have in­jected some spice into the cal­en­dar – and ap­pealed to gen­tle­man drivers with a keen ap­pre­ci­a­tion for his­tory – it would have driven up costs still fur­ther for a na­tional cham­pi­onship that al­ready has to face ques­tions year on year about value for money in GT3. Sev­eral pad­dock fig­ures have voiced con­cerns to Au­tosport about a works driver not be­ing enough to win any­more, with a healthy test­ing bud­get also re­quired to fig­ure at the sharp end. Also of con­cern was that adding an­other over­seas race would re­quire the am­a­teur drivers who are the bedrock of the se­ries to take more time off work for travel. One of the key ben­e­fits of rac­ing in Bri­tish GT over the Blanc­pain GT Se­ries En­durance Cup is that free prac­tice starts on Satur­day, rather than Fri­day. Al­though va­ri­ety is wel­come, it comes at a cost. On the flip­side, one driver’s sug­ges­tion that Bri­tish GT should drop the sev­enth round al­to­gether with a view to re­duc­ing costs was swiftly dis­missed by cham­pi­onship or­gan­iser the Stephane Ra­tel Or­gan­i­sa­tion. In 2016 SRO re­duced the num­ber of Blanc­pain Sprint rounds from seven to five, which saw a dra­matic in­crease in grid num­bers from 21 to 38, but that also co­in­cided with a rule that man­u­fac­tur­ers had to en­ter cars in both the Sprint and En­durance Cups to be per­mit­ted an en­try into the flag­ship Spa 24 Hours and be el­i­gi­ble for a $150,000 per race prize fund, which had a greater ef­fect than any cost reduction. “Most of the teams are pro­fes­sional, they run a busi­ness and they need to go rac­ing,” ex­plains Bri­tish GT cham­pi­onship man­ager Ben­jamin Franasso­vici. “we try to con­trol costs, but it’s dif­fi­cult – would it sud­denly make a dif­fer­ence? I would have the re­ac­tion of peo­ple say­ing, ‘you can’t do that, we need seven rounds. ’i think seven rounds for a na­tional cham­pi­onship is nec­es­sary – six is a bit on the low side.” So that left SRO with the ques­tion of which UK cir­cuit could re­place Rock­ing­ham, which had the ad­van­tage of hav­ing room for teams to re­fuel. This isn’t the case at Oul­ton Park and Snet­ter­ton, which as a re­sult run one-hour sprints. Re­ject­ing the short hop across the Ir­ish Sea to Mon­dello Park or a re­turn to Thrux­ton on this ba­sis, Franasso­vici chose Don­ing­ton, a drivers’ favourite that usu­ally pro­duces ex­cel­lent rac­ing in its two-hour sea­son fi­nale, over Sil­ver­stone, venue for the only three-hour race on the cal­en­dar. Two-time se­ries cham­pion An­drew Howard was among the lead­ing drivers who wel­comed the move, but called on SRO to be “brave” and make the round an “am­bas­sado­rial” one for the cham­pi­onship. It doesn’t take much read­ing be­tween the lines to see what he means – night rac­ing. “I think the key is to mix up the for­mat,” he says. “the most im­por­tant thing is that it’s got to be dif­fer­ent, so if we go into the night – awe­some. From a cham­pi­onship point of view, it brings a new dy­namic to it with­out be­ing mas­sively ex­pen­sive.” The mo­tion was also re­ceived pos­i­tively by team bosses. “it’s en­durance rac­ing, so do­ing some­thing in the dark makes sense to me,” was the re­sponse of TF Sport’s Tom Fer­rier at Brands Hatch. For its part, SRO is work­ing be­hind the scenes to bring about a dif­fer­ent for­mat to dif­fer­en­ti­ate the round from the two-hour fi­nale, al­though the finer de­tails are yet to be ironed out. “MSV [cir­cuit op­er­a­tor] are help­ing to make that se­cond Don­ing­ton visit ex­cit­ing – I’m work­ing be­hind the scenes to get the for­mat right,” says Franasso­vici. “i want to make that for­mat dif­fer­ent; we’re go­ing to try to make it spe­cial.” While at first glance the re­turn to Don­ing­ton could be viewed as an op­por­tu­nity missed, the log­i­cal choice doesn’t have to be un­der­whelm­ing.

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