Easter [noun]: an annual Christian festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, observed on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the vernal equinox. See also: British GT.
Yes, as Eastery as chicks chirping and hot cross buns burning the Avon Tyres British GT Championship awakes from its winter slumber this Bank Holiday weekend at where other than Oulton Park for the first instalment of what promises to be an epic nine-round contest.
This will be the 10th year running that the same parkland venue has hosted British GT’s opening round, and to celebrate that decade of continuity the championship has gathered a capacity grid comprising 18 GT3 and 16 GT4 cars representing nine different manufacturers.
68 drivers and 27 teams are scheduled to start Bank Holiday Monday’s two one-hour races, which should go some way towards establishing 2015’s movers and shakers.
That was certainly the case 12 months ago when eventual GT3 champion Marco Attard and runners-up Ahmad Al Harthy/Michael Caine shared the spoils. The same was equally true in GT4 where year-long championship rivals Ross Wylie/Jake Giddings and Andrew Jarman/Devon Modell won a race apiece.
Attard, who would have shared the title with co-driver Alexander Sims were it not for the latter’s clashing factory BMW commitments, believes this year will be even tougher than 2014.
“You look at the quality of last season’s grid and think it can’t be any more difficult than that, but I honestly believe retaining the title this year is going to be a real challenge!” he confirmed. “The level of PRO/AM partnerships and teams is amazing and Avon has also introduced a new tyre. Its characteristics are different to the previous spec and it lasts longer too, which we’re expecting to play into Aston Martin’s hands. And there are a fair few of those!
“We tested at Oulton last week and, although that was my first proper run in the car since last season, everything felt great. It was fantastic to be back in the BMW and we got through everything we needed to, including plenty of mileage with the new tyres. We won there last year and that’s certainly the plan again.
“Obviously I’d love to retain the title, and I think we’ll be at the sharp end. But I really want to do it for Alex who contributed so much last season. The fact he missed a round and still finished third says it all really, and we’re both incredibly motivated, along with Ecurie Ecosse and Barwell Motorsport, to get the job done.”
While their partnership remains unchanged, Al Harthy will have a new Oman Racing Team co-driver in the form of Daniel Lloyd.
Elsewhere, 2013 champions Beechdean AMR won three times last season before a torrid end to Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam’s campaign derailed their title hopes. Two third places at Oulton 12 months ago suggest their Aston Martin Vantage should be in the reckoning again, along with the always-consistent Jon Minshaw/Phil Keen partnership in the second Barwell Motorsport-prepared BMW Z4 GT3.
Newcomers and former European Le Mans Series champions RAM Racing – entering a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 – bring with them the experience of winning on the international stage, while two all-new McLaren 650Ss entered by VonRyan Racing add further variety.
One of these features McLaren GT Young Driver Programme member Wylie, who steps up to the top class after winning the GT4 title alongside Giddings last season.
His former Beechdean co-driver remains in the GT4 category this term after taking on a fresh challenge with series debutants JWB Motorsport. The team, better known for its VW Racing Cup exploits, have entrusted Giddings with the Aston Martin Vantage GT4 he shares with Kieran Griffin.
“I had my first run out with the team [last] Tuesday at Silverstone, but that was more of a shakedown really – Media Day was the first proper test and it was great,” said the 20-year-old. “We ended the day as the fastest Aston, so that’s good, and we’re not too far off the pace at all. I think we’re in pretty good shape for Oulton Park.
“Obviously it’d be nice to do well at Oulton, we have a test there on the Friday so hopefully we can get Kieran dialled-in and then challenge for a top five hopefully in the races. This is a new challenge for all of us so anything better than that will be a bonus.”
Other noticeable additions include former LMP2 World Endurance Champion Martin Plowman, who subs for James Nash aboard UltraTek Racing’s #53 Lotus Evora GT4, and BTCC front-runner Mat Jackson who teams up with Phil Dryburgh in a third Motorbase Performance Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3.
As well as GT3 and GT4 categories, points will count towards the PRO/AM, Silver Cup and Blancpain Gentleman classifications. The most impressive amateur performance also earns the coveted Blancpain Driver of the Weekend clock.
Meanwhile, the new-for-2015 Sunoco Fastest Race Lap of the Weekend Award will be presented to the quickest driver in both GT3 and GT4. The individual with most fastest laps to their name over the year will then be crowned at the end-of-season awards evening.
Mike Lynch, Avon Tyres Technical Manager – Motorsport, explains the challenges of racing a new product for the first time and what to specifically look out for at Oulton.
“Our new slick tyre is an evolution of Avon’s already successful British GT product. We took the opportunity to increase durability and performance of the tyre for 2015.
“We have completed significant performance and endurance testing and are very pleased with the results. Wear rates and performance durability recorded so far indicate that teams will be able to run up to two-hour stints.
“Oulton Park is the tyre’s British GT racing debut, and the main challenge at Oulton this weekend will be the cool ambient temperatures. The new tyre has been designed to perform across a greater range of ambient and track temperatures, but optimum performance comes in under hot weather running. This weekend how quickly the tyres warm up is a key factor for the teams, and if we have wet conditions, even after it’s stopped raining sections of track under the trees can remain damp, affecting grip levels.”
OULTON PARK SCHEDULE
Saturday 4 April
09:30 – 10:10: Free Practice 1
10:10 – 10:30: Free Practice 1 (Bronze-only drivers)
12:20 – 13:10: Free Practice 2
16:00 – 16:10: Qualifying (GT4 Am)
16:12 – 16:22: Qualifying (GT4 Pro)
16:24 – 16:34: Qualifying (GT3 Am)
16:36 – 16:46: Qualifying (GT3 Pro)
Monday 6 April
09:00 – 09:10: Warm-up
12:00 – 13:00: Race 1
16:00 – 17:00: Race 2