A month on from its mouth-watering season opener at Oulton Park, the Avon Tyres British GT Championship fires up for round three at Rockingham this weekend (May 2/3) where a clearer picture of the 2015 title battle should emerge.
An entry list comprising 33 cars – 16 GT3 and 17 GT4s – as well as one new team, will make the trip to Corby in Northamptonshire for the first two-hour endurance event of the campaign.
Best known for being Europe’s fastest circuit, Rockingham’s banking will see British GT’s quickest cars topping 120+mph, the highest seen all season. Teams will also have to factor in the added dimension of mid-distance refuelling following the two hour-long sprint races at Oulton.
And if the 50% more points on offer at the end of Sunday’s encounter isn’t incentive enough then the prospect of being at the sharp end during Motors TV’s first live televised round of the season certainly will be.
But what of the contenders? Here’s how the form guide looks heading to Rockingham.
GT3: ASTONS AS YOU ARE?
Oman Racing Team’s Liam Griffin and Rory Butcher, and Beechdean AMR’s Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam, helped Aston Martin claim both GT3 class victories from pole position at Oulton, but there’s every chance the V12 Vantage contingent won’t have things all their own way.
Smart money suggests Gary Eastwood and Adam Carroll are the ones to watch after the pair were only stripped of their Oulton round one win post-race. Consider that the FF Corse Ferrari also cleaned up at Rockingham 12 months ago, as well as Carroll securing the Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Weekend Award last time out, and it’s hard to look beyond the F458 Italia pairing.
Triple Eight Racing’s strong start to the year sees Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne occupy third in the standings despite their BMW Z4 GT3 often described as ill-suited to the Oulton Park layout. And if last year is anything to go by then both them and Barwell Motorsport’s two Bavarian entries should go well around the banking. Indeed, Ecurie Ecosse’s Marco Attard and Alexander Sims finished second after starting from pole in 2014, while Mowle/Osborne also shared the podium.
Ginetta’s GT3 scored its maiden championship rostrum over Easter, and Steve Tandy and Mike Simpson will be hopeful of maintaining their early momentum while a number of new teams continue finding their feet. Von Ryan Racing’s McLaren 650S certainly demonstrated flashes of its potential, especially in the hands of Andrew Watson, but a more consistent weekend for both its entries wouldn’t go amiss.
But in terms of championship standings there’s no doubt about who’s currently in charge, with Griffin and Butcher 11 points clear of a chasing pack comprising five crews covered by just three points.
And although Griffin revealed he’s not expecting Rockingham to ideally suit the Aston, he and Butcher have no intention of merely settling for a solid weekend.
“Rory and I are really looking forward to Rockingham. We had a strong start to the season at Oulton Park and have every intention of carrying that momentum and success into the next race,” he said. “It feels great to be leading the championship but this is a long season and this year is so competitive; it’s all about consistency and making sure that we stay out of trouble. That said we love to race so won’t be going too defensive just yet!
“Rockingham isn’t the best circuit on the calendar for the Aston, but we know there’s more pace in the car and I feel confident of challenging at the sharp end again. Qualifying will be key for us, so hopefully we can get another front row start and build from there.”
GT4: ISSY PEASY FOR LOTUS?
GT4’s bumper 17-car grid promises just as many thrills and spills as its big brother up front, with all four of its manufacturers in the mix and door-to-door racing guaranteed throughout the class.
A glance at the GT4 championship table suggests that Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson dominated proceedings at Oulton Park after a victory and second place helped them establish a 10-point championship lead.
But that advantage could be whittled away at Rockingham if Race 2 winners Oz Yusuf and Gavan Kershaw’s ISSY Racing Lotus Evora GT4 demonstrates anything like the pace it did at Oulton.
At just 16 and 18 respectively, Jamie Chadwick and Ross Gunn have already displayed plenty of youthful exuberance aboard the same Beechdean Aston Martin that carried Ross Wylie and Jake Giddings to last year’s GT4 crown. The pair have certainly been fast but will be looking to make amends for their race two disqualification at Oulton after Chadwick’s altercation with Academy Motorsport’s similar Vantage cost them another second place.
Hoping to gatecrash the Rockingham party is a raft of new faces, starting with the RLR Motorsport-run, University of Bolton-entered Ginetta G55 of Anna Walewska and Rob Garofall. Notably, their entry provides student engineers with a hands-on motorsport experience.
“I’ll be making my British GT debut with a new team and in a car I’ve not tested much, but we’re aware of the learning curve and how competitive GT4 is,” admitted Westons-backed Walewska. “It’s also another amazing opportunity for the university’s Centre for Advanced Performance Engineering, which allows students to work on the car at RLR’s campus-based workshop. That and attending races is the best way to learn about all the processes that go in to running a team.”
Elsewhere, former World Touring Car Championship ace James Nash returns to the UltraTek Racing hotseat this weekend after prior commitments saw Martin Plowman partner Richard Taffinder at Oulton.
And the sole Porsche 911 also has a former tin-top exponent behind the wheel after Jake Hill was drafted in to AmDTuning.com’s line-up following the decision by team principal Shaun Hollamby to step back from full-time driving duties.
Mike Lynch, Avon Tyres Technical Manager – Motorsport, runs the rule over Rockingham, where the banked corners prove challenging for both a tyre’s carcass and compound.
“Rockingham is unique on our calendar as it’s the only track we encounter that has truly banked corners. That, and the nature of the surface challenges the tyres with respect to temperature, wear and load. The new-for-2015 tyre has been optimised to perform more consistently in these very harsh conditions. We can expect race times to be quicker here than previous years.
“We’ve come from the easiest track [Oulton Park] of the season to possibly the most aggressive. The most significant challenge for the teams will be to achieve a setup that prevents excessive drop-off in performance as the tyres degrade under the very harsh conditions.”
ROCKINGHAM SCHEDULE (BST)
Saturday 2 May
09:25 – 10:05: Free Practice 1
10:05 – 10:25: Free Practice 1 (Bronze-only drivers)
12:25 – 13:15: Free Practice 2
15:35 – 15:45: Qualifying (GT3 Am)
15:48 – 15:58: Qualifying (GT3 Pro)
16:00 – 16:10: Qualifying (GT4 Am)
16:14 – 16:24: Qualifying (GT4 Pro)
Sunday 3 May
09:25 – 09:35: Warm-up
13:25 – 15:25: Race (two hours)
Motors TV’s live race broadcast begins at 13:00 BST. Coverage of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge, BRDC Formula 4, Volkswagen Racing Cup UK and Mazda MX5 SuperCup races will also be shown live that afternoon. Timings are subject to change.