Cheshire’s luscious green countryside plays host to rounds three and four of the 2016 British GT Championship this bank holiday weekend (May 28 and 30) when teams and drivers attempt to tame the notoriously tricky Oulton Park International circuit.
It will be the first time in 11 years that Oulton hasn’t hosted British GT’s opening skirmish of the season. But, in keeping with tradition, organisers have ensured that both one-hour contests take place on a Monday.
Staging two 60-minute races as opposed to the usual single two-hour format brings with it a new challenge for teams and drivers, whose Am and Pro qualifying times decide the respective race one and two grids. The shorter hour-long races also give drivers fewer opportunities to establish an advantage or get away with mistakes, while those entries carrying pit-stop success penalties from Rockingham have a second chance to shine in race two.
GT3: TF SPORT’S JOHNSTON AND ADAM CHASING HISTORY
Undoubtedly the biggest talking point ahead of Oulton Park is who can halt TF Sport’s championship leaders Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam. The pair have enjoyed an almost faultless start to the season thanks to a pole position and both race wins despite serving a 20-second pit-stop success penalty at Rockingham last time out.
History could therefore be made this weekend when they attempt to become the first pairing to win three successive outright British GT races since David Ashburn and Glynn Geddie in 2010. Equally, no crew has won the first three rounds of a season since Tim Mullen and Chris Niarchos managed the feat in 2006. That was also the year the same duo won four on the spin, a record Johnston – who was victorious at Donington’s 2015 finale – can equal at Oulton.
Adam is also chasing a significant individual record: the Scot is one victory short of equalling the British GT3 race wins record jointly held by Hector Lester and David Ashburn, who both have 11.
Those benchmarks were set in an era without pit-stop success penalties. That Johnston and Adam overcame theirs at Rockingham owed much to both driver’s performances, but also problems for others that prevented a sustained challenge emerging.
That is unlikely to be the case this weekend, though, thanks to two 60-minute races replacing the championship’s usual two-hour contents, as well as Johnston and Adam being subject to a 10-second success penalty during their race one pit-stop.
So where will their biggest challenge come from? Barwell Motorsport seems like a good place to start given Liam Griffin’s – who lies second in the standings – and Adam Carroll’s pace at Rockingham. Their Lamborghini had been a podium contender throughout before a late-race drive-through dropped the #6 Huracan to fourth. However, that means the pair compete without a success penalty in Oulton’s opening race at a circuit where Griffin won and Carroll finished second last season.
Luck finally allowed Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen to show what they are made of in the second Barwell Lamborghini, which profited from Carroll’s drive-through to finish as runner-up at Rockingham. Seven seconds longer in the pits makes a repeat performance unlikely in race one, but if Keen’s recent qualifying performances are anything to go by – fastest of the Pros at Rockingham and third at Brands Hatch – you can expect the #33 Huracan to be a victory contender in the second race.
Beechdean AMR’s consistent approach has paid off so far in 2016 to the point that reigning champion Andrew Howard and GT4 title winner Ross Gunn find themselves third in the standings. A five-second success penalty for finishing on the Rockingham rostrum means that theme should continue at Oulton where Howard and former co-driver Jonny Adam won the second race last season.
Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris will tell you their Bentley is unlikely to suit Oulton’s twists and turns, but that’s also what they said prior to Brands Hatch where the Team Parker Racing-run Continental GT3 subsequently scored a commanding pole position and second place in the race. A scrappy outing at Rockingham means they start Oulton’s opener without a pit-stop handicap, making them likely podium contenders once more.
Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s McLaren 650S GT3 has flattered to deceive so far in 2016 but did demonstrate top-three pace at Rockingham where Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell lined-up second before electrical woes stymied a potential podium. McCaig was victorious the last time he raced for the legendary Scottish squad at Oulton back in 2012.
After a difficult opening weekend at Brands Hatch Motorbase Performance bounced back to finish fifth at Rockingham thanks to Ross Wylie and Phil Dryburgh. The latter knows Oulton well having finished fourth there with the same team last season, while the sister Aston Martin of Griffin and Rory Butcher came home victorious in race one.
Elsewhere, Tolman Motorsport will be hoping to recover a tough outing for both of its Ginettas at Rockingham. Recent history certainly makes for good reading: Mike Simpson, who shares the #32 G55 GT3 with Ian Stinton, finished second at Oulton to record the car’s best ever British GT result last season, while Luke Davenport in the sister machine sealed GT4 class pole and fastest race lap of the weekend on debut in 2015.
GT4: OPTIMUM AND CENTURY SET FOR HEAVYWEIGHT CLASH
Another stellar GT4 entry lines up at Oulton, although the combination of pit-stop success penalties and previous form suggests the opening race could be fought between two Ginetta teams: PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport and Century Motorsport.
It’s actually Beechdean AMR’s Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert who lead the standings at this early stage, but that has as much to do with persistence as outright speed. The Aston Martin pair scored their first GT4 victory at Rockingham despite suffering from a brake issue thanks to the travails of others in a race that featured multiple lead changes.
Indeed, the teenagers finished second on the road before Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke’s post-race exclusion for overtaking under yellow flags handed them victory, meaning the Silver Cup crew must now serve a 10-second success penalty that virtually guarantees a different winner in Oulton’s first race.
Ironically, it’s for their exclusion that Walewska and Freke now head to Oulton as marginal favourites. The pair finished second at Brands having qualified on pole before charging through from last to first at Rockingham, only to see their hard work undone in the stewards office post-race. Freke also set fastest lap last time out, so with no success penalty to serve you can expect the Century G55 to be at the very sharp end once again.
It’s a similar story for PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport’s Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson who looked capable of back-to-back British GT4 victories at Rockingham before the latter’s accident. The pair won on their championship debut at Oulton last season and, just like their fellow Ginetta runners Walewska and Freke, enter race one without a success penalty. Game on!
Rockingham’s fast banking played to the strengths of Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s all-new McLaren 570S, which led the second stint thanks to Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell. An electrical gremlin ultimately put paid to their podium chances but expect the Scottish youngsters to be back amongst the front-runners this weekend.
Lanan Racing’s decision to permanently switch to Ginetta machinery has paid off for Alex Reed and Joey Foster so far in 2016. The duo are third in the standings after a sensible run to fourth on the road at Rockingham before their post-race podium promotion. Century’s second crew comprising Sean Byrne and Aleksander Schjerpen find themselves in a similar position after starting and finishing second at Rockingham. As a result both crews must serve five and seven-second success penalties in Oulton’s opening race.
William Phillips and Jordan Stilp are another crew to look out for this weekend after they suffered a difficult outing at Rockingham. Meanwhile, the sister RCIB Insurance Racing Ginetta features a new name above its door after reigning VW Racing Cup champion Aaron Mason was signed to partner Rob Barrable.
The Ebor GT-prepared Maserati MC GranTurismo was another to show well at Rockingham where Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton would surely have finished on the podium were it not for a pit-stop infringement and subsequent penalty. It was a similar story at Generation AMR SuperRacing, which led the second stint courtesy of Jamie Chadwick. The reigning GT4 champion had been subbing for James Holder, who makes his British GT debut at Oulton alongside Matthew George.
BRITISH GT LAP RECORDS: OULTON PARK INTERNATIONAL
GT3 1m35.549s Adam Carroll FF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia 2015
GT4 1m43.674s Luke Davenport Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 2015
BRITISH GT TIMETABLE: OULTON PARK
Saturday 28 May
09:30 – 10:30: Free Practice 1
12:35 – 13:25: Free Practice 2
15:50 – 16:00: GT3 Am Qualifying
16:04 – 16:14: GT3 Pro Qualifying
16:18 – 16:28: GT4 Am Qualifying
16:33 – 16:43: GT4 Pro Qualifying
Monday 30 May
08:55 – 09:05: Warm up
11:15 – 12:15: Race 1
15:30 – 16:30: Race 2
OULTON PARK ENTRY LIST
PIRELLI TYRE INFORMATION
Jonathan Wells, Pirelli British GT race engineer: “Oulton Park is another typical parkland circuit, with a fast flowing nature that is quite challenging on tyres. There are several high inputs of lateral force as well as heavy braking and traction points. Due to the different race format, some of the teams may opt for a more aggressive strategy in terms of setup, potentially increasing tyre degradation and wear. However, based on the opening races of 2016 we are more than confident that our tyres will offer fantastic performance throughout the weekend whatever the circumstances.”