It’s coming around to that time of year again. It’s not the clocks going forward, or the first buds of spring that we’re talking about, rather the gradings applied to drivers in the Avon Tyres British GT Championship. It has become an annual event that pre-empts the UK’s leading GT championship, that can throw up it’s fair share of controversy, ecstasy and dejection. And 2013 is no different.
To prevent any set of driver pairings hurtling into the sunset with the British GT title, the SRO grades entries according to age, ability and experience. There are four classifications, A, B, C and D. The ‘A’ class represents professional race drivers such as Tim Harvey, whilst ‘D’ is assigned to amateurs, or as they are often refereed to, ‘gentleman drivers’. For each pairing, only certain combinations are allowed, and even they can be subject to weight penalties, depending on the gradings assigned.
The combinations are as follows:
A+A, A+B, B+B driver pairings are not allowed in the British GT Championship
A+C, B+C, C+C driver pairings are allowed, but they are subject to weight penalties applied to their car for the Championship.
A+C = 85Kg Ballast (GT3) and 60Kg (GT4)
B+C = 75Kg Ballast (GT3) and 50Kg (GT4)
C+C = 65Kg Ballast (GT3) and 40Kg (GT4)
The grading system is in place to promote the British GT’s core values of a true Pro/Am championship, encouraging professional drivers to take an amateur under their wing and develop them into an accomplished racer. It’s also a key element that keeps many teams and the championship afloat, as gentleman drivers will often bring enough finance to the equation to keep a car running for a full season.
Whilst the SRO has yet to announce the driver gradings for the forthcoming 2013 British GT Championship, a recent press release by Nissan as already started tongues wagging on the topic.
Over the past few years, Nissan’s GT Academy competition, that sees players of the Gran Tourismo play-station game fight it out for a chance of a real-life drive, has built a reputation of plucking raw talent from obscurity and producing winners. In 2012 one such winner was Wales-based Jann Mardenborough, who stormed onto the British GT scene in the RJN Nissan GTR, with a title challenging attack on the series. Paired with Alex Buncombe, who has built a reputation in Formula Renault 2.0 and FIA GT series’, Mardenborough proved to be an accomplished racer, with three podium finishes, including a nail-biting win in the two-hour race at Brands Hatch. In fact, the 2011 GT Academy winner headed into the final round of the 2012 British GT Championship with a realistic hope of taking the crown with his team-mate, until suspension failure scuppered their chances.
Following such an impressive debut, British GT followers were looking forward to Buncombe and Mardenborough returning in 2013, with serious optimism of their title hopes, until Nissan released news entitled ‘GT Academy Winners “Too Fast”. It appears, in a brave move by the SRO, the British GT Championship is unlikely to field any more racers who graduated through the GT Academy process in the near future. The crux of the issue would seem to reside in the British GT rulebook, which classes new entrants, with no formal racing championship experience, to the lowest grade. Because the GT Academy system is not only a competition, but also an intensive training program to develop raw talent, so awarding a class D status to a future professional racer, would appear to give the Nissan entrants an unfair advantage.
“I have a lot of admiration for GT Academy,” said British GT Championship Manager Benjamin Franassovici in the Nissan press release. “It has shown itself to be a great way to source raw talent and turn that into real racing talent as we saw in British GT last year with Jann Mardenborough. However Nissan’s ability to find such amazing raw talent means that we cannot accept their full season entry for British GT in 2013.
Their new recruits have very little racing experience so they have to be on the lowest performance grade. Their talent, going on Jann’s speed last year, doesn’t reflect this lack of experience so it is not fair to put them up against our Pro/Gentleman grid, the basis of British GT3. Hats off to Nissan though and I should point out that there are no closed doors here.”
Within hours of the press release landing at in-boxes around the globe, the twitter-sphere was awash with comments and opinion on the SRO’s decision.
Motorsport fan Peter Leung tweeted “Bizarre or obtuse? I can’t decide” in response to Nissan OnTrack’s initial message of “Just when you thought you had heard everything…”. Equally miffed was @Sprintandtrackday who commented on twitter “That’s absolutely pathetic! Shame for the guys that have won! [GT Academy]”. Ryan Field, a keen follower of the GT Academy series, felt it was a good opportunity for a little bit of re-branding. “[You] could use it as a tag line for the 2013 competition! GT Academy, officially too fast for British GT!”
However, the feedback wasn’t entirely negative, with the likes of British GT regular, Joe Osborne, offering: “Sounds like the British GT are putting a lot of effort and commitment to making it a proper pro/am series this season. Hard and fair racing ahead!”.
One man’s twitter account that was smoking from a barrage of messages was British GT press officer, James Warnette, who robustly defended the SRO’s position. “Alas effectively having two ‘pro’ drivers in the car isn’t in the spirit of the series.” Adding, “We have to think about the future of the series, not just a one-off season. It would be detrimental to the long-term health of British GT for us to allow such pairings.”
The SRO’s decision has also received the backing of other British GT entrants who have already thrown their hats into the ring for the 2013 season. “In my opinion, one of the main reasons for GT3 racing being so popular and in particular the British GT Championship, is down to the PRO-AM format – it just works.” Richard Abra, who will be fielding a Barwell Aston Martin this season told Racing.GT. “British GT is a PRO – AM Championship and I fully support their decision to refuse any entry that might be detrimental to the series by having driver pairings that aren’t within the spirit of things. It’s decisions like these which has got the championship where it is today. It may up set a few people but I think for the most it’s welcomed.”
Echoing Abra’s thoughts was Beechdean Racing’s owner/driver Andrew Howard “British GT has a successful structure, the balance is giving the majority a chance to win, not a few selected elite. The current Pro-am pair works well.”
So with the first salvo of championship decision making made, it’s quite clear that the British GT season is just around the corner, and that before the opening round at Oulton Park on April 1st, there’s still going to be plenty to talk about.
Read the full press release here: http://www.racing.gt/2013/02/nissans-gt-academy-winners-are-too-fast/