It was hoped that moving the venue of the first round of the British GT championship from Oulton Park to Brands Hatch would result in fewer crashes, but only an hour of the race was completed under green due to a 40-minute Full Course Yellow period and then a red flag with 22 minutes remaining after Luke Davenport’s Ginetta caught fire. In the end, Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston prevailed in GT3, while Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson took the GT4 honours. Here’s what we learned.
1. TF Sport are British GT’s form team…
After scoring two poles from the final three races and a maiden victory in the last round at Donington, TF Sport continued their momentum into 2016 with victory in the opening round. Last year’s champion Adam and new co-driver Johnston had been quick throughout winter testing and were firm contenders for a podium throughout, but were ably assisted by the decision from the pitwall to leave Johnston out for a few extra laps under the Full Course Yellow.
This turned out to be much lengthier than first thought, a heavy accident for Phil Dryburgh’s Motorbase Aston Martin that also involved GT4 runners Nick Jones and Matty Graham causing damage to the barriers at Pilgrims Drop.
Rather than follow the rest by coming in straight away, Johnston was ordered to stay out and wait for the pitlane to become less congested, a ploy which worked a treat as Adam inherited the lead.
“I’m very happy obviously, we said before the race if we had two cars in the top five then we’d be very happy, but a win and sixth is good enough for us,” said team boss Tom Ferrier. “I didn’t think we were going to come out so far ahead, but everyone was boxed up behind the McLaren GT4 which was doing 65kph and we were doing 80kph, so that worked rather well!”
Adam and Johnston may find it more difficult to add another 25 point maximum score next time out at Rockingham due to a 20-second pitlane success penalty, but on current form, it wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility.
2. But Team Parker are in it to win it
Bentley made a hugely competitive return to the championship as Rick Parfitt Jr. and Seb Morris topped their respective qualifying sessions to snatch pole. Both drivers expressed surprise at their turn of speed, each having expected to struggle at Brands, but there was nothing surprising in the way Parfitt methodically went about his stint, acing the start before pulling out a 14 second gap on Liam Griffin’s Barwell Lamborghini.
However Parfitt was left fuming after his gap vanished under the FCY and he was subsequently delayed in the pits by the Ebor Maserati, but it only seemed to inspire series newcomer Morris, who served notice of his credentials as a GT driver by charging back from sixth to third before the red flag (although it would later become second when Joe Osborne was penalised for passing Fabio Babini under yellow flags).
“On the positive side the car was great and we didn’t think we would be as quick as we were – to stick it on pole is wonderful and control the race is amazing,” said Parfitt. “Seb is a revelation, he’s cool, he’s fast – from that point, we’ve signalled our intent. There’s a fantastic vibe within the team, the car feels awesome and I’m just looking forward to the rest of the season now. It’s nice to be on a podium, I haven’t seen one of these since 2014!”
3. Babini getting up to speed with British circuits
Barwell enjoyed a mixed weekend in their first British GT outing as a Lamborghini factory-supported team and were left with only one bullet in the gun after Jon Minshaw was knocked out of second place by a blundering GT4 at Clearways.
That meant the team’s hopes were pinned on Griffin and Lamborghini factory driver Babini, who had initially struggled to get on the pace on his first visit to Brands in the mixed conditions of Friday and Saturday and erred on the side of caution as others – namely the Optimum Audi – explored the gravel traps. The Italian was another to be unimpressed by some of the driving under the FCY during the race, but used all of his experience to fend off a charging Ross Gunn until the red flags to secure what would later become third place. Both he and the team will be hoping for a more conventional weekend at Rockingham….
“The level of driver in the UK is fantastic, very fast,” he said. “I’m happy with the result but not happy with the race, because I came out and had the GT4 in front going at 70kph, so I lost more than 20 seconds because all the cars running 80 could catch me, but that’s motorsport and it’s a good start for Barwell and Lamborghini.”
4. Gunn provides instant return
Ahead of Ross Gunn’s first outing in GT3, Beechdean AMR owner-driver Andrew Howard had been keen to play down the prospects of his young charge, but Gunn himself clearly hadn’t been listening. Knowing that with Howard competing in the ELMS at Silverstone, their car wouldn’t be able to register a qualifying time, reigning GT4 champion Gunn focused on setting the car up for the race. But with John Gaw watching on, a closer look at his times from practice and qualifying – second only to Morris – suggested that the Aston Martin had serious one lap pace too.
Starting from the back of the GT3 grid, Howard made good progress in the opening stint into the lower reaches of the top ten, but the car came alive after the stops and it was only a particularly robust defence from Babini that prevented Gunn from securing a maiden podium.
“To be honest I think our package was about a second per lap quicker than his, but we just couldn’t find a way past,” said Gunn. “It’s not the easiest circuit to overtake on but it’s a really good result from where we started – we set a target of top eight and we’ve surpassed that quite easily, so I’m happy. At the same time I feel a bit disappointed that the race has finished early, only because there’s still some energy in me and I want to go and do more – the car was absolutely mega, but it’s a shame we couldn’t show that.
5. FCY regulations need to be clarified
As alluded to above, much of the race hinged on who you were stuck behind under the FCY. Several drivers afterwards voiced their concerns with the system to Racing.GT, with Parfitt especially vociferous in his criticism.
“The Code 80 is meant to make the field static and when it came out we had a 14 second lead, but I only had a one second lead when we pitted. For me, it fundamentally doesn’t work,” he said.
Many others would agree with him; the series has a huge influx of new drivers in 2016, several of whom were guilty of backing off too much and holding up cars behind who were unable to overtake, while others who slowed upon hearing the radio message were passed by cars still going at flat chat until the yellows came out.
As with any new system, teething troubles are almost inevitable, but the series could do with clarifying the regulations ahead of the next round at Rockingham to avoid any more controversy.