Optimum Motorsport pair Ryan Ratcliffe and Will Moore’s decision to withdraw from the British GT championship meeting at Snetterton meant that there were no Silver Cup pairings in GT3 for the first time since the class was introduced. Should we be overly worried by its demise?
There were mixed feelings when the British GT championship moved to introduce a designated class for Silver drivers ahead of the 2015 season. In a series whose good health depends on the continued support of gentleman drivers – parting with a season’s budget that runs into the hundreds of thousands on the understanding that they stand a reasonable chance of success – the Silver Cup was a curious development, but one which had identified a gap in the market.
“For the young drivers who are coming up through the single-seater ladder and jumping straight into GTs in their mid-to-late teens, it’s probably best to spend a year with a driver of a similar ability rather than jump in with an Am,” explains Ross Gunn, who won the GT4 title alongside Jamie Chadwick as a Silver Cup entrant in 2015. “That’s a completely different kettle of fish and it’s very tough to do.”
It was precisely this logic that saw Ratcliffe team up with fellow Silver and GT4 graduate Will Moore in an Optimum Motorsport Audi R8 LMS GT3. After an eye-opening season in the cut-and-thrust of the Blancpain Endurance Cup, Ratcliffe decided that following the conventional Pro-Am path would put too much pressure on his shoulders and that sharing with another Silver-graded driver would free his attentions to focus on improving his own driving.
However, the domestic success of the Silver Cup in GT4 – four different Silver-Silver crews have taken victories this year – has not translated to the considerably more expensive GT3 class, with Optimum finding themselves in a class of one when the season kicked off at Brands Hatch. Running with additional weight, results against the Pro-Am pairings were hard to come by and after the bitter pill of losing a podium at Silverstone on the final lap, retirement at Spa proved the final straw.
Optimum’s withdrawal meant there were no Silver Cup teams at Snetterton and raises important questions about the future of a class which only had two full season teams in 2015. As championship manager Benjamin Franassovici knows well, it’s a near-impossible task to keep everybody happy, but is there a compromise measure?
Ratcliffe believes that the massive spread of drivers given the same Silver driver grading means Silver Cup pairings are dealt a raw deal and under current rules, has no plans to return to the championship. However, the Welshman maintains that a separate Pro-Am1 class – as seen in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB – for inexperienced Silver and Bronze drivers, may provide a viable solution.
“There’s nowhere for drivers like myself to go in British GT,” he told Racing.GT. “The team hasn’t done anything wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the Audi, but for me to compete against some of the Silvers that are in British GT is quite demoralising for myself. The driver grading system is completely unfair – there’s no way that you can compare myself against someone like Phil Keen or Joe Osborne, because they’ve got so much more experience.
“Of course it’s nice for me to be competing against the calibre of drivers in British GT, but if there was a Pro-Am1 class, I could say ‘I qualified 13th overall, but I was first in Pro-Am1.’ I know of four or five gents that don’t want to do British GT because it’s too high a level for them; they want to go and do GT Cup or Britcar for a couple of years to get the experience before going to British GT.
“But if they had a Pro-Am1 championship or something of a lower tier, then they can still be competing and going out to win trophies. When you’re learning, you’ve got to be in an environment where you’re feeling good, because that’s what helps you progress.”
GT Asia has come up with its own solution by creating a two-tiered system for Silver pairings, with time penalties for ‘amateur’ Silver entries and added weight in addition to a time penalty for those deemed to be professional Silvers (so-called Silver+). Adopting a similar system in Britain could prove a step in the right direction, but as Gunn points out, the way in which cars respond to the increased loads on braking and acceleration – and the increased tyre degradation that results – is just as important.
“A lot of it comes down to the performance level of the cars and the weight the Silver Cup pairings have to carry,” he added. “First of all a GT3 car is much more sensitive than a GT4 to weight and then because of the weight that they’ve got in the car, it can be very frustrating for Silver drivers because they’re slower than people they’ll assume they’re quicker than, which is when mistakes creep in.”
Nevertheless, Gunn argues that the Silver Cup does have a future in the domestic framework, particularly as an arena for drivers looking to bridge the gap from GT4.
“I think going forward Silver Cup has to be there, especially in GT4, because there’s so many young drivers looking to get into British GT and many of them will come out of single-seaters as a Silver, full stop,” he said. “Going forward I predict there will be some Silver Cup pairings, but they have to be the right pairings and be in the right car. This year has been tough and I’ve seen that it’s been a struggle, but I still believe that going forward, the Silver Cup will be a good thing to look into for many teams and drivers.”
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