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March 29, 2020

Five things we learned from Donington British GT

Five things we learned from Donington British GT
Photo Credit To Gary Parravani/www.Xynamic.com

After several near-misses, Rob Bell and Alasdair McCaig’s Ecurie Ecosse McLaren took a first British GT win of the year in the season finale at Donington, but the biggest celebrations were reserved for TF Sport as they wrapped up both the teams and driver’s titles with Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam. Here’s what we learned from another exciting decider.

1. Second is enough for TF Sport

In the end, this was a second place that felt just as good as a win. For newly-crowned British GT champion Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam – the first man ever to successfully defend the title – Donington had long been earmarked as the circuit where they could recover their winning form, having not stood on the top step of the podium since round two at Rockingham. They showed their confidence was not misplaced in qualifying and took pole with four tenths in hand over Rob Bell and Alasdair McCaig, before Johnston took the lead at the start.

However a Safety Car to recover Mark Farmer’s stranded TF Sport Aston Martin – the victim of first lap contact with Liam Griffin’s Lamborghini – meant Johnston would have it all to do again at the restart, McCaig initially putting him under pressure before the Aston pulled away in traffic.

Although Johnston had pulled out enough of a gap to cover the 15-second success penalty carried over from race two at Snetterton, a quick outlap from Bell gave the McLaren a lead he would never lose, with Adam demoted to second. The Scot wasn’t overly worried however – with championship rivals Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen out of the race, second was more than enough to take the title.

12 months on from his first series win alongside Matt Bell, Johnston could scarcely believe his upturn in fortunes.

“It’s magical isn’t it?” he said. “I messed around in the early years of British GT but the trick was to stay consistent with the same car, same team, because when you change every year, you just take two steps back again – and it’s worked hasn’t it?

“We came here knowing what we had to do and we did it. We were lucky with Jon obviously, it might have been a bit closer, but it doesn’t matter – we won!”

TF boss Tom Ferrier was delighted to wrap up the drivers and teams championship double, but knows the hard work isn’t over yet, with another four rounds remaining in the GT3 Le Mans Cup and International GT Open.

“It was a bit of a long-shot coming into it, so it’s still a bit surreal at the moment,” he said afterwards. “We always thought we would have the pace to do well here, we just needed everything to fall into place which it did, which is wonderful.

“If I’m in the position again might enjoy it a bit more next time, it’s nice to get one under our belt. It’s back to work again Monday morning, but we might have a couple of pints tomorrow!”

2. Minshaw and Keen fall at the final hurdle

Having had one retirement all season when Minshaw was taken out by a wandering GT4 car at Brands Hatch, this was the worst possible time to have their second.

With an 11.5 point buffer over the TF Sport Aston Martin coming into the weekend after a double win at Snetterton, Minshaw and Keen knew that second would be enough to take the title even if Johnston and Adam could clear off into the distance and win. But with an extra five seconds pitstop penalty to serve, Minshaw was understandably eager not to let Johnston out of his sights and get past McCaig, however traffic was once again set to play a role.

Minshaw got a run on the McLaren through the Craner Curves, but was surprised by how much McCaig had to check up passing Paul Hollywood’s GT4 Aston Martin into the Old Hairpin. He dipped a wheel onto the grass and spun, spearing across the gravel and into the barriers. Game over.

Marco Attard won the 2014 title with Barwell despite not finishing the final race, but this time it was not to be – all Johnston and Adam had to do was keep their heads and finish, which they duly did. But despite the bitterly disappointing end to their season, team boss Mark Lemmer retained a sense of perspective.

“Traffic management is all part of the championship, it was just an unfortunate part of the circuit to have that sort of incident,” he said. “If there’s anywhere you can’t afford to put two wheels on the grass it’s there, so that was it. But he’s done a brilliant job all year and so has Keeny.

“It’s been a vintage year of Aston versus McLaren versus Lambo versus Bentley, the racing has been superb and we’ve really enjoyed it. In year one with Lamborghini we were hoping to finish in the top three of the championship and we’ve done that, we’ve won races, we’ve exceeded our expectations and we’ll come back and win it next year.”

3. Ecurie Ecosse end the year in style

Almost unnoticed amid the title drama was a double victory in GT3 and GT4 for the Ecurie Ecosse McLarens. It was the 650S GT3’s first win of the year and only its second ever in British GT after guest pairing Adrian Quaife-Hobbs and Gilles Vannelet won at Silverstone last year, while Ciaran Haggerty – driving through the pain barrier after slicing the tendons in his thumb in a work accident – and 16-year-old Sandy Mitchell took a second win from three races in GT4.

“I suppose it has [been a long time coming], we just put it all together and the car worked well all weekend,” said Bell. “I’m not sure we were the quickest but we did our thing and I got a really good outlap on new tyres which made the difference.

“It’s a nice way to end the season. We’ve always had the potential, it’s just been a really frustrating season in British GT for that reason – we’ve been there or there abouts in most places, but we never pieced it together for one reason or another and we have today, so that’s fantastic.”

Like Lemmer, McLaren GT sporting manager Bas Leinders threw his weight behind the championship and hopes to return next year to bag the main prize.

“It is of course the best weekend we’ve had in the British GT championship this year – we had some bad luck during the year and some minor incidents on track as well, so it’s good after the first win of the GT4 at Snetterton to win for a second time here and of course also with the 650S GT3,” he said. “If you have a two-car team and both cars win, it cannot get better.

“We have shown that both cars, GT4 and GT3, are race-winners and of course we would like to come back next year in British GT to try and win the championship.”

4. Howard bids farewell

Just outside the podium places in fourth, Andrew Howard did at least get to stand on the podium to collect his Gentleman Driver of the Day prize. Now with a Le Mans 24 Hours start under his belt and firmly in the hunt for the European Le Mans Series title, Howard’s priorities lay further afield these days and if, as is likely, this was the 2013 and 2015 British GT champion’s last appearance in the series, it was one that summed up a frustrating title defence.

Having been forced to skip Snetterton while damage from his opening lap shunt at Spa was repaired, Howard was a man in a hurry in qualifying, lapping just a tenth adrift of Johnston in the Am session – comfortably his best showing of the year – before alternator problems prevented championship returnee Rory Butcher from completing a lap.

Dumped back to 11th on the grid as a result, Howard quickly cleared Richard Neary’s Rollcentre BMW Z4, but was held up behind the squabbling Ginetta of Ian Stinton and Phil Dryburgh’s Motorbase Aston Martin, which allowed the leading quartet of Johnston, McCaig, Minshaw and Rick Parfitt’s Bentley to break clear.

Howard would eventually work his way into fourth following Minshaw’s off, but the time lost early on was too great for Butcher to snatch third from Seb Morris.

“There was no pressure on us today, it was good fun, but starting at the back of the grid was not the easiest thing to do,” said Howard. “With the melee at the first corner you’re just picking your way through cars and after that it’s just get your head down, but it was frustrating because you know you’re quicker but they’re racing as well, so you have to respect that.”

Pressed on his future in the championship, Howard continued: “Beechdean will be back whatever happens. We’ll come back and run hopefully in GT3 and GT4 next year as a team, but for me it’s going to be ELMS and we’ll do everything we can in the next two months to get an automatic Le Mans entry.”

Much of that will hinge on whether Beechdean can overhaul Butcher’s JMW Motorsport team, and Howard admitted to coming away with renewed appreciation for the task facing him.

“He’s a consummate professional and if anything it makes our job more daunting knowing that he is a proper operator,” he added.

For the first time since 2013, Beechdean didn’t leave Donington Park as GT4 champions after Jack Bartholomew had to give best to Optimum Motorsport’s Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson. Joined once again by Ross Gunn, Bartholomew made a poor getaway from pole and was swamped by the pack, dropping to seventh. After Gunn took over, the defending champion made good progress, but was prevented from catching Robinson by a worsening brake problem.

5. Osborne and Mowle set for pastures new

Conspicuous by their absence after coming so close to a maiden win at Snetterton were Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne in their AMD Tuning BMW. Having been demoted to fifth by a post-race thirty second penalty for making contact with Phil Keen, which dropped them out of mathematical title contention, Mowle was left aghast after watching similar incidents go unpunished in the TV coverage and now looks set for a return to Europe next year.

“That was the final nail in the coffin,” said Osborne, who has long questioned the consistency of penalties in the championship. “It’s difficult when you say something over and over again, and it still happens.

“Lee’s head dropped probably to a similar level that mine was at about doing Donington and then there was an opportunity to move the Z4 along as well if we didn’t do the race, which probably just swung the bias in favour of not doing it.

“He is looking at a few options for next year, but we’re still in the early stages of discussions of what we think we should do. It’s probably going to be German and it’s probably going to have a three-pointed star on the front of it by the looks of things and it’s going to be racing in a European series of some sort. I haven’t been fired just yet!”

About The Author

James Newbold

James Newbold is Racing.GT's Editor. He graduated from a politics degree at the University of East Anglia in 2015, which should help him navigate through the political minefield that is GT racing. He likes Marmite on toast and Oreo cookies. Speaks Spanish, but only when no one is looking.