This bank holiday weekend, the Avon Tyres British GT Championship will once again spring into action, as Rockingham hosts the first endurance event of the year, with a 120 minute race around it’s two-mile circuit. Round Three of ten will see more than 30 cars line up on the grid, as the hotly contested Championship fight continues unabated.
In the same fixture last year, fans witnessed a thrilling battle to the finish line, as the Trackspeed Porsche of Joe Osborne and Steve Tandy brought the 997 GT3R to the chequered flag a mere 2.7 seconds clear. As the time whittled down, Osborne looked comfortable at the front of the field, with the sister car of Phil Keen and David Ashburn following closely behind, but a late charge by Allan Simonsen prevented a one-two finish for the Trackspeed team. Seizing on a small error by Keen, Rosso Verde’s Simonsen who’d taken over from team-mate Hector Lester for the final hour, didn’t need a second invitation, and slipped past into second position, to take the runners-up spot for the Ferrari at the line. The drama wasn’t to end there, because also making a run on Keen’s potential podium spot was Matt Griffin in the MTech Ferrari, but alas, the Ferrari just didn’t have enough track or time left, and finished a tenth of a second behind.
With such a packed roster for this year’s race, the action looks set to be just as intense, with representations from Aston Martin, Porsche, McLaren, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Ferrari and Ginetta all looking to make their mark.
Heading into Rockingham with 43 points to their names is David Ashburn and Nick Tandy, who claimed a win and podium finish at Oulton Park last easter. Hot on their tails is the sister Trackspeed Porsche of Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw, who took the first British GT victory of 2013, which places them 18 points behind the leaders. Just two-points further back on 23 marks is Oli Bryant and Marco Attard, who secured a fifth and third place finish in their Eccurie Ecosse BMW Z4 in the opening two rounds of the Championship. Although Lester and Simonsen hold 22 points to their names, the Rosso Verde Ferrari 458 looks set to fall down the order, as the pair are unable to make proceedings at Rockingham. This will hand the initiative to Matt Bell and Mark Patterson, who steered their United Autosports Audi R8 to a double points finish at Oulton Park, to place them fifth in the standings on 20.
This weekend there will be several teams and drivers making their first apperances on track in the 2013 British GT season. Fielding a McLaren MP4-12C will be the Von Ryan Racing team, which will be driven by Duncan Tappy and Greg Demoustier. Because Tappy is classed as a gold driver and Demoustier a silver, their McLaren will be carrying an extra 75kg of ballast for the season ahead. Likewise, Tommy Erdos and Shaun Balfe will also be carrying an extra 75kg of weight for this, their first event of the season and every race their Balfe Motorsport Ferrari enters this year, due to their gradings. Richard Abra is another driver who will be making his first appearance in the British GT this weekend. The Barwell Aston Martin had been scheduled to appear at Oulton Park, but an eleventh-hour withdrawal by his co-driver Mark Poole, meant the pair were unable to showcase their black and red Vantage.
Whilst Mark Blundell was set to race at Oulton Park for the opening rounds, a run of bad luck blighted his outing in the United Autosports Mclaren. Firstly, during a pre-season test at Oulton Park, his proposed team-mate Richard Meins had an altercation with the tyre barrier that not only damaged the MP4-12C, but also side-lined Meins from racing for several months with broken ribs. Then, replacement driver Roger Wills had a similar off at Druids corner in the opening lap of Round One qualifying, which caused enough damage to force the car out of action for the entire weekend. Blundell will be hoping to wipe the slate clean with his new team-mate Jody Firth at Rockingham, and post valuable points on the board, despite the 75kg of grading ballast they will carry.
Zak Brown in the second United Autosports McLaren will be joined by Alvaro Parente at Rockingham, who couldn’t attend rounds one and two, due to FIA GT committments. At Oulton Park, the MP4-12C looked strong under the stewardship of replacement driver Glynn Geddie, with the No.23 machine heading for a podium finish in the opening race. However, mechanical failure saw the McLaren retire in the closing stages, which was repaired for the second event, allowing Geddie and Brown to secure one-point.
Whilst Fortec Motorsports will continue to field two Mercedes SLS GT3s, Rockingham will witness a shake up to their driver line up. Benji Hetherington who partnered Ollie Hancock at Oulton Park, will now share driving duties with Jason Minshaw, following his Fortec debut alongside James Walker. In the second Fortec Mercedes will be Oli Webb from their Formula Renault 3.5 squad and Paraguayan Danny Cania.
In GT4, Zoe Wenham and Declan Jones will be looking to extend their 18 point advantage at the top of the class standings in the Century Motorsport Ginetta G50. With 150% points on offer this weekend, Optimum Motorsports Ryan Radcliffe and Rick Parfitt Jnr will be keen to go one better than their brace of second place finishes at Oulton Park to put pressure on the leaders. Following a weekend to forget in the opening rounds, Steve Chaplin and Tom Wilson will be looking to secure their first championship points on the chart in an attempt to reel in the leaders.
The Rockingham action begins this Sunday with a pair of one-hour practice sessions and 30 minutes of qualifying. Then it’s on to the two-hour main event this bank holiday Monday, May 6th at 1pm. Highlights will be available on MotorsTV and Channel 4 from May 12th, and you can read all about it here at Racing.GT as it happens.