12 September 2017

#DoningtionDecider: Tregurtha and Middleton - ‘We won’t change our approach’

#DoningtionDecider: Tregurtha and Middleton - ‘We won’t change our approach’

25 points ahead with a maximum 37.5 remaining, their rivals having to finish first or second to retain any chance of stealing the crown, and a run of form that’s featured six podiums from seven finishes. No wonder GT4 championship leaders and British GT rookies Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton are feeling relaxed ahead of next weekend’s season finale at Donington Park.


History is also on the pair’s side: every crew leading the GT4 standings heading into the final round has successfully completed the job, while no driver has ever overturned such a significant deficit at the last race to win any British GT title in its 25-year history.


Their only remaining rivals, Lanan Racing’s Alex Reed and David Pittard - also armed with a Ginetta G55 - understand the odds are stacked against them: even a top-two finish won’t be enough if HHC Motorsport’s 17-year-olds finish fifth or ninth, respectively. From the seven races they’ve completed this year Tregurtha and Middleton have a ‘worst’ result of fourth, while on three occasions they’ve overturned pitstop success penalties to claim podiums. They’ll incur another 10-second handicap at Donington.


But motorsport is seldom predictable, its statistics merely history that begs to be ripped up and re-written. Just ask Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen whose retirement at the same venue 12 months ago helped Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam overturn their 11.5-point deficit to win an unlikely GT3 crown. 


Two DNFs this year - one mechanical, the other driver-related - also proves HHC are fallible, despite the efforts of their young crew often suggesting otherwise. Middleton is certainly aware of the potential pitfalls but argues an overly cautious approach can also breed its own problems. 


“Obviously it’s a very handy championship advantage but we won’t change our approach too much: it’s served us well so far,” he says. “We’re planning to attack the meeting as if it were any other and really enjoy the experience rather than becoming too negative and looking for issues that might not exist. Ultimately, we’re keen to show we’ve been the best driver pairing this year and a great result at the final round, rather than crawling over the line, will do that.


“Having said that, we’re not about to take any crazy risks. If there’s a 50/50 opportunity to pass someone or a risky gap you’d usually go for then we’ll probably think twice. We’re both young but showing that level of maturity is also a sign of worthy champions.”


Tregurtha is less circumspect and actually relishes the challenge of becoming British GT’s youngest ever championship-winning crew at a combined age of just 35 years and 160 days.


“Everyone is saying to me ‘if’ I become British GT champion, but that’s the wrong mindset: I firmly believe that we will win it, even if there’s still plenty of work to do before we’ve earned it,” he says. 


“We’ve had plenty of pitstop success penalties to deal with this year, and Donington will be no different, but I’ve really enjoyed dealing with the traffic after the stops, finding a way past other cars and managing tyres over a stint depending on the BoP. The level of strategy involved was new to me and Stuart this year but it’s forced us to raise our game, while HHC have been very clever with the timing of our pitstops and also been on the ball every single weekend.”


It’s not often those on the cusp of a title contemplate anything other than beating their championship rivals. However, Tregurtha and Middleton are also fighting each other for this year’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge crown and, with it, the chance to race a sports-prototype at January’s Daytona 24 Hours.


Middleton currently leads Tregurtha by just 2.45 points at the top of the standings, which also comprise drivers racing in a variety of Sunoco-supplied British and European series. But while the latter now has one final chance to draw level by scoring extra points for setting GT4’s individual fastest race or qualifying lap, he’s not looking too far beyond his primary objective. 


“Winning the Sunoco Challenge would be the cherry on top of this season’s cake, but at the start of the year Stuart and I set out to win the British GT4 title and that very much remains my priority,” Tregurtha says matter-of-factly. “I won’t do anything that jeopardises our chances, but obviously I’d be delighted to pick up fastest lap in the process of winning the championship. Donington’s a power circuit and won’t suit the Ginetta as well as some of the other GT4s in qualifying, but over a race distance who knows? I’ve no idea how Sunoco will separate us we end up tying on points!”


Middleton agrees, but also concedes that his co-driver’s chances could rest on qualifying.


“The championship is most important, we’ve spoken about it and the team has also emphasised what we’re trying to achieve first and foremost,” he adds. “Neither of us will do anything silly in that regard, but obviously we’ll be doing our best to win the title. I think a lot depends on who takes the second stint, which the fastest driver in qualifying always starts. That comes with the advantage of having fresh tyres and slightly less fuel onboard, which obviously makes you go faster.”


One final quirk of this year’s title battle involves Tregurtha and championship rival Pittard’s history before British GT. The latter is also a professional driver coach and actually taught Tregurtha, then aged just 14, the racing lines around Bedford Autodrome in preparation for his 2014 Ginetta Junior Scholarship.


“Yeah, it’s a bit weird how things work out!” added Tregurtha. “I don’t think either of us thought we’d one day be battling each other for a British GT title, and especially David who’s eight years my senior! We spent something like 45 minutes in a Peugeot 308 learning the lines around Bedford. He must have been a decent coach because I ended up finishing third in the Scholarship!”

The final round of this season’s British GT Championship takes place at Donington Park on September 23/24. Click here to reserve your tickets - advanced prices start at just £12 while kids 13-and-under go free!