Another packed entry will grace the British GT Championship grid at Spa-Francorchamps this weekend (July 8/9) when the series makes its annual excursion to Belgium for round six of the 2016 campaign.
Five weeks on from Silverstone, the British GT and GT4 European Series grids again join forces at another legendary grand prix venue. The 4.352-mile, 20-turn Ardennes rollercoaster is certainly a favourite amongst drivers and teams. And, with the season now moving into its second half, a strong result at the historic venue also brings with it an opportunity to play a part in the championship run-in.
GT3: FIVE CREWS IN TITLE CONTENTION AS EUROPEAN HEAVYWEIGHTS JOIN THE PARTY
17 senior entries and eight manufacturers make the trip to Spa, although there are several changes to the number that lined-up for British GT’s blue riband round at Silverstone last month.
Indeed, British GT’s regular front-runners will relish testing their mettle against two European heavyweights: Blancpain GT Series front-runners GRT Grasser Racing Team and reigning Nurburgring 24 Hours winners Black Falcon. GRT’s two Lamborghini Huracan GT3s both feature factory driver talent, as well as 2008 British GT4 runner-up Hunter Abbott who also won at Spa in 2009, while a pair of new-for-2016 Mercedes-AMG GT3s make their series debut with the works-supported Black Falcon squad.
Eager to uphold national pride are the five British GT crews within a victory of the drivers’ championship lead. TF Sport’s Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam continue to head the table, just as they have done since the opening race of the season, despite recording their first non-score of 2016 at Silverstone. And after three races without a podium, Spa - where Adam won 12 months ago - offers an ideal opportunity to stamp their authority on the title race once again.
Standing in their way are Barwell Motorsport’s pair of Lamborghinis, which have won two of the last three British GT rounds. Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen’s victory at Silverstone has seen them move up to second in the standings, 11.5 points behind the leading Aston Martin crew, while team-mate Liam Griffin is another 10 further back in third. And with no pit-stop success penalty to serve it’s the #6 Huracan, co-driven by Alexander Sims, that will likely carry the greatest threat this weekend.
It’s a similar story at Team Parker Racing whose #31 Bentley remains in the drivers’ championship hunt despite recording a DNF last time out. Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris failed to convert their pole position into a meaningful result at Silverstone but, with two of the top-three crews also non-scoring, the Continental GT3 pairing still find themselves within a victory of top-spot.
Half a point further back, and 29 shy of Johnston and Adam, lies the AmDTuning.com BMW Z4 GT3 of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne, whose sublime comeback drive to finish second at Silverstone must go down as one of the standout performances of the season so far. Mowle was also incredibly quick at Spa last season but, with a 15-second success penalty hanging over this most consistent of pairings, anything inside the top-six can be considered a significant achievement.
Elsewhere, Rob Bell will be eager to transfer his red hot Blancpain GT Series form into Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse and McLaren’s first British GT win of the season, while last year’s Spa victors Beechdean AMR and Andrew Howard are also searching for their first visit to the top step since Snetterton last year.
Spa’s microclimate often makes for unpredictable weather, which is exactly what Tolman Motorsport will be hoping for after both of its Ginettas led in Silverstone’s changeable conditions. David Pattison’s business commitments mean only the #32 sister G55 GT3 makes the trip this time.
Optimum Motorsport also recorded its best result of the season last time out. And with Spa proving a happy hunting ground for Audis contesting other series in previous years, perhaps Ryan Ratcliffe and Will Moore can also mix it with the front-runners once again.
Meanwhile, PFL Motorsport’s post-race Silverstone paddock accident has ruled Pete Littler and Jody Fannin’s Aston Martin out of Spa, although the return of Team Parker Racing’s second Bentley - driven by Ian Loggie and Callum Macleod - guarantees a total of 17 GT3s make the trip.
You can follow this Saturday's race live via streaming here and timing here.
BRITISH GT LAP RECORDS: SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS
GT3 2m22.988s / Tom Onslow-Cole / Strata 21 / Aston Martin Vantage GT3 / 2014
GT4 2m35.497s / Gavan Kershaw / ISSY Racing / Lotus Evora GT4 / 2014
BRITISH GT SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS TIMETABLE
Friday 8 July
09:35 - 10:25: Free Practice 1
12:25 - 13:15: Free Practice 2
15:45 - 15:57: Qualifying GT3 Am
16:02 - 16:14: Qualifying GT3 Pro
16:19 - 16:31: Qualifying GT4 Am
16:36 - 16:48: Qualifying GT4 Pro
Saturday 9 July
12:35 - 14:35: Race
PIT-STOP SUCCESS PENALTIES
20s - Minshaw and Keen (#33)
15s - Mowle and Osborne (#7)
10s - N/A - drivers not competing at Spa
20s - Mason and Barrable (#75)
15s - Walewska and Freke (#73)
10s - Bartholomew and Albert (#407)
PIRELLI TYRE INFORMATION: SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS
Although Pirelli is in its first season exclusively supplying the championship, its P Zero DHC product for the GT3 category has completed many thousands of laps there at the Spa 24 Hours over recent seasons. In fact, Pirelli and its engineers will be at Spa on the Tuesday prior to the British GT races for the test day for the 2016 24 Hours which takes place at the end of the month.
Spa is the most challenging circuit on the calendar, with a large mixture of corners giving the tyres a real workout over every 7.004km lap. Though it is famous for Eau Rouge, the most critical corners for the tyres come later in the lap, with Pouhon's section giving a high-speed, long-duration loading of the right-hand side tyres, followed later in the lap by Blanchimont, which by far accounts for the largest single input of lateral force over the lap. Tyre degradation is always critical because of the high speed nature and the roughness of the surface, although the majority of races are more affected by the ever changeable weather conditions at the circuit.