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.
GT4: BEECHDEAN VS OPTIMUM VS CENTURY SET TO CONTINUE AT SPA
For the second time in as many events the 15-strong British GT4 grid is joined on track, but not in the same classification, by its GT4 European Series counterpart.
Domestically, all eyes will be on the drivers’ championship battle which, after the events of Silverstone, looks far from the one-horse race it had threatened to become after Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson previously seized control at Oulton Park.
However, Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert subsequently proved that consistency trumps outright speed by re-taking the lead with third place - maintaining their 100% points scoring record in the process - at Silverstone. Johnson and Robinson’s DNF, albeit through no fault of their own, sees them now trail the Aston Martin crew by just 3.5 points despite winning all three of the races they’ve finished.
Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke are another crew to have scored big when completing the distance. A second runners-up spot of the season at Silverstone helped them move up to third in the GT4 drivers’ standings, although they now realistically require both pairings ahead to falter if they’re to make serious inroads this weekend.
Speed aside, it’s actually pit success penalties that could have the biggest bearing on this weekend’s result. With Walewska/Freke and Bartholomew/Albert having to remain stationary for an extra 15 and 10 seconds respectively during their mandatory stops, expect the PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta to emerge with a sizeable advantage at the start of its second stint.
RCIB Insurance Racing recorded its maiden British GT4 victory in only its fifth start at Silverstone, and you can expect both of its Ginettas to be fighting at the front again this weekend. Jordan Stilp and William Phillips are the only top-eight crew other than Bartholomew and Albert to have scored points in every race this season and begin Saturday’s two-hour encounter with the upper hand over team-mates Rob Barrable and Aaron Mason who must serve a 20-second success penalty as a result of winning last time out.
The sole British GT-entered Maserati, driven by Ebor GT’s Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton, should suit Spa’s fast and flowing layout, while Silverstone pole-sitters Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty will be hoping their Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 570S has the reliability to match its speed when they again pursue a first GT4 victory.
Elsewhere, Generation AMR Macmillan Racing’s Matthew Graham and Jack Mitchell are another crew with precious few strong results to show for their undoubted potential, while Nick Jones and Scott Malvern will be eager to work similar wonders aboard their far from GT4 race-spec Porsche Cayman.
Additions to this weekend’s grid include reigning GT4 champion Jamie Chadwick who, after contesting the first three weekends with Generation AMR SuperRacing, returns to the more familiar surroundings of Beechdean AMR as co-driver to series debutant Paul Hollywood. The Stratton Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage is also back for the first time since Brands Hatch’s season opener with 2014 class runner-up Andrew Jarman joining David Tinn.
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.