A premature end to Jack Mitchell’s 2017 British GT campaign led to an unexpected opportunity in Asia...
Language, culture and 5880 miles separate Snetterton in Norfolk from Zhuhai in Southern China. In short, very little connects the two apart from their respective race circuits, while even fewer drivers have tasted victory at both.
Jack Mitchell is one of them.
Now in his third season of British GT, the 20-year-old Century Motorsport driver represents the new breed of young professionals earning a living from racing GT cars around the world. That means regular trips to Asia where he’s sent by Aston Martin Racing to support the manufacturer’s China GT Championship customers.
Zhuhai’s season opener two weeks ago saw Mitchell claim a second win in as many events after his successful one-off appearance at the end of 2017 resulted in this year’s full-time seat.
It’s all a far cry from the disappointment of last season’s domestic GT3 programme that included the highs of pole positions and podiums but also the lows of seeing a title bid curtailed by reliability woes and his team’s funding cut before the end of the year.
“Yeah, it was a difficult season and I was disappointed but I also learnt a lot and the opportunities that came about as a result have worked out well,” he says. “There were a lot of ups and downs, and I saw first-hand how quickly fortunes can change: one minute we were in the championship’s overall top-three, despite having the grid’s only ballasted Silver Cup car, and leading at Brands Hatch when an ECU issue ended our race. Little did we know that would also be the end of the GT3 programme for the year.”
Indeed, sixth place overall – despite missing the final round – as well as fifth in GT4 the previous year caught the attention of Aston Martin Racing, whose V8 and V12 Vantages Mitchell campaigned in 2016 and ’17, respectively.
“Obviously it was a tough way to end our British GT season but the experience also opened doors at Prodrive, who were helping to run the car,” he continues. “In fact, an opportunity arose for me to race in China on the same weekend as I was originally scheduled to do Donington before the team withdrew, which directly resulted in my deal for this year. It’s funny how things work out!”
Of course, there’s also the ‘small’ matter of this season’s British GT Championship bid aboard Century Motorsport’s new-for-2018 BMW M4 GT4 with which Mitchell and stand-in co-driver Ricky Collard claimed two podiums on the opening weekend at Oulton Park.
After a year of GT3 it’s perhaps reasonable to conclude this year’s programme represents a step backwards for Mitchell. But the man himself has a different view.
“GT3 was a great experience and helped me to get a foot in the door at Aston Martin but it’s too simplistic to say GT4 represents a lower level,” he counters. “Look at the entry: there are eight manufacturers and 20-plus cars every weekend, plus an equal split of Silver Cup and Pro/Am entries. That provides a fantastic opportunity for young guys like me to make a name for themselves, work closely with amateur drivers to develop coaching skills and impress manufacturers.
“There’s also the calibre of professionals. Ben Barnicoat and Joe Osborne are both factory drivers but they’re not blowing away the rest of us every weekend. It’s a really tough championship to win – in terms of depth it’s stronger than GT3.”
So what about this weekend at Snetterton, a circuit where Mitchell claimed a pole position and podium 12 months ago. It’s also where he beat the likes of McLaren’s Formula 1 prodigy Lando Norris en route to 2014’s Ginetta Junior crown.
“It’s one of my favourite circuits, actually,” he confirms. “For whatever reason I’ve always gone well there regardless of what I’ve been racing. I also scored a British GT4 podium there in 2016 so I’m hoping to make it three-in-a-row this year. The BMW should suit Snetterton’s long, fast straights, although I’m also conscious that – like any new programme – we’re still learning about the car. For instance, we didn’t expect to be as fast as we were at Oulton Park.”
British GT’s very own Orient Express will be hoping for another pleasant surprise this weekend when Snetterton stages two more 60-minute races.