> 2019 Pro/Am runners-up return in first of two Balfe GT4 entries
Graham Johnson and Michael O’Brien will share the first of Balfe Motorsport’s two McLaren 570S GT4 entries next season after reprising their Pro/Am partnership.
The duo finished second in this year’s Pro/Am standings but were unable to score an overall GT4 victory – the first time Johnson has drawn a blank since making his British GT debut in 2015.
Nevertheless, a number of near misses mean both drivers are confident of challenging for the Pro/Am and overall GT4 titles in 2020.
Indeed, Johnson won the GT4 crown with Mike Robinson in 2016 and is also a two-time Pro/Am champion, while O’Brien – a McLaren Professional Driver – finished just two points shy of the overall title in 2018.
Meanwhile, a second GT4 entry will not only help Balfe challenge for 2020’s Teams’ title but also spread the workload across two crews.
“The expanded team will help us cover more ground in terms of exploring setups, plus it’ll give me and Michael a new, more immediate benchmark to compete against,” said Johnson.
“I feel very fortune to continue my partnership with Michael. He’s such a talent in the car and we’ve got a great relationship out of it. He pushes me out of my comfort zone, and re-introduced me to karting for the first time in over 15 years! He’s also got me using a sim for the first time. Indeed, I’ve just invested in a sim for my home thanks to Michael’s influence.”
Johnson also believes several issues masked the crew’s true potential throughout 2019, and that an overall championship assault – as well as challenging for Pro/Am – is next year’s target.
“Michael and I unquestionably have unfinished business in British GT. Were it not for refuelling issues at both Silverstone and Donington or for a reliability issue at Brands, we would have won the Pro/Am title this year. I also promised Michael at the start of this year that I’d help him get that elusive first outright British GT4 win, but while we came close a couple of times in 2019, I still owe him! I plan to ensure that I come good on my promise at least once in 2020, plus I want to win another GT4 title. I’m confident that Michael and I will be fighting for the overall GT4 Championship in 2020.”
O’Brien, a graduate of the McLaren Automotive Driver Development Programme, is also feeling bullish about Balfe’s chances.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be continuing with Graham and Balfe Motorsport in 2020,” he said. “Missing out by just two points in 2018 and then finishing second in Pro/Am this season means I definitely feel like there’s unfinished business. I’m more motivated than ever to go one better in 2020.
“Both myself and Graham are fully focused on all areas of driver improvement throughout the winter and together with the hard work of the team, I’ve got a good feeling that we’ll hit the ground running next season.”
Australian Supercars designer Nick Moss has once again penned the McLaren’s striking new livery, which breaks with tradition by featuring a predominantly pink colour scheme. Indeed, Moss – who has designed all six of Johnson’s British GT liveries – was given free rein to create next year’s ‘look’.
“It's always an exciting time of the year when a brief from Graham and Michael comes through to design a new livery for the McLaren 570S GT4, and this year was no exception with the words 'Go wild’ stated!” said Moss.
“So with that brief in mind, I unleashed my creative juices, harking back to the 1980s by including dayglo pink, yellow and blue, all offset with matte black into a free flowing, aggressive design that aims to grab the eye and disrupt the grid.”
The team is expected to announce its second full-season GT4 crew shortly, while Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell will be amongst the GT3 title favourites when British GT’s 2020 campaign kicks off at Oulton Park on April 11 & 13. Reserve your tickets here.