Only one driver has ever won back-to-back British GT titles. As Tom Hornsby explains, Sandy Mitchell’s quest to become the second begins this weekend at Brands Hatch.
Sandy Mitchell isn’t afraid of a challenge. And that’s just as well because history seldom smiles on reigning Intelligent Money British GT champions.
The 21-year-old Scot conquered Brands Hatch’s GP loop last August en route to GT3’s Overall and Silver Cup Drivers’ crowns with Rob Collard. But with the class now outlawed amid a renewed focus on Pro-Am he’s instead switching to the other side of Barwell Motorsport’s garage after linking up with 2020 title rival Adam Balon.
Trouble is, just one driver – Jonny Adam – has ever retained any British GT title in the championship’s 28-year history, while only the Scot and Andrew Howard have more than one crown to their names.
Of course, records are made to be broken and history rewritten. And that’s an area in which Mitchell specialises, as we’ll get on to.
But what about the here and now? Well, this year signals something of a step change for Mitchell whose 2020 performances with Barwell’s Huracan GT3 in Europe and the UK earned him promotion to Lamborghini’s Squadra Corse works roster. And switching to Pro-Am, where he effectively becomes Balon’s coach, also brings additional responsibility and expectation from both the factory and his pupil.
“It’s been a long off-season, so I can’t wait to get back on to the race track and go racing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to switching to the Pro-Am class in British GT, instead of the Silver class I contested last year, and to attacking the championship. Plus I won’t have the extra weight we had to carry in the Silver car.
“The way the championship is organised this year, being much more set out for Pro-Am, will make it very competitive and the field very close. The top five to 10 cars are going to be exceptionally close in terms of lap times and race pace.
“I think it will be really exciting and I’m looking forward to stepping things up in British GT. It’ll be maximum attack.”
Not that the Black Bull-backed ace has ever been anything less than ‘maximum attack’. Six years ago the then 16-year-old marked himself out as a future star by becoming the youngest driver to claim a pole position, set fastest lap and win a race in British GT history. All three records remain unbroken to this day.
Having paid his GT4 dues and graduated to GT World Challenge Europe via Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Mitchell returned to British GT last season as an established young pro alongside BTCC stalwart and GT novice, Collard. Despite a 31-year age gap their partnership soon blossomed, the mix of consistency – only once did they fail to score double-digit points – and two wins ultimately proving more than sufficient to claim the crown.
His new co-driver certainly knows the way to Victory Lane but has fallen short of the title in each of the last two seasons alongside Phil Keen. Can Mitchell be the agent of change Balon needs?
“We’ve tested already this season at Silverstone and Snetterton,” he said. “Adam seems to be really happy with the car and I think the Barwell Lamborghini is performing well.
“I’ve built up a good relationship with Adam and I think we’re working really well together. We both feel comfortable and confident in the car, which is important. We’re looking forward to getting down to business in the season-opener at Brands Hatch. We have a good partnership, a great car package and I definitely think we’ll be competitive this season. We’ll definitely be in the hunt for race wins.”
In other words, ‘maybe’! But what about the pressure of mounting a British GT title defence?
“It certainly won’t make a difference to me,” revealed Mitchell. “I feel it’s quite different in terms of the fact I have a different team-mate and we’re in a different class within the championship. Plus the whole championship has a different look to it now that it’s focused on the Pro-Am and Silver-Am pairings.
“It feels quite new and different. So I’m not really thinking about the fact that I’m the reigning champion. If I’d come back with Rob and everything was the same again in terms of the car and the class, then it would be different. I’d probably feel a bit more under pressure to try and repeat what I did the previous year.”
So, can Mitchell Cruise to another crown or will his season self-destruct in nine races? We know which scenario he’d choose to accept…