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The Intelligent Money British GT Championship makes its long-awaited return to Belgium this weekend (July 23-25) when Spa-Francorchamps hosts Round 4 of 2021’s campaign.
Coronavirus restrictions forced last year’s cross-Channel excursion to be cancelled – the first time since 2013 that British GT didn’t visit perhaps the world’s most revered race circuit. But despite ongoing logistical complications and the region’s recent severe flooding, SRO Speedweek will go ahead as planned with Championnat de France FFSA GT, Fanatec GT2 European Series and Formula Regional European Championship by ALPINE joining BRDC British F3 and British GT on the bill.
What’s more, Saturday’s qualifying session as well as Sunday’s two-hour race will be live streamed on SRO’s GT World YouTube channel, while free practice could also join British GT’s broadcast schedule. Full details will be confirmed later this week.
GT3: ANOTHER TWIST IN THE TITLE CHASE?
Consistency continues to trump victories in a title chase where joint leaders Andrew Howard and Jonny Adam, and Ian Loggie and Yelmer Buurman are still yet to win a race.
Still, that won’t matter one bit to either crew whose 10s and 15s Success Penalties for finishing on Donington’s podium will restrict, but not necessarily curtail, their victory chances again on Sunday. After all, RAM Racing’s Mercedes-AMG took pole at Donington and Loggie won at Spa four years ago, while Howard and Adam shared victory during their last appearance together there in 2015.
Aston Martin’s record is another factor that shouldn’t be ignored: the current and previous generation Vantage has won four of British GT3’s last six races at Spa.
Beechdean AMR and RAM are joined on the Success Penalty list by Richard and Sam Neary who have shot up to joint third in the standings following their fairy-tale first British GT win. A second in as many rounds requires the near-impossible task of overturning a 20s Success Penalty, but the father/son duo can take heart from their performance at Donington where Neary Snr went from 10th to second inside the first 30s! What’s more, the maximum endurance handicap was last successfully overturned in 2018 at Spa, albeit in the GT4 class.
Adam Balon and Sandy Mitchell are now also 15 points behind the leaders after recovering much of the ground lost at Brands Hatch. What’s more, Barwell’s #1 Lamborghini competes Success Penalty-free on Sunday.
It’s the same story for two more championship chasing Huracans after WPI and Barwell’s #63 car both retired at Donington, which dropped Leo Machitski and Dennis Lind, and Michael Igoe and Phil Keen from first and third to fifth and sixth, respectively.
Barwell’s British GT track record with Lamborghini at Spa is comparatively modest by its usual high standards, with just one victory scored since 2016. But the team does have a rich recent history in the 24 Hours where it’s notched up three class wins in the last three years. What’s more, Machitski and Mitchell both featured in two of them.
Silver-Am leaders Stewart and Lewis Proctor (Balfe Motorsport, McLaren) have been a model of consistency thus far after scoring in all three races, while setup improvements made before Donington and data gleaned from the 24 Hours test days suggest Nick Jones and Scott Malvern (Team Parker Racing, Porsche) should feature amongst the top-six once again.
However, a variety of personal and logistical challenges have prevented Enduro Motorsport, Paddock Motorsport and Simon Green Motorsport from attending Spa. All three are expected to return at Snetterton.
But there are two race-by-race GT3 entries to consider. Team Rocket RJN’s McLaren shared by Mia Flewitt and Euan Hankey is back after first appearing at Silverstone, and Leipert Motorsport make their first British GT appearance since 2012 with Fidel Leib and Brendon Leitch.
FF Corse’s Ferrari, featuring Omar Jackson and Charlie Hollings, is the sole GTC entry this weekend.
GT4: CENTURY’S SUCCESS PENALTIES OFFER OTHERS HOPE
So far, so Century. Both BMWs have been fast and consistent across the opening three rounds and occupy first and second in the overall standings.
True, their one-two at Donington owed much to accidents elsewhere. But there’s no doubt that Will Burns and Gus Burton, plus Chris Salkeld and Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke have been there or thereabouts when it’s mattered most.
Burns and Burton have looked especially impressive en route to two victories in the opening three rounds. But, just as they found at Silverstone, the maximum 20s Success Penalty and 26s Silver handicap will probably prevent back-to-back wins. We say ‘probably’ because Century were the last team to successfully overturn GT4’s full endurance Success Penalty back in 2018. The circuit? Spa…
Both M4s compete in the Silver class from Spa onwards after Salkeld’s derogated Bronze grading was changed to reflect his FIA Silver status. He and Gordon-Colebrooke remain second in the overall standings and will still serve their 15s Success Penalty for finishing runners up at Donington.
As such, the three crews clustered behind Century’s drivers in the overall standings have a golden opportunity to reduce some of their arrears this weekend.
Steller’s Richard Williams and Sennan Fielding already find themselves 51 points adrift of top spot after an electrical issue ended what should have been a promising outing at Donington on lap one. The Audi finished second at Silverstone, had podium pace in the season opener, and is without a Success Penalty this Sunday, so must surely be amongst the favourites.
The same goes for Pro-Am crew Matt Topham and Darren Turner who reunite following the latter’s Goodwood exploits with Aston Martin. Pro super sub Darren Burke helped his Am co-driver seal pole at Donington before an early incident hastened Newbridge’s retirement, albeit one that hands Silverstone’s winners a penalty-free afternoon at Spa.
James Kell and Jordan Collard are also in the top-five despite Donington being blighted by an electrical issue brought about by a damaged exhaust. Nevertheless, all three of Team Rocket RJN’s McLarens showed well last time out, and not least the example shared by Katie Milner and Alain Valente who qualified second behind Newbridge’s Aston Martin. Expect them and fellow DDP members Harry Hayek and Michael Benyahia to be factors at a circuit where McLaren still awaits its first GT4 victory despite scoring podiums in three of its last four attempts.
Assetto’s Mark Sansom and Charlie Robertson, and Toyota Gazoo Racing UK’s John Ferguson and Scott McKenna will also be in the mix if their previous pace is anything to go by.
Academy’s Mustang adds throaty V8 variety and is also a legitimate podium contender, while Balfe’s McLaren is passed fit to travel after its accident at Donington.
But neither Fox or Ciceley can attend as a result of business and logistical considerations.
Friday 23 July
15:55 – 16:55: Paid Practice
Saturday 24 July
10:10 – 11:10: Free Practice 1
13:00 – 14:00: Free Practice 2
17:20 – 17:30: Qualifying – GT3 Q1
17:37 – 17:47: Qualifying – GT3 Q2
17:54 – 18:04: Qualifying – GT4 Q1
18:11 – 18:21: Qualifying – GT4 Q2
Sunday 25 July
09:00 – 09:15: Warm-up
12:35 – 14:35: Race
GT3 – 2m18.821s – Seb Morris – Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 – 2017
GT4 – 2m31.706s – Matthew Graham – Ebor GT Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4 – 2017
PITSTOP SPECIFICS – TWO-HOUR RACE
NEW FOR 2021: The number of driver changes are free but there are minimum and maximum total drive times for the starting driver. In GT4 starting drivers must complete a minimum of 58 minutes, while in GT3/C this rises to 62 minutes. All classes share the same maximum starting drive time of 70 minutes.
Mandatory Pitstop Times (pit-in to pit-out)
GT3: 150s | GT4: 180s
Pitstop Success Penalties
20s – #8 Team Abba Racing – Richard & Sam Neary
15s – #6 RAM Racing – Ian Loggie & Yelmer Buurman
10s – #7 Beechdean AMR – Andrew Howard & Jonny Adam
20s – #57 Century Motorsport – Will Burns & Gus Burton
15s – #9 Century Motorsport – Chris Salkeld & Andrew Gordon-Colebrooke
10s – #40 Fox Motorsport – Nick Halstead & Jamie Stanley (not competing)
All GT4 Silver Cup entries must serve an additional 26s during their mandatory driver changes and carry 25kg of ballast.