British GT3 Rockingham preview

British GT3 Rockingham preview

Following a short two-week break the 2016 British GT Championship roars back into life at Rockingham Motor Speedway this weekend for round two of the new campaign.

Brands Hatch’s opening race generated plenty of excitement and surprises as teams and drivers across both the GT3 and GT4 classes battled for early bragging rights. But will the same combinations excel during Rockingham’s two-hour race which, for the first time since 2011, is being held on the slightly shorter 1.94-mile International Super Sportscar Circuit?

Four different manufacturers filled the top four positions a fortnight ago, and that diversity is once again on show this weekend thanks to seven different marques represented in the senior class. But with Brands’ podium finishers all expected to serve varying degrees of pit-stop success penalty, the way could be left clear for an unexpected winner.

TF Sport’s reigning Drivers’ champion Jonny Adam and team-mate Derek Johnston lived up to their billing as pre-season title favourites by winning at Brands Hatch. Their resulting 20-second pit-stop burden makes clinching two in a row - or three in the case of Johnston, who also won last year’s season finale - highly unlikely. Nevertheless, expect the Aston Martin to remain a top-six contender.

The same can be said of Team Parker Racing’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris who surpassed their own expectations at Brands by securing pole position courtesy of fastest times in both the Am and Pro sessions. Clearly the Bentley Continental GT3 has race-winning pace, although its 15-second success penalty makes that unlikely at Rockingham this weekend.

Barwell Motorsport’s #6 Lamborghini of Liam Griffin and Fabio Babini completed the Brands Hatch podium finishers, but thanks to its 10-second handicap expect the team’s sister Huracan GT3 to be a stronger victory contender this time around. Indeed, Jon Minshaw was lying second overall when an incident while lapping GT4 traffic put paid to his and co-driver Phil Keen’s race. The Surrey-based squad certainly knows its way around Rockingham after winning there last year, albeit with BMW machinery.

Speaking of which, only a fool would write off the chances of whose Z4 GT3 finished second on the road at Brands Hatch in the hands of Lee Mowle and Joe Osborne before a post-race penalty dropped it to fourth in the final classification. Both drivers will be fired up to make amends and, potentially, clinch their maiden British GT3 wins.

Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse's McLaren 650S GT3 should also be a contender after a below-par start to the season two weeks ago. Pro driver Rob Bell set what were then three consecutive fastest laps during his Brands Hatch stint, suggesting the car has sufficient pace to trouble the podium contenders this weekend. Equally, Ecurie Ecosse is bidding to make it back-to-back British GT wins at Rockingham.

But the real dark horses this weekend could be Beechdean AMR whose Brands Hatch weekend was compromised by Andrew Howard skipping qualifying to contest (and win) the opening round of this season’s ELMS at Silverstone. The reigning GT3 Drivers’ champion made it back in time for race day when he and Ross Gunn helped the V12 Vantage gain nine places en route to fifth. 19-year-old Gunn, who has graduated to the team’s senior squad after winning 2015’s GT4 crown, has already proven he has what it takes to compete with the big boys.

Elsewhere, Tolman Motorsport and Optimum Motorsport will both be eager to put difficult first weekends in the GT3 ranks behind them by getting their respective Ginettas and Audi to the finish. The same can be said of Motorbase Performance and Phil Dryburgh who was fortunately unharmed in a huge race-ending accident at Brands.

Saturday 30 April
09.45 - 10.45: Free Practice 1
11.55 - 12.45: Free Practice 2
15.35 - 15.45: Qualifying - GT3 Am
15.49 - 15.59: Qualifying - GT3 Pro
16.03 - 16.13: Qualifying - GT4 Am
16.18 - 16.28: Qualifying - GT4 Pro

Sunday 1 May
09:25 - 09:35: Warm-up
13.00 - 15.00: Race

GT3 1m21.433s Alex Mortimer CRS Racing Ferrari 458 Italia 2011
GT4 1m26.075s Marcus Clutton ABG Motorsport KTM X-Bow 2011

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Pirelli supplies a single compound of slick tyre, the P Zero DHC tyre, for the GT3 class and the DH tyre for GT4. The Cinturato WH tyre will be used by both categories for wet weather.

These tyres have already proven successful in other GT championships, with ease of use for both professional and amateur drivers a key characteristic together with a quick warm-up. Drivers have also praised the longevity of the tyres’ performance.

Rockingham is characterised by its banked oval, a portion of which forms the pit straight and first corner of the 3.12-kilometre International Super Sportscar Circuit. A heavy braking zone for the Deene hairpin leads the cars off the oval and onto the technical infield section.

In contrast to Brands Hatch, this is made up mostly of slow-to-medium-speed corners where tyres have to withstand continual braking and traction energy, although Turns 5, 6 and 7 put high lateral energy into the right-hand-side tyres. Through there and in Turn 1, which is banked up to seven degrees, the downforce of the GT3 cars will deliver the speed, but the rest of the lap demands good mechanical grip from the tyres. With little time for the tyres to rest, wear is expected to be fairly high.

However, after qualifying and race lap records were broken in both British GT classes at Brands Hatch, teams and drivers can once again feel confident about the grip available.