This year’s British GT Championship, which begins at Brands Hatch on April 16/17, is set to be the best yet for its contingent of amateur drivers thanks to the efforts of official series suppliers Sunoco, Pirelli and Blancpain.
Like many sportscar categories British GT has long been a predominantly Pro/Am affair, and its commitment to maintaining that balance will continue in 2016 thanks to a number of subtle changes.
A fairer Sunoco Whelen Challenge format
In 2015 the championship’s GT3 contenders were, for the first time in several years, invited to enter the Sunoco Whelen Challenge, a competition pitting drivers from across a number of national and European series against one another for the right to race sports-prototype machinery at the Daytona 24 Hours.
However, it soon became apparent that the nature of scoring points - which each weekend are awarded for both fastest lap and pole position as well as a race victory - unfairly favoured the Pro driver in each line-up. This virtually guaranteed that no Am would win the Sunoco Whelen Challenge.
Sunoco has reacted by allowing all GT3-entered gentleman drivers the choice between contesting the same competition as their Pro team-mate or the 200 Challenge, which last season was reserved for GT4 entrants. This removes the obstacle of their co-driver having an unfair advantage.
Reigning GT3 champion Andrew Howard, whose Beechdean AMR co-driver Jonny Adam won last year’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge, believes the 200 Challenge prize - racing in the 200-mile support event over the same weekend - is also more suitable.
“It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” he said. “Obviously it’s fairer but, more than that, the Daytona-support drive is also more relevant to an Am driver’s ability. You still get the thrill of competing at Daytona but in a car and race that’s geared towards a gentleman’s ability. The amateur element is integral to British GT so anything that makes the championship more appealing in that regard gets my vote.”
Faster lap times expected from Pirelli tyres
Pirelli becomes British GT’s official sole tyre supplier in 2016, and its product has already received rave reviews from drivers with experience of last year’s rubber.
2015 GT4 runner-up Graham Johnson, who’s returning to the class with the same PMW Expo/Optimum Motorsport-run Ginetta G55, is ideally placed to offer an accurate comparison of the new tyres in both race and qualifying trim.
“I think you’ll see a big difference in qualifying this year,” he said. “We'll be able to push for its entire duration, meaning it will benefit drivers who can't switch on their own ultimate performance as fast as the tyre can. I think you'll see qualifying go right down to the wire as a result; grid positions won't be finalised until the chequered flag waves, whereas last year it was all over after two laps.
“The Pirellis are also remarkable over a race stint. We’ve found we can push as hard on two-hour-old rubber as we can on near-new boots. Last season's tyre gave you two, maybe three laps of its ultimate performance before tailoring off quite quickly until it stabilised some two-odd seconds off the pace of a new tyre.”
Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Weekend Award and Trophy title both set to continue
Emphasis is often placed on out-and-out speed at the front of the field which, just like 2015’s Sunoco Whelen Challenge format, traditionally favours each line-up’s Pro driver. British GT moved to address this in 2014 by establishing two specific prizes for best amateur. Both will remain a firm fixture this season.
The Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Weekend Award recognises the best individual performance by awarding said Am a special edition Blancpain wall clock. Rather than base it on a result, the panel of judges selects a driver they believe has delivered a performance that might otherwise go unnoticed.
In addition to this is the Blancpain Gentleman Driver Trophy, a standalone championship open to all Bronze-graded GT3 drivers aged 35 and over. Points will continue to be awarded at each round, which go towards deciding the winner of not only the title but also a highly prized and strictly limited edition Blancpain 8885 S timepiece.
Any other business?
The Sunoco Fastest Race Lap of the Weekend Award continues in 2016 following a season in which Jonny Adam (GT3) and James Nash (GT4) were crowned inaugural champions.
As for television coverage, Channel 4, BT Sport and Motors TV will continue to show highlights of every round, while the latter will also broadcast live from Silverstone’s blue riband three-hour event and Donington Park finale.
British GT is also delighted to announce a new partnership with Empire RV, the UK's leading RV and American motorhome specialist. Empire RV will supply the championship with a number of motorhomes throughout the 2016 season, with their huge range of four-to-seven star vehicles also available to drivers and teams at special rates at each British round.