Cheshire’s luscious green countryside plays host to rounds three and four of the 2016 British GT Championship this bank holiday weekend (May 28 and 30) when teams and drivers attempt to tame the notoriously tricky Oulton Park International circuit.
It will be the first time in 11 years that Oulton hasn’t hosted British GT’s opening skirmish of the season. But, in keeping with tradition, organisers have ensured that both one-hour contests take place on a Monday.
Staging two 60-minute races as opposed to the usual single two-hour format brings with it a new challenge for teams and drivers, whose Am and Pro qualifying times decide the respective race one and two grids. The shorter hour-long races also give drivers fewer opportunities to establish an advantage or get away with mistakes, while those entries carrying pit-stop success penalties from Rockingham have a second chance to shine in race two.
GT4: OPTIMUM AND CENTURY SET FOR HEAVYWEIGHT CLASH
Another stellar GT4 entry lines up at Oulton, although the combination of pit-stop success penalties and previous form suggests the opening race could be fought between two Ginetta teams: PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport and Century Motorsport.
It’s actually Beechdean AMR’s Jack Bartholomew and Jordan Albert who lead the standings at this early stage, but that has as much to do with persistence as outright speed. The Aston Martin pair scored their first GT4 victory at Rockingham despite suffering from a brake issue thanks to the travails of others in a race that featured multiple lead changes.
Indeed, the teenagers finished second on the road before Century Motorsport’s Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke’s post-race exclusion for overtaking under yellow flags handed them victory, meaning the Silver Cup crew must now serve a 10-second success penalty that virtually guarantees a different winner in Oulton’s first race.
Ironically, it’s for their exclusion that Walewska and Freke now head to Oulton as marginal favourites. The pair finished second at Brands having qualified on pole before charging through from last to first at Rockingham, only to see their hard work undone in the stewards office post-race. Freke also set fastest lap last time out, so with no success penalty to serve you can expect the Century G55 to be at the very sharp end once again.
It’s a similar story for PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport’s Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson who looked capable of back-to-back British GT4 victories at Rockingham before the latter’s accident. The pair won on their championship debut at Oulton last season and, just like their fellow Ginetta runners Walewska and Freke, enter race one without a success penalty. Game on!
Rockingham’s fast banking played to the strengths of Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s all-new McLaren 570S, which led the second stint thanks to Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell. An electrical gremlin ultimately put paid to their podium chances but expect the Scottish youngsters to be back amongst the front-runners this weekend.
Lanan Racing’s decision to permanently switch to Ginetta machinery has paid off for Alex Reed and Joey Foster so far in 2016. The duo are third in the standings after a sensible run to fourth on the road at Rockingham before their post-race podium promotion. Century’s second crew comprising Sean Byrne and Aleksander Schjerpen find themselves in a similar position after starting and finishing second at Rockingham. As a result both crews must serve five and seven-second success penalties in Oulton’s opening race.
William Phillips and Jordan Stilp are another crew to look out for this weekend after they suffered a difficult outing at Rockingham. Meanwhile, the sister RCIB Insurance Racing Ginetta features a new name above its door after reigning VW Racing Cup champion Aaron Mason was signed to partner Rob Barrable.
The Ebor GT-prepared Maserati MC GranTurismo was another to show well at Rockingham where Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton would surely have finished on the podium were it not for a pit-stop infringement and subsequent penalty. It was a similar story at Generation AMR SuperRacing, which led the second stint courtesy of Jamie Chadwick. The reigning GT4 champion had been subbing for James Holder, who makes his British GT debut at Oulton alongside Matthew George.
BRITISH GT LAP RECORDS: OULTON PARK INTERNATIONAL
GT3 1m35.549s Adam Carroll FF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia 2015
GT4 1m43.674s Luke Davenport Tolman Motorsport Ginetta G55 GT4 2015
BRITISH GT TIMETABLE: OULTON PARK
Saturday 28 May
09:30 - 10:30: Free Practice 1
12:35 - 13:25: Free Practice 2
15:50 - 16:00: GT3 Am Qualifying
16:04 - 16:14: GT3 Pro Qualifying
16:18 - 16:28: GT4 Am Qualifying
16:33 - 16:43: GT4 Pro Qualifying
Monday 30 May
08:55 - 09:05: Warm up
11:15 - 12:15: Race 1
15:30 - 16:30: Race 2
OULTON PARK ENTRY LIST
PIRELLI TYRE INFORMATION
Jonathan Wells, Pirelli British GT race engineer: “Oulton Park is another typical parkland circuit, with a fast flowing nature that is quite challenging on tyres. There are several high inputs of lateral force as well as heavy braking and traction points. Due to the different race format, some of the teams may opt for a more aggressive strategy in terms of setup, potentially increasing tyre degradation and wear. However, based on the opening races of 2016 we are more than confident that our tyres will offer fantastic performance throughout the weekend whatever the circumstances.”