The Armchair Enthusiast 1: British GT Championship 2020

Photo BritishGT.com

With opportunities to get out and watch events seriously curtailed this year I have been almost entirely  restricted to the role of ‘armchair enthusiast’ and taken my fix of motor sport from the screen. Once things started being run again, after the initial lockdowns eased up, there has been ample choice . Indeed the action has come in thick and fast with compacted schedules and double/triple-header races. F1, BTCC, Moto GP, World & British Superbikes., all have been excellent (the BTCC has been stunning at times) but I have a particular penchant for the Intelligent Money British GT Championship which at the time of writing is building up for an unseasonably late finale at Silverstone…. in November!

Photo – BritishGT.com

I’ve  enjoyed the variety and exoticism of GT racing since the BPR series burst onto the scene in the mid 1990s and gave us some epic races between Gulf, West and Harrods McLaren F1 GTRs, Ferrari F40s and the like. I loved it, followed it on Eurosport and spectated at as many of the race as I could get to. I was even fortunate to have press passes for a couple of them back in my freelance days . The British series always had the added benefit of unusual entries ; TVRs, Ascaris, Saleens, Moslers and was always worth watching. Nowadays it’s entry list is more in line with the other major international series (GT World Challenge, International GT Open etc.) with a mix of professiomal and pro-am driver pairings that often shakes up the order in the wake of the mid race driver changes.

Like a lot of other race series this  season’s GT championship has been affected by the availability of teams and drivers due to the variables of the pandemic. It got off to a late start with a compacted calender of events and a few expected entries now unable to join in but it’s proved to be great entertainment for those of us watching on-line as well as the limited number of spectators able to watch first hand from track side.

Once the domain of Aston Martin, the entry has become crammed with McLarens this year to rnge against the established  Lamborghinis and Mercedes. All three marques won races. So has the sole remaining Bentley. The Aston, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche presence has been rather more sparce but the way the races  run with ‘success penalty’ time added to pit stops for those who finished on the podium at the  previous race, makes it ever unpredictable. That final Silverstone race might, possibly, add another marque to the winner’s roster.

Nick Jones/Scott Malvern (Bentley Continental GT3)           Photo – BritishGT.com

And talking of unpredictable; who would imagine the huge Bentley Continental would be so effective in the wet against nimble little McLarens and Lamborghinis?  But Nick Jones & Scott Malvern splashed to an accomplished victory at Donington Park in August even though commentators constantly assure us the big Continental GT is not happy on a slippery track.

James Baldwin/Micheal O’Brien (McLaren 720S GT3)         Photo – BritishGT.com

And would anyone have predicted a rookie, James Baldwin,  known as the “World’s Fastest Gamer” would emerge from in front of a computor screen, sit in a McLaren 720S run by former world champion Jenson Button and win on his debut ? Baldwin, fresh from the virtual world ‘E-Sports’ had run in only a handful of actual physical races  beforehand – enough to gain his licence. The car, co driven by rapid professional Micheal O’Brien (one of the stars of the recent Goodwood Speedweek) has not so far repeated it’s victory  despite James’ rapid learning curve and undoubted skill in all weather conditions so far.  It has to be said that race win was controversial (the leadin  2 Seas-team McLaren was penalised for a very minor pit stop infringement, costing it the race)  but no one could fail to be deeply impressed by Baldwin’s assured debut.

Only one car has so far won twice outright, the Lamborghini Huracan of Phil Keen & Adam Ballon which leads the points standings with only Silverstone left to run. The  wild card here is that the last race of the season is a 3 hour endurance format scoring double points.

Phil Keen/Adam Balon (Lamborghini Hurucan GT3)              Photo- BritishGT.com

While two other Lamborghini’s have won races, Michael Igoe/Andrea Calderelli (at a wet Donington) and ex BTCC front runner Rob Collard, sharing with Sandy Mitchell (at Brands Hatch) it’s the front engined Mercedes AMG of Sam de Haan and Patrick Kujala (winner at the later Donington event) that provides the only likely challenger to Keen/Ballon for the title.

Sam de Haan/Patrick Kujala (Mercedes AMG)                   Photo – BritishGT.com

Jordan Witt/Jack Mitchell (McLaren 720S GT3) and Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin (Ferrari 488 GT3) at Oulton Park                                                 Photo – BritishGT.com

The remaining race winner has been the McLaren of Jordan Witt & Jack Mitchell (at Snetterton)  which leaves the overall win rate at

  • Lamborghini 4
  • McLaren 2
  • Mercedes 1
  • Bentley 1

With team-owner Jenson Button making a one-off appearence in the series at the finale with his  second McLaren and the potential for any kind of weather sweeping the Silverstone circuit and causing it’s own kind of havoc, it looks like the race will be well worth loggin in to watch, streaming live as it is with excellent commentary and in-car camera work  on https://www.youtube.com/gtworld

And thats just the headline GT3 class. The more production based GT4 class has featured front running performances from Aston Martin, Toyota Supra, Ford Mustang and  McLarn 570S  with the touring-car-like BMWs not far behind . The racing has been excellent – and on ocassion rather too close for comfort (Rule #1 : Do not collide with you team mate…)! The front running gT4s being lapped by the race leading GT3 cars has frequently provided an added twist and the sight of a Mustang besting a McLaren is in the great tradition of successful underdogs in motor racing.

Toyota leads McLarm, Aston Martin, Mustang and BMW in GT4. Photo – BritishGT.com

It’s a pity that the only event of the season at which spectators are not allowed will be the finale. A  friend of mine has been on the spectator banks at most of the rounds this year and he’s gutted at missing out on the last act of the drama. Never mind Richard, sit back, pour yourself a drink and log into Youtube…

Let’s hope next year is a little more normal  but in the meantime it has been a blast to watch on-line.

 

GT4 action with the two HHC Motorsport McLaren 570S .        Photo – BritishGT.com