With the chance to get out and attend race meetings seriously curtailed in 2020 live streaming of race series online has provided a very welcome substitute and some surprise finds. One such has been the International GT Open series which was available to watch free all season on Youtube and which untill this year I wasn’t even aware of. While it hasn’t boasted the biggest grids it has tended to confirm that old adage that you only need two cars for a good race. And often as not it hasn’t been the same two week in, week out! The entry numbers may not be high but the variety can’t be faulted.
In most cases a field of between 15 and 20 cars appeared each of the GT Open’s six double-header events and if the mega-buck Japanese Super GT series (subject of a future ARMCHAIR ENTHUSIAST blog) boasts well over twice as many cars on track, it has to be said it’s own live streams have not been providing any better entertainment. In fact I suggest in this case the GT Open has almost always topped it.
Using F1 grade circuits from the Hungaroring and Spa to Barcelona and Monza, GT Open is part of the worldwide success story that is the GT3 catagory (with a smattering of more production-like GT4s to make up the numbers). In that respect it’s similar to the British series with a mix of pro-am and fully professional crews and with the numerically popular choice being the McLaren 720S. Ranged against the McLarens have been a healthy number of AMG Mercedes and Ferrari 488s plus a Bentley or two , an Aston Martin (or two) and the ocassional Lamborghini thrown in for good measure. The Porsche presense has been sporadic at best and no one entered a GT3 Audi R10 of the type that proved a dominant force in the SRO (former BLANCPAIN) GT World Challenge Europe this year.
GT3 cars can run in numerous series around the world and there is a pool of professional factory backed drivers to team up with the wealthy car owners so you find a good many familiar cars and drivers cropping up in the various championships during the same season. McLaren factory test driver Joe Osbourne, TV commentator and sometime racer in the British series, ran a season in GT Open alongside amateur Nick Moss in a McLaren 720S , Monagasque aces Louis Prette and Vincent Abril lead the team of AF Corse-run Ferrari 488s(familiar from the former Blancpain European series) and ex Jaguar F1 driver Christian Klien shared an AMG Mercedes with amateur driver Patryk Krupinski.
Former Open GT series champion Fabrizio Crestani shared one of two Italian-run Bentley Continentals with fellow pro Yannick Mettler and the only regular Aston Martin entry was crewed by Irishman Charlie Eastwood (who later ran in the British series finale) and Turkish ace Salih Yoluc (who won the GTE AM class at Le Mans with Charlie) .
The car to beat for much of the season proved to be the McLaren of Henrique Chaves & Miguel Ramos (below) who bagged a couple of race wins and a hat full of good placings to lead the series into the final race .
Ah the final race! It was all shaping up so well!
All season long the ‘success penalty time’ added to the pit stops of the most recently successful cars kept the podium order changing.
Victories went (in order) to Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren,Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, Ferrari, McLaren, McLaren and at the death there was still a shoot out between three marques, Ferrari (Abril/Prette), McLaren (Chaves/Ramos) and Aston (Eastwood Yoluc) for the title. Whichever of the former two won would claim the crown, the Aston needed other cars to get in the mix even if it took the flag first.
There was often a bit of strong-arm stuff more befitting the BTCC, certainly earlier in the season. The Bentleys had always been quick but suffered from a string of early race incidents in which they came off worst every time. The team just could not seem to get an even break at this point, while the two Optimum Team McLaren’s had run into one another at Ricard ruining each other’s races . Penalties had flown thick and fast at times for avoidable contact and that curse of modern day racing : track limits.
One race winner had been demoted due to brake dics that didn’t comply with the regultations – so the unusual sight of a KTM Xbow at the head of the order was unfortunately short lived . Meantime a one-off apppearence by reigning British series champion Sam De Haan in his Mercedes (shared with Callum Macleod) finished with the car looking rather sorry for itself after a strong showing ended in a hefty collision. Sadly neither the KTM nor de Haan reappeared later while the Bentley team was reduced to a single entry in later rounds, by whuch point it was becoming a regular front runner.
Another one-off entrant looked set to liven things up in the deciding rounds at Barcelona: the Honda NSX of Barr/Moller having finished 5th in race one started the finale from the front row of the grid! However the pace could not be maintained and it fell gradually back to record another 5th place finish.
So it was the ‘usual suspects’ who made things happen all on their own. The Chaves/Ramos McLaren was leading by 11 seconds as the final pit stops were made but Ramos was reeled in over the final few laps at a ferocious rate by Vincent Abril’s Ferrari, helped it has to be said by his team mate refusing to get out of Ramos’ way despite many a blue flag waved in his direction . Once Ramos finally got clear there were a mere 3 laps left to run and Abril’s charge , already blunted by a 2 second time penalty to be added on, was being rebuffed. At this point the McLaren was in line for the title. Sadly a mis-timed outbraking move by Abril on the penultimate lap punted the McLaren into the gravel trap, from which it rejoined a lowly 10th. The race ended under the safety car. Title contenders Eastwood/Yoluc (Aston Martin) took the chequered flag but it wasn’t enough for them to take the title and 2nd placed Abril/Prette appeared to have won the championhip. That is untill the stewards took a hand and, somewhat inevitably, demoted the Ferrari a whopping 10 places so it finished the race behind the Ramos/Chaves McLaren which ,as a result, took the title… at least so far. Protests naturally followed.
It was an unfortunate way to end a superb season filled with excellent wheel-to-wheel racing and considerable variety on the podium. The penutimate race was a real thriller which went to the Osborne/Moss McLaren after a gripping scrap with team mate Brendan Iribe (partnered by pro Ollie Milroy) over the last stint -and unlike the race at Paul Ricard, the two McLarens didn’t collide…
However Iribe (below), after driving out of his skin as an ‘am’ amongst the ‘pros’ , finally succomed to pressure and eventually spun down to 10th at the flag.
In some respect this summed up a lot of the season in which the pro drivers tended to keep things on an even keel and their am partners provided the fireworks one way or another. What looked settled was often turned on it’s head when the driver changes ocurred.
All of it was streamed live on the series’ YouTube channel with excellent commentary and in-car footage. Check it out for yourself at https://www.youtube.com/user/GTOPENseries where all of this season’s races, and those as far back as 2015, are watchable in full.
It’s a series that will definately be added to the “Watch” list of this Armchair Enthusiast for next season!