Many of us who follow the British GT Championship have been blinded this year. The swarm of bright, buzzing McLarens have held our gaze as they’ve swayed and swaggered across the GT3 grid. But over on the far side of the pit lane, two gritty and ambitious young racers have kept faith with an altogether different beast, and last weekend at Brands Hatch, they unleashed all that it and they had to offer, and in doing so, seized a remarkable GT4 win.
Jordan Albert & Matt Cowley invested wisely over the winter months. Both had serious offers from leading teams but both knew that with budgets increasingly under pressure, they needed to roll the dice and find a package of a stand-out but underdeveloped car, together with a co-driver with the same gutsy style and technical awareness. They’re a good match and the Mustang, though a race-winner with Scott Maxwell & Seb Priaulx in 2019, is new to the Academy squad and needed fast, intuitive hands at the wheel to build its potential.
Heads were high as Matt Nicoll-Jones’ team arrived in Kent. Results had yet to go their way but the Mustang’s pace was sure and both drivers had demonstrated their ability to race capably at the front. But as Saturday’s qualifying sessions got under way, it was clear that the car’s straightline speed was falling well short of expectations, leaving the silver pair languishing at the rear of the pack: Hours of toil and transatlantic calls later, a faulty engine sensor was diagnosed and the car was readied for action.
It was the pole-sitting Aston Martin Vantage of Connor O’Brien & Patrick Kibble that made the initial running. The TF Sport car launched from the start, leaving teammates Dan Vaughan & Jamie Caroline to fight-off the attention of the new Speedworks Supra, the ensuing battle allowing O’Brien to build a steady lead.
As the first hour progressed, O’Brien’s margin (once as much as six seconds) narrowed as the Supra gave chase. But the star of the stint was Albert, who guided the Mustang past the BMWs and McLarens into P4, and then into a podium position as the leader was clipped into a spin by Richard Neary’s Mercedes-AMG GT3 as it put-on a lap.
The pit stops came soon after, thanks to a safety car period and the second TF Sport Vantage (with Jamie Caroline at the wheel) emerged in the lead.
In the pit lane, the Academy squad looked as rapid as their drivers, sending Cowley out into P2; with the green flags waved, the former star of Formula Ford latched onto Caroline’s tail before swiftly selling him a dummy into Hawthorn and bravely launching into the lead.
Pushing to gap his pursuers, Cowley started to edge a winning lead, but a second safety car period saw the pack re-bunch, requiring a decisive restart to keep his position safe. Meanwhile, immediately behind, series returnee, Ben Green in the Century Motorsport BMW prized his M4 between the Astons to set-up a thrilling finale.
The three cars raced side by side around the loop and as they launched out of Clearways, each sought to own the same piece of tarmac. An Aston to the left of him, an Aston to the right, Green held firm as blows and paint were traded, leaving the two TF Sport cars to continue their battle. Kibble looked to have the advantage but as they entered Paddock Hill bend for the final time, Caroline lunged and sent his teammate off in a cloud of dust.
Cowley brought the Mustang home over two-seconds to the good. Green secured P2 for Century and the HHC McLaren of Gus Bowers & Chris Wesemael overcame the full 20s Success Penalty to finish third (after Caroline was given a time penalty for his last-lap contact with Kibble).
The impact of COVID-19 has seen a reduction in grid numbers across the board, but if anyone thinks that this might diminish the class and action in British GT’s GT4, then think again. We’re being treated to a season of exceptional racing from some of motor sport’s finest young talent. And more tellingly, the once dominant Aston Martins and McLarens now have real competition from a new breed of hero; both the Mustang and Toyota Supra have proved that in the right hands, they’re not just a brute force, they’re finely balanced, sharp-turning thoroughbreds, and in Albert & Cowley, we have two young racers who have always been better than their budget; this might just be their time to shine too.
Not forgetting the GT3s
In GT3, we were treated to yet more wheel-to-wheel action, a welcomed new addition and the return of one of British GT’s finest Pro-Am pairings.
For the second time this year, pole position went to the Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren 720S of James Baldwin & Michael O’Brien, Baldwin lapping just 2/10ths off the best time of his more experienced partner. Right foot planted, the World’s Fastest Gamer held-off the immediate challenge of former touring car star, Rob Collard, to set about building a sizeable lead until the first safety car period.
The pit stops were the defining moment of the race. Collard handed-over to Sandy Mitchell, who won the race to emerge in the lead. Despite relentless pressure from O’Brien and the chasing pack, Mitchell held firm to guide the Barwell Lamborghini home to victory, just 0.65 secs ahead of the McLaren.
Meanwhile, the battle for the final podium place was a hard-fought for affair between the sparking RAM Racing cars of Ian Loggie & Yelmer Buurman and Sam De Haan & Patrick Kujala. Loggie delivered a solid drive to hand the advantage to Buurman and the #6 car held-on to return its second podium of the season.
Title favourites Adam Balon & Phil Keen in Barwell’s second Huracan were hampered by their post-Donington Pitstop Success Penalty, nevertheless, Keen underlined his credentials with a stunning fastest lap of over 102mph.
The BlackStuff is at every British GT round this year with a talented team of photographers. Here are some of our favourite shots from Brands Hatch.