British GT Points to thrillers past & future

Images : Howard Fielding

It wasn’t only headlights that shone through the driving rain at Snetterton. The clamour for double-header points at British GT’s penultimate meeting of the year gave rise to waves of extraordinary performances from racers desperate to position themselves for the final title challenge at Silverstone next month.

GT3

Despite claiming pole position for Race 1, championship leaders Sam De Haan & Patrick Kujala had to cede to the safety car leading the opening laps as rain pounded much of Norfolk. But not only did the Ram Racing duo have to contend with atrocious conditions and a track suited to the Lamborghinis and McLarens, they also had to contend with the maximum 10-second pit-stop success penalty (for victory last time out at Donington), which would inevitably pitch the Mercedes-AMG into the frenzy of the pack after the changeover.

De Haan’s pace saw him race to pole position for Race 1

And so it was the sure-footed McLarens of Jordan Witt & Jack Mitchell, Lewis Proctor & Ollie Wilkinson that made the initial running, immediately seizing the opportunity to exploit the grip from the 720S’ chassis to depose both the leader and the 2nd placed Barwell Lamborghini of Rob Collard & Sandy Mitchell. The ensuing tussle setting-up a fight that would continue well into the 2nd phase until Mitchell was finally able to make the gap and leave Wilkinson to defend from a resurgent Huracan, now in the hands of Collard’s teammate, Sandy Mitchell.

The 2 Seas McLaren of Jordan Witt & Jack Mitchell sailed to an impressive first win of the season

For both De Haan & Kujala, and title rivals Adam Balon & Phil Keen in the second Barwell car, early struggles for traction and additional time in the pits relegated both to lowly points positions, despite Keen delivering a series of fastest laps that were almost a second quicker than anyone else could manage.

Phil Keen’s pace saw the Barwell Lamborghini returned as the only double-winner (so far) of the year

Race 2 was set to be an all-Lamborghini affair, the front-row being secured by both Barwell cars.

Despite losing pole to Sandy Mitchell, Keen was in his usual commanding form and immediately swept around the outside to begin building an unassailable lead whilst Mitchell held firm behind, and even though the #78 car would need to serve an additional seven seconds in the pits at the changeover (as a result of finishing P2 in Race 1), such was the pace of the Huracans that Collard should still have emerged second on track after the stop. But a problem with the safety harness as the former touring car ace took to the seat meant that he lost a good half-a-minute, plunging him down the order and out of any chance of a podium finish.

Collard & Mitchell’s hopes of leading the championship were thwarted during the Race 2 pit stop

Collard & Mitchell’s bad luck suddenly gave hope to both Ram Racing Mercedes-AMGs of Sam De Haan and Ian Loggie, but they had to contend with Michael Igoe in the WPI Motorsport Huracan (shared with Andrea Calderelli). Igoe had both perseverance and grip and was soon pressuring Loggie for P2; but Loggie is a hard and wily defender of space and seemed set to secure his third podium and best result of the year . . until a momentary lapse sent him wide and out of contention, leaving Igoe to race home in second and De Haan in third.

Pressure from Michael Igoe returned a podium finish in Race 2

Still mathematically in with a chance of championship honours are the early season pace-setters, James Baldwin & Michael O’Brien in the Jenson Team Rocket RJN McLaren 720S, but Snetterton proved to be an unhappy hunting ground for the duo, their car seemingly out of sorts and unable to deliver any threat to the major positions, leaving them now 34 points adrift of De Haan & Kujala and requiring not only a win at Silverstone but carnage in their wake too.

It was a lonely a disappointing weekend for the Jenson Team Rocket RJN squad

So where does this leave the prospects for the final showdown?

PositionDriversPoints / (Difference)
1De Haan, Kujala136.5
2Collard, Mitchell130.5 (-6)
3Balon, Keen125 (-11.5)
4Baldwin, O’Brien102.5 (-34)

Points available at Silverstone:

Pos
Pts
1
37.5
2
27
3
22.5
4
18
5
15
6
12
7
9
8
6
9
3
10
1.5

As I’ve made clear above, the deficit faced by Baldwin & O’Brien, and the unlikeliness of any of the others failing to score well means that they can be discounted from the race to the line, though the pace they show and the points they score might well have a material effect on who claims the crown.

I’m sadly also going to have to discount the leading Pro-Am pairing of Balon & Keen, not through any doubts about their speed or race-craft but simply that having won the second race at Snetterton, they now face a 20-second pit-stop success penalty for the final showdown: Over 90 minutes, can Keen make-up the time? Possibly, especially if it’s wet; and if there’s a safety car period, but it’s the biggest of asks and one that probably requires too many ‘maybes’ to align.

So this leaves an outright battle between the Mercedes-AMG of De Haan & Kujala and the Lamborghini of Collard & Mitchell. In a straight race, around the fast-flowing home of British motor sport, in the dry, I’d expect the Mercedes-AMG to edge it, but in cold, damp or changing conditions, and with the championship leaders facing a 10-second success penalty from Snetterton, I think that Collard & Mitchell ought to have the advantage. But it’s the bevy of fast-charging McLarens that are likely to make the difference. And if it is that (say), the Barwell finishes P4 and the Ram Racing car in P6, leaving a tie on 148.5 points each, then Collard & Mitchell’s tally of two second places (versus one for De Haan & Kujala) will swing the title Barwell’s way.

It’s going to be an epic encounter . . watch this space.