In a race of many twists and changes, it was neither of the Championship winners who took their respective class victories. Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse took a clean sheet; winning both the GT3 and GT4 final races of the season, with Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell taking McLaren’s first overall win of the season. With a hectic day for Barwell Motorsport in the Lamborghinis – with Phil Keen and Jon Minshaw crashing out of the race in the early stages – it was TF Sport who took the Team’s Championship in GT3 as well as the Driver’s Championship with Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston. In GT4, Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson took the Driver’s Championship, with Beechdean suffering brake failure in the closing stages of the race and taking them out of contention of retaining their title. The Team’s Championship was awarded to RCIB Insurance Racing, whose cars are raced by Team HARD.
First Season Victory for McCaig and Bell
The race began with an incident for the second TF Sport Aston Martin. A collision with the #6 Barwell driven by Liam Griffin saw the two spin out with the race barely having begun. The damage to Mark Farmer’s TF Sport was too severe for him to carry on. Luckily for the #6 it managed to get back into the race, albeit with an early rear right puncture. The incident brought out the Safety Car for two laps, putting on a small delay for the fighting cars out at the front.
Johnston was under pressure from McCaig immediately, but the rest of the field was not backing off. Minshaw and Rick Parfitt Jr. made sure they kept the battle for the lead between four cars, giving Johnston even more incentive to push for a gap. With a 15-second success penalty on his first pit stop, Johnston wasted no time putting some distance between him and the three pursuers behind him.
With the Championship on the line, Minshaw was on a mission. He made quick work of passing the Bentley for third and set about chasing down McCaig for second. Just fifteen minutes remained of his first stint and he had McCaig in his sights, with the Championship battle looking to be well and truly on. It was when Minshaw tried to overtake a GT4 car that he made his mistake. Going too far right through the Craner Curves, Minshaw got two wheels on the grass and spun the car, projecting it back across the track and off into the gravel trap at the Old Hairpin. It was Minshaw’s race over and the GT3 Championship happily swinging severely in Adam and Johnston’s favour. All the TF Sport pair had to do to take the title was finish higher than seventh, something that looked completely possible with the car, at the time, running in first.
The title never looked in danger for Adam and Johnston. Johnston continued to edge a gap on the chasing field and took his first pit stop with a 17-second advantage on McCaig – something that completely covered their 15-second success penalty. However, after the pit stops had been completed, The Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S was in the lead by several seconds. Adam tried to close the gap, setting a new GT3 lap record in the process, but ended up content to finish 8.1 seconds off the back of the McLaren. It may have not been the race win but it was securely the 2016 GT3 Championship. Johnston claimed the crown at the venue of his first GT3 win (Donington, 2015) whilst Adam became the first driver to ever retain a title in British GT in the 24 years the series has been around.
Bell took the McLaren on to win, with Adam second and Seb Morris and Parfitt Jnr taking the Bentley to finish third. This was Bell’s first win in British GT since winning the GT4 class at Silverstone in 2014 with his brother Matt Bell, with it also being McCaig’s second GT3 victory – his last having been at Oulton Park in 2012 with Oliver Bryant. It was an impressive drive from the returning Beechdean car as, starting from 11th, Andrew Howard and Rory Butcher managed to climb the field to fourth. The incredible performance earned Howard the Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Weekend Award.
The day was never good for Barwell Motorsport. After Griffin spun out at the beginning of the race and Minshaw put the Championship-chasing car out of the race, there was never really a chance for the team to recover enough to take the Team’s Championship from TF Sport. Alexander Simms managed to pull the Lamborghini back for fifth in the final standings after overtaking Martin Short – the top Am driver – in the closing stages of the race. The Team ABBA by Rollcentre Racing BMW Z4 may have finished sixth but it was enough to secure Short and Richard Neary the GT3 Am Championship title. They did well to get sixth-place after a pit stop infringement penalty made their job harder than it needed to be. Obtaining this title on Rollcentre’s first year back after a long hiatus from the sport is something the whole team should be proud of.
Clean Sheet for Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse as Mitchell/Haggerty Pair Win GT4
GT4 saw Bartholomew – the only GT4 driver with a chance of taking the GT4 title from the #50 crew – starting from pole position. He had the perfect opportunity to extend a gap on his championship rivals so that his 20-second success penalty for winning at Snetterton had as little effect on him as possible. A poor start saw all of this opportunity slip through Bartholomew’s fingers, as he had to fight with the chasing pack he was swallowed into as the grid drove into Redgate. Sandy Mitchell took complete advantage of Bartholomew’s poor start and demoted him from the lead into the first lap. The two-lap Safety Car period to clean away the GT3 car gave a momentary calm period in the race, but once the track was green again Mitchell stormed of into a lead that was not challenged throughout the race. Jack Mitchell also had an impressive start, managing to get from fourth to second off the line and leaving the pack behind in pursuit of the McLaren.
The main battle of GT4 occurred just behind the leading pair, where Johnson, Joey Foster in the Lanan Ginetta, the RCIB Insurance G55 of Jordan Stilp and Bartholomew battled for position. Bartholomew dropped from first to sixth in the opening lap and was on a mission to regain positions. Such a small gap was between Bartholomew and the #50 crew it would be a case of whoever finished first would take the title. Johnson appeared to be struggling for pace and soon Foster and Stilp were passed him, leaving the next charging car to be his Championship rival, Bartholomew. The battle was tight for a few laps but, even though it was running very close to the Ginetta, the Aston Martin never looked to have the pace to make the move. Bartholomew dove into the pits 50 minutes through the session to hand over the last year’s GT4 Champion Ross Gunn.
Johnson brought in the #50 Ginetta a lap later, knowing that they would emerge at least five seconds clear of Gunn as the Aston Martin had to serve a 20-second success penalty. However, the gap between Gunn and Robinson was over ten seconds, with three cars separating the two. Gunn had it all to race for an, even though he could not win the GT4 title himself, he was eager to help Bartholomew achieve this. William Phillips spun ahead of Gunn, leaving one less car to be passed by the Beechdean. Alex Reed made it even easier when he took a trip across the gravel, leaving only Jamie Stanley’s Fox Motorsport Ginetta in between the two Championship rivals. Using the block-pass the GT3 car made around Stanley to get ahead, Gunn had a 14-second gap to bring down to catch Robinson ahead. It looked like the race would go down to the wire.
Unfortunately, it was not to be. A brake failure issue began to heavily impede Gunn’s performance and before he knew it he was losing positions down the field rather than closing in on Robinson. Stanley sadly retired from the race, meaning that Reed was the first to re-pass the Aston Martin, turning their troubles to woes as the Championship slipped further and further away. Abbie Eaton in the Maserati and Nathan Freke’s Ginetta just added insult to injury as they passed the struggling Gunn, dropping him to seventh in a matter of laps. The Championship fight was over, there was nothing Bartholomew could do but what his teammate struggle.
Despite driving with an injured hand, Ciaran Haggerty took over from teammate Sandy Mitchell to complete a magnificent final stint, taking them to their second victory of the season. Their win was comfortable and unchallenged and a massive achievement for the wounded Haggerty. Matthew Graham brought the Generation AMR Macmillan Racing car home for second, with Championship winner Robinson finishing third, 18-seconds off second place.
The GT4 team Championship went to RCIB Insurance Racing despite having their #45 car excluded from the race, as Stilp overtook under yellow flags. They finished 5 points ahead of PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport to take the team title. Johnson and Robinson also took the Pro-Am title by 37 points from Hoggarth and Eaton. The latter’s fourth-place finish was enough to give them fourth in the overall GT4 standings. Despite his woes at losing the GT4 overall title, Bartholomew did win the Silver Cup crown by beating Mitchell and Haggerty by 41 points. Sandy Mitchell took the Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Race and RCIB Insurance Racing were also handed the PMW Expo Team of the Weekend Award due to their incredible race that saw them start last (after Aaron Mason had a qualifying crash) to finish seventh in class.
2016 British GT champions:
GT3 drivers’ champions: Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam
GT3 teams’ champions: TF Sport
GT3 Pro-Am champions: Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam
GT3 Silver Cup champions: Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe
GT3 Am champions: Richard Neary and Martin Short
Blancpain Gentleman Driver Trophy winner: Derek Johnston
GT4 drivers’ champions: Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson
GT4 teams’ champions: RCIB Insurance Racing
GT4 Pro-Am champions: Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson
GT4 Silver Cup champions: Jack Bartholomew