British GTs... And Prototypes

British GTs - Momentum
It’s a very pleasant feeling, sitting here on a Good Friday afternoon, reflecting on the current state of the British GT Championship.

Last October, the gut feeling was that it really was going to be as good as this, but the ‘introduction’ of the GT Class then caused some concern. The GTs haven’t yet arrived of course, but thus far, after all the dramas provided by the N-GTs in both Donington races, it would be difficult to find someone who missed them. We do love Saleens and Listers and Vipers of course, but the N-GT Class rose to the occasion and provided two extraordinary races.

Sunday’s genuinely was one of the best races the Ed. has ever seen. Staying with the N-GTs for now, we need to acknowledge the roles played by the teams that supported this class last year, and by the teams that arrived in, or returned to, the Championship last weekend – plus the VLR Porsche, which was present as a one-off.

Mike Jordan returned to British GTs, after a year in the international series, and the Jordan-Warnock outfit played a very significant role in both classes, in both races. A top team, a credit to any Championship, and both N-GT cars were highly competitive – to the extent it was looking like a JWR 1-2 on Saturday. Part of that was down to a clever choice of tyres (and having enough wheels), but JWR was the star team on Saturday.

Scuderia Ecosse arguably took on that role on Sunday: winning from sixteenth, with a 25 second penalty for having an A and a B driver – that was a tremendous achievement. Andrew Kirkaldy didn’t like the penalty very much (!), but even with it he and Nathan Kinch managed the win – despite starting so far down. Had the started from the front row, the race might have been somewhat less interesting…

GruppeM, RSR and Embassy Racing were the other three newcomers, and each experienced much to feel proud of. The blue Embassy Corvette, the chameleon orange TVR and the Taiwanese colours of the GruppeM / Tech 9 GT3-RSR all added much to the Donington event, and two of them could have won (and nearly did – RSR just centimetres from the victory) first time out. Jonathan Cocker did almost everything right in his first GT race, Lawrence Tomlinson ditto. Sugden and Greensall were… themselves. Neil Cunningham and Paula Cook – what a strong pair they are / will become.

The 2003 regulars all had ‘off’ weekends in one way or another. Each had its reasons, and it’s a very positive thought that Rollcentre, Balfe (we hope), Xero and Eclipse are potential race winners, each with a point to make at Mondello Park. Peninsula and Damax had quite a low key presence this time, and have more potential than shown so far.

The dailysportscar.com Cup races didn’t quite match the N-GT affairs, but we’re sure that they will become just as exciting very soon. Not that they didn’t have their own dramas and interest at Donington – they did. Steve Wood, Gavan Kershaw, the new DRM team, the Aero Lewis Morgan, the Rollcentre Noble, Phil Hindley’s outfit – they all had reasons to feel very pleased, none more so than Phil Hindley. The team owner just can’t work out why drivers aren’t queuing to get in his Porsches. What more could he and Jonathan Rowland do, than win both races?

There’s a pause now before Mondello Park, and with a couple of the N-GTs heading to Monza that weekend, and the Cup entries having a few weeks to develop their new cars, perhaps it will be the ‘smaller’ cars that stand out next time. On the other hand, the Monaro round Mondello is going to worth seeing….

…And Prototypes Too
Despite a difficult winter in terms of the long term prospects for prototype racing, short term we’re largely very encouraged with the way things are heading. Sebring wasn’t a classic, but that subtle change of rules preventing teams from changing the whole back end of an R8 made for dramas in the LMP1 Class race (the likes of McNish and Lehto in R8s was always going to make for a great duel anyway), the Rollcentre Dallara proved the capabilities of this chassis in 2004, the Dyson Lolas are going to be absolutely competitive in the sprint races, while the LMP2s couldn’t have had a more difficult event for the debut of this expanding class.

The LMES has kick started prototypes in Europe, and European teams are looking at completing their 2004 seasons in North America – and running in the ALMS in 2005. The momentum is still with existing designs though, and while we have a situation in which Creation Autosportif is contemplating purchasing a new Zytek, it’s hard to see the any new LMP1 projects reaching the race track in the foreseeable future. The Nasamax and Courage hybrids are interesting cars though, and the French manufacturer has received a real kick start with his C65, in the LMP2 class at Le Mans.

Wouldn’t it have been more satisfying though to see those entrants who have already raced (or at least tested) and supported the prototype category receiving acknowledgement for their efforts (Creation, Goddard, Jota and particularly Racing for Holland)? There are always talking points regarding successful and unsuccessful Le Mans entrants, of course – and this is a debate that is fuelled by the pace of certain cars at Paul Ricard this week.

In the course of time, entries will be even more closely tied to results achieved, but the four Ferrari 550 entries and Alex Job’s two (which were declined, along with the Bentleys of course) suggest that this system has its faults too.

The LMES looks good though, doesn’t it (and even better in the prototype ranks soon, we hope)? Almost without exception, every prototype racing this year could be regarded as a private entry – well done the private entrants!
Malcolm Cracknell

 

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