Let the British GT battle commence

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

What feels like an eternity since the end of the 2018 season and a lifetime since Media Day at Donington Park in early March, the British GT Championship finally gets underway this weekend from the Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire on its usual Easter weekend fixture.

The winter has of course seen significant changes across the national GT scene with many teams realigning both cars and drivers to be hopefully ready for the first race this Monday morning. That has particularly been so within the #TeamAMR family as we see the numbers of Aston Martin Racing runners swell to an incredible eleven cars across the GT3/GT4 grid.

No new teams come to the Championship with either version of the AMR Vantage race car - just those existing teams cementing and developing their continued participation within the national series by virtue of expanding into the highly competitive GT4 field, so like 2018 we will see the return of TF Sport, Beechdean AMR, Optimum Motorsport and Academy Motorsport teams.

Unfortunately, we do not see the return of the defending GT3 Championship partnership of Flick Haigh and Jonny Adam to the Championship as Adam has since swapped back to the TF Sport squad and Haigh has sadly been unsuccessful in placing the necessary financial package together in time to return and defend her crown. We do however hope to see her out at Le Mans in the Le Mans Cup race in June but that is also yet to be confirmed.

Starting alphabetically, we'll have a quick look at who's who, why and in what...........!

Academy Motorsport

Matt Nichol-Jones has placed some serious investment into his Worcestershire based team over the winter months, investing in not only the new AMR Vantage GT4 but also with new transporters and garage and pit equipment as they return with another two car assault on the GT4 Silver Cup titles with their four new drivers.

Micah Stanley joins the team and has prior experience of GT4 racing having competed in the GT4 European Series with fellow AMR team Street Art Racing and he is joined by Canadian Ben Hurst who steps across from the BRDC F3 paddock. They will race in the #61 car.

In the sister #62 car we see the unexpected return of team favourite Will Moore to the Championship having first indicated a sabbatical to his GT career in 2019 due to ongoing business commitments. Obviously, the lure of the new AMR was enough for him to commit to another full season where he will be joined by newcomer and former Ginetta GT5 racer Alex Toth-Jones.

The team arrive at Oulton Park 'fresh' from a successful outing at the first round of the GT4 European Series at Monza - we would imagine that the team will be hoping to avoid any repeat of last years rain at Oulton Park having had something of a damp weekend in Italy.

Beechdean AMR

Never usually too far away from one of his collection of race cars somewhere is the return of Andrew Howard and his new Beechdean Ice Cream liveried Vantage GT3 for yet another year in British GT. Having been partnered last year with AMR factory driver Darren Turner, this year sees the pseudo Dane factory driver (Turner) replaced with a real one in Marco Sorensen transferring to the team from TF Sport.

Whilst Howard has already raced his latest acquisition twice so far this year now (Gulf 12Hr and opening round of Le Mans Cup) we don't think that the new pairing have actually had the opportunity to test together yet - not that Sorensen will take too much time to get up to speed again in the Championship being usually the fastest man on track in the old V12 Vantage in his debut season in the Championship last year.

For the first time since 2015, sees Beechdean AMR return to the Championship with a GT4 and what a pairing that is as well as both Martin Plowman and Kelvin Fletcher switch to the Aston Martin platform from the somewhat unreliable Nissan. Business commitments have kept their testing regime down to a minimum but lap times at Media Day were impressive in a car that had only been delivered that morning. This pairing will certainly be worth a little wager!

Optimum Motorsport

Like we mentioned above, last years Championship combination of Haigh and Adam have moved onto pastures new. As soon as the above became evident as a possibility then that gap was immediately filled by an existing Optimum racing crew - that of Ollie Wilkinson and Bradley Ellis who raced with the team in the International GT Open Series in their older Audi R8 car.

Since transferring to the teams new Vantage GT3, Wilkinson and Ellis have confirmed a busy dual season of both British GT and GT Open although we do expect the duo to miss the Silverstone round of BGT as that clashes with GT Open at Spa. Wilkinson, another young man keen to be noticed taking another step up the ladder in what is a relatively short racing career so far is another car not to taken for granted as they race in the Silver Cup.

Like Beechdean AMR, Optimum team boss Shaun Goff has spotted the commercial advantages of entering into the GT4 arena and as such have two V8 Vantage GT4's confirmed for the Championship for the first time.

Connor O'Brien takes a developmental step up with the team for 2019 as he raced with them last year in the Ginetta GT5 Series and he joins another young man with lots of racing experience (including LMP3) in Jack Butel in the #35 car.

Where there is youth and courage in the #35 car then comes age and experience in the sister #75 car as former GT4 Champion Mike Robinson swaps to the Wakefield based team alongside another Dane in BGT GT4 race winner and Creventic 24H Series competitor Patrik Matthiesen. Now there's another car to watch!

TF Sport

Finally but certainly no means least comes Sussex based TF Sport who return with their usual two GT3 entries but have also expanded out for 2019 to include two new GT4 entries as well.

Sadly, we have already seen certainly the unofficial racing retirement of favourite Derek Johnston from the team (certainly for any full season of any series anyway) as well as his 2018 co-driver Marco Sorensen now being placed with the Beechdean team. Their places were quickly taken by two Scots in the form of Graham Davidson (who raced last year with Jetstream and Maxime Martin) who will share his #47 with AMR Le Mans winner Jonny Adam.

They say that inter team competitive rivalry can be a good thing and that will certainly be the case within the teams GT3 garage at least as Mark Farmer returns for another attempt at the overall crown along with his crazy Danish co-driver and birthday boy Nicki Thiim. Having been the 'bridesmaid' to the GT3 Championship last year, the #2 crew will be looking to make amends to that and learn from the mistakes of last year in order to take that so far illusive crown.

Not since the teams formation in 2014 have they ran a GT4 in the British GT Championship and for the 2019 season they field two such cars for four young guns wanting to progress in their GT racing careers.

Having had their own pre season testing restricted due to the availabilities of their two new cars from the Prodrive factory, the four new drivers have had to rely upon the availability of the AMR GT4 development car for much of their present season testing. What has also happened during this time is a change in their driver line up due to one previously announced lad having to back out at the last minute.

Driver line ups are now confirmed as being Tom Canning and Ashley Hand in the #97 car and Patrick Kibble and Josh Price in the #95 car. Neither GT4 car - nor the Adam/Davidson GT3 have had their race liveries confirmed yet - we understand from the team that this will be done on Friday.

With most of the younger AMR team drivers also now signed up to the Aston Martin Racing Driver Academy we are sure that we will see them eager to impress both behind the wheel and the camera lens as they jockey for position for that prize of an AMR Junior Driver contract.

Competing over the Bank Holiday weekend sees Free Practice and Qualifying take place on Saturday whilst both one hour races take place on the Bank Holiday Monday. The timetable to the Championship opener can be found HERE.

Photo credits - Steve Jackman / TF Sport / Optimum / Beechdean

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