British GT again delivers with two Aston Martin podiums at season opener

Monday, April 10, 2023


With the help of Mother Nature, the British GT Championship again provided two totally thrilling races from Oulton Park today to prove just why it is one of the best national GT series about.

Gone had the warm, dry conditions of earlier in the Easter Bank Holiday weekend that allowed so many to break track records as well as their own personal bests to be replaced with conditions anywhere in the midst of half the track dry whilst the other half was being drenched in rain, to rain falling all around the circuit (and heavily to) to glimpses of bright sunshine and a drying track.

Fortunately for all, the four Qualifying sessions had already been taken care of on Saturday with Monday morning warm up also going well on what would have been their last around a dry circuit, everything was now set ahead of the day’s two one-hour pit stop punctuated races.

With the Am starting race 1 within the GT3 class, it would be Andrew Howards duty to start his Beechdean AMR team’s return to the Championship with the #97 that he shares with co-driver Ross Gunn whilst Josh Miller would be assuming the opening role within the #23 R-Racing Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4 that he shares with Seb Hopkins.

The trouble was that all their prevent event testing and Free Practice data went out of the window even before a racing lap was turned as rain began falling upon an already wet track that had seen the opening GT race delayed because of the track conditions in the preceding support races. Two formation laps were in order before the thirty-six strong grid were let go around the Cheshire circuit for the first time.

Trouble loomed unfortunately quickly for the #23 R-Racing Vantage GT4 as after only a couple of laps, Miller pitted looking for what appeared to be the better choice of slick tyres only for the team to find an issue with the oil coolant system from an unseen incident on track. That damage took the young silver pairing out of the race on the spot.

So that left us just the #97 Aston Martin of Howard and as cars on slicks were quickly made the lament their choice of tyre as the rains began to fall again, the ensuing Safety Car to pluck those cars out of the gravel soon pulled the GT3 pack back together again.

Going back to green, an extra-ordinary move from Howard going into turn 1 saw him pass not just one, but two cars to move himself up to P3 overall and would quickly be on the tail of the #1 2 Seas Mercedes AMG GT3 of last year’s Champion Ian Loggie battling for second whilst Jonny Adam tried to escape up front in his 2 Seas Mercedes.

Pitting at the earliest opportunity, Howard handed the #97 to Gunn in third for his first season return to the Championship since his GT4 Championship winning days way back when, where he was able to pass the #1 Mercedes within pit lane for a Gunn/Adam race to the flag.

At the half hour mark, a second Safety Car was required to rescue another errant GT3 in the gravel but Gunn’s progress at the restart was thwarted by the good use of a GT4 backmarker in-between them that saw a large enough gap to be establish again for Adam to retain the lead from clearly charging Gunn.

With just seven minutes remaining, the Beechdean team were served the scare of the lives as it was reported that the #97 would be issued with a Drive Through Penalty for a pit lane transgression but (luckily for all) that transpired to be a typo on Race Controls part as they indicated a similar penalty to the chasing #91 BMW!!

Losing second to the #77 Enduro McLaren on the penultimate lap set up for an incredible final lap as not only did Gunn retake second, he also challenged Adam again for the overall win at the final corner of the final lap as both #4 and #97 cars nearly ran themselves off the track (never actually touching), but they did at least get to recover to take first and second in that order by the end.

What a start to the season – P2 for the #97 Beechdean AMR crew.

The days later race was something pretty much along the same vein as the Pro’s this time started the proceedings – this time under persistent rain onto an already drenched circuit.

Gunn started from P5 whilst Hopkins would get his first run out of the day in P6 within the GT4 field for efforts of Saturday.

Another surprisingly clean start was had as the field had to contest with a half and half circuit where the inward half was relatively clear, but the opposing half of the circuit was awash. That was no problem to the two lead Mercedes AMG’s though as they soon put six (and counting) seconds between them and the chasing pack behind.

Despite a good start from Hopkins, he was soon within the sights of the #36 McLaren of Aston Miller and despite holding him back for as long as he could, the conditions of the final corner was such as a brave move up the inside and a little bit of hip and shoulder from the #36 car and he was through. Hopkins was down to P4 in GT4.

Holding on for as long as he could, the clock eventually forced Gunn to pit from fifth but entered a pit lane now awash of both GT3 and GT4 cars with some pretty close calls happening as cars came in against the flow of crews pushing back cars into the hot lane.

With Miller reassuming his cars P4 position, it would be a place drop this time around for Howard as the #4 Mercedes jumped them within pit lane despite the #4 cars increased success time penalty to theirs. As the race progressed, both Aston’s found themselves somewhat detached as they enjoyed five to six second gaps to their front and rears to allow for a careful run in to the flag as the conditions on track continued to change at every availability.

Eventually, Howard would finish fifth in GT3 whilst Miller would avenge his error in race one to come home fourth in GT4 but importantly upon the podium in third in Silver Cup.

The British GT Championship will reconvene at Silverstone over the weekend of the 6-7th May.

Photo credits – Jacob Ebrey / Drew Gibson
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