We’ve been tracking the progress in what looks like being a very well supported and competitive 2013 British GT championship of late, with the grid for the season building nicely; bucking the trend of many racing championships around the globe.
There are some hiccups along the way though. Driver rankings have caused trouble for some teams – more on that in an later article dealing with a race winning team from last season – and then there’s RJN Motorsport’s proposed two-car entry.
Bob Neville’s happy band raced last year of course, Pro Alex Buncombe partnering Jann Mardenborough, the young Welshman then the latest graduate of the immensely successful Nissan GT Academy.
The team had a heck of a season in their new Nissan GTR GT3 with a race win, plenty of very competitive runs, a real Championship challenge and a general air of excitement over the whole effort. And 2013 looked to have more of the same in prospect with a two-car entry, both with a recent winner of the GT Academy in the driver line-up. That though was before the entry was turned down by the Championship – and the issue is, apparently, the potential speed of the driver pairings.
On the face of it the exclusion from competition of a team for being too fast seems rather odd, particularly one that undoubtedly would bring public and media attention to the Championship.
Championship Manager Benjamin Franassovici though had an immediate response; “The reality is that the British GT championship stands or falls on its ability to maintain a Pro-Am mix. Over the years that standard has brought new people, and new teams into the sport and it has produced some fantastic racing – Pros matched against Pros, Ams matched against Ams.
“It is not something we do lightly to turn away such a high quality entry, but I have to look at the short, medium and long term interests of the Championship and my customers, the teams and drivers who compete in it.
“It would be easy not to learn the lessons of the past, to allow a crew to compete because of the kudos they bring or of some other factor but that would be a mistake. We’d get a boost for sure, but we’d suffer in the longer term because the core competitors – the teams and drivers that have come back year after year – would be discouraged from continuing if they felt there was not a level playing field.
“In this case we might gain two cars of quality but lose six or eight others and that’s not the correct thing to do, particularly at the moment when the market is very tough indeed.
“It certainly isn’t a snub to the team or to the GT Academy; if anything it’s the opposite. Last year, Jann was very quick, we knew that, but because he hadn’t raced before the grading system undervalued his ability. We don’t know yet how good the latest guys are but at present that’s not a risk we feel we should be taking with our core customer base.”
Whilst a racing purist might disagree, it’s difficult to argue with the business-based pragmatism on display here – and it would be wrong to switch from a general picture of positivity around the Championship build up to the polar opposite based on a single decision that the Championship have been entirely happy to justify.
It seems though that, perhaps unwittingly, the British Championship decision has likely given the already media savvy Nissan Motorsport machine another headline – “Too Fast For British GT”. In the background though there’s (albeit just a little begrudging!) acceptance of the Championship’s logic.
Anyone watching the latest series of Nissan GT Academy on ITV 4 will recognise immediately that the contest goes far, far further than a talent spotting process. To win now a driver will likely have been through more coaching and training than even a fairly well resourced Gentleman driver will see in a lifetime. That makes the prize even more valuable, and potentially it means after this decision that the level of competition that the graduates will be exposed to will become even more challenging.
We’ll hear confirmation very soon of the racing programme for the new graduates of the GT Academy – if the past few years are anything to go by they’ll be well recognised names on these pages before long!