With the 2017 British GT Championship season opener at Oulton just days away, the excitement is building, particularly down in the GT4 class, which features its biggest ever entry of 20 cars.
Among the runners and riders in the GT4 division this season is Joe Osborne, who after years competing in the British GT GT3 field, has moved into the GT4 ranks with Tolman Motorsport to drive its McLaren 570S GT4 with David Pattison.
Behind the scenes, 28-year-old Osborne works for McLaren Automotive as a driver coach at the company’s exclusive trackways and has done for four years, so racing with its products on the side, he feels, is a logical step forward.
“The catalyst to my drive was David Pattison, he’s my boss, he employs me,” Osborne told DSC. “‘Stepping down’ per say into GT4 is great, because as a class it’s going from strength to strength and I see it as a diversification, and a good way to make a living.
“It’s also nice that I can say to people I work with at McLaren events who ask me what I race, that I can reply, ‘a McLaren’! As before I haven’t been able to say that, and it’s good to practice what you preach.”
This year, after a highly successful developmental season in British GT with Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse in 2016, winning two races, the 570S GT4 is back in numbers. A total of six examples of the McLaren Sports Series model will race this year in the series, which Osborne says, isn’t a surprise.
We’re not the only ones who see McLaren as the best option either
“Tolman and Pattison are great to work with, and the McLaren is the best GT4 car, so it’s worked out perfectly for me to get involved in that project. We’re not the only ones who see McLaren as the best option either.
“With a gent driver, when it’s their hobby, they want to be able to talk to people when they’re out socialising about what they do, and when they say, ‘I race a Ginetta or a BMW’, it doesn’t sound as prestigious as McLaren, which has a bit more status.
“The 570S GT4 is also a proven car that’s still got a long way to go. It was a race winner in its first year, and with the service package you get from McLaren GT, it’s a car that is now sought after by so many teams. It’s an impressive car, that’s really enjoyable to drive and work with.
The 570S GT4 is also a proven car that’s still got a long way to go
“When I got in it and drove it for the first time at a Pure McLaren event I knew straight away that it ticked all the boxes,” he continued. “It’s a baby GT3 car, a GT3 car from 10 years ago, which is scary, and it proves that motorsport is cyclical. I think GT3 will become unsustainable and is in danger of ending up like GT1 did. If it does GT4 will step in and take its place.
“They just need to bump the numbers up or by the time I retire it’ll be GT86, and not referring to Toyota. It’s a new level, it moves the goalposts.”
This year there’s not only a record GT4 field in British GT, but also a bigger field than GT3. Drivers looking for the best competition are now taking a longer look at what GT4 has to offer, as like Osborne says, it has the potential to be the harder-fought class.
“GT4 is now the foundation of British GT, it’s a shift in time,” he said. “I don’t like the championship with less than 20 cars, and I remember when there was only nine or ten cars on the grid.
“When a third of the grid score a podium, with success penalties there’s such a turnover of podium sitters that everyone ends up with a chance at winning the championship, and that’s almost ‘too competitive’. That’s not racing, that’s a school sports day.
“That’s why I want to go racing in GT4, I want my name in the hat so that as it gets bigger and bigger that I can be available when manufacturers take it more seriously.
“I want to be a factory driver, but I still have a lot to prove and I am still learning. By doing this, I want to make a name for myself and take the next step as a driver. Do I want to be a McLaren factory driver? Is that my aspiration?
“Put it this way, if I could choose a manufacturer to be associated with, McLaren would be right at the top of the list.”
Images courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography