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Season Preview: Can TF Sport Win A Second Straight Title?

30 cars set for the Oulton Park opener

The British GT Championship returns this weekend as the teams and drivers head to Oulton Park for the opening pair of races to kick off the 2017 season.

This year’s field is an impressive one, with 30 cars across the two GT classes. A total of 12 cars are set to populate the GT3 field, with a further 18 in the GT4 class, which continues to grow in size and depth.

It promises to be a marquee year for the series, which has now reached 25 years old. Here’s a rundown of what to expect from the two grids in this year’s series:

GT3: Quality and quantity
Despite fears of a GT3 exodus in 2017, the series’ premier class is back, with a healthy grid featuring some of the UK’s most talented drivers and teams representing eight of GT3’s many marques.

Early favourites come in the form of the reigning drivers’ and teams’ champions at TF Sport. Jonny Adam and Derek Johnston are back to go for the title once more after turning heads throughout 2016. The duo will race an Aston Martin Vantage GT3 again; despite its age, this car is still capable of winning races and titles.

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If they can seal the deal, it’ll be three in a row for the Vantage and Adam. In the team’s second car, team-mates Mark Farmer and Jon Barnes will look to build on their 2016 season which saw them win together at Spa.

The other Aston in the field comes from Macmillan AMR, which is stepping up to GT3 with Jack Mitchell and James Littlejohn after racing in GT4 last year.

Despite fears of a GT3 exodus in 2017, the series’ premier class is back, with a healthy grid featuring some of the UK’s most talented drivers and teams

Barwell Motorsport continues to represent Lamborghini in the series and has entered a pair of Huracan GT3s. It’s set to be a big year for the team after they narrowly missed out on winning the title at the finale in 2016. The two driver squads are Liam Griffin and BTCC convert Sam Tordoff in the #6 and Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen in the #33.

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Bentley will also have a pair of cars in the British GT championship this year, with Team Parker Racing expanding to a two-Continental effort for this season in an attempt to push even harder to win the title.

The impressive duo of Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jr return after showing eye-opening speed throughout the season in the lead car, while Callum Macleod and Ian Loggie will share its second entry fresh from racing in Blancpain last season with the team.

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For Ginetta, its pseudo-factory squad for the year will be Century Motorsport, racing two updated G55 GT3s in the series with wunderkinds Charlie Robertson and Parker Chase in one and Nathan Freke and Harry Gottsacker in the other. The new G55 promises to be a big improvement, with the main selling point being a brand-new Chevrolet LS3 engine that should suit the tight and twisty UK circuits better than the old block from Nissan.

The other two marques represented in GT3 are Mercedes and Ferrari, with one of the latter and two of the former. The AF Corse-run Spirit of Race team brings the ‘Prancing Horse’ back to the British GT championship full-time with a 488 GT3 for Irish GT star Matt Griffin and his ever-present team-mate Duncan Cameron, who are certainly a pair to watch out for.

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Lee Mowle and Ryan Ratcliffe meanwhile will pair up in AmDTuning.com’s new Mercedes-AMG GT, which should also be a force to be reckoned with, while also choosing the three-pointed star are Richard Neary and Martin Short of Abba/Rollcentre Racing, looking to improve on results from last year with the older BMW Z4.

GT4: Back and better than ever
With 18 entries, the British GT4 class has never been bigger, and in this case, never more competitive. There’s plenty to look for across the seven models that make up the grid, with new kit everywhere and a slew of new drivers and teams to keep tabs on.

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The manufacturer with the most is once again Ginetta, with seven G55s on the list. Headlining the batch of teams is reigning champion PMW/Optimum Motorsport and its duo of Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson, who are united again to defend their crown and have every chance of achieving their goal.

With 18 entries, the British GT4 class has never been bigger, and in this case, never more competitive, too

The other teams sticking with the Yorkshire-based marque for 2017 will be Lanan Racing, HHC Motorsport, RCIB Insurance Racing and Century Motorsport. There are no real weak links there, although the RCIB Insurance G55 of 2012 British GT Champion Michael Caine and Mike Newbould is certainly a notable entry.

Of the seven G55s, only one is a 2016-spec car, as like the GT3 challenger, Ginetta has revised its GT4 car, too, adding ABS, traction control and a power increase.

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The other brand with a large base of customers is McLaren, with six cars in the field following the success of Ciaran Haggerty and Sandy Mitchell’s developmental campaign in 2016 with the 570S GT4.

Garage 59 moves over to British GT after winning the Blancpain Endurance title in 2016 and will run Haggerty and Mitchell for the year in one of its two cars, with backing from Black Bull. The two young Scots are clearly gunning for the title this year after winning two races at the end of last season, while series newcomers Akhil Rabindra and Dean MacDonald will likely use 2017 to get acclimatised to the championship.

The other four 570S GT4s come in the form of a pair entered by In2Racing – one of which will see McLaren development driver Gareth Howell share with Richard Marsh – and single-car entries from Tolman Motorsport (which brings the eye-catching pair of Joe Osborne and David Pattison to the party) and track-club. Expect all six 570S GT4s to be competitive here.

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The remaining entries in the class add to the variety of the GT4 division, with the Academy Motorsport and Macmillan AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT4s joined by a Team Parker Racing Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport.

Of those, the main interest is arguably Academy Motorsport’s pair of Will Moore (who steps down from racing with Optimum Motorsport last year in GT3) and 2008 British GT4 winner Matt Nicoll-Jones.

Ebor GT Motorsport was set to bring its Maserati GT MC GT4 and GPRM’s Toyota GT86 was set to bolster the class to 20 cars, but both teams pulled out of the season opener at the last minute.

Both hour-long sprint races at Oulton Park to kick off the new season will take place on Easter Monday (17 April), with the first race at 11:10am, followed by the second at 3:30pm.

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