British GT’s championships were again settled at their now-traditional last round shootout. With Donington’s power-hungry swoops and straights favouring the Aston Martin entrants, TF Sport’s pair of Vantage GT3s filled the front row of the grid for the two hour 2017 finale, Academy Motorsport flying the Aston Martin flag on GT4 pole.
But this said little about the bigger contest, both drivers championships being a straight fight between the crews of the #33 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan and the #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental in GT3, the stand-off for GT4 honours between the HHC Motorsport and Lanan Racing Ginetta G55s.
With results closely traded all season the GT3 Drivers Championship was a matter of some complexity, but essentially a win for either the leading Bentley crew of Rick Parfitt / Seb Morris or the Jon Minshaw / Phil Keen Lamborghini would settle it. But rarely is British GT that clear-cut.
A clean start saw Mark Farmer defend his lead from pole into Redgate, but a touch from his team mate Derek Johnston put his challenging #1 Aston Martin off line, allowing space on the inside for Jon Minshaw’s Lamborghini to squeeze through into second.
A strong start down the outside from Charlie Fagg saw his JRM Nissan leap to fifth from eighth. This was an aggressive distraction from the ‘Invitation’ entry, but Rick Parfitt held his nerve even though Liam Griffin also stole a position, the #31 Bentley dropping to a conservative sixth at the outset. This was to prove sensible though, as Minshaw lost touch with the tarmac through Coppice, a trip through the gravel ruining his efforts and ultimately the Demon Tweeks car’s race – down to ninth, much to the delight of the Team Parker pit.
His recovery was good, the Huracan’s pace soon taking back places, but his title rival Parfitt had mounted an attack on Liam Griffin for third, getting the job done on the #6 Lamborghini in a move Parfitt later described to DSC as “my best move ever” before pushing on, no doubt considering the opportunity being handed him mindful of the 20 second penalty to be served at his pit stop.
GT4 honours looked more set. A top three finish for HHC Motorsport’s Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton (above) was their target in fending off the Lanan Racing crew of David Pittard and Alex Reed for the title. The story was all too brief though. Will Moore kept his pole sitting #62 Academy Motorsport Aston Martin ahead of the GT4 field, Graham Johnson’s PMW World Expo Optimum McLaren 570S passing the Invitation class GPRM Toyota GT86 of Richard Williams for second on the first lap. But Moore lost his lead with a spin at the Old Hairpin, the Aston Martin’s transmission apparently seizing.
This triggered an accident involving the #51 Lanan Racing Ginetta, driver Alex Reed explaining to DSC: “Will’s car locked up, but as he got going it jumped from fourth gear to first, pitching it again as I was coming up in his blind spot. I had nowhere to go.” The stricken Ginetta sat deep in the gravel, its front left wheel missing and its championship challenge over.
HHC Motorsport’s GT4 title was therefore secured by default, even though drivers Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha were already sitting third in class and seemed on target regardless.
This left last year’s GT4 champions at the head of proceedings, Graham Johnson soon settling into a rhythm. With no penalties to consider it was already looking good for the distinctive #501 car.
Back at the front Mark Farmer and Derek Johnston extended their overall 1-2 for TF Sport, Johnston pressuring his team mate for the lead. As the pit window opened Farmer was soon in, his 10 second penalty served. Jonny Adam made the best of his pit stop advantage over his team mates though, the reigning champion’s #1 Aston Martin exiting the pitlane to now lead GT3.
Phil Keen’s Barwell Lamborghini rejoined in third behind Jon Barnes in the #11 TF Sport car, soon setting fastest lap of the race at 1:28.919, this reducing to 1:28.495 as he and Barnes traded blows, Keen aware of the task ahead of him to claw back his championship prospects. The #31 Bentley held out before Seb Morris took over from Parfitt, rejoining fifth on the road behind Ben Green’s #08 JRM Nissan, but crucially fourth in class. This would mean enough points to clinch the drivers’ championship.
Stefan Hodgetts lost a wheel at the bottom of the super-quick Craner Curves and did well to keep his GPRM Toyota GT86 out of the wall after a stub axle sheared, the car an immediate retirement. This left Adam Mackay’s #72 Track Club McLaren second on the road in GT4 behind Mike Robinson, who had resumed the class lead with the PMW Expo McLaren and settled comfortably 11 seconds ahead, this despite what Robinson described as “a heavy BoP adjustment”. Mackay had company though, Stuart Middleton’s HHC Ginetta challenging hard through Goddards and looking the stronger of the pair.
Their tussle allowed Joe Osborne to make a move, stealthily crawling up behind the #55 Ginetta to pounce into Redgate on Lap 56. Osborne pushing hard, McLarens were now 1-2-3 in GT4 with 30 minutes to go before Osborne was seen beached at Coppice. This left last year’s GT4 winner third, Sandy Mitchell’s Black Bull Racing McLaren closing in hard on the #55 Ginetta before a punctured intervened.
With the TF Sport Aston Martins settled at the front Seb Morris’s race was now one of consistency and resilience. The #6 Barwell Lamborghini was closing in on the #31 Bentley, Sam Tordoff just six seconds behind in fifth. But Morris had it covered, and although Phil Keen was pushing hard to reduce his gap to second this would not be enough to change the championship order, Team Parker Racing having delivered cool strategy in combination with an intelligent, robust performance from its drivers.
Jonny Adam held on for the win to top off an incredible year for the Scot, another solid performance from TF Sport achieving a 1-2 in the GT3 class for Aston Martin.
Phil Keen gave it everything, but it was Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris who took the GT3 Championship honours for 2017, Parfitt notably the first ever driver to do the double in taking both the British GT4 and now GT3 drivers’ crowns. Barwell Motorsport will have to settle for the teams championship.
Mike Robinson took the flag in the #501 McLaren to end PMW Expo’s defensive year of their GT4 title on a high, and indeed to take the GT4 Pro-Am drivers title for 2017. But it was Stuart Middleton and Will Tregurtha’s day, a comfortable but essentially well handled performance netting their championship with HHC Motorsport, a Ginetta G55 GT4 delivering the goods yet again.
Rick Parfitt: “I honestly never thought I’d be in GT3, let alone GT3 champion. Team Parker has worked in perfect harmony and it’s been a great experience I shall always cherish. To be double champion is ridiculous and I hope that might take some beating. To have delivered Bentley its first-ever domestic championship is amazing.”
Seb Morris: “Rick has driven so well and has come on tremendously – he’s possibly even quicker than me in places now! Team Parker has delivered an unbelievable car, with great support from Bentley.”
Stuart Middleton: “What an amazing result – it’s been the best year I’ve ever had in motorsport. An awesome result for the team and I can’t thank HHC Motorsport enough for pulling all this together so well.”
Graham Johnson: “We changed the car mid-season and lost ground, but here we are as Pro-Am champions and top three in the team championship. We struggled and were off the pace for a while, but we’re back on track now and really looking forward to next year.”
STOP PRESS: Sunday evening brought news that the Minshaw/Keen Lamborghini had been excluded from the results for a yellow-flag infringement, however the exclusion does not affect the championship result.