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Donington Park Media Day: Paddock Notes

DSC's big notebook from the British GT's first gathering of 2018

There were a huge number of familiar faces in the Donington pitlane for the British GT Media Day, way beyond the driving talent assembled for the season ahead.

Here’s DSC’s notebook from the day:

Balfe on his series switch

DSC caught up with reigning GT Open Pro-Am champion Shaun Balfe, about his decision to switch from racing in the European series, to the British GT this year, the long-time GT racer explaining that he feels he had nothing more to achieve in GT Open.

“I think I’ve gone as far as I could in GT Open, having competed in it for four years, winning the Pro-Am title this year,” he said. “I wanted a change, and on the commercial side, it felt good to join the British GT Championship this year. It’s a big championship, and even though lots of people keep asking me what the GT Open Championship is like, it’s clear that you get a bit lost in the scenery racing over there.

This year, Balfe has expanded to competing with two cars, his team running Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson’s McLaren 570S GT4 alongside its 650S GT3. Balfe says the move to running a driver owner entry is part of a wider plan for his team.

“We’re running Graham’s car this year, and I think it’s going to go really well, he likes what we can offer in terms of engineering, storage etc. Our plan is to expand this, running a couple of GT4 cars on the side would be great. It’s good to be able to put the team in the shop window of our own high street!”

As a side note, while the Balfe McLaren GT4 was at Donington Park, both Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson were unable to attend at short notice, so the car didn’t head out to test.

Extra test cars

There were a couple of cars on the test entry, which were unexpected. Team Parker turned up at Donington Park with a third Continental GT3, the team bringing it along purely for the test. The team told DSC that it’s the team’s Blancpain-bound Continental, which is not due to race this year in British GT, and was being shaken down before the official Blancpain test at Paul Ricard following an engine change.

McLaren Automotive also brought along an extra 570S GT4 for some track time, with newly-signed factory driver Paul Holton driving. With Holton on-site, it meant that all four McLaren factory drivers were at Donington, Joe Osborne driving a 570S GT4 with Tolman Motorsport, Ben Barnicoat testing another with Track-Club and Rob Bell sharing a 650S GT3 with Shaun Balfe.

First sight of the new GT4s

DSC was able to see two of the new bits of GT4 machinery turn a wheel for the first time in the series today, Invictus Games Racing running both its stunning looking – and sounding – F-Type SVR GT4s, and Century lapping its new M4 GT4s.

Century brought both its BMWs along to the test, though it has still yet to officially nominate any drivers for its second car. So far the team has signed up Ben Green and Ben Tuck in its #42 M4. Driving the second car today was Nathan Freke and David Pittard, it remains to be seen whether the pair will contest the full season.

Big British GT effort for RJN

We’re still awaiting details of the RJN Nissan Blancpain GT programme, partially revealed by dint of the Pro car mentioned in SRO’s confirmation of the 26 car Pro entry.

Liz and Bob Neville though are at Donington Park with their first ever mixed class GT3/GT4 entry, the pair of Ultratek Nissan 370Zs joined by a solo Nissan GT-R, this a beautifully turned out 2015 spec car for Struan Moore and Devon Modell.

Neville explained to DSC that the car set to campaign the British GT this year is a 2015 spec GT-R, not the new-for-2018 model.

Parfitt ready for title defence

Speaking to the media at the pre-season press conference, reigning champion Rick Parfitt Jnr expressed his eagerness for the new season to start. The musician come racer, who won the title with Seb Morris and Team Parker last year is very realistic about his targets for the year though, with so much factory talent on the entry.

“There was a lot of emotion last season, and it was a great year,” he said. “From attendance, to atmosphere and. And it’s incredible to see the drivers on the grid this year, I’m surrounded by amazing drivers.

“It’s going to be a new challenge this year, I’m with Ryan (Ratcliffe) who I know well from racing in GT4, but it will be a building year for us, and we want to see how far we can take it. The British GT really is the world’s strongest domestic championship, and the evidence of that is in the quality of the grid this year.”

UltraTek livery revealed

UltraTek, which is running a pair of Nissan 370Z GT4s with Team RJN this year in GT4, has revealed a new colour scheme for its cars this season.

The livery was designed and put on the cars by APM Customs.

Maxime Martin makes his first Jetstream appearance

Only one of the five Aston Martin factory drivers took part in today’s track action, Maxime Martin driving the Jetstream Motorsport Aston Martin with Graham Davidson.

It’s clear that the Jetstream project came together late in the process, but there’s clear excitement of the prospect of the competition to come. Graham Davidson took the GT Cup title lsat year with what be the last remaining active McLaren MP4-12C in a significant sportscar championship.

“We always knew this would be a step up, from GT Cup to British GT. But with the way things have turned out and the drivers involved, it’s a bigger step than we expected. But by god its excited, I can’t wait to get going.”

Martin meanwhile, made it clear that it’s not been an easy decision to move from BMW, but he is relishing the opportunities with what he clearly hopes will be a multi-year programme with Aston Martin.

He explained that the potential for a season in the British GT Championship had always been on the horizon, alongside his already announced Blancpain GT and FIA WEC programmes and offered the throwaway remark with a smile on his face: “All I’ve done is change from one national championship to another.”

Familiar faces in the paddock

McLaren’s Driver Development Programme coaching team featuring the likes of Danny Watts, Rob Garofall, Warren Hughes and Charlie Hollings were part of a major presence from the brand together with Motorsport Director Dan Walmsley and most of his senior team.

A very welcome sight down at Barwell Motorsport meanwhile is newly installed team manager Robin Liddell, the still rapid racer will work alongside Mark Lemmer co-ordinating the team’s multi-car Lamborghini efforts through the season. Liddell though was crystal clear that his racing days are not done.

Franassovici bullish about British GT’s quality entry

British GT Championship manager Benjamin Franassovici also spoke to the media at today’s press conference, and stressed how much hard work has gone into putting together this year’s 36-car field, and in particular, keeping the interest levels high in the GT3 class, which will run with 13 full-season cars in 2018.

“We’ve been revealing our entries gradually, and we have exceeded our expectations. It’s been really hard work, but we’re really pleased with the GT3 and GT4 entries. The field has gradually increased in quality and in diversity, which is great, it shows a lot of trust from the teams.

“A couple of years ago people said GT3 was dead, and with this grid we have proved that this is not the case. The quality of the cars, and the factory driver involvement has been amazing. The series has grown, and we’ve seen a rise in public attendance, at every circuit, even Rockingham!”

Palmer introduces the “new Donington”

Jonathan Palmer spoke to the media today, in what was effectively the first event at Donington Park under MSV ownership. He detailed a number of improvements being made to the circuit currently and into the near future. These included new spectator facilities, office accommodation and re-surfacing the existing paddock and for the first time the outer paddocks.

Steller Motorsport announcement coming

It’s a record eight GT4 marques for the season with the two Steller Motorsport Toyotas named on the entry but with the team’s formal announcement still to come, the team one of a number not present here as they complete a job list of minor jobs to finalise the GT4 homologation for the cars.

Team Parker fastest in testing

The British GT Championship runners headed out on circuit for three sessions during the day, in the combined times the #7 Team Parker Bentley Continental GT3 finished with the fastest time, a 1:27.314 in the third session. But unfortunately, the sessions didn’t run entirely smoothly, the running in Session 2 cut short in by a significant incident at the Old Hairpin.

The #2 Barwell Huracan was the victim, the team telling DSC that the car ran wide, the driver losing the rear, veering across the circuit and ending up in the tyres hard, damaging the front-right corner significantly.

The top three in GT3 was completed by the #69 and aforementioned #2 Barwell Lamborghini Huracans respectively, with 1:27.537 and 1:28.220 tours.

In GT4, Century Motorsport’s new BMW M4 GT4s got off to a fast start in the wet conditions trackside, the two cars finishing up first and second in the combined rankings. The #43 finished top with a 1:36.084, ahead of the #42, which set a 1:36.523. The #4 Tolman Motorsport McLaren completed the leading trio.

Session two ended early due tp excessive tyre damage, the #2 Barwell Lamborghini and #0 Development McLaren involved.

Photos courtesy of Jakob Ebrey Photography/BritishGT