British GT4 front-runners Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson will make their GT3 debuts at Donington Park on September 22/23 after confirming plans to share Balfe Motorsport’s McLaren 650S.
The class’ reigning Pro/Am champions and overall 2016 title winners are one of British GT’s most successful-ever GT4 pairings. They also won the previous round at Brands Hatch but, having slipped out of title contention, are now taking the opportunity to evaluate future plans by switching from their usual 570S to the car shared by Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell earlier this year.
Both Johnson and Robinson tested the GT3-spec McLaren at Donington Park last week and are now keen to compare their collective pace against the senior class’ established order ahead of a potential permanent switch in 2019.
“When you’ve spent almost four years watching, being overtaken by and drooling over GT3 exotica from the cabin of your GT4, it’s perhaps inevitable that one day the temptation to race in the top league will prove too much!” confirmed Johnson.
“Everything fell into place for the guest appearance. Balfe had a McLaren GT3 going spare, and Mike and I can’t feature in the top-two of the GT4 championship for the first time since we started competing in British GT, so we’ve nothing to lose by jumping ship and everything to gain because yes, we are evaluating GT3 with a view to potentially making the jump for the 2019 season.”
That ‘jump’ isn’t solely dependent on the duo’s performance at Donington, where the difference between McLaren’s GT3 and GT4 cars was instantly evident during testing last week.
“It’s fair to say I was hooked by the time I’d reached The Old Hairpin for the first time!” continued Johnson. “It’s nice to be driving a pure-bred race car again because while the 570S is a truly great GT4 car, it is ultimately based on a road car. Having said that, the GT3 is extremely compliant and forgiving. It’s enormously confidence inspiring. I was pushing on my first-ever out-lap.
“The braking performance is probably the biggest difference between the 570S and the 650S. It’s obvious that, with more power, the latter goes a lot faster in a straight line. But the braking points are significantly later than in the GT4. The GT3 also telegraphs its intentions far more clearly than the 570S: it’s noisy, hot, and far more communicative through the wheel and pedals.
“We’re not expecting to be on pole at Donington, but at the same time we’ve never turned up just to make up the numbers. As the race draws closer, Mike and I are like kids looking forwards to Christmas Day, but when the red lights go out, we’ll be looking for a decent result.”