WPI Motorsport surprised observers at the recent Snetterton pre-race test session when they turned up in a new Lamborghini Huracan (above) rather than the planned new-generation Porsche 911 GT3 the team had intended to graduate from the GTC ranks with.
Driver Michael Igoe confirmed to DSC that the issue was British circuits’ strict noise limits. “It was struggling to meet the regulations, so we couldn’t take the risk; Porsche actually wouldn’t release the car in the end,” he said.
“That’s why the G-Cat car isn’t here yet, either. The new 911 is well over the noise limit, not even close, and the changes needed to get it anywhere near the limit would take the competitiveness out of it, so that’s the end of us running it.”
“Lamborghini was very good, we were able to fly out to the factory and make the deal happen fairly quickly,” he added. “Obviously we haven’t done a massive amount in the Huracan yet and I’m still learning it; it’s my first time in any GT3 car, too.
“It’s a big step up from the GTC Porsche and the team is still only a few months together as well. But it’s not like we don’t have expectations for this weekend, we’ll definitely be trying for a result.”
There’s also change in the Century Motorsport garage, where 2018 McLaren Autosport BRDC Award winner Tom Gamble joins Jack Mitchell in the team’s #9 BMW M6 GT3 (above, at Oulton) in place of Adrian Willmott, who recently aggravated a pre-existing neck injury.
The switch means a change from the Pro-Am to the Silver Cup ranks, with the resulting extra weight undoing the team’s hard work from the Snetterton test, as Mitchell explained to DSC.
“The test went really well, we found a lot of time from Oulton, but now with the extra weight, we’re back to square one. We’re trying to claw some pace back with setup work, but it’s hard as the driver change was so last minute” he said.
“I have to give Tom as much time as possible in the car, too, as he hasn’t driven it before. So it’ll be one of those weekends to just deal with, make the best of, and then move on. Both the team and I are still learning the car, so it’s going to be a bit of a learning curve season, but we’ll make the most of it.”
Gamble only got the call-up to drive on Friday morning but is glad of the opportunity to go alongside his five-round Blancpain GT sprint programme with WRT Audi. “It would have been silly not to take the chance and get the experience of this championship as well as the car,” he told DSC.
“FP1 was my first-ever time in the car. Its natural handling is the complete opposite of the R8, that has a bit of oversteer whereas the BMW is a bit of an understeery thing. So I was trying to get my head around that, as well as the traffic, obviously, there are no GT4s to get around in Blancpain!”
Adam Christodoulou was optimistic ahead of qualifying, having put the Team Abba Mercedes (above) top of the timing screens in FP2. “Generally, the AMG isn’t the strongest car around Snetterton, as so much of it is about straight-line speed,” he said.
“That’s not necessarily this car’s strongest point, but it felt pretty hooked up in that session. We just need to do work a bit more with Richard [Neary] and get a bit more speed out of him. I’m looking forward to qualifying and hopefully, we can replicate the performance.
“To get on the podium first time out at Oulton was unbelievable; we basically did no pre-season testing, just went straight to the track. We were praying there’d be a bit of rain, but in the end the car was hooked up in the dry and it showed in the results.”
Over at Balfe Motorsport, the team’s McLaren 720S GT3 (above, at Oulton) is now finished in its traditional bright red livery, while driver Shaun Balfe confirmed to DSC that the electrical issue which prevented running at Oulton Park has now been remedied.
“Yes, we did the test here at Snetterton and all was good,” he told us. “So we’re now into the detail of learning the car and doing the setup work. We’re trying to keep our expectations sensible this weekend; we laid the decent tyre rubber into FP1 and used FP2 to try a few things. Rob [Bell] spent longer in the car for that reason, obviously, he’s the man to say yay or nay to any changes.
“The 720S is good, really good. I’m impressed they’ve managed to retain a lot of the good ingredients of the 650S while improving on its weak areas. So overall it’s better, I think it needs a little time to evolve and show its full potential, but we’re positive it’ll come good.
“It’s good around Snetterton, but this isn’t my favourite circuit, it’s a busy track, not the widest and there are a couple of places that invite lunges. For me, the calendar starts tough with Oulton and Snetterton and then gets better as it goes on; I’m looking forward to racing at Donington twice, as it’s effectively my home track has a Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire lad!”
Adam Balon is among a clutch of GT3 newcomers on this season’s British GT grid, having made the step up to a Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini (above) from his Track-Club GT4 McLaren. The Innocent Smoothies co-founder is following a step-by-step plan with Le Mans in his sights, so a move up was always on the cards.
“I was delighted with Oulton,” he declared. “It was my first round in a GT3, so I was over the moon to get a second and a fourth. The team are fantastic and Phil [Keen] is a great coach as well as a great driver, so I’m feeling pretty grooved in already.”
A British GT debutant, but not a GT3 debutant, Ollie Wilkinson got his 2019 campaign with Optimum Motorsport off to an ideal start at Oulton Park, finishing on the podium (above) with co-driver Bradley Ellis.
The 23-year-old already has Audi and Aston Martin GT3 experience in International GT Open but admits that driving these machines on a tight British circuit is a different kettle of fish to the wide-open Grand Prix venues on the continent.
“I’m finding it good fun,” he told DSC. “I started my car racing in Ginetta GT5s, but they didn’t race here, although I have been to Snetterton in a Radical. It’s certainly a bit crazier in a GT3 on these small circuits compared to the European ones, it’s a lot tighter, the walls are closer, everything seems faster. The Aston seems quick out of the box but I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
One of the stories of the opening weekend of 2019 was Invictus Games Racing’s overall GT4 podium finish (above), with the Jaguar squad having struggled for competitiveness throughout its maiden campaign in 2018.
Matt George kept up the momentum by topping FP2 in the David Appleby Engineering-built F-Type and explained to DSC during the session how the team has transformed its effort over the winter.
“The guys at DAE worked really hard to improve reliability, which naturally means more track time and therefore more setup work,” he told us. “There are a few differences from last year, some changed to the brakes, nothing major; to look at and to drive the car is fundamentally the same, it’s just a bit easier to handle and we’ve found a lot of time with the setup. There’s no magic recipe, it’s just working as it should now!
“We did 12 days of testing over the winter, but that’s it now, we won’t be testing in-season. We thought it was worth doing all our testing ahead of the season and starting strong. From the work we’ve done, I’d actually have said Oulton was our weakest circuit, so we’re looking forward to seeing how we go everywhere else.
“There’s still a bit of work to do on wet and mixed-conditions setup, as believe it or not only two our of our testing days were wet! The early signs here at Snetterton are good, we tested well here and have just gone fastest in FP2.”
The team is also taking a slightly different approach to the Am component of its driving squad this time around. Last year, one driver did the first half and another the second half, but this time George’s team-mates Paul Vice and Steve McCulley have decided between themselves which rounds to do, based on which tracks they enjoyed most in 2018. McCulley partnered George at Oulton and Vice is in this weekend at Snetterton.
Finally, the Ram Racing Mercedes (above) is absent this weekend at Snetterton, with Ian Loggie temporarily ruled out of driving due to an injury from a cycling accident.