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Brands Hatch Paddock Notes

Championship battles tight across both classes

British GT’s GT3 category had its first change of championship leader after the Spa round, with Barwell Motorsport’s Sam de Haan and Jonny Cocker in the #69 Huracan (below) overhauling their team-mates Adam Balon and Phil Keen in the #72 car to lead by just half a point going into Brands, 104.5 points to 104 points the totals.

“I’m feeling good ahead of the race,” de Haan told DSC ahead of qualifying on Saturday. “We got a bit unlucky at Spa getting turned around on the first lap, but the recovery drive after was good, we had a clean race bar that first lap. Jonny and I both love the Brands GP circuit, although we didn’t get to do any testing here, as there’s so few test days, but everyone’s in the same boat with that.

“We have to come in going for the win as we do every round, there’s no sense of defending our lead. Qually will be really important, last year was a bit of a mess with two red flags in the session, so we want a clean qually, we want to be up at the front.”

Ryan Ratcliffe is back and fighting fit alongside Glynn Geddie in the #7 Team Parker Bentley (above) after his monster shunt in last weekend’s Spa 24 Hours, having been cleared by doctors to compete this weekend. “My head’s fine, my body’s still a bit stiff, though,” he said. “I don’t actually remember the crash, which I think is my body’s way of saying move on and forget about it! It’s good to get back into the car and get back into it straight away.”

At Century Motorsport, Angus Fender has moved up from the #43 GT4 BMW (now co-piloted by team boss Nathan Freke) to the #9 GT3 machine, taking the seat alongside Jack Mitchell that has been filled by Adrian Willmott, Tom Gamble and JM Littman thus far in 2019.

Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit is a daunting place for any driver to make their GT3 debut, but Fender was unfazed, telling DSC: “The last time I raced here was the final BTCC round last season in Ginetta GT4 Supercup, so it’s been a while! Rocking out of the pitlane in a weapon like the M6 is always great, it’s a seriously quick bit of kit. The step up hasn’t been as scary as you’d think, when you strip it back to bare bones, it’s still a four-wheeled, big-engined race car.

“The main differences are the weight and the downforce, but I’ve raced high-downforce cars before, so it’s about reverting to that feeling of intuition about the grip. I’d love to move up to GT3 full-time in 2020, but we have to think about costs. These last two rounds are only just affordable, so we’ll have to see what we can do over the winter and I’ll make sure I enjoy my time in the car right now.”

As well as the shuffling around at Century, there’s a new face in Beechdean’s GT3 Aston Martin alongside team owner Andrew Howard in the shape of 23-year-old Frenchman Valentin Hasse-Clot. A Carrera Cup France regular in 2017 and 2018, he began this season in ADAC GT Masters driving an Aston Martin for the PROpeak Performance squad alongside Hugo de Sadeleer, but the duo elected not to continue beyond the first two rounds in Oschersleben and Most.

FP1 was Hasse-Clot’s first experience of the Brands GP Loop. “It’s a tough one!” he exclaimed. “Lots of blind corners, not much space between the track and the fence, and I’m also discovering the GT3 and GT4 traffic; it makes the whole thing more difficult, it’s a lot of new stuff for me.”

The opportunity to race here came out of a meeting with Howard and Beechdean at Le Mans, where they were contesting the Michelin Le Mans Cup ‘Road To Le Mans’ support race.

“I really wanted to finish the season in British GT in an Aston, as I’d started in an Aston in GT Masters,” Hasse-Clot continued. “My main target this weekend is to learn the championship, the team and the environment, to build something for the end of the season and maybe next year. British GT would be a good option for 2020, I want to continue in an Aston to make use of what I’ve learned this year.”

In GT4, the championship is finely poised going into Brands, with Multimatic’s Seb Priaulx and Scott Maxwell leading on 102.5 points in the #15 Mustang and Tolman Motorsport’s Jordan Collard (above) and Lewis Proctor a very close second on 97.5 points in the #5 McLaren. And with TF Sport’s #97 Aston Martin pairing of Ash Hand and Tom Canning in third on 95 points, the McLaren crew have to look ahead as well as behind in the title fight.

“It’s all to play for, it’s really close and competitive in GT4 this year, you can’t afford a single mistake on or off track” Collard told DSC during free practice. “We had quite a good weekend at Spa [finishing second overall in GT4], so we’re hoping to carry a bit of that momentum into this weekend. The Aston is getting quicker by the weekend and they’re only two points behind us, so it’ll probably come down to the last round.

“I don’t really feel like I’m chasing the points leader, it’s about keeping Ash and Tom behind us as well. The only good thing is we have 15 seconds extra in the pits this weekend compared to 20 for them, but the Mustang has none, so they’ll probably have a strong weekend.”

Maxwell, Priaulx and their Mustang (above) are based in the lower paddock this weekend, but Maxwell told us they aren’t overly worried about it affecting their race. “It’s a legacy of us entering the series late,” Maxwell told us while watching the on-track action from behind the Brands garages. “Anywhere there isn’t enough pits for everyone, we don’t get one: so Oulton, Snetterton and here – all the old tracks!”

“It’s not really a problem, just inconvenient, we’ve got the paddock in a different spot and it makes the pitstops challenging as we have nothing behind the box. With the pitstop times in British GT, it’s just like taking a break in the middle of the race, so it’s never a panic, it’s just tight.

“We knew Spa was going to be difficult, but I think we could have had a fourth if we didn’t have our problem in the pits, here we need to podium really going into Donington, and without a pit penalty it’s a good opportunity. I did the Formula Ford Festival here in 1988 but I’d never driven the Grand Prix loop. The only corners the same were the first two, so it’s like a new track; it’s incredible, I love it.”

A slight rule change ahead of this weekend has seen the minimum first-driver stint times for each class are slightly different this round: 62 minutes for GT3 and 58 minutes for GT4. This is in an effort to reduce congestion at the halfway mark of the race in the notoriously tight Brands Hatch pitlane, but will force a slight change of approach from what the #15 Multimatic crew have been doing thus far.

“Depending on what’s going on, we try to run me long to avoid the carnage in the pits, so when everyone comes in we’re still out there in clean air, unless my pace isn’t there in which case I’ll pit right away,” said Maxwell. “We’ll see what happens.”

Over at TF Sport, Hand and Canning in the #97 Aston (above) find themselves leading the Silver Cup standings as well as being third overall in GT4 going into Brands. “Overall is the one we want to win,” Canning told DSC. “The win at Spa helped that a lot with the points difference between first and second, but now we have that 20-second pit penalty coming into this round, which leaves us with a bit of a mountain to climb.”

“We just need to do what we can, pick up what points we can, and get into the best position going into the last round. Brands is a tricky track to make up positions, but it’s quite short lap, so at least you get a lot of opportunities. Everyone from Aston and TF is positive after the first win last time out in Spa.”

In the GT4 Pro-Am category, Fox Motorsport’s Mercedes duo of Mark Murfitt and co-driver Michael Broadhurst are currently fifth, 34 points off the leading Beechdean Aston Martin of Plowman and Fletcher. “It’s not a huge points gap, but we had a bad result at Spa, just couldn’t get the car to work well, so we’ve just got to do as well as we can and claw something back this weekend,” Murfitt said.

DSC also asked about the proliferation of Silver crews in the GT4 ranks this year and where he feels this leaves him as an Am driver. “There are a lot of them,” he said. “I guess you always want to drive against your peers, and GT3 is clearly more Pro-Am focused these days. But the more cars on the grid overall, the better it is for the series, I suppose. Anyone coming into GT4 will have aspirations to do GT3; you’ve always got an eye on next year and I’m sure I’ll do the championship again. I don’t know yet if GT3 is on the cards for me though.”

Murfitt and Broadhurst’s fellow Mercedes racers, Nick Jones and Scott Malvern, are just four points ahead in the #66 Team Parker Mercedes (above), but could well be a lot closer were it not for cruel luck at Snetterton and Donington. “I’m feeling good about the last two races,” Jones said.

“It’s really about what happens to everyone else. First and second in Pro-Am are a fair amount away, so we’ll just do what we can with what we’ve got, we won’t wish misfortune on anyone. It’ll be tough to make up that gap but we’ll give it a go! We seem to have good pace today and I’m really looking forward to it.”

“I will be racing next year, that’s for sure, it’s just a question of what in. I may be back in the GT4 or we may go up to GT3. I think the rules still give us a chance to get in the race even alongside all the Silvers, so I don’t really notice it too much. As the races get a bit longer, the Silvers are at less of a disadvantage, whereas we’re on the back foot a bit in the shorter races, so it balances out.”

Also of note in GT4 is the arrival of 2017 British F4 champion Jamie Caroline (above) to the #58 HHC Motorsport McLaren in place of Luke Williams. The entry now has a completely different driver line-up than it started the season with, after Ruben del Sarte replaced Tom Jackson last time out at Spa. Caroline finished 13th in British F3 in 2018 and also contested four US FF2000 races that season, but this is his first race action in 2019.

Jamie Caroline image courtesy of British F3