The Intelligent Money British GT Championship’s drivers’ titles will be decided at Donington Park next month after Darren Leung and Dan Harper, and Erik Evans and Matt Cowley won their respective GT3 and GT4 classes at Brands Hatch on Sunday afternoon.
Century’s BMW came home a second clear of Beechdean AMR’s Aston Martin after Harper made the decisive move on Ross Gunn in traffic halfway through the second stint. Points leaders James Cottingham and Jonny Adam completed the podium despite serving the maximum 20-second Compensation Time after Cottingham’s attempts to negate the handicap were twice thwarted by Safety Car periods.
Further back, the early retirement of championship leaders Jack Brown and Charles Clark opened the door for their GT4 rivals to make significant inroads. And it was Academy’s Evans and Cowley who took their chance in emphatic fashion after they also benefitted from a chaotic start that sent cars scattering through Paddock Hill’s gravel trap in avoidance of Ian Loggie’s spun Mercedes-AMG.
R Racing’s Seb Hopkins and Josh Miller fought through to second place, while Michael Johnston and Chris Salkeld took a step closer to the Pro-Am title but also strengthened their overall championship chances by completing the podium for Century.
Barwell’s late unscheduled pitstop handed Drivetac’s Chris Hart and James Wallis the GT3 Silver-Am spoils.
2 Seas might have failed to win the drivers’ championship with a race to spare but its dominant season was confirmed by wrapping up the teams’ title.
GT3: SAFETY CARS PREVENT EARLY CORONATION
John Ferguson’s contact with Ian Loggie at Paddock Hill Bend made for an action-packed start to a race in which championship leader Cottingham made the perfect getaway but also benefitted from Shaun Balfe relieving primary title rival Leung of second into Turn 1. Howard was also ahead of the chaos that was simultaneously unfolding behind where RAM’s Mercedes-AMG got into the back of 2 Seas’ second car which then also made contact with Sky Tempesta’s McLaren.
Loggie somehow resumed without major damage, albeit stone last, while Ferguson soldiered on in fifth until a broken front left upright forced him into retirement.
Back at the front, Cottingham was setting about building a lead that would overcome his and Adam’s maximum Compensation Time. Balfe in second also had 10 seconds to serve, and was eight behind when the first Safety Car intervened after Richard Neary and Mark Radcliffe clashed at Clearways. More significantly, though, was Leung circulating 20 seconds back, which would have seen Adam emerge ahead of Harper after the stops.
Fast laps after the restart saw Cottingham pull a decent lead over his pursuers once again before another Safety Car – this time following a collision between Simon Orange and Mike Price – scuppered his efforts just before the pit window opened.
Of course, ifs, buts and maybes make the world go round. But Cottingham’s pace was undoubtedly impressive and would – possibly – have also been title-winning without the interruptions.
As it was, Century were now well placed to cash in on 2 Seas’ and Barwell’s Compensation Time. Leung had lost third to Howard during the opening hour when he hit fluid and ran off track, so it was Gunn who rejoined at the head of the field from Harper, Adam, Jules Gounon and Callum Macleod.
With positions third to fifth locked in a close battle, the top two were able to break clear and engage in a scrap of their own. Harper was quickly on Gunn’s tail but couldn’t find an opening as the pair negotiated traffic. It took until the start of the final half-hour and one of Century’s GT4 BMWs to slightly and unintentionally delay the Aston Martin exiting Hawthorns for Harper to draw alongside and complete the move into Westfield.
The pair continued circulating together thereafter, although Gunn wasn’t given the chance to end Beechdean’s GT3 win draught that stretches back to 2015.
Behind, Adam initially soaked up Gounon’s pressure before edging clear to finish third and end Loggie’s hopes of retaining the title. It also means 13 points now separate the two remaining championship contenders ahead of October’s Donington Decider where it will be Leung and Harper’s turn to overcome the maximum Compensation Time.
Greystone GT’s Mercedes-AMG shared by Price and Macleod looked set to finish fifth and right behind Gounon until the car ran out of fuel on the penultimate lap. Barwell’s Balfe and Sandy Mitchell were the chief beneficiaries, although it wasn’t enough to remain in title contention.
Paddock’s McLaren should have scored a personal best result in sixth but had 40 seconds added to its time post-race in lieu of a 10-second stop-go penalty for making contact with a GT4 car. Drivetac’s Hart and Wallis therefore added an excellent sixth place overall to their Silver-Am victory.
GT4: ACADEMY BACK FROM THE BRINK
Evans and Cowley celebrated a dominant first victory of the season at Brands Hatch where the duo set up a late title challenge despite starting the day 54 points off the lead.
Indeed, on a weekend when Optimum’s Clark and Brown were favourites to wrap up the championship, a non-score for the McLaren pair and big gains for all of their rivals means six crews will remain in mathematical contention at the Donington Decider.
Clark and Brown needed to only extend their points lead marginally to seal the crown with a round to spare, but a chaotic start to the race would unravel their celebration plans.
The GT3 clash at Paddock Hill Bend caused havoc with the GT4 qualifying order as cars scattered to avoid the 2 Seas Mercedes-AMG stranded in the middle of the track. Pole-sitter Josh Rowledge had to skip the DTO McLaren wide across Turn 1’s gravel to avoid contact, dumping him well down the order, and Clark took similar avoiding action. This was where Optimum’s troubles began as shortly after the championship-leading Artura developed a coolant leak that would consign it to retirement after just a handful of laps.
With the title favourites out, it opened the door for others to claw back ground. And nobody did that better than Evans and Cowley.
Evans leapt from third to first during the early melee in which Miller also found a route through to second and Johnston made significant ground on route to third.
Two Safety Cars during the opening half meant Evans had to repeatedly work hard to forge a gap, but with no traffic ahead the Mustang galloped clear to hold an advantage of a handful of seconds by the time the pit window opened. Evans ran a lap longer than many of his rivals, completed a clean stop, and Cowley rejoined still in the lead ahead of Salkeld, whose shorter pit time helped Century’s BMW vault past R Racing’s Aston.
However, when Salkeld came under pressure from Miller’s co-driver Hopkins, Cowley scampered clear to take a clear win, which also moved the crew from sixth to third in the standings and bang into championship contention.
Hopkins did find a way past Salkeld to snatch second, but third overall and the Pro-Am win – despite having to serve the maximum Pitstop Compensation Time following their Portimão victory – was a superb result for #14’s crew who remain Clark and Brown’s closest challengers. 10.5 points now separates the top two, and 16.5 the first three.
Matt Nicoll-Jones and Will Moore were fourth in the second Academy Mustang, a lap down but with enough time to pose for a formation finish photo with the sister car! Carl Cavers and Chris Salkeld took fifth in Century’s second BMW, with James Townsend and Mike Simpson (Toro Verde GT) rounding out both the top six and the Pro-Am podium.
Race review by British GT and taken from news release.
British GT’s drivers’ and GT4 teams’ championships will be decided at Donington Park on October 21-22