The Easter weekend saw the return of the GT’s. Not just the British GT Championships at Oulton Park, but also the World FIA GT1 championship and the European GT3 series at Nogaro in France.
Unfortunately, do to work commitments, I couldn’t be at Oulton Park for found one of the British GT Championship. Although I was somewhat glad I wasn’t standing out in the dreadful weather they were experiencing, I was bitterly disappointed to be missing out on some great racing. New teams and cars have improved the field even more from last year, with BMW and Nissan joining the manufacturers and rather being there to see them in action, I was glued to the online timing screen, a race ticker and twitter to keep up to date on what was happening during both one hour races.
It was the United Autosports Audi of Matt Bell and Charles Bateman who took pole for the first race. They were to lead for all but one of the 32 laps. Unfortunately, the lap they didn’t lead for was the final one. The Audi had ran out of fuel on the last lap and coasted to a stop, gifting the Ecurie Ecosse BMW Z4 of Alasdair McCaig and Oliver Bryant victory in their maiden British GT race. Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen’s took second in their Ferrari 458 ahead of another Ferrari, that of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin. GT4 Honours went the way of the impressive pairing of Warren Hughes and Jody Fannin in their Ginetta G50. At one point in this race, the top six was represented by six different manufacturers, show what a diverse field the series now boasts.
Experienced GT racer Richard Westbrook will partner current champion David Ashburn for as many British GT Races as his busy schedule will allow this season, and this was the pairing that were to start on pole position for Trackspeed in the Porsche 997. The pair also went on to take a flawless victory in the days second race ahead of Griffin and Cameron who performed well in the adverse weather conditions. Third place went the way of British GT New boys Jon Minshaw and Tim Harvey. It was Hughes and Fannin on the top step in the GT4 class, ahead of the Lotus pairing of Phil Glew and Sailesh Bolisetti. An honourable mention must be made to Zoe Wenham. This was her first BGT race weekend and a mature drive in race two saw the 17 year old take third place in GT4 along with Mike Simpson.
Round two of the Championship see’s a trip to the Nurburgring in support of the 24hour race. My media application has been sent so hopefully I will be in attendance to see them battle it out on the iconic German Circuit.
Whilst the Brits were experiencing miserable weather in Cheshire, the FIA GT1’s were fairing slightly better in rural France at Nogaro. Victory in both the wet Sunday race and the dry Monday race, went to the Belgium WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra of Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor. It was a good weekend for the team as their second car of Frank Stippler and Oliver Jarvis took both second places as well completing a perfect start to the season.
The GT3 race was to feature ex British GT driver (and karting buddy) Michael Lyons who has made the step up to join Stefano Gai in the AF Corse Ferrari 458. Race one victory went to the Audi R8 LMS of Marc Sourd and Gregory Guilvert, but disqualification for Lamborghini pair Filip Sladecka and Gerhard Tweraser for ignoring a drive through penalty saw Lyons and Gai promoted to second place after taking the chequered flag in third behind them. Race two saw Maximilian Buhk and Dominik Baumann in the Mecedes-Benz SLS AMG victorious, but Lyons crossed the white line on pit exit after taking over from Gai and was handed a drive through penalty.
Hopes of a solid finish looked diminished for the young Brit, but an incredible drive saw Lyons haul the Ferrari into third place and a battle for second place with the other AF Corse Ferrari during the closing laps. It was just a little too much as Gaetano Ardagna Perez defended his position desperately to keep Michael behind, leaving him to settle for third and not break team rule number 1: Do not take out your team mate.
It was a superb debut for Michael and with two podiums finishes, takes a healthy points haul to the next round. Thankfully both the GT1 and GT3 races were streamed live on the internet so I was able to watch the superb GT racing. Some consolation for not being at Oulton Park.
The British Touring Car Championship’s seems to have thrown up a divide amongst fans recently thanks to the whole Turbo versus normally aspirated engine situation. Some seem to be annoyed with the rules being changed to restrict the turbo cars and some seem to believe they should be restricted even more.
Everyone has a right to their opinion, however after a post a couple of months ago about the situation one or two people decided to voice their opinions in response rather loudly and somewhat personally as they disagreed with my opinion on the matter. Therefore they believed they were right and those who said different were wrong, had no idea what they were talking about and knew nothing so should keep quiet. That said, before I continue, this blog is entirely my own opinion. Rightly or wrongly, agree or disagree, I am happy to accept your responses and thoughts and for you to leave comments. However, please keep them constructive and please don’t resort to personal attacks.
Rather than air my opinion on the whole performance issue within the BTCC, it’s the professionalism of some of the drivers that needs to be bought to people’s attention. After last week’s Monaco Grand Prix, and Lewis Hamilton’s subsequent and ill fated post race interview taking the headlines, it seems a few other ‘professional’ drivers should have taken on board the criticism Hamilton received within the media and fans alike.
Much like Lewis Hamilton in F1, Jason Plato is a big star and a popular driver with fans in BTCC, therefore he is in the spotlight all the time within the series. So is it really acceptable for Jason Plato to show his displeasure of the rules in front of the media and on live TV. Whether the rules are fair or unfair is irrelevant. The attitude and reaction from the ‘Star’ of the series is extremely unprofessional. Tim Harvey stated afterwards, that Plato is becoming fixated on parity within the series and must therefore have an effect on his focus and that he needs to calm down and focus on his own racing. Harvey talks sense and has hit the nail on the head. It is only the Honda’s that Plato is struggling against and is beating the other Turbo powered cars. The reaction seems to show Plato as a spoilt brat and is upset because he isn’t winning all the time. The fact that he has won more races this season than Matt Neal is something he fails to mention.
Lewis Hamilton and Martin Whitmarsh from McLaren had to make a grovelling apology to race stewards after the comments the 2008 world champion made and it is only right that Plato should do the same. To constantly make these comments on live TV and, particularly after the Oulton Park win, use questionable language, is surely bringing the sport into disrepute. If you have views on the rules, then discuss them in private and not berate the series director and ask him to explain himself on live TV. That shows extreme lack of professionalism and if he escapes punishment, then Plato needs to count himself lucky. There is much talk in the motorsport world of Lewis Hamilton needing someone to bring him back down to earth, I think Plato needs someone to do that to him to.
No one is bigger than the BTCC and that includes Jason Plato. He maybe a self confessed celebrity presenting Fifth Gear on TV, but he needs to drop the prima donna attitude and concentrate in getting his attitude into Top Gear and showing some respect. He is a role model to many but is currently leading a bad example of how to behave. He is a talented driver and has shown this by winning the championship twice and has claimed more BTCC race wins than anyone else, however the series can and will continue without him when he decides to retire or leave. But right now with his current behaviour, whether you agree with me or not, it is my opinion that the series would be better off without him until he changes his attitude and shows himself to be the complete professional that he should be.
Another headline from the weekend’s racing at Oulton Park is the Shock news that TOM Onslow-Cole has quit the AMD Miltek team to take up an offer elsewhere. Apparently Tom told the team just 15 minutes before the start of race three and did not take part in the final race of the day. The team have stated it was an amicable split and wished Tom the very best. However, if he did tell the team just before race three then it would seem it is not an amicable split. Surely it would only be fair and respectful to complete the final race of the day.
Rumours will now start as to where Tom might be going to and will he be in place for the next round at Croft? One team’s name flying about is that of Team AON. There has been mutterings of them running three cars for a while now but after the whole team order’s debacle of last season would Onslow-Cole really go back? Another popular rumour is that Special Tuning Racing will be running a third car and the Seat’s are putting in a good show this season and had some good results at Oulton Park. So surely he would only leave to go to one of the big teams as the VW is starting to show its worth with points finishes. A move to somewhere like the vacant seat in the Geoff Steel Racing BMW would surely be a sideways step? I guess we will find out soon.
On the flip side, who will take over at AMD Miltek? Let’s not forget there is a vacant seat. It would be great to see Tim Harvey take the wheel but that is just a pipe dream. It would also be amazing to see Matt Hamilton back in BTCC but I’m not sure his position regarding budget. My initial thoughts is that Phil Glew should get the vacant position. Glew drove for the Your Racing Car team in their first BTCC race at Silverstone last year and put in a good showing. The joint YRC and AMD Miltek partnership could pave the way for him to get back into the championship. One thing is for certain, the rumour mill will be running flat out until the official announcements so we all wait with baited breath to see what happens.