The British GT Finale
Most of you will know about my love for GT & Endurance racing & in particular my love for the British GT Championship, which this year in particular has proved just how fantastic it is, so it was with mixed emotions as I headed to Donington Park for the final round of the season. Excitement, as the Title would be hotly contested between the seven, yes seven teams still in with a chance of taking the 2012 honours, and Sadness as the exhilarating season was now coming to an end. You just knew the season would end on a high and the weekend didn’t disappoint. Even the FIA GT1 boys rocked up to take part in the weekend’s event to add a little extra excitement to GT fans like myself.
I like Donington Park as a circuit. Its undulating track provides many great photo opportunities and after a disappointing weekend behind the lens at Silverstone the previous weekend, I was determined to make amends and capture a good set of images. What’s more is that the racing was to take place on the full circuit at Donington and despite the numerous visits there I have never shot the full layout so I was hoping to get some new and interesting angles.
Concentrating on just the two GT series over the weekend, I headed out for the GT1 Qualifying session at the start of the day. The noise was just awesome, how I had missed the unrestricted engine noise and the rumble of the Mercedes SLS in particular. Despite only being a 12 car line up, there was still a nice selection of cars on show from Mercedes, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini McLaren and Ford. Exploring the GP loop of the circuit during this session I tried to find a few different angles and I was enjoying this part of the circuit I had never shot before.
The first British GT practice session was used to get photos of the cars for a spotters guide that I was helping with along with the guys from l’endurance & Daily Sportscar much like the one we had produced for the Britcar 24hr. Thankfully the hour session enabled me enough time to get some side on shots of the cars and try and bag something a bit more creative at Redgate corner and further down towards the Craner Curves. The time passed pretty quickly and before long I was uploading the shots I had to my laptop back in the media room so the spotters guide could be completed. It looked pretty good even if I do say so myself and you can see it here.
The second British GT practice session took place before the lunch break so I headed out to the Melbourne Hairpin and the GP loop that I had been at to capture the GT1’s earlier to try and get the British GT cars in similar angles. I even managed to find a few new ones too. A quick break after that session and it was back out for the First of the weekend’s two GT1 races and I decided to shoot from the First corner and work down to the old hairpin by the end of the race. Thankfully the rain stayed away and the racing was good. I had got some photos in the bag that I was happy with.
The final session of the day was the qualifying for the British GT. I usually shoot this session from the pitlane as the cars come in and out frequently and this weekend was no different. However I was to regret this decision. Some friends came back into the media room after the session with photos of the cars with a glorious sunset backdrop. I knew the sun was setting, but didn’t realise just how good it looked behind the main pit buildings. Although I was happy with some of the photos I had got, I wished I had gone out trackside and caught the sunset.
Sunday kicked off with two warm up sessions for both the GT series. I shot these short sessions from the inside of Goddards Hairpin and the approach. Again, an area I hadn’t shot before so It was good to try it out. Even though it was mid morning, you could still capture brake discs glowing on the GT1 cars as they braked hard for the slow hairpin before the pit straight.
The second GT1 race took place that afternoon after the lunch break and I headed out to the far side of the circuit to cover the race from there. A big accident between the Ford GT and one of the BMW halted the race for about 40 minutes whilst repairs to the tyre wall was made and the cars were recovered. The race resumed and I shot from the Coppice and McLeans area of the track. However with about 20 minutes of the race to go, disaster struck. The two Championship contenders, the All-Inkl Mercedes of Marc Basseng and Markus Winklehock collided with the remaining Vita4one BMW of Michael Bartels and Yelmer Buurman on the exit of Regate. The latter impacted with the wall hard enough to dislodge the concrete and the session was red flagged whilst medical crews extracted Buurman from the mangled BMW. Thankfully he OK having been taken to hospital and kept in overnight. I then realised the concreted that had been wiped out was all that was separating the circuit and photographers trackside. It is an area that is popular with photographers and one where I have stood on many occasions. Thankfully no one was there at the time or there could have been a very serious outcome. It is times like this that you realise actually how close to danger you can be and you have to be aware at all times.
As I walked up to Redgate for the start of the final British GT race of the season, I could see the impact zone and the debris. The wall hadn’t been replaced properly and I knew I wouldn’t be standing there for the upcoming race. The pile of debris from the BMW scattered everywhere left a stark reminder of how dangerous motorsport can be, but thankfully the outcome was not as bad as it could well have been.
Putting all that to the back of my mind, it was time to concentrate on the big race. Seven cars in with a chance of Championship glory, five of which knowing all they need to do is win and the title is theirs. Add in the front two cars being non championship points scoring additions to the weekends grid which could put a spanner in the works of the overall outcome and the race was set to be a tasty encounter with the 26 car field represented by 14 different manufacturers.
From the off the gauntlet was laid down. Starting from 14th on the Grid, the Nissan GT-R, one of the 5 cars just needing the win to claim the Championship, with Alex Buncombe at the wheel was on blistering pace and within three laps had taken the lead and was pulling away. With the rest of the field battling away and the other championship contenders fighting to get near the front, Buncombe was stretching out a healthy lead. The other results were starting to look irrelevant as the Nissan was looking unstoppable and the win was all that was needed. At the pit stops Buncombe bought in the Nissan to hand over to Jann Mardenborough, last year’s Playstation GT Academy winner and hugely talented, with a lead of over 12 seconds. But disaster was to strike.
Just a couple of laps after the hand over, the left rear shock absorber on the Nissan broke. That was it. Game over for the Championship aspirations. It was gut wrenching stuff, and despite the RJN team fixing the issue and sending the rapid Welshman back out, they had lost far too much time and were a few laps down on the lead. With Nissan out of contention, this handed the current Championship lead to the MTech Ferrrari of Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron. All it needed was to hang on to current race position of fourth and they would clinch the Title by half a point.
But Allan Simonsen in the Rosso Verde Ferrari was to have a say in matters. A battle between the two ensued with Griffin clinging on to the vital place needed for the championship win and was only halted by the appearance of the safety car a couple of laps later bunching the field up. This meant that another title contender, the Ecurie Ecosse BMW, had closed in and was keen to snatch the honours away.
After the safety car had come back in and the field had bunched up, the BMW was keen to make up places for the points needed for victory. An audacious move from Ollie Bryant in the Ecurie Ecosse car at Goddards saw him dive up the inside from a long way back to try and take the place from the MTech Ferrari. Sadly he came from just too far back and made contact with his rival sending Griffin into a spin causing him to haemorrhage places from the bunched up field and with it the championship hopes had faded. This now meant the BMW was on course for the title with not long left in the race. But the upper hand in the title race was to be a short lived for the Ecurie Ecosse team as a one minute stop go penalty was handed out to them as punishment for the contact with Griffin.
This now meant the fourth change of championship leader in the race and this time the Motorbase Porsche of Michael Caine and Daniele Perfetti was to be the grateful recipient. Despite being fourth place in the race, the top two places were occupied by the two non points scoring cars of Alvaro Parente and Zak Brown in their United Autosports McLaren and the Lamborghini of Peter Kox and Nico Pronk. Third place was the second United Autosports McLaren of Charles Bateman and Matt Bell and although they too were Championship contenders coming into the weekend, they needed others to drop points and with the Caine and Perfetti car behind in Fourth, the points deficit was too much to be overturned. So Michael Caine only needed to bring the car home safely and the Title was theirs.
As the chequered Flag dropped, he had done it. Dave Bartrum and the rest of the Motorbase team were delighted. Probably not one of the favourites to win the title coming into the race despite being a real contender but it had showed just how close this season had been and it had all come down to the very last lap of the last race before the champions were crowned. Add to this the Motorbase Porsche had not won a race this season, the second year in a row that the eventual Champions had not won a race, you can see just how tight the championship battle had been throughout the season and that reliability and consistency are key.
So the British GT season has drawn to an end and what a season it has been. Truly Epic. There won’t be many championships this hotly contested and so close right down to the very last corner. With 15 different manufacturers having taken part and eight different winners from ten races, it is easy to see why this championship is a stand out event in the UK and Europe. Hopefully it will continue to go from strength to strength and be even bigger and better next season if that could be even possible. I for one cannot wait.