while Graham Johnson and Mike Robinson wrapped up the GT4 title by finishing third with their PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55.
The McLaren 570S duo were untouchable after Mitchell jumped from second to first at the start before eventually sealing victory by 10.6s from Generation AMR Macmillan Racing’s Jack Mitchell and Matthew Graham, who equalled their best result of the 2016 season and a third podium from the last four rounds.
Jack Bartholomew, who was 2.5 points behind Johnson and Robinson at the start of the day, was the only other driver still able to win the title. He started from pole but finished only sixth after the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin he shared with Ross Gunn suffered a brake issue during the second half of the race slowing Gunn’s progess dramatically.
Johnson and Robinson’s GT4 title was the first for an Optimum Motorsport and Ginetta crew since 2013, and also broke the Beechdean AMR team two-year unbeaten record over the class.
RCIB Insurance Racing took an impressive teams’ title in their first season of GT racing.
Bartholomew’s pole position had given him the perfect opportunity to build a gap over the course of his opening stint to try and compensate for the 20-second pit-stop success penalty for winning at Snetterton. But that opportunity was lost after the V8 Vantage’s poor start saw it swallowed up by the chasing pack into Redgate.
Instead, it was Mitchell’s Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren that assumed the lead before clearing off into the distance once the two-lap Safety Car period to retrieve a stranded GT3 entry ended.
With namesake Jack Mitchell (No relation!) moving from fourth to second, all eyes were on the following group made up of Johnson, Joey Foster’s Lanan Racing Ginetta, the RCIB Insurance Racing G55 of Jordan Stilp and Bartholomew, who was back up to sixth soon after racing resumed.
With so few points between Johnson and Bartholomew in the championship, the destination of this year’s GT4 crown would come down to whichever car was ahead by the finish. And when both Foster and Stilp passed Johnson the battle seemed to be on! However, despite running in close proximity the Aston Martin was never able to mount a challenge and instead headed for the pits at its first opportunity after fifty minutes.
Johnson was in a lap later, safe in the knowledge that co-driver Robinson would emerge at least five seconds ahead of Gunn after serving a 15-second success penalty. But the gap in the end was more than ten seconds and, crucially, featured three cars between the rivals.
Gunn had a lot of work to do to try and get in a position to get his team mate the championship but was soon helped by William Phillips RICB Ginetta spinning ahead. Plus, boosting Gunn’s chances further, Alex Reed took a trip across the gravel in avoidance. The Beechdean Aston now only had Jamie Stanley’s Fox Motorsport Ginetta between it and Robinson. Gunn needed no second invitation when a GT3 car block-passed Stanley, and with the two championship contenders third and fourth on the road, although with a fourteen second gap, an exciting end to the race looked certain.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be, the Aston’s fading brakes slowing Gunn to such an extent that he was soon losing positions rather than making up ground. With Stanley retiring soon after, Reed was the first to re-pass the Vantage before Abbie Eaton’s Maserati and Nathan Freke’s Ginetta followed suit.
Haggerty, in the Mclaren completed the final stint perfectly despite battling an injured hand to cross the line well ahead of Graham, while Robinson was a further eighteen seconds back at the chequered flag. That ensured he and Johnson claimed the GT4 championship by 13 points from Bartholomew, while Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s young duo leapt from sixth to third in the final standings.
Mitchell was very happy with their first win; “It’s amazing. And to claim third in the championship as well after all the bad luck we’ve had this year is an incredible achievement. Two wins over the final two weekends is a fantastic way to sign off; it doesn’t get too much better than that! Thanks to the team and McLaren for giving us a great car today.”
Haggerty explained he’d had a tough stint;
“It was really tough all the way through, basically using my left hand the whole time. I just tried my best to maintain the gap and hang on. It’s great that McLaren can go to customers and say the 570S is a proven race winner now. I’ve loved being a part of that.”
RCIB Insurance Racing, (run by Team HARD), won the GT4 teams’ championship by five points from PMW Expo Racing/Optimum Motorsport despite having their number 45 car excluded post-race as a result of Stilp overtaking under yellow flags. A similar fate befell Foster who, along with Reed, slipped from fourth to sixth in the championship standings as a result.
Johnson and Robinson also won the Pro-Am title by 37 points from Marcus Hoggarth and Abbie Eaton, whose fourth place this afternoon was enough to give them fourth in the overall standings. Eaton spoke about her season afterwards;
“It’s been my first time racing in British GT, which is something I’ve been working towards for some time now. I knew it was going to be a challenge with a new car to the championship, new drivers, and with Ebor GT as a new team etc but was keen to make the most of the opportunity to learn and hopefully pick some pots up along the way.”
“I can safely say that both Marcus and I gave 110% every time on track and got the most out of what was, on the whole, a limited set-up. So big thanks to Marcus for bringing me back a car in one piece every time!
We managed a 2nd place at Oulton Park and had earned plenty of other podium spots, but things out of the drivers control took them away.
It’s easy to say what could have been, but looking at the picture, 4th overall and 2nd in Pro/Am championship is something to be really proud of.”
Bartholomew might have missed out on the outright title but his season-long efforts were rewarded with the Silver Cup crown after beating Mitchell and Haggerty by 41 points. Phillips and Stilp finished third.
Sandy Mitchell set the Sunoco Fastest Lap of the Race, and RCIB Insurance Racing’s efforts were also rewarded with the PMW Expo Team of the Weekend Award following Aaron Mason’s heavy accident in qualifying. The car he shared with Robert Barable subsequently recovered from dead last to finish seventh in class.
Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke took fifth which gave them third in the Pro Am championship. Walewska spoke about her season;
“It’s been an amazing year. Thank you to everyone who has made this happen – Third in the British GT Pro/Am championship!”
“I couldn’t have done it without any of you! [her supporters] Big shout out to The University of Bolton and our talented students, Westons, Century Motorsport, P1 Digital and last but not least Nathan Freke it’s been a privilege to drive with you. As Benzo Lykke says to me on the grid at every race ‘Anna, I know you can do this’ …we did it!”
As in our GT3 report, we’ll leave the final words to the new champions;
“Beechdean looked like a threat at the start but clearly their pace just disappeared. There was a period at the end of my stint where I thought Jack [Bartholomew] must have been messing with me because I was pulling away from him! For me, the most special thing is to have won it with Mike, who’s been my best mate for 15 years. We work together and spend a lot of time together, so it means a lot. I couldn’t watch his stint though; I went and hid in the garage!”
“My car was just so consistent, which meant I could lap at the same pace at the end as I did at the start. That’s what made the difference today. I thought Beechdean would have better race pace than us but it turned around. They’re tough to beat but Optimum responded. I think our pit-stop was better than theirs, but I wasn’t comfortable knowing Ross [Gunn] was still in contention. It was the longest stint but I’m absolutely delighted.”
British Gt now heads into it’s winter break but in just a few short months it will be time to do it all again. Already plans are being made and rumours are flying, plans for some GT4 drivers to move up to the GT3 championship. It’s been an amazing, exciting season but it’ll soon be time for another one. Motorsport always keeps moving! By Marc Waller