After looking at several possibilities, Milner and her team decided on the Ginetta GT5 Challenge using unrestricted Ginetta G40s. These are a brilliant starting point to a GT and Sportscar career which is Milner’s eventual aim.
2017 would be a learning year, getting up to speed with the very different Ginetta G40, a totally different machine to her championship winning Citroen Saxo. She would also have to adjust to racing in the very close GT5 championship with many drivers competing for multiple seasons, she would have to get used to things very quickly.
The season began at a damp and cold Oulton Park. The aim was anywhere in the top half of the field for qualifying so when Milner popped up in seventh on the grid, both her and the team were delighted.
“I’m happy with that, it was really slippery out there and so that’s a good result for my first ever session in the championship.” Said Milner after the session.
The first race didn’t go as well with Milner pushed off at the first corner. What followed though was probably more impressive than if she had circulated with the pack. She had rejoined dead last and massively behind the pack. In the following laps she not only caught the pack but passed multiple cars, fifteen in the first eight laps! By the chequered flag she was eleventh. It was an impressive debut.
The second race saw contact and Milner having to contend with a loose bonnet but she still made eighth place. This then gave her pole for the third race. Sadly delays with the timetable saw the pole race moved to the next round at Rockingham.
Milner was pleased with her debut;
“I’m happy with today, although obviously I’m disappointed to not be able to have the third race I think the weekend has gone well. I’m really happy with my lap times compared with the others. The Huge thanks to all the team for all their work on the car, I’m really pleased with how the new team set-up has worked this weekend.
Rockingham qualifying was slightly disappointing for Milner as she took sixteenth on the grid although this as midfield, her original target for the early races, the successful showing at Oulton had raised her expectations.
Race one saw her move up to twelfth. Race two then saw her best race of the season so far, after battling with the leading cars for much of the race, she fought her way up to fifth place. A brilliant result and once again ahead of the expectations for the season.
With the postponed Oulton Park race taking place during the weekend, Milner was now only halfway through the hour races held during that race meeting. The third race saw Milner battling at the front once again and this time she managed to make up a further place to fourth, only just off the podium.
The final race would see her start from the pole she had earned at Oulton Park. Milner led the first few metres but the other drivers greater experience showed and she dropped to fourth on the opening lap. She kept fighting though and came close to taking her first podium in the championship but was just edged out on the final lap, taking another fourth place.
“It’s been a brilliant weekend especially taking three top five finishes today. I’m really pleased with my Progress. Thanks to all the team behind me as well as my sponsors including One Call Insurance, The Yorkshire Wagyu Company, Swift and Merlin international. I’m really looking forward to Thruxton next weekend. I’ve not raced there before but I’ve been round in testing so hopefully I can get some more good results.”
Unfortunately for Milner, her car broke down at just the wrong time in qualifying and this left her in fifteenth on the grid. Although again this was within pre season targets, her performances so far had left her wanting more success right at the front of the field!
Unfortunately Milner found herself pushed off the track in both races leaving her to finish in twenty third and eighteenth in the weekend’s two races. Milner’s pace had been quick enough for results similar to what she had achieved at Rockingham but incidents had left her with little to show for her speed;
“I’d looked set for a top ten finish in race one before I was spun off and then a different driver has done it again in race two. It’s annoying because people will see where I finished and might not realise the reasons behind it especially when I had the pace for another strong finish.” Said a frustrated Milner.
Silverstone saw the slower GRDC+ cars join the GT5 grid meaning there nearly 50 cars on track. This caused a bit of traffic for qualifying and Milner took seventeenth although a few fractions of a second would have moved her to the top ten.
The first race was shortened due to an incident bringing out a red flag but Milner still fought up to an excellent tenth in the short time she had. Race two saw her in a similar position, eventually ending up eleventh and just missing out on the reverse grid pole for race three. This was another shortened race which saw Milner take the flag in an excellent eighth. This became an even better sixth when two cars were penalised after the race.
Milner was happy with her weekend;
“I’ve not raced on the full Grand Prix layout at Silverstone before and with limited time to learn it I knew it might be a tough weekend so I’m quite pleased with my results especially the sixth place. We’ve got Zandvoort next, another circuit that’s new to me so I’ll be trying my best to learn it as quaikly as possible. It was only ever supposed to be a learning year this season but I still want to get the best results I possibly can.”
Milner now had a brief break from the championship as she headed to the Goodwood Festival of Speed to drive the first ever Electric London Taxi up the hill. Jonny, her dad had won the festival in the past in one of his amazing Toyota’s but these runs were more about showing off the new Taxi. Despite this, she didn’t hang around!
“It was a massive honour to be asked by such a big brand to be their works driver for two days in the first glance class, racing against other new vehicles. “As a pre-production prototype, most of the usual refinements were not in place. It’s iconic look certainly stood out from the Bentley’s, Porsches and Alfa’s also on display, but it can really shift with a lot of torque.
Considering that my usual drive [Her Ginetta G40] is much lower and smaller, I really enjoyed this whole new experience.” She said at the Festival
It was then back to racing and the championships single foreign round at Zandvoort in Holland. It was a totally new circuit for Milner and she was fast. But in the races, incidents not of her making limited her results. Race one saw her punted into the gravel. Then race two saw her fight up the field only to get spun in the closing stages. She fought back but a late safety car period saw her unable to make up places once again putting her in fourteenth. Race three proved the best of the weekend with Milner fighting up to tenth in a race which once again finished under safety car conditions, stopping her from progressing further.
“That was a character building weekend. It was good to have my first ever foreign race, especially at a great European track like Zandvoort. I was pleased that I was on the pace but disappointed that events outside my control left me without the results I’d been hoping for.“
Next up was Knockhill, a circuit which had been one of her favourites in the Junior Saloon car days.
A tricky wet qualifying session saw her take tenth, less than a second off pole. The first race then looked to be a dry race but a few laps in, an unexpected rain shower saw conditions become very difficult. Despite this Milner not only kept it on track but lapped faster than many of the experienced drivers. Her reward was sixth and she only narrowly missed out on fifth.
For the second and final race of the weekend, Milner found herself boxed in at the start, losing her several positions. Despite this she fought hard and took ninth.
“It’s been a positive weekend,” said Milner after the final race “I was happy with how race one went particularly with the tough conditions in the second half, some of the trickiest I’ve raced in. Race two was another positive race and I was pleased with my battle with Perez. This season was always meant to be a learning year and I feel I’ve learnt a lot this time.”
Before her final race of her Ginetta season at Donington there was a chance to race a Porsche GT car in the Britcar championship at Donington. She would be teamed up with her 2016 team mate Ollie Wilmott, an exciting pairing and one of the youngest in the championship. They looked set for a good weekend but reliability issues and a first corner pile up in the second of the weekend’s two race saw them leave with nothing , just two non-finishes.
Milner was hoping for a much more positive time when she returned to Donington for the finale to her Ginetta season.
Qualifying was in wet conditions but the track was drying. A wrong decision with tyres saw her down in fourteen after qualifying when testing had shown that she could have been in the top five.
The first race had little more than a single lap of racing with two safety car periods. The race ended early after a crash brought out the red flags. With almost no racing, Milner was only able to move up one place to thirteenth.
Milner then made another one of her fighting drives for the second race to move up to ninth. Race three was the reverse grid and ninth became second on the grid. She took the lead on the first lap but towards the end of the lap was pushed down to second. Contact from several other rivals saw her pushed (almost literally!) down to sixth. It was a good result for her final championship race of the season but Milner had hoped for a podium and without the contact from rivals she had looked set to meet her ambitious target.
Milner was happy with how she had performed however;
“That was a tough weekend but I was pleased with how I performed in the races especially race three where I led for most of a lap. It’s not quite the end of my season yet though and I’ll be back out racing next month. Thanks to my sponsors for their support during this season, One Call Insurance, The Yorkshire Wagyu company, Swift, Motordrive seats and Omologato.”
That was the final race of her Ginetta championship season and she ended up eighth in the final championship standings, well ahead of expectations for her first season in the championship.
A few days afterwards, her sponsors for the season were reward with an exciting corporate day which saw Milner and her dad Jonny giving fast laps in her Ginetta and a classic Toyota Celica Rally car as well as opportunities to drive themselves both in a Ginetta and in karts at the challenging Blyton Park Motorsports centre.
You can read about how she gets on in her two remaining races of 2017 soon. She will be hoping for some success to have a positive end to the season ready to try and fight at the front of the Ginetta GT5 Challenge in 2018. Then looking further forward her target will be to move up the Ginetta ladder before heading into GT or Sportscar racing. The future looks bright for Katie Milner.
By Marc Waller