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BRITISH GT HEADS TO OULTON PARK TO BEGIN 2024 WITH BUMPER ENTRY

British GT bursts forth from its winter hibernation this Easter Bank Holiday Weekend when a capacity 36-strong entry descends on Oulton Park for Season 32’s opening rounds.

19 GT3s, 17 GT4s, 10 manufacturers and five new cars comprise a full-strength list that’s as big on variety as it is quality. Together, and as has become a championship tradition, they’ll tackle Monday’s two 60-minute sprint races in front of a packed and expectant crowd.

Big, powerful GT cars hustling their way around the 2.69-mile, 17-turn International Circuit ranks among UK motorsport’s annual highlights, regardless of the weather. And with Easter falling early this year there’s every chance a drop of rain will add further spice to the mix.

The cast of 72 drivers includes Erik Evans and Matt Cowley who begin their GT4 title defence with new co-drivers, and – in the latter’s case – a different team and car. And, in the ultimate case of better late than never, Dan Harper is also now returning to defend his GT3 title with Century and BMW.

GT3: NEW SEASON. SO MANY NEW CONTENDERS!
International and homegrown factory drivers galore made 2023 arguably British GT3’s most competitive season on record. And with a similarly stacked cast raring to go at Oulton, this year should be no less exciting. Yes, the likes of Jules Gounon will be missed. But there is no shortage of talent in a senior class comprising the most full-season entries since 2014.

It’s tough predicting from where this season’s title challengers will emerge, what with last year’s protagonists Darren Leung and James Cottingham moving on to international pastures new and updates galore elsewhere. Surely the most high profile of these changes concerns Dan Harper’s very late return with Century, which wasn’t announced until earlier this week. He knows the team and M4 inside out, but has a new co-driver in Michael Johnston who makes his British GT3 debut at Oulton. Only time will tell if this combination proves as successful as Harper’s last with Leung.

Standing in their way are two of British GT’s finest: Jonny Adam and Phil Keen. Their domestic rivalry stretches back more than a decade but has waned somewhat over the last two years due to partial programmes for one or both. But now they’re back, and eager to add to their 19 overall wins apiece. You wouldn’t bet against that given the quality of their co-drivers and teams.

Keen – who almost always wins at Oulton – joins 2022 champion Ian Loggie – also a winner there in each of the last two years – and a 2 Seas/Mercedes-AMG operation that clinched the 2023 teams’ title with a race to spare. Adam, meanwhile, is hunting his fifth crown with Aston Martin – as well as back-to-back Oulton wins – after coming close with Cottingham and 2 Seas last season. His new co-driver Giacomo Petrobelli isn’t short on experience or speed but only has two British GT starts to his name, while their Blackthorn squad won’t receive the new Vantage until after the opening round. So, all things considered, Keen surely starts this classic head-to-head as favourite.

But there’s far more to British GT 2024 than just those three.

Shaun Balfe and Sandy Mitchell won twice en route to fourth overall last season but now have new co-drivers in the shape of reigning Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion Adam Smalley and former BTCC racer Alex Martin, respectively. The latter joins a Barwell operation that only hit its stride with the new Lamborghini midway through 2023 but that also has a remarkable history with the manufacturer at Oulton, while Smalley’s GT3 graduation – and the classic Duckhams livery that adorns Garage 59’s McLaren – was one of the main pre-season talking points.

He and Balfe comprise one of the seven Silver-Am crews racing this weekend. That’s a championship record for a class also featuring the likes of Beechdean AMR’s Andrew Howard and Aston Martin F1 ambassador Jessica Hawkins who have the new Vantage at their disposal, overall race winners Richard and Sam Neary (Abba Racing), and GT4 graduates Carl Cavers and Lewis Plato (Century).

Attention tends to focus on the factory stars, and in Raffaele Marciello (RAM Racing) and Maximilian Goetz (2 Seas Motorsport) British GT has two of international GT racing’s very best. But that roster also includes Tom Gamble, one of just three fully fledged McLaren drivers who has joined Optimum and Mark Radcliffe this year.

It’s also worth keeping tabs on father-son duo Rob and Ricky Collard who are teaming up full-season for the first time. A previous one-off outing resulted in Pro-Am class victory at the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, while Rob won the British GT title with Barwell and Lamborghini back in 2020.

Another highlight includes Alex Buncombe making his first British GT start with RJN since 2013. And at Oulton it will be alongside his brother, Chris, who is subbing for full-season co-driver Simon Watts. Prior commitments prevent him from racing this weekend.

The other change concerns J&S Racing’s Audi, which was only previously scheduled to contest Silverstone, both Donington rounds and Spa. The R8, Sacha Kakad and Hugo Cook take the place of RACE LAB’s McLaren GT3, which is facing the same logistical delays that prevented it from attending media day.

GT4: A WIDE-OPEN ENTRY STACKED WITH VARIETY
Oh, so you thought GT3 was tough to call? Well get a load of GT4 where nine manufacturers, four new cars, both reigning champions, a GT3 title winner and host of debutants make this one of the most compelling seasons in the category’s history!

Champions seldom return to defend their GT4 titles. The class is traditionally seen as a stepping stone to domestic GT3 or Europe. But that isn’t the case this year when Erik Evans and Matt Cowley will battle to become British GT4’s first-ever two-time champions.

Cowley had spent his entire British GT career with Academy and finally landed the title his consistency deserved in remarkable fashion last year. All good things must come to an end, but his decision to join Ed McDermott at Paddock certainly came as a shock to many. For one, this will be his first season racing in Pro-Am – a class that hasn’t produced overall champions since 2016.

Evans, meanwhile, remains on familiar ground at Academy, albeit in the new-for-2024 Mustang. He teams up with fellow north American Marco Signoretti, a Multimatic driver with British GT pedigree who helped develop Ford’s latest GT4 contender. These two, on paper at least, appear to be a formidable pairing.

Two more former GT4 champions – Matt Nicoll-Jones (Academy) and Dan Vaughan (Toyota Gazoo Racing UK) are shooting for the same bit of British GT history as Evans and Cowley, while 2017 GT3 title winner Seb Morris (Team Parker Racing) hopes to become only the second driver to win both overall championships.

Jack Brown and Optimum were narrowly beaten by Evans and Cowley last season, and are now eager to go one better with new signing Zac Meakin. Still just 17, he remains one of the championship’s youngest drivers.

It’s a similar story for Ian Gough and Tom Wrigley who finished third overall last year. They were beaten to Pro-Am honours by Johnston and Salkeld but finished marginally ahead of them in the overall standings thanks, in part, to victory at Oulton. They have now taken their place in a Century/BMW combination that also won 2023’s GT4 teams’ title. Ones to watch, for sure.

But they – and everyone else – also face a renewed challenge from Steller’s Audi which skipped last season after winn

ing the previous year’s drivers’ crown. Tim Docker and Jordan Albert are a proven combination elsewhere, while the latter is also a British GT4 race winner and former class title contender.

Lotus has enjoyed plenty of British GT success over the last 30 years and is now back in an official capacity via its new Emira GT4 and Mahiki Racing whose two entries include Gordie Mutch. To the wider world he is perhaps best known as Jimmy Broadbent’s Praga Cup championship-winning co-driver, but the Scot is also a highly regarded young pro who makes his long-awaited British GT debut this year alongside Ian Duggan.

There are also two new Aston Martin Vantage amongst the entry courtesy of Forsetti Motorsport. The team was only established in November but performed well in the GT4 Winter Series and has British GT title-chasing experience in the shape of Jamie Day who finished third overall – but might well have won – two years ago. His co-driver, 16-year-old Mikey Porter, is the youngest on this season’s grid.

The other new car, Ginetta’s G56 GT4 Evo, competes courtesy of CWS Racing, Colin White and Tom Holland who returns for a second season. He scored his best result of 2023 – third – at Oulton 12 months ago.

Elsewhere, Charlie Robertson has swapped his former Ginetta factory commitments for a Pro-Am assault in Century’s second BMW alongside Ravi Ramyead, and RAM makes its GT4 debut with a Mercedes-AMG. There are also more McLarens courtesy of Paddock and RACE LAB.

But as well as battling for British GT titles, those teams representing Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ford, McLaren, Mercedes-AMG and Toyota can also score points counting towards SRO’s new GT4 Manufacturer Ranking, which comprises 95 races across eight championships on four continents.

Testing kicks off British GT’s Easter weekend this Friday before the first official sessions – that’s Free Practice, Pre-Qualifying and Qualifying – take place on Saturday. Teams and drivers then reconvene on Bank Holiday Monday for warm-up and two 60-minute sprint races.

They and qualifying are live on SRO’s GT World YouTube channel, while Sky Sports F1 also has live coverage of both races and Saturday’s session.

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