Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse’s Alasdair McCaig and Rob Bell ended their British GT Championship campaign on a high by winning the two-hour season finale at Donington Park this afternoon. However, it was TF Sport’s Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam who celebrated hardest after claiming the GT3 drivers’ and teams’ crowns.
The pair comfortably overturned their 11.5-point deficit in the drivers’ standings by finishing second after erstwhile leaders Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen crashed out with just 35 minutes gone. Team Parker Racing’s Rick Parfitt Jnr and Seb Morris completed the podium to seal third in the final standings.
While Johnston claimed the crown at the same venue as he secured his maiden GT3 victory 12 months ago, Adam made British GT history by becoming the first driver to successfully defend his crown in the series’ 24-year history.
Elsewhere, this was Bell’s first British GT victory since he and brother Matt won the GT4 class at Silverstone in 2010, while McCaig picked up his second British GT3 triumph after winning alongside Oliver Bryant at Oulton Park in 2012. It was also the McLaren 650S’s second British GT3 victory – its only previous win coming at Silverstone last season – and Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse returned to the top of the overall podium for the first time since winning at Brands Hatch in 2015.
Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse and McLaren’s final weekend was doubly good after their GT4 entry driven by Sandy Mitchell and Ciaran Haggerty also won its class.
How it unfolded:
The race began with one of TF Sport’s Aston Martins in the barriers when Mark Farmer and Liam Griffin came together through the first corner. While the latter was able to continue, albeit with a punctured right rear tyre, Farmer’s afternoon was over almost before it had begun.
The subsequent Safety Car period lasted just two laps before the battle at the front continued. Pole-sitter Johnston initially came under pressure from McCaig, who’d lined up alongside, while Minshaw and Parfitt Jnr made it a four-way battle for the lead. But with a 15-second pit-stop success penalty to serve Johnston had no intention of hanging around and soon started to gap his pursuers.
Meanwhile, Minshaw was soon clear of Parfitt Jnr and, with just 15 minutes of his stint remaining, had McCaig in his sights. But, as the pair approached a GT4 car through the Craner Curves, the championship leader moved too far right, planted two wheels on the grass, speared back across the track into the Old Hairpin gravel and out of the race.
That changed the championship complexion completely, for although the Barwell Motorsport duo still led the points they were now relying on Johnston and Adam to finish no higher than seventh in order to win the crown.
In truth, that never looked like happening. Johnston completed his exemplary opening stint 17 seconds ahead of McCaig, but the McLaren emerged from its stop – now in the hands of Bell – several seconds ahead. Not that Adam was especially concerned: a new GT3 lap record aside, the Scot was content to stroke his Aston Martin home and eventually finish 8.1s seconds behind the 650S.
Morris, who along with Parfitt Jnr had to win to preserve his slim title hopes, was another 2.5s further back in third, while Beechdean AMR’s Rory Butcher and Andrew Howard – whose comeback drive from 11th on the grid earned him the Blancpain Gentleman Driver of the Weekend Award – finished fourth.
Barwell’s chances of retaining the GT3 teams’ title suffered a blow after Minshaw’s accident, and Griffin’s clash at the start meant they were never likely to recover. Co-driver Alexander Sims eventually brought the #6 Huracan home fifth after passing top Am class driver Martin Short late on. However, the Team ABBA by Rollcentre Racing driver, who shared his BMW Z4 with Richard Neary, still finished an excellent sixth despite also serving a penalty for a pit-stop infringement. The pair can also be proud to have won this season’s Am class – reserved for two gentleman drivers per crew – following Rollcentre’s decision to re-join the British GT fold at the start of 2016 following a long absence.
Ian Stinton and Mike Simpson ran fifth in the early stages before suffering a puncture as a result of Phil Dryburgh bumping into the back of their Ginetta. While the Motorbase Performance Aston Martin retired with front-end damage, Tolman Motorsport’s #32 G55 survived to finish seventh, one place ahead of the team’s sister machine driven by Luke Davenport and David Pattison, who also suffered a puncture during his opening stint.
2016 British GT champions:
GT3 drivers’ champions: Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam
GT3 teams’ champions: TF Sport
GT3 Pro-Am champions: Derek Johnston and Jonny Adam
GT3 Silver Cup champions: Will Moore and Ryan Ratcliffe
GT3 Am champions: Richard Neary and Martin Short
Blancpain Gentleman Driver Trophy winner: Derek Johnston
Alasdair McCaig, #79 Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3: “I was right up with Derek at the start but my rear tyre grip dropped off quite quickly so he got away. Then it was a case of managing the gap because we knew they’d have a time penalty to serve. I brought it home for Rob who did an excellent job getting it to the end. This is a great way to finish the season. We were hoping to have a few more podiums this year but it hasn’t worked out that way. I hadn’t raced here since 2012 and we didn’t do any testing either, so this just proves what we can do when things go our way and also sets us up for next year.”
Rob Bell, #79 Black Bull Ecurie Ecosse McLaren 650S GT3: “It’s a great way to finish the year, but also a relief that we’ve put it all together here. The car was good and Alasdair did a great job, too. We like the circuit but felt a little bit anxious before the weekend for various reasons. But it panned out in the end. I was able to build a decent gap after the stops, but then I didn’t have a championship to worry about and could get my head down. I really enjoyed it.”
Derek Johnston, #17 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “I had Jonny in my ear every single lap saying ‘gap, gap, gap’! It wasn’t about position because I knew I was out front. Even when I saw Jon [Minshaw] had gone off I was still pushing hard. I do love Donington; it’s always been good to me, whether I’ve been racing bikes or cars. But we did it again, and it feels fantastic!”
Jonny Adam, #17 TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3: “I had never been so disappointed to finish fourth and second as we did at Snetterton, but we knew what we had to do this weekend and have attacked from the word go. People can crumble in these situations, and we saw that today. Derek did the hard work to be fair, but it still felt like the longest stint of my life: 63 minutes of listening to every noise the car was making and just hoping for the best! It’s tough on brakes here so I concentrated on monitoring the gaps and generally looking after the car.”
Rick Parfitt Jnr, #31 Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3: “When all is said and done we’ve had a good season. I think there were a few factors that cost us dear, but that’s racing. We were a new pairing with a new car at the start of the year, so we can still be proud to have been in the championship fight at the final round. I think I said at the start I’d have been happy with a top-five, so third is amazing. I’m happy with that.”