Stephan Ratel is the power behind the FIA GT series, having been part of its inception in the mid-90s. Over the last few years, he’s been pushing for a clear ladder system for progressing through the GT racing ranks, in the same way that exists in the single-seater world. So, following the creation of GT3 (which now lap pretty much on the pace of GT2…) came GT4 in 2007. These are much more stripped-down road cars rather than all-in racing machines, and the first step on the GT racing path. Races are 40 minutes, with a mandatory pitstop.
The test day at Paul Ricard in the south of France in April showed 11 registered manufacturers, with 14 different cars expect during the year.
Silverstone was the first race of the season, and perhaps because of that the grid was relatively poor. Compared to Paul Ricard, only half the marques were present. The usual last minute trouble with budgets or cars? There have been some new additions to the grid though, with the appearance of the BMW M3 and bizarre looking Donkervoort D8GT. The latter forms part of the new-for-2009 GT4 Supersports sub-category: this is for rather left-field track-day style cars, including the KTM X-bow, Lotus 2-11 and Peugeot 207 Spyder (normally seen racing in a French domestic one-make championship).
One other addition to GT4 is the Ginetta G50. Much as I actually really like this car – mostly because of the company’s long history – it’s another one that I don’t think fits with the GT4 road car ethos. However, whatever my opinion the Ginetta owners must be loving it: they can race their cars in so many different categories that it’s no surprise that G50s sell so well.
The first race was held on the Saturday, and was pretty much a Ginetta cake walk. 17 cars took the start, including a sole Mustang FR500C and four Supersports cars. The silver #50 Ginetta led to the pitstops, but then the blue (in effect factory) #52 grabbed a lead it wouldn’t relinquish, despite second place finishing just a quarter of a second behind at the flag.
The rest of the class pretty much fell apart, which is why the Supersports #103 Donkervoort filled the final podium spot – holding off yet another Ginetta. There was a tidy battle for fifth: the #44 Aston Martin N24 holding off the #14 RJN Nissan. They raced to the checker with a gap of only two thousandth of a second!
RACE ONE RESULT:
1 #50 Team LNT Ginetta G50 (Firth/Moore) 19 laps
2 #52 PMB Motorsport Ginetta G50 (Osborne/Broadhurst) +0.260
3 #103 Donkervoort D8GT (Donkervoort) +19.168
4 #6 Rob Austin Racing Ginetta G50 (Fletcher/Abbott) +20.543
5 #44 TechFuture Aston Martin N24 (Hladik) +26.067
6 #14 RJN Motorsport Nissan 350Z (Buncombe/Ordonez) +26.069
7 #102 Donkervoort D8GT (Winterberger) +49.411
8 #17 Genpact BMW M3 (Veltman) +54.439
9 #18 Andre Grammatico BMW M3 (Grammatico/Brice Mena) +1:00.498
10 #23 Promotasport Nissan 350Z (Palmer/Pearson) +1:17.178
Sunday’s second race followed the morning warm-up session by the main GT1 and GT2 cars. Compared to a lot of British tracks Silverstone covers a huge area: it’s an old Second World War airbase (as so many British circuits are), with the track following what was the perimeter road. Look out for a Temple Of Speed feature on Silverstone here on Speedhunters later this month. After watching the cars leave the pits, I had to sprint up the long pitlane and through the tunnel under the track to make it to the first corner in time. yes, John Brooks, I know you warned me…
This time there was disaster when the green lights flashed: Saturday’s race winner was squeezed into the pit wall at the rolling start and collected by a BMW M3. The blue Ginetta was wiped out and the safety car immediately deployed – safety crews scrambled onto the track to clean up the debris and spilled lubricants. But despite the crash, the opening lap had still had some action, with the #51 jumping the pole-sitting #32 Aston, and then in turn was taken by the rapid #14 Nissan 350Z before they got back to the startline and the safety car line.
Because it’s such a relatively short race, by the time the safety car came in the pit stop window was just about to open. The #32 Aston pitted pretty much immediately – only to succumb to brake problems soon after the stop and retire.
The road-going origins of the cars (Ginetta excepted) really shows at the first corner: the body roll is immense as they hook the cars over for the ultra fast first corner at Copse. The differences between the cars is apparent as well, with the power of the M3 making itself clear on the straights, the handling of the Ginettas great through the twisty stuff and the Nisssan and Aston showing good balance through Silverstone high speed corners.
The top five were all in touch over the last four laps, but the #52 eked out a small lead when the #5 Ginetta and #14 Nissan collected each other, spun and lost vital seconds. The #17 BMW had too many lurid slides towards the end of the race as its tyres began to shred, and slipped back from second to fourth.
All in all a much more satisfying race, and it bodes much better for future events. Let’s hope the cars shown at the test day make an appearance sooner rather than later (especially the big Maserati Trofeo), and then GT4 will really show its potential.
RACE TWO RESULT:
1 #52 PMB Motorsport Ginetta G50 (Osborne/Broadhurst) 17 laps
2 #51 Ginetta G50 (Simpson/Linn) +6.294
3 #14 RJN Motorsport Nissan 350Z (Buncombe/Ordonez) +7.375
4 #17 Genpact BMW M3 (Veltman) +9.317
5 #5 Ginetta G50 (Hamilton/Dunstan) +10.927
6 #44 TechFuture Aston Martin N24 (Hladik) +21.754
7 #6 Rob Austin Racing Ginetta G50 (Fletcher/Abbott) +24.635
8 #23 Promotasport Nissan 350Z (Palmer/Pearson) +56.888
9 #3 Aston Martin N24 (Pugachev) +1:20.674
10 #108 KTM Xbow (Eder) +2:10.200