Donington Park is the now the familiar setting for the British GT Championship’s season finale. Nestled amongst the undulating Leicestershire countryside it is a place of both triumph and tragedy. With its long straights and tight corners joined by sweeping off-cambered turns, the circuit is both rewarding and unforgiving. Get it right and you’re propelled from one apex to the next in a seamless flow of momentum. Get it wrong and there’s no escaping the deep gravel traps and tyre walls that line uncompromising exits.
But the biggest surprise as the final round beckons is the omission from the contender list of the famous ‘wings’ of Aston Martin.
The legendary marque has been represented by three of the fastest cars on the 2017 grid, including the TF Sport Vantage of reigning champions Derek Johnston & Jonny Adam, but reasons far and wide have seen each lose positions and points on too many occasions.
And so, despite glimpses of race winning pace from rivals and teammates, this championship is now all about just two cars and four drivers; The Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen, versus Team Parker Racing’s Bentley Continental GT of Rick Parfitt and Seb Morris.
Bentley vs Lamborghini
It’s an incredible match of pace and resolve. The Bentley arrives at its home circuit with a 10.5 point advantage, but with 37.5 points going to the victor and just 27 to the second placed car, P1 for Minshaw and Keen will give them the title (tied on points but ahead on the total number of season wins). It seems simple enough, but then the same was said last year, and as the photograph below amply illustrates, there are some very cruel times when shit just happens.
On paper, the Huracan is currently the most formidable of all opponents, and so is Keen. Yet despite all the talk that this is the car to beat, I think that Parfitt and Morris have everything at their disposal to secure the crown.
They’re 10.5 points ahead; if neither car wins outright, then this margin is going to prove invaluable. And to be blunt, they’re the most near-perfect pairing seen for years. Not only is each driver remarkably fast, they’re box-office. They act the part, race the part and most importantly, understand what it takes to win. Parfitt is already a former GT4 champion, and whilst I sometimes think he doesn’t recognise just how good he is, he brings an unrivalled surety, allowing Morris to excel. You couldn’t ask for more.
And they do all of this with the full and faithful support from Bentley; a brand immersed as much in its future as with its past: Its engineers and PR people alike recognising not only the value that British GT brings to its own development programme but the role Parfitt and Morris are playing in building a new reputation for 21st Century speed & style.
And then there’s Stuart Parker: The driving force. You feel the energy in his garage, and the trust given by his drivers and crew. It’s 90 years since the Bentley Boys started their all-conquering run of four consecutive wins at Le Mans and it’s no coincidence that every person and every part of this team has been chosen to help create a new era of success.
The long game
There is an art, a mastery to endurance racing. It’s like chess. Whenever two finely matched opponents are pitted against each other, the skill is in how you build your race and how you react to the others’ moves. But unlike those epic encounters between Fischer and Kasparov, pitched into Donington’s tussle will be the challenges of at least five other remarkably fast GT3 cars, each pushing for the outright win, and then a whole host of GT4 cars, also engaged in their own frantic title race, and likely to be fearful of compromising a hard-fought-for line as the GT3s bear down on them.
In an ideal world, it would be great to see the title champion also take the race win, but as the flag falls on Sunday afternoon, it should be remembered that these racers and their machines will have duelled for 15 hours over the course of the season, covering a distance roughly that of London to Athens. It’s every step of this journey that counts.
The final round of the 2017 British GT Championship is being held this weekend at Donington Park. The race starts at 13.30pm on Sunday, with live coverage being streamed via the British GT Facebook page.
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