There is no other car manufacturer quite like Porsche and there is no other single-make championship in the UK quite as fast and rewarding.
Now entering its 18th season, Porsche Carrera Cup GB continues to set the pace as a trusted home for career-path young professionals and talented amateurs alike. With the revised calendar due to commence next weekend at Donington Park, a grid of over 20 Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars will compete across 16 rounds and eight race weekends, including a return to Scotland’s Knockhill Circuit, where the combined might of 10,000 horse power can be expected to lap a good two seconds quicker than the cars from the headline BTCC.
And it’s not just the speed or prize money (up to £3,500 per weekend for the winning Pro driver and £40,000, plus use of a Porsche for the year to the champion) that has seen its ranks swell, but the future opportunities too. Let’s face it, even in ‘good times’, manufacturer support of emerging young drivers was fairly sparse (except at top single-seater level), but now as we enter the unknown territory of the COVID-19 era, it’s going to be all but decimated (with one or two exceptions); Porsche, however, stands firm and stands out as a marque that understands more than most about the synergy between its brand and its racing. It’s a global leader, the dominant and consistent force across Europe, the Americas, Asia and the Middle East. If you’re good enough to win in Carrera Cup GB, you might just want to keep your passport handy.
So what can we expect from the Class of 2020? ‘Close’, ‘dramatic’, ‘intense’ and ‘thrilling’ are the first four words that spring to mind. There’s a raft of new recruits across all three classes but it’s the ‘Pro’s’ who are set to really keep spectators’ juices flowing.
Heading the cast list is 2014 Champion Josh Webster. The Team Parker Racing man returned to the grid last year after a three-year stint racing 911’s right around the world. Despite missing-out on the opening rounds at Brands Hatch, he was runner-up to Dan Harper, taking three wins and two pole positions (including at Donington). Time in the car counts at this level and Webster’s experience should see him lead the way, even though he will undoubtedly find himself dropping points to Porsche Scholarship winner and teammate Harry King.
King is a driver I’ve championed after first seeing him in Ginetta Junior back in 2016, and every time I’ve seen him since, he’s just got better and better. The stage is now his and I know that he and Webster will dice hard and true as each looks to assert the rights to attention from Stuttgart and beyond. It’s going to be a hard ask of the teenager from Windsor but he just has to remember that it took Harper the best part of a season to find his finess, but that once unleashed, he was unstoppable. Winning last year’s Ginetta GT4 crown in dominant style has already made King a fan-favourite and if he can continue to show his remarkable technical skill as well as pace, then the dividends might just start to pay long before year 2 of his scholarship contract even begins.
Looking to spoil Team Parker Racing’s title ambitions is series regular Lewis Plato. Switching to Carrera Cup GB in 2016, Plato’s habit of returning top-ten finishes steadily morphed to podium places in 2017; then two wins in 2018, and a remarkable eight podiums from sixteen races in 2019 (where he was pitched against Harper and Webster in the hunt for honours). Now in 2020, he switches to Benji Hetherington’s Valluga Racing squad, a team that might be new to the Pro-Class but has already shown winning potential in both the Pro-Am and Am catagories.
Two GT stars hoping that the switch to one-make racing will showcase their pace are Ross Wylie and Matthew Graham. Wylie is no stranger to Carrera Cup, having raced in 2017 and then competing in the final two weekends of the last year’s season. He scored a podium at Silverstone and was close to matching the front-runners around the highly technical Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit. Testing will have served him well and I wouldn’t bet against him being a regular podium finisher.
Graham might be a new member of the Porsche family but his natural speed in both single seaters and GT4 cars suggests that he’ll be quick straight from the go. Both now have much to prove and much to gain and will be looking to assert their experience over younger members of the grid.
When I refer to experience, in the case of Wylie and Graham, it should be remembered that these are racers still in their twenties; the same can’t be said of former Ginetta Juniors Will Martin and Lorcan Hanafin. Both aged only 17, they arrive in Carrera Cup GB brimming with talent and in the case of Martin especially (the most prolific race winner in 2019), trophy cabinets suggesting already emblazoned careers. The 911 GT3 Cup car is, of course, a sinewed thoroughbred compared to the diminutive G40; it’s also far more likely to break if you race it like you’re on a dirt oval, but make no mistake, these two know what they’re up against and they know the way to the podium.
Two drivers that have emerged from the amateur ranks to pose a serious challenge to the pro-drivers are Jamie Orton and Tom Roche. Orton is a familiar face on the TOCA package, having made his Ginetta Supercup debut in 2011, becoming a race winner in 2015 and then progressing to Carrera Cup in 2017. He took his first podium last year and though not always able to deliver the consistency he might hope for, history suggests that this won’t always be the case.
Roche was prolific in his early Mazda career, becoming a series winner before launching into British GT with his Blendini team’s Audi R8. It was difficult year that required a lot of rethinking but a remarkable debut in Ginetta Supercup in 2017 saw the Welshman take two wins and two podiums from six outings. He made his Carrera Cup debut last year, racing to P4 overall at Oulton Park and claiming the Rookie title from Pro-Am runner-up Jack McCarthy. For 2020, he switches to the JTR squad and will undoubtedly find himself challenging for his first and second podium before the season is out.
With Scott McKenna, Sam MacLeod, Mark Kimber and Dorian Mansilla lining-up in the Pro class too, Season 18 promises to be one of the closest and most hard fought for contests that we’ve seen in years.
In Pro-Am, experienced GT racers Josh Caygill, Jordan Witt and Ryan Ratcliffe will be joined by young Scot Seb Melrose as they take-on the much improved Esmee Hawkey and former VW champion Aaron Mason in the battlle for bragging rights. Hawkey drove brilliantly last year, racing into the top six overall on three occasions. For 2020, she’s teamed-up with Stuart Parker and Barry Horne in an attempt to make the breakthrough that she’s proved she deserves. It’s going to be a bruising year but whichever of these capable young racers wins through can expect to find themselves in great demand going forward.
Don’t let the ‘Am’ title distract you. Justin Sherwood appeared in the overall top ten on no fewer than seven occasions last year, including scoring a podium at Silverstone. Title rival Peter Kyle-Henney returned four top-ten finishes. These two regulars can always be counted-on to race hard and fast and 2020 should be no different.
Adam Knight had to miss three of the eight weekends in his rookie season but showed great pace and consistency to often threaten Am Champion Sherwood’s points tally. Two other returnees are Lucky Khera and Lee Frost. Both make the move from TPR to Simon Green Motorsport and neither will be happy to simply make up the numbers.
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The Porsche Carrera Cup GB starts its 2020 season at Donington Park on 1st & 2nd August. For ticket information, please go to the circuit website.Images: Steve Hindle (The Black Stuff), Jakob Ebrey, Redline Racing and Howard Fielding (@PhotoWodUK).