Going into the #DoningtonDecider it was anyone’s call, the championship had been swinging like a pendulum between Team Parker Racing and Barwell Motorsport all season but in the end the 2017 British GT title was decided by a spin and an exclusion.
Before the two-hour season finale at Donington Park, the teams were pinning the pressure of claiming the title on each other – the Bentley Continental GT3 pair of Rick Parfitt & Seb Morris and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 pair of Jon Minshaw and Phil Keen all saying they were cool as cucumbers.
Lining up side-by-side behind the dominant TF Sport Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3s, more on those later on, Minshaw was off like a shot at the start and slotted in-between the Astons of first-place Mark Farmer and third-place Derek Johnston.
Parfitt wasn’t as bold as Minshaw and slipped to fifth – behind the sister Barwell Lamborghini of Liam Griffin who Parfitt later accused of deliberately trying to force him off track.
Minshaw tried to close in on Farmer but he was too aggressive in attacking the kerbs at the Fogarty Esses and span across the track – just avoiding being beached in the gravel at the exit.
That dropped him to the back of the GT3 field and must have given Minshaw an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. In 2016 Minshaw & Keen were in contention for the title going into the Donington Park finale and only needed to finish ahead of Jonny Adam & Derek Johnston to win the title – unfortunately an over-aggressive pass by Minshaw going the Craner Curves saw him stranded in the gravel at the Old Hairpin.
He wasn’t going to let that happen twice. He quickly got onto the back of Ian Loggie’s Bentley and started to make his way up the field.
Further ahead, Parfitt managed to make his way up to third by using a brief yellow flag zone – because of a GT4 Nissan 370Z in the barriers at Hollywood – to scythe between Griffin and a GT4 back marker as they reached the green flag halfway down the Craner Curves.
The Bentley driver then made an effort to close in on Johnston – who used Minshaw’s spin to move up to second – but couldn’t clear traffic quickly enough to close to within any reasonable distance before the pit window opened.
With a 20 second pit-stop penalty, Morris came out five seconds behind Keen who was trying to push his way up the field but didn’t seem to have the same sort of raw pace that had served him so well throughout the season.
By the final 30 minutes of the race, Keen had picked off the JRM Nissan GT-R GT3 of Ben Green to claim third place, but with Morris also clearing the Nissan to claim fourth the Lamborghini had to win to claim the title.
That was a stretch too far for Keen, he closed in on Jon Barnes – who had taken over the Farmer Aston – for second place but Barnes was too good for Keen. In any case, Jonny Adam – who took over from Johnston – was on an absolute flyer in a Vantage that seemed to have a new lease of life around Donington.
The Astons finished first and second – for TF Sport’s first 1-2 lock-out in British GT – and with Keen only third, Morris and Parfitt claimed their first GT3 title.
Parfitt, the first driver to win the GT4 and GT3 titles in British GT, said after the race: “I honestly never thought I would be in GT3, let alone be GT3 champion. This is something I will absolutely cherish for the rest of my life. It is without doubt the most competitive domestic GT series in the world. To win here, you have to be bloody good and you have to be consistent.”
To add insult to injury for Minshaw and Keen, they were excluded from the results after Minshaw was deemed to have overtaken a car while in a yellow flag zone in the first half of the race.
In GT4, the title wasn’t decided with a bang but a whimper. Before the race, David Pittard admitted that he and Lanan Racing team-mate Alex Reed were long-shots at winning the title because of the points gap built up by HHC Motorsport’s Will Tregurtha and Stuart Middleton.
While HHC pulled ahead in the first hour, Reed wasn’t too far behind and was slowly heading towards the front. Unfortunately for Reed, he was caught out massively by the pole-sitting Academy Motorsport Aston Martin V8 Vantage of Will Moore slowing suddenly with a technical issue going into the Old Hairpin. Reed couldn’t react quickly enough to the Aston and rear-ended it with his Ginetta G55 GT4.
That retired him on the spot, the car a sorry sight lying in the gravel lacking a chunk of its front-left corner. The upside for HHC was that Tregurtha and Middleton were immediately crowned as GT4 champions in just their first season in GT racing after a successful spell in the Ginetta Junior Championship for the last few years.
While they claimed the crown, they didn’t claim victory – that went to last year’s GT4 champions Mike Robinson and Graham Johnson in their distinctive chrome and red McLaren 570S after a faultless run which also guaranteed them the GT4 Pro/Am crown after Joe Osborne ended up in the gravel at McLeans after brake failure in the Tolman Motorsport McLaren 570S.
Tregurtha and Middleton finished second in their Ginetta, just ahead of the Ginetta of Century Motorsport pairing Niall Murray and Jacob Mathiasen who claimed a podium in just their second race together.
Tregurtha said: “It has just been the best season ever! I’ve had so much fun this year, that’s what it is all about. We’re here to have fun and we have done really well in the process. I can’t thank everyone enough.”