The GT Cup championship held its first meeting of the 2023 season at Donington Park over the weekend. Multiple winners throughout the four groups proved how competitive this year is set to be with no clear title favourites emerging just yet. Two teams made the most of their new equipment, winning in group three times apiece with Grahame Tilley and Sennan Fielding topping the points standings by just one point.
You would have expected the drivers to take it somewhat easy in the first race. However, race drivers know no such terminology and were flat out from the get-go.
Hugo Cook having qualified convincingly on pole for Race 1 immediately set about pulling a gap to the trailing pack. James Wallis meanwhile had his Drivetac Mercedes-AMG GT3 on song and moved up to second during the first lap with the two youngsters now gapping third-placed Morgan Tillbrook in his Enduro Motorsport 720s GT3 Evo.
Cook had now built up a comfortable advantage to the chasing Wallis but unfortunately for the Audi driver, a late race safety car was deployed after Lucky Khera and Ian Loggie were involved in a skirmish exiting the final chicane. Loggie himself was blocking the pitlane entrance in his 7TSIX McLaren 720s GT3 and ultimately retired from the race, unable to get the car going again.
Upon the two-lap sprint to the finish, Cook used all the Audi had to hold off a charging Wallis to clinch the first GT Cup race victory of the season. Wallis came home a close second whilst Tillbrook rounded out the top three.
Race 2 saw even more drama as two big hitters retired, albeit with very differing issues. Wallis was once again on the move and quickly took over the race lead, despite having started third on the grid. He would hold the lead until the mandatory pitstop window when Simon Orange in his McLaren 720s GT3 Evo suffered a big accident on the exit of the final chicane. Just losing the rear and destroying the front end of his McLaren against the pit wall.
The safety car was called immediately but further drama occurred when race leader Wallis came to a stop at Redgate corner. A wheel nut issue forced the car to stop on track and with no hope of getting going again, the red flags flew.
After a short clean-up, the race resumed with a 15-minute sprint to the flag. Marcus Clutton had now taken over from Tillbrook and was heading the pack with a fired-up Euan Hankey in a close second. Hankey (who had taken over from Lucky Khera in the RaceLab McLaren) also had to contend with Sacha Kakad in the Hugo Cook Audi with two GTO runners also hot on their heels.
With all the battling going on behind, Clutton stretched his advantage to over 6 seconds to take a comfortable victory but behind him, the action was really heating up. Sennan Fielding in the now Group GTO Tecserv Mercedes-AMG GT3 was carving his way through the GT3 field at the expense of Kakad who dropped back from Fielding’s audacious overtaking and lost the opportunity to fight it out with Hankey who ultimately clinched second in GT3. Kakad came home third, 1.9 seconds behind the McLaren driver.
Race 3 saw the likes of GTWC Europe runner, Casper Stevenson in the 7TSIX McLaren go head to head with young gun, James Wallis. Stevenson initially built up a small advantage over the Mercedes but Wallis gradually edged closer and closer before he made his move. Just 4 minutes remained when Wallis set up a move exiting Coppice before out braking the McLaren into the final chicane, taking the lead which he would keep until the checkered flag flew.
Stevenson came home 2.7 seconds behind whilst Lucky Khera managed to withstand the pressure from Grahame Tilley’s Mercedes for the entire race to clinch third overall.
The final race of the weekend really allowed Wallis to show what he’s made of. Initially running second behind Tillbrook, just minutes into the race he made his move and was never headed again. Benefitting from no pitstop success penalties thanks to his retirement the day before, Wallis swept Sunday’s action with a whopping 26.2-second margin over the second-placed pairing of Tillbrook and Clutton. Loggie and Stevenson meanwhile rounded out the top three.
Having switched to GTO over the winter, it was a near-perfect start to the season for Grahame Tilley and his new co-driver, Sennan Fielding.
The pairing clinched three of four victories over the course of the weekend and with a third place in Saturday’s sprint race, they now lead the overall points standings by just one point from AF Corse in Group GTC.
The remaining victory was hotly contested over by the Kendall Developments Brabham BT62 and the National Motorsport Academy’s Mosler MT900. Paul Bailey in the Brabham was running a distant second to Morgan Short in the Mosler but the late race safety car for Ian Loggies mishap played right into the Brabham’s hands.
Not least because the Mosler had developed issues during that safety car period. A faulty HT lead caused the engine to drop a cylinder and ultimately they were jumped out of the final corner on the very last lap after what was an impressive stint by Morgan.
The Mosler, unfortunately, would fail to start Saturday’s endurance race and retired from both of Sunday’s races with gearshift issues despite an incredible charge through the field by Marcus Short in Sunday’s endurance race.
The Brabham meanwhile clinched second position in all three races after its victory whilst Chris Murphy in the 24/7 Motorsport Audi R8 GT4 picked up some third-place trophies before he switches back to his BMW M3 GTR.
Richard Chamberlain meanwhile suffered yet more reliability woes with his Porsche 935. A blown turbo after Saturday’s qualifying ended their weekend before it really began.
Like Tilley and Fielding, Dan and father Graham de Zille also managed to collect three class victories over the course of the weekend along with a third-place finish. They now sit second in the overall standings due to the fact that the Tecserv Mercedes managed to score more fastest-lap bonus points over the weekend.
The other victory was claimed by series debutant, Gilbert Yates who had a thrilling battle with Warren Gilbert in the battle of the Lamborghinis. Yates in the Blackthorn Huracan Super Trofeo Evo2 managed to get the jump at the start on Gilbert but the Topcats machine was quickly back through. From then on, Yates chased Gilbert until the very dying moments of the race where he ultimately took the lead back and won with a 1.4-second lead.
All but one car in class managed to secure a podium position with Topcats even managing to secure a podium in every race, or so they thought. A second-place finish in Sunday’s endurance race was unfortunately taken away after it was confirmed the car had overtaken the Greystone GT McLaren under yellow flags which resulted in immediate disqualification from the results.
Feathers Motorsport ran the only Aston Martin on the grid at Donington Park and it proved to be a successful combination. Four podiums from the four races (including two victories) mean James Guess and Tom Canning now sit atop of the GTH points standings and just nine points adrift of the overall championship lead.
The first race of the weekend saw MakeHappen Racing get their title hopes off to an early start with a comfortable victory. Not even the two-lap dash to the finish could dampen their hopes as Chris Hart executed the restart perfectly to build a 3.2-second advantage over the T4 Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4 of Max Hart. Third place went to the returning James Guess who wasted no time in getting back up to speed.
The truncated race two saw the red flag thrown during the mandatory pit window which completely shuffled the order for the final 15-minute sprint to the flag.
MakeHappen were once again leading but upon resumption of the race, they were quickly swallowed up by a gaggle of pro drivers including none other than Phil Keen in the sister car.
Tom Canning made his way to the front of proceedings and managed to clear off into the distance. This coupled with the squabbling pack behind meant he remained unchallenged for the remainder of the race, taking an easy victory.
Things were far from easy behind him meanwhile. Seb Morris in the RAM Racing Mercedes led the queue of cars consisting of Gordie Mutch in the Paddock Motorsport McLaren 570s GT4 and Phil Keen in the second MakeHappen Racing Mercedes.
Mutch initially held the advantage over Keen and was diving left and right desperate to find a way through on the Mercedes ahead. Unfortunately for him, Keen in the Mercedes behind managed to sneak past to snatch the final podium position away from Mutch. Morris managed to hold off Keen in the final laps to come home second with Keen 1.4 seconds back in third.
James Guess retook control of the Aston Martin for Sunday’s sprint race and quickly chalked up another victory to his name. A race-long battle with the RAM Racing Mercedes of Charles Dawson meant Guess crossed the line with just a 0.7-second advantage over the Mercedes with Phillip Carter in the Greystone GT McLaren 570s coming home in a lonely third place.
The final race of the weekend saw Paddock Motorsport victorious once again. Tim Docker and Gordie Mutch capitalised on their shorter minimum pitstop time to emerge ahead of their rivals and not look back. 8.7 seconds was the margin of victory over the Feathers Motorsport Aston Martin with MakeHappen Racing returning to the podium in third.
GT Cup returns on the 29/30th of April at Brands Hatch. The famous grand prix loop will once again see GT Cars battle it out through the trees on one of the UK’s most fearsome circuits.
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