The Porsche Carrera Cup GB, the fastest single marque GT racing championship in the UK, has begun its 15th season in spectacular style. Ahead of a return to Donington after two years away, some of the smallest margins in the history of the championship make the outcome hard to predict.
The two opening rounds produced plenty of action that saw the front runners of 2016 emerge with the early advantage, but only just. After the first qualifying session of the year, 0.086s separated the top four – a distance of just 3.6 metres, or less than the length of a 911.
Rising to the top, although by a significantly smaller margin, was double champion Dan Cammish (Redline Racing). Carrying the momentum of two consecutive championships and a record number of wins over the course of one season, Cammish showed in both races that his ability to maintain a relentless pace over the course of a race counts every bit as much as outright speed.
Keeping Cammish the most honest and looking best placed to challenge for a race win is Charlie Eastwood (Redline Racing). The 2016 Rookie champion and Porsche GB Scholar has been Cammish’s nearest challenger, but key to success for him will be a qualifying performance similar to that which took him to his first outright win late last season.
Hot on their heels is the JTR pairing of Dino Zamparelli and Lewis Plato. Plato showed that in his second season he already has the ability to convert his undoubted pace into results. A championship-best qualifying performance saw him take his first podium, and only an unfortunate puncture rob him of a strong race two result. Zamparelli tried a different strategy in qualifying which was difficult for him to maximise, and showed how difficult it can be in the races to make up for a compromised grid position. Nevertheless, in race two Zamparelli diffused Eastwood’s attack on Cammish for the lead with a late race charge that saw him push the Irishman hard, which he defended expertly.
Along with JTR, another single-seater convert making an impression at the opening rounds was Tio Ellinas. The third JTR driver showed his memory of UK circuits is still fresh, and that he can adapt very fast. Good race craft and overtaking saw him make good progress from his grid position and post fourth fastest lap in race two, just over one tenth adrift of the fastest. At Donington, a circuit where he has the same testing mileage as his competitors, he could post the biggest surprise.
Never one to shy away from an on-track battle, Tom Oliphant (Redline Racing) again showed his ability to fight his way forward. Fourth in both races was perhaps not what the 2016 podium finisher was after, and Donington will be an opportunity to make amends.
Euan and Dan McKay (Redline Racing) proved that their move from Pro-Am1 into the Pro category was well considered, as both showed strong pace and maturity in picking their way through the action and scoring solid points. There was certainly no brotherly love in evidence, and both look set to fight each other every bit as hard as the rest of the tightly-packed field.
With the exception of Ellinas, the remainder of the Pro category Rookies had a tough opening weekend. Tom Wrigley (IN2 Racing) has undoubted pace and potential, but bad luck – and expert avoidance – saw him shuffled to the back of the pack. Similarly, Ross Wylie (Slidesports) and Jamie Orton (Redline Racing) were caught up in much of the action, but both remain exciting prospects given their proven abilities.
In Pro-Am1, Alex Martin (Team Parker Racing) leads the way and his main challenger at Donington would appear to be 2014 category champion Justin Sherwood (Team Parker Racing). Greg Caton, who starred spectacularly alongside Martin at Brands Hatch, hands back the car to Peter Jennings (G-Cat Racing) while Graeme Mundy (Team Parker Racing) will be looking to make up ground.
Peter Kyle-Henney (IN2 Racing) was the undisputed pace-setter last time out, but an early incident in race one put paid to his weekend and already leaves him with a points deficit to make up. Looking to capitalise are Iain Dockerill (Asset Advantage Racing) and Shamus Jennings (G-Cat Racing). Both took a category win apiece and entertained with some close racing. Newcomer David Fairbrother (Slidesports) made a strong debut and came away with fastest lap from race two, potentially giving him the strongest chance of upsetting the category order at Donington.
A number of factors will be at play for rounds three and four. Most of the grid will have never taken on the demands of Donington in a 911 GT3 Cup, meaning that each driver will be on similar mileage following the official test on 14 March. Round four will also be over an extended 33 lap duration, placing a greater focus on tyre management and extended race pace. While this may favour the experienced Cammish, the fast, flowing nature of the circuit which has a lap record of 106.22 mph, may provide overtaking opportunities denied by the shorter Brands Hatch layout.
Despite this, the picture emerging so far is that qualifying plays a crucial role in determining the result come race day. All will be to play for in the crucial Saturday 30 minute session, with race one (23 laps) at 16.20 on Saturday 15 April and race two (33 laps) at 13.35 on Sunday 16 April.