Can Marciello translate European success to British GT?

The arrival of GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup and ADAC GT Masters champion Raffaele Marciello to British GT is keenly anticipated. But with seven other factory drivers on a well-stacked grid for this weekend's season opener, it's by no means a cert that he and John Ferguson can claim the crown

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“I’m convinced, without fail, I have the best driver in GT racing with me.” It’s quite a statement to make about your team-mate, but John Ferguson has every reason to believe just that about the driver he’ll be racing alongside in this season’s British GT3 Championship, which kicks off at Oulton Park this weekend.

Regarded as one of the fastest if not the fastest GT3 driver in the world, Raffaele Marciello is a man who knows how to win titles. The Mercedes factory driver, who is reigning GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup and ADAC GT Masters champion, has clearly made his mark on the world of GT racing since switching his focus from single-seaters in 2017.

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The former Ferrari Driver Academy member is just one of eight factory drivers who will compete in British GT’s top division this season, making it arguably the most competitive in the championship’s history as 16 full-time crews have been confirmed.

Over the past 12 months, Marciello has gradually become aware of British GT’s growing reputation, in part due to the success of fellow Mercedes works driver and team-mate Jules Gounon last season.

“I think last year I started to follow a bit more because in the past I never really followed [the championship],” admits Marciello. “I know the tracks are mega from TOCA in the past when I was playing [video] games, so I always wanted to drive here. I spoke with Jules, he loves this championship. I loved when I came to Brands Hatch and Silverstone [in other series], [it was] always full of fans and people.”

The Swiss-Italian came close to a one-off outing in the championship last year but prior racing commitments meant he was unable to enter a round. However, it instigated a dialogue with Ferguson, which continued for nine months and ultimately led them to partner together at RAM Racing sharing a GT3 Mercedes in 2023.

RAM Racing owner Ferguson has secured the services of Marciello for this year's championship

RAM Racing owner Ferguson has secured the services of Marciello for this year's championship

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

Despite having never raced in British GT before, Marciello is all too aware that his Am driver will be the one who can make the difference come the final results and that consistency will be crucial if they are to challenge for the crown.

“In this championship, I think more than to be quick you need to score points,” he says. “Even if you finish every time in fourth then you can win the championship, so more than the pure pace it’s important to stay out of the gravel. With so many GT4 [cars] it’s really easy to have contact so we need to be safe.”

For Ferguson, having a driver of Marciello’s calibre alongside is a firm sign of his intention, and ahead of the season he’s been putting in the work behind the scenes – losing 15kg over the winter, as “you can’t get Mr Marciello and not make an effort”.

This year will be just Ferguson’s third in endurance racing, having made his British GT debut with a Toyota GR Supra GT4 in 2021 – taking a best result of two third places – before moving up into the GT3 division with RAM last year. A maiden win came at the second Snetterton race with Ulysse de Pauw, but Ferguson’s season came to an abrupt halt after he damaged the car in practice at Brands Hatch and missed the final two rounds.

"Even if you finish every time in fourth then you can win the championship, so more than the pure pace it’s important to stay out of the gravel" Raffaele Marciello

Ahead of the 2023 campaign – which begins with the traditional Oulton double-header – the 49-year-old already knows the areas he needs to improve upon to give himself and Marciello the best possible chance.

“I struggled with new tyres in qualifying, that was my biggest downfall, and a heavy fuel load at the start of a race,” says Ferguson. “But the Mercedes is a very good car. It holds its tyres so it’s just a matter of trying to keep myself in the mix at the start and, by the end of the stint, the car really comes into its own.”

Last year was the perfect campaign for RAM. It secured the GT3 drivers’ title with Ian Loggie as well as the teams’ championship, but the squad has undergone significant changes over the past 12 months. Team founder Dan Shufflebottom departed at the end of 2022, with British Touring Car race winner Tim Sugden now team manager after Ferguson bought the squad in February last year. The personnel changes were one of the reasons Loggie has moved to 2 Seas for the upcoming campaign, where he will look to defend his title alongside Gounon.

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Ferguson knows where he needs to improve to replicate his Snetterton victory last year with Ulysse De Pauw

Ferguson knows where he needs to improve to replicate his Snetterton victory last year with Ulysse De Pauw

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

“RAM was a great team, but a bit of politics was going on – as there always is in motorsport,” says Loggie, who spent four seasons with the team. “I’m here to drive rather than get involved in politics, so I think I’ve done the right thing – 2 Seas will do a great job.”

The Scot is certainly no stranger to the Anglo-Bahraini squad, having driven with the team before, including taking a class podium at the Gulf 12 Hours last January, while the outfit has recorded wins in British GT.

“Pretty high I would say,” says Loggie on his chances of defending the British GT3 crown. “I think we’ve got a decent driver line-up. That said, the grid is full of amazing drivers, so this year is going to be tougher than last year but, like always, I don’t think you have to be the fastest, I think you have to be the most consistent.

“Don’t make mistakes and use that experience. I’ve been doing it for God knows how many years now but a lot of last year was down to not making mistakes.”

Loggie recorded just one retirement last season after being the innocent victim in an opening-lap crash at Silverstone but, perhaps more ominously, he achieved a podium in all four races that Gounon competed alongside him. With the Frenchman returning for a full-time campaign in 2023, there’s every reason to believe that a second title could be heading Loggie’s way.

One of the biggest threats on the grid, though, could well come from the other side of the 2 Seas garage. James Cottingham remains with the squad having finished fourth in the 2022 standings despite not quite managing an overall victory. He will be joined by four-time British GT champion Jonny Adam, the current Aston Martin factory driver having raced with 2 Seas at two rounds last year. Clashes with the European Le Mans Series mean Adam will miss the three-hour race at Silverstone as well as the Donington Park decider, but his experience could well guide Cottingham to within a shot of the title come the final round.

Adam’s former team-mate Andrew Howard will once again embark on a full-time campaign, the Beechdean team owner and double GT3 champion (2013 and 2015) this time alongside factory Aston Martin driver Ross Gunn – the GT4 champion from 2015.

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Beechdean is back for a first full season since 2021 with double champion Howard joined by 2015 GT4 king Gunn

Beechdean is back for a first full season since 2021 with double champion Howard joined by 2015 GT4 king Gunn

Photo by: Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

Other factory drivers on the roster this season include Rob Bell, who will drive a McLaren 720S Evo alongside Mark Radcliffe for Optimum Motorsport, and Marvin Kirchhofer, who will partner Alex West in a Garage 59-run 720S Evo.

Dan Harper, the 2019 Porsche Carrera Cup GB champion, is another factory driver who will make his debut in the series having spent the past three years racing with BMW in the Nurburgring Endurance Series and GT World Challenge. He will race a Century Motorsport-run BMW M4 GT3 alongside Darren Leung, the Am driver having won on his British GT debut in the Donington Park finale last year alongside Alexander Sims.

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One of the strongest driver line-ups on paper comes in the form of Sandy Mitchell and Shaun Balfe at the wheel of a Barwell Motorsport-run Lamborghini Huracan EVO2. Balfe has become a nearly-man in British GT, finishing runner-up in 2003 and taking third in 2019, losing out on the title by just five points on that occasion despite missing the first two races at Oulton Park.

Outside of the teams with factory drivers, there are some familiar faces who could well challenge at the front. Among them are Marcus Clutton and Morgan Tillbrook, the Enduro Motorsport pairing having taken two wins last season

He and team-mate Adam Carroll won the opening round of last season at Oulton Park in an Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II, but they departed the championship after a puncture caused a non-score in the three-hour race Silverstone and the duo finished a disappointing eighth at Donington.

Outside of the teams with factory drivers, there are some familiar faces who could well challenge at the front. Among them are Marcus Clutton and Morgan Tillbrook, the Enduro Motorsport pairing having taken two wins last season aboard their 720S before finishing third in the final table. With the new 720S Evo model at the duo’s disposal, victories are highly likely again, even against the numerous factory drivers that are on the grid this season.

Reigning GT Cup champion Simon Orange also graduates full-time into British GT alongside Michael O’Brien, having impressed in the Donington decider last season, again at the wheel of a 720S.

Ferguson’s belief that Marciello is the best GT driver will certainly be put to the test over the season’s nine-race calendar, as they’ll need every ounce of skill against one of the most competitive fields ever assembled by British GT. All of which makes the 2023 season one of the most highly anticipated in the championship’s history.

Mitchell and Balfe look set to be one of the strongest lineups as Barwell eyes a return to the summit with its new EVO2 Lambo

Mitchell and Balfe look set to be one of the strongest lineups as Barwell eyes a return to the summit with its new EVO2 Lambo

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

New and old target GT4 title

The British GT4 class promises to be just as competitive in 2023, with new and returning faces making up the 16 full-time entry list that contains no fewer than seven manufacturers.

The two leading crews from last year – champions Sennan Fielding/Richard Williams (Steller Motorsport) and Darren Turner/Matt Topham (Newbridge Motorsport) – are both absent from the grid this season, leaving the way open for new challengers to take the crown.

One of those could well be Josh Miller, the 17-year-old having starred in his and R Racing’s inaugural British GT campaigns last year, as two wins – the first of which at Snetterton gave Miller the record for the youngest winning crew alongside Jamie Day – allowed them to finish third overall at the end of the year. Miller will be joined in the Aston Martin Vantage by Seb Hopkins, who himself impressed with Team Parker Racing on his British GT debut last term, and together the duo will make a formidable Silver-Silver pairing.

“With a second year of experience under our belts I think it’s all to play for this year, I definitely think we can be in with a chance,” says Miller. “We’ve just got to keep our heads down and we should be there at the end of the season.

“You’ve got to minimise all mistakes, and I think that’s the crucial thing in British GT – finish consistently throughout. It’s not always all about winning and pushing as hard as you can, it’s just about consistent points scoring and at the end of the year it adds up.”

Matt Cowley is another driver capable of mounting a serious title challenge this term, remaining with Academy Motorsport for a fourth season having recorded wins in the previous three campaigns. This year he will partner Erik Evans in the Ford Mustang, the young American having made a one-off appearance in the Donington Park finale last year with Will Moore.

Cowley has won at least once in each of the last three seasons with Academy's Mustang and is an expected contender in 2023

Cowley has won at least once in each of the last three seasons with Academy's Mustang and is an expected contender in 2023

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

“We know that it’s a winning formula, Academy and the Mustang,” says Cowley. “We’ve been title contenders every year we’ve been in it, we’ve just had bad luck and things haven’t gone our way. Hopefully this year we can have a bit of luck and maybe do a bit of a better job.”

One of the dark-horse pairings could be Aston Millar and Josh Rowledge, the 2021 and 2022 Ginetta Junior champions joining forces at the wheel of a new-for-2023 McLaren Artura operated by DTO Motorsport. Despite both drivers being new to the championship, Millar believes they have every chance of challenging for wins and ultimately the title.

“We’ve got a great team around us so hopefully we can use their experience to push us along as well – every day we go out we’re learning more,” says Millar, who is now a McLaren Academy Driver. “Some people might say we’ve got no experience [in British GT] but we’ve just got to learn the hard way.”

While this year’s grid contains plenty of new faces, there are also some previously successful drivers making a welcome return to the championship. Dan Vaughan, the 2020 GT4 champion alongside Jamie Caroline, and Stuart Middleton, champion in 2017 with Will Tregurtha, will both compete this season. Vaughan will race alongside Zac Meakin in a Team Parker-run Porsche 718 Cayman, while Middleton will partner Freddie Tomlinson in a Ginetta G56 operated by Raceway.

Century Motorsport will also likely feature near the head of the field with two new-for-2023 BMW M4s driven by Michael Johnston/Chris Salkeld and Carl Cavers/Lewis Plato. With these two pairings, plus a further five Pro-Am line-ups helping to make up the GT4 field, there’s an added element to the overall championship that once again promises to go to the Donington Park finale in October.

The last two Ginetta Junior champions Millar and Rowledge are a dark horse aboard the new DTO Motorsport McLaren Artura

The last two Ginetta Junior champions Millar and Rowledge are a dark horse aboard the new DTO Motorsport McLaren Artura

Photo by: JEP / Motorsport Images

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