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Opinion

How British GT is holding drivers to account for misdemeanours

Collisions between faster and slower cars in multi-class endurance racing can easily occur but the behavioural warning points picked up from such incidents in British GT are now beginning to have an impact on this season's title battle

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Without doubt one of the biggest appeals of endurance racing is the multi-class format that it provides, allowing cars and drivers of different performance and abilities to take to the track at the same time. It means that simply being the fastest is not enough to guarantee a crew victory, as traffic management and strategy all become more significant factors in reaching the top step of the podium than in other racing disciplines. British GT is no different, and the dynamic of the faster GT3 cars trying to find a way past the comparatively slower GT4s has provided lots of action this year.

Most recently at Snetterton, John Ferguson’s audacious move on Ian Loggie into Murrays as they approached GT4 traffic was the epitome of endurance racing, and ultimately set the RAM Racing driver on course for victory. But, while the multi-class racing has provided plenty of spectacle, it’s also produced several incidents this season and it was no different last weekend.

Championship leader James Cottingham was found at fault for a collision between his 2 Seas Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Freddie Tomlinson’s Raceway Ginetta G56 GT4 in the second practice session at the Agostini hairpin. After unsuccessfully appealing the decision, Cottingham was handed a third behavioural warning point which, combined with the two he’d collected in the Silverstone race, meant that he received a five-place grid penalty for the opening Snetterton contest.

Cottingham lost his well-earned pole position, and it led him to question the respect between drivers in the two classes. “I think it’s a deep-rooted set of circumstances this season,” says Cottingham, who still leads the GT3 standings alongside co-driver Jonny Adam after Snetterton. “The GT4 drivers feel like the GT3 drivers are not respecting them, and the GT3 drivers feel like the GT4 drivers are not respecting them. Everyone just needs to take a step back. It’s a two-way street and I think everyone needs to respect each other.”

Middleton competes in both GT3 and GT4 classes and knows how difficult dealing with traffic can be

Middleton competes in both GT3 and GT4 classes and knows how difficult dealing with traffic can be

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

Cottingham wasn’t the only GT3 driver to be slapped with a penalty for a collision in practice, with Andrey Borodin handed two behavioural warning points after collecting the DTO McLaren Artura GT4 of Aston Millar/Josh Rowledge in FP1 at the Wilson hairpin. Tomlinson’s team-mate Stuart Middleton has driven in both the GT3 and GT4 categories and can understand the frustration of the faster drivers when coming up behind slower traffic.

“I have been on both sides of the fence – I’m currently racing Italian GT3 and it’s exactly the same story,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s up to the faster car to make the pass safely and cleanly. If there’s not a gap, you have got to play it safe. I totally get the frustrations of the GT3s but it’s just the way the racing is and has been. It’s about placing the car in a good position. You have got to really play with the traffic a lot more when you’re in a battle.”

“I think people are testing the waters and trying to see who’s going to give way” Stuart Middleton

The 2017 British GT4 champion adds that “I think people are testing the waters and trying to see who’s going to give way”, and it was noticeable that at Snetterton the more serious clashes between GT3 and GT4 cars occurred in practice. Drivers in the race are aware that it falls to the faster GT3 machines to make a move safely and, while the same principle applies in practice, drivers coming out of the pits or slowing down to find a gap on track only serve to create more chances of an incident.

While collisions between GT3 and GT4 cars are perhaps more likely due to the speed differences, it’s certainly not to say that the driving standards within each class haven’t come under scrutiny this term.

West was another driver to pick up a penalty for colliding with a GT4 and his Garage 59 team opted to withdraw

West was another driver to pick up a penalty for colliding with a GT4 and his Garage 59 team opted to withdraw

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

Alex West was handed two more behavioural warning points – a separate penalty system to licence points operated in British GT and one that showcases how organisers take such matters seriously – for a collision with Lucky Khera in the opening race at the Wilson hairpin. It took his season total to eight and meant the Garage 59 McLaren was handed a 10-place grid penalty, which would have denied team-mate Marvin Kirchhoefer – like Cottingham – pole position. In the end, the team decided to withdraw from the event.

There’s no denying that it’s noticeable how more stringent the officials have been with driving standards this year and, while it could be debated just how strict these penalties should be – given none of the incidents have been deliberate – one thing that cannot be tolerated is abuse of any kind, even among the drivers themselves. The officials therefore took the decision to disqualify Michael Crees and Erik Evans from the meeting after both were found in breach of Motorsport UK’s Race with Respect code of conduct after “verbally abusive outbursts” following the second race – meaning in Crees’s case he was stripped of a second British GT podium from the opener.

The British GT Championship has just three rounds remaining – at Algarve, Brands Hatch and Donington Park – and, rightly or wrongly, there’s every chance the championships could be settled by decisions in the officials’ office rather than on the track.

Crees and Evans (in Mustang) were excluded for an altogether different offence

Crees and Evans (in Mustang) were excluded for an altogether different offence

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

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