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Why three UK series occupying the same turf are thriving

Despite occupying the same space, the unique appeal of three leading UK GT championships means they continue to grow. Autosport considers how British GT, GT Cup and the British Endurance Championship have managed to carve out their own niches

James Cottingham / Lewis Williamson - 2Seas Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3

The UK is blessed with an abundance of championships and series that cater for a huge variety of machines, perhaps none more so than with GT racing. Three key championships – British GT, GT Cup and the British Endurance Championship – are not only surviving but thriving, despite occupying a similar space in the market.

This year all of them are set to feature strong grids once again, as organisers capitalise on the unique appeal of each which, although not necessarily apparent on the surface, is the foundation of their success.

Created in 1993 by the British Racing Drivers’ Club, British GT was known for the first two years of its existence as the National Sports GT Challenge. In 2003, it was acquired by Stephane Ratel’s SRO organisation and since then has continued to grow, becoming the leading GT series in the country and attracting manufacturers and professional drivers year after year.

The 2023 campaign could well be British GT’s strongest to date thanks to a capacity entry of 36 cars – 18 each in GT3 and GT4 – with one-off entries expected at certain rounds. Not only that, but there are no fewer than eight factory drivers in the GT3 class including Mercedes stars Jules Gounon and Raffaele Marciello, as well as four-time British GT champion Jonny Adam.

“It highlights that British GT is at that level with the depth of global talent,” says championship manager Lauren Granville. “With Gounon, Marciello, and Adam coming back, it really will up the game and to be honest you can bring the best Pros but the Ams boost them as well. The level of the Am drivers is incredible. There are very talented and dedicated Am drivers that put a lot of time and resources into their driving.”

The GT3 class in British GT has predominantly moved towards a Pro-Am element in recent years, with the silver-silver division removed starting from the 2021 season. Sandy Mitchell won the GT3 title in 2020 alongside ex-British Touring Car Championship driver Rob Collard as a silver-silver line-up. The Barwell Motorsport and Lamborghini factory driver feels that the decision made by organisers two years ago to remove the sub-class is already reaping rewards, and the championship is now the number one destination in Europe for Pro-Am line-ups.

PLUS: How to get the best out of amateur racers

“Pro-Am racing is a massive part of GT racing, you can see that even in some of the big races that have happened over the winter at the likes of Bathurst and Kyalami,” says Mitchell. “There’s a lot of Pro-Am cars and maybe not as many Pro cars in some cases and I think, for British GT going that route, it has just made the championship even more competitive.”

Lambo factory ace Mitchell (left), believes Pro-Am focus is a key part of British GT's success

Lambo factory ace Mitchell (left), believes Pro-Am focus is a key part of British GT's success

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

More focus has been placed on longer races, with a second three-hour race added to the calendar this season at the Algarve International Circuit. The Portuguese track is a new venue on the British GT calendar, with Spa dropped for this season. For Granville it’s “constantly a work in progress” to try to adapt the schedule and keep things as fresh as possible, with visits to Oulton Park, Silverstone, Donington Park (twice), Snetterton and Brands Hatch also scheduled for 2023.

Greater live TV coverage, which has included races being aired on Sky Sports F1, has also helped to publicise the championship to a broader audience, as did the one-off outing by 2009 Formula 1 world champion Jenson Button at the Silverstone finale in 2020.

One key element of the championship is the application of success penalties, with the top three overall in both GT3 and GT4 handed a penalty to serve in the pits at the following round. The regulation means that it’s incredibly difficult for one crew to completely dominate and almost always keeps the title battle alive. It has occasionally caused problems in the past, though, with ongoing appeals from the previous round impacting the awarding of the success penalties. Regardless of any downside, Granville is adamant that it’s an integral part of the championship’s success.

"We kind of see ourselves as a feeder series for British GT. They [drivers] kind of learn with me and go up and then come back to me when they’ve retired" Hannah James, GT Cup

“It goes down to the wire every year and I think it serves its purpose in that you don’t have a runaway championship contender,” points out Granville. “There are always four or five crews that mathematically still have a chance [at the finale] so, for me, that’s super-exciting to see that. You need to be consistent throughout the year. It’s something which makes the championships exciting and I’m in favour of keeping.”

Consistency is what helped Ian Loggie secure the GT3 title last season, after scoring points at all but one of the races aboard his RAM Racing-run Mercedes-AMG. The Scot embarked on an extensive racing programme last year, completing more than 80 races, which included outings in the GT Cup.

Created in 2007 by Marc Haynes, the GT Cup championship continues under the leadership of his brother Chris after Marc died in 2016. Like British GT, the GT Cup has also continued to expand in recent years and has placed itself as something of a stepping stone into the SRO championship.

“We all offer something completely different,” says championship director Hannah James. “We kind of see ourselves as a feeder series for British GT. They [drivers] kind of learn with me and go up and then come back to me when they’ve retired.”

The appeal of GT Cup is the focus on the Am driver and shorter race distances across a weekend. The format consists of a 15-minute practice, two 15-minute qualifying sessions, a 25-minute sprint race and 50-minute pitstop race across both Saturday and Sunday, meaning plenty of track time and racing opportunity.

GT Cup champion Simon Orange graduates to British GT this year, proving promoter James's point that the series serves as a stepping stone

GT Cup champion Simon Orange graduates to British GT this year, proving promoter James's point that the series serves as a stepping stone

Photo by: JEP

One driver with a unique point of view is Marcus Clutton, the 2020 Radical Challenge champion who raced in all three GT championships last season. Alongside Morgan Tillbrook, the duo took two outright wins in British GT and went to the Donington Park finale with a shot at the overall GT3 title before finishing third. The Enduro Motorsport McLaren duo also contested several rounds of GT Cup with the purpose of preparing Tillbrook for upcoming British GT events at the same venue, something that Loggie and others have also done.

“It’s very much an Am-based championship and I think Hannah would agree that it’s a good stepping stone to British GT,” says Clutton of the GT Cup. “A lot of Ams go and learn the circuits, learn the GT3 cars, do tyre runs, qualifying, race starts and then they go and do British GT. It’s good practice and it’s real. It’s OK doing qualifying simulations in testing but it’s not real. There it’s real, and you have to learn quickly.”

While many Am drivers use the series as a testing ground and launchpad into British GT, GT Cup still has a loyal driver and team base who are content to remain in the series. A family atmosphere and not needing “110% commitment if you want to do well” like in British GT, according to Clutton, make it an ideal place for Ams to enjoy a weekend of GT racing. A greater spending on various areas by the organisers has also helped ensure that it’s a popular destination for many.

“I don’t think you can necessarily put your finger on one thing – we’ve done lots of things,” adds James. “The technical side of things has improved dramatically. With using the data loggers there’s now a technical team, rather than just the one person that we used to have. The social media side has increased. There’s lots of people who like the livestreaming and the money we’ve invested in that really helped.

“And we’ve invested in our new unit, which we’ve now got for catering and all that side of things. It’s a complete package that we offer. We go to our customers and say, ‘what do you want?’ because, at the end of the day, we’re there for them, we’re not here for us. We run this as a customer-led championship.”

While GT Cup’s focus is on shorter race distances, at the other end of the spectrum, the British Endurance Championship seeks to give competitors longer stints behind the wheel. Created as the Britcar Endurance Championship, it was founded in 1997 by Willie Moore and James Tucker with the aim of reintroducing a 24-hour race to the UK.

Claire Hedley bought the rights to the championship ahead of the 2016 season and has worked hard to raise falling grid numbers. A slot on the World Endurance Championship support bill at Spa in 2020 was a testament to its growing success but, like many series, it suffered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the non-championship event took place in Belgium with significantly reduced numbers.

Despite this setback, the series has continued its upward trajectory. It became one of the first national racing contests to embrace esports at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown, and continues to do so to this day.The Brabham BT62 made its racing debut with the series, it was the home of the Praga Prototype Cup in 2021 (and which it will return to running this year), and it has launched the Britcar Trophy for more production-based cars.

Grids have steadily grown for the British Endurance Championship, which takes place over one day

Grids have steadily grown for the British Endurance Championship, which takes place over one day

Photo by: Mick Walker

Last season the Britcar competition was granted official British championship status by governing body Motorsport UK, becoming the British Endurance Championship. That’s a title it will retain until at least the end of the 2024 season, and Hedley is determined to extend the agreement beyond that point.

“I definitely think it was the right move to become a British title, it puts us on another level,” she says. “The Britcar name is very respected in the industry but putting it into a British title we’ve had to up our game tenfold and I’m very happy that we’ve done that.”

An unusual aspect of BEC is that, although races are between two to three hours, all the action takes place on the Saturday – a key appeal for amateur drivers.

“I look at it from an Am point of view – they get to spend Sunday at home,” says Clutton, who raced in the championship last year with Peter Erceg. “So it works for family or it works for business commitments. They’re not knackered at work on Monday when they all go back into the office; they still get that Sunday off.”

"All three championships have different points of view about how you want to approach your GT racing. there’s something for everyone, regardless of your approach" Marcus Clutton

Hedley adds: “A lot of my customers have stayed because of the customer service and the way we look after them. That’s not to say GT Cup and British GT don’t do the same, I just think some are very loyal and I do feel like our one-day meetings make quite a big difference to family gentleman drivers, that are bringing in the Pros as well.”

Hedley’s ultimate ambition is to bring a 24-hour GT race back to the UK for the first time since 2018, although the concept has already returned in the virtual world. A six-hour contest for GT4 cars and below is due to be held this year at Donington Park as part of that process. Hedley is also keen to expand on the current structure of British Endurance Championship weekends by including a junior series as part of the roster and creating another GT pathway.

It’s another example of how hard work from organisers in all three championships is paying dividends. And at a time when there’s arguably too many series and championships that take from each other’s entry pool, the leading three GT categories have all struck a fine balance while complementing each other’s strengths.

“I think all three championships have different points of view about how you want to approach your GT racing,” argues Clutton. “You’ve got your super-serious British GT, and if you’re not serious there you’ll be at the back of the grid.

“Then you’ve got your GT Cup which is the middle ground, and I wouldn’t say it’s any better than BEC really – there’s just a difference in their race weekends. I think there’s something for everyone, regardless of your approach. There’s something out there that covers all options.”

Clutton (left) has a unique view on the respective options, which he says play to their own strengths

Clutton (left) has a unique view on the respective options, which he says play to their own strengths

Photo by: JEP/Motorsport Images

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