The unresolved issue that overshadowed British GT's latest race
British GT was stuck between a rock and a hard place at Silverstone last weekend. With the National Court hearing into RAM Racing’s appeal of Oulton Park race two unable to be held before the weekend, and the classification of that race still to be finalised, it did the only thing it could and opted not to have in-race success penalties at Silverstone.
They will be retrospectively added once the Oulton result is determined and only then will championship points for Silverstone be distributed.
“It’s not a true penalty,” reasoned Enduro Motorsport’s Marcus Clutton, who cited the benefit to be had from not losing track position and dropping into traffic as a result. “But,” he added, “I also believe it’s the best they can do.” His was a widely held view.
A statement provided to Autosport by British GT said: “The decision to suspend Silverstone success penalties until after Oulton’s race two result is finalised was taken following extensive consultation with Motorsport UK’s legal department.
“This was the fairest and simplest way of determining provisional GT3 and GT4 winners at Silverstone, and also ensures that results and championship points are ultimately correct.”
Unfortunately, though, it cast a shadow of uncertainty over proceedings in the build-up at Silverstone. Even before a wheel was turned in practice, it was clear the result would be provisional.
“It’s a big mess,” was Barwell Motorsport commercial director Chris Needell’s apt summary. “We won’t have a penalty anyway, but the people that could do or might do, then won’t actually know where they finish today. Everyone is a loser, and this is going to be ongoing for all the races until the result of Oulton is determined.”
In the end, the three-hour race came down to a tense battle between Barwell’s Sandy Mitchell and Garage 59 McLaren racer Marvin Kirchhofer, both unaffected by the fallout from the second Oulton race. It was a bullet dodged for British GT, but it so easily could have been a different story – a point that wasn’t lost on teams.
Martin Plowman finished third on the road at Oulton but was promoted to victory with Paddock Motorsport co-driver Kelvin Fletcher by the application of post-race penalties for RAM’s Ian Loggie and to Shaun Balfe’s Audi. Going into the race unsure if he and stand-in team-mate Andrew Howard would have a penalty added to their race time, Plowman acknowledged the series had its hands tied, but felt the ongoing situation was “making a mockery of the championship”.
“It’s not a good look when you’ve got people watching at home and nobody really knows what’s going on,” he said.
Balfe, who also went into the meeting unsure whether he and Adam Carroll would have a success penalty added retrospectively, agreed: “It’s just a bit of a dampener isn’t it? It’s unfortunate that it can’t be concluded quickly then everybody knows where we are. It undoubtedly is spoiling things a bit.”
The uncertainty also impacted how teams approached the race. Several pointed out that, with no telling who would ultimately be given the penalties, waiting for the final pitstops to let the natural order shake itself out would not be an option. The hard work would have to be done on the track.
"It’s almost better that they just said, ‘We’re going to scrap success penalties for the season now’, you just forget about them" Chris Needell, Barwell Motorsport
“Now, all of a sudden, it’s not about keeping someone behind you,” said Richard Neary, who finished second to Plowman and Fletcher at Oulton and was therefore in the same boat. “It’s trying to get 11 seconds in front of them, which might be impossible.”
The Silverstone race ran without interruption following the usual lap-one chaos, and was overall a good advert for Pro-Am GT racing on a national level. With so many quality line-ups up and down the field making the prospect of one crew emerging as a dominant force unlikely, has British GT reached a point, Autosport pondered, where success penalties are no longer required?
“It’s almost better that they just said, ‘We’re going to scrap success penalties for the season now’, you just forget about them,” was Needell’s response.
Balfe reckons “success penalties could be something we could manage without and the racing would be good”, but recognises that may not always be the case. “If it’s a grid of 12-15 cars and you’ve only got two cars that are predominantly at the front, then we’re going to be saying, ‘Well, why haven’t they got success penalties?’” he said.
It’s certainly not a black-and-white issue. While many relish the purity of racing in GT World Challenge Europe, another SRO-run series where success penalties play no part, Plowman welcomes the way they “can give different teams a chance to have their moment in the sun”. And the inclusion of success penalties in the sporting regulations has inarguably helped to facilitate many championship battles going to the season’s business end.
For its part, British GT is adamant that success penalties will remain part of the show – the loophole behind the problem having now been closed. “Oulton’s red flag created a scenario that we hadn’t foreseen,” said a series statement provided to Autosport. “But now the regulation has been tightened there is no need to, and we have no intention of, removing success penalties in the future.”
Fortunately, Motorsport UK has clarified that the saga won't roll on beyond the next round at Donington Park on 29 May, with RAM's appeal hearing set to be held on 17 May.
“The National Court is independent and therefore sets the hearing dates for all matters before it,” said a Motorsport UK statement provided to Autosport after Silverstone.
“In this case, the appeal has been listed for hearing on 17 May, the earliest possible date, on an abridged timetable specifically to assist the championship and all competitors while respecting the regulated rights of RAM under the regulated appeal timetable.
“RAM was the only entrant to appeal against the decision of the officials at Oulton and seeks to avoid the application of success time penalties for that event altogether.
“Motorsport UK’s legal department has fully cooperated with the court and the championship on a so-urgent basis, to enable the championship to provide a stable structure both pending and after any decision of the court, in the interests of all competitors and importantly of sporting fairness.”
That's especially welcome given the concern from paddock figures that the championship's 'provisional problem' would rumble on and overshadow the whole season. After all, as Balfe pointed out, “British GT is front-loaded…”