Sunday 5 April 2015

2015 British GT Championship

Round 1 : Oulton Park
Today I took a trip out to Oulton Park to catch the first practice and qualifying runs of the 2015 British GT Championship. Oulton is a historic British circuit dating back to the early 1950s. It is known for its changing gradients, high speed crests, and tight turns surrounded by mature trees and open parkland. I've visited many times and most closely associate it with the British Touring Car Championship.

Today though, the GT event is being supported by three smaller UK championships featuring up and coming young drivers in closely matched cars. The other series in action today were FIA Formula 4, Ginetta Juniors, and the Volkswagen Cup.

Oulton has all the usual facilities you'd expect including a bar and cafe named Chequers, and since you can't do a day's spectating on an empty stomach, where better to start than with a cafe breakfast?

Breakfast at Chequers cost £7

After breakfast we walked around some of the various stalls on display, it wasn't long before the Oulton Park driving experience stand got my attention. Mostly because they had a rally prepared Toyota GT86, but they also do single seater and M3 experience days. I'm going to look more into the rally day for something to do in the future. The GT86 had been kitted out inside with bucket seats and rollcage, the exterior had a large rear wing, mudguards, and some additional undertray protection. There was no 4WD conversion so it'll be a lot of fun in the mud.
Walking further on, we stopped to spectate as the GT cars ventured out of the pits for some running time. As usual I only had my mobile to take photos, I really need to invest in something more suitable (open to recommendations from camera experts!). It seems to do OK at capturing sound in video though, but not very good at anything a distance away and fast moving!

As well as being generally exotic and awesome, the main attraction of the GT cars is their sound. Easily the best noise was coming from the Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, it has a very distinct bass note rumble as it passes you by, very different to say the Aston Martins and Ferrari 458. There were a pair of new McLaren 650S here but their sound seemed quite muted compared to the BMW Z4 which were creating all the pops and bangs.
Once the GT session was over, we headed back towards the pitlane and paddock area. One of my favourite parts of the Oulton experience is getting to free roam behind the scenes. Being able to see the back of the garages and all the work going on inside is really interesting. You never know what you're going to bump into, it's great to give this level of access to the fans.

As well as finding the Lotus Exige S safety car, I also stumbled upon one of the McLaren 650S being pushed to the scrutineering bay, an Aston Martin getting a wash, a Ferrari 458 GT3, and an SLS also getting a wash down ready for the next session. It's not everyday you can get this close to cars like these, but the crew guys seem happy to let you snap away. I caught up with the McLaren and Aston getting checked over for legality and was able to get much closer than I thought would be allowed.
After leaving the paddock area we crossed over the track and heard the Ginetta Juniors race had been red flagged after an accident. We found the grid of cars was being held on the start/finish straight until the incident had been cleared. These little sportscars all have the same engines & tyres and are driven by kids as young as 14.
After watching the Ginetta re-start, we headed back to the car for some supplies when I spotted a couple of NC MX-5s. A Niseko edition coupe in Icy Blue, a Stormy Blue with complete Bomex bodykit, and a Copper Red Icon edition that looked like it had been off-roading.
Later on I watched some of the Volkswagen Cup race from a vantage point on Clay Hill, then made a final trip through the paddock. Remember when I said you never know what you may bump into? Well I did not expect to find a Bugatti Veyron parked nonchalantly between two trucks.

I'd never seen one in the flesh before and it was absolutely stunning, easily the highlight of the day for me. I only wish I could have heard it running. The owner had left the rear wing in the raised position so I was able to see some of it's internal mechanism, really interesting to see the engineering inside.
You can learn more about each of the four championships at the links below:

Full results are up on the Oulton Park website, but it was the Aston Martin Vantage GT3s that led the way, taking pole for both races. Entry for these Saturday GT qualifying sessions and support races was £14 on the gate for adults, grandstand seating upgrades were available for an additional £5. Race day is this Bank Holiday Monday, tickets are £23 on the gate.