With the new motor racing season now well underway, it’s time to take a look at our leading national championships, highlighting the things they’re doing right (or wrong), and asking if each can sustain its momentum as we head out of the pandemic and straight into economic decline: First up is British GT:

Anyone who loves the roar of British GT’s mostly V-engined beasts cannot fail to be impressed with its steadily burgeoning numbers, both in GT3 and GT4; this in the face of strong competition from the also flourishing GT Cup Championship.

Two-by-two in formation before the start

It is perhaps ironic that despite budgets rising universally, what has previously been seen as one of the costlier forms of racing is proving to be a wise investment, not only for its ‘gentlemen’ drivers and teams, but equally for pro-talent and commercial partners too. SRO (the championship’s organiser) clearly deserves a big chunk of the credit, but so too do the manufacturers who have not only built longevity into their models but are also keenly supporting the careers of a growing pool of established and emerging star names.

SRO's Stéphane Ratel (r) has transformed the shape of modern GT racing

As far as SRO is concerned, being the lead promoter in multiple territories is paying-off handsomely. Calendar duplications can’t always be avoided but the combination of clever scheduling, harmonisation of classes and tyres, and enhanced media coverage / live streaming is fuelling both engagement and participation. Over the last five years, GT3 entries have risen by 50%, whilst GT4 is now firmly established as the place to go for young professionals seeking to move away from single seaters: There are blue ticks all-round.

Mostly though, what makes British GT shine is the active participation of the growing band of manufacturers (via their specialist performance divisions), and this is all due to one key part of the regulations: ‘Balance of Performance’.

Porsche and Audi now feature cars in both GT3 and GT4

Balance of Performance (BoP) is a term that is often heard banded around in the pit lane and garages (seldom kindly) but what it does is to create a theoretical level playing field by allowing for ‘corrections’ to ride height, weight and downforce. Some cars will inherently be quicker in a straight line, others whilst cornering; BoP is there to try to even things-up, meaning that the emphasis is on the teams to find the best set-up, and on drivers to find the optimum balance between speed and grip. For the manufacturers, this removes the constant need to refine product in pursuit of outright performance and instead allows them (and owners) to clearly define the competitive life of a chassis whilst focusing development in more cost-effective ways.

With any of the top manufacturers able to see its car on pole position, the money that was once spent on chasing chassis and aero performance is now spent on working with the teams and pro-drivers in order to drive results forward. Everyone and everything benefits; the owners, the paddock presence, teams, and importantly the fans, because British GT is now not only a draw for our own top professionals but for star names from the continent too.

Canada's Marco Signoretti (l) has joined GT4 race winner Matt Cowley in Academy Motorsport's Multimatic Ford Mustang

This year’s opening rounds from Oulton Park not only saw the return of some familiar faces but also some notable new additions. Balfe Motorsport have been long-standing regulars (in both classes) most recently with McLarens. But this year, owner Shaun Balfe has switched to the Audi R8 LMS Evo II GT3 and is partnered with former A1 GP champion and GP2 race winner Adam Carroll. The Irishman (who has also raced in Formula E and DTM) is one of the most complete drivers I know and will undoubtedly extract a level of pace from the Audi that we’ve previously only seen on the continent.

Adam Carroll shows his pace as he cuts through the spray in pre-season testing

Also new (in the pro-driver category) is Frenchman Jules Gounon. A former Bentley factory driver, Gounon has linked-up with Pro-Am champion Ian Loggie in the RAM Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 and instantly starred at the season opener, Gounon and Carroll racing side-by-side and wheel-to-wheel around a circuit that is mostly thought of as too narrow for anything with four wheels! Carroll is feistily quick, Gounon exudes flair; expect a breathtaking series of battles as the season develops.

The Mercedes-AMG and Audi were inseparable for most of the opening encounter
Gounon is also a front-runner in SRO's premier series, GT World Challenge Europe

Key to success in 2022 will be tyre management. This is always a leading factor (it doesn’t matter what’s under the bonnet if it can’t connect with the track), but as environmental concerns and the need for sustainability come ever more to the fore, Pirelli have introduced an all-new ‘Zero’ tyre (the DHF) and for the first time, both GT3 and GT4 cars will race with the same rubber. The change in the tyre is significant; it’s not just a tweek to the compound, it’s a completely new construction too, using more renewable materials and ultimately giving better performance. But the speed can only be unlocked if the tyres are brought into the optimal operating range correctly. Moreover, more speed will undoubtedly mean more wear and stress, and so drivers will have to carefully manage their sessions to ensure that they still have tyre life at the end of the race.

New Boots for both Sam Neary and his Team Abba Racing car

To date, we have seven manufacturers entered in GT3, and eight for GT4 (with possibly another still to enter later in the year). It’s a fantastic endorsement of just how far British GT has come and with more marques, faster drivers and more sensitive tyres, as its fans will undoubtedly testify, the racing isn’t only going to be fast, it’s most likely going to be a little furious too.

Here’s a selection of images from the opening rounds at Oulton Park:

Betty Chen & Angus Fender's new BMW M4 GT3 is another bright addition to the grid
Howard Fielding's brilliant capture of Mark Sansom & Will Tregurtha's Bentley hover mower
The Team Parker Racing Porsche employs launch mode
It's that brilliant Balfe Audi again!
Somewhere, under the rainbow
Neither Josh Miller or Jamie Day are legally old enough to drive a car on the road . . but they certainly can race an Aston Martin!
GT4 McLarens
Richard Neary
Hello Ekris