Sportscar ace Darren Turner retained the British GT GT4 Pro-Am drivers’ championship title alongside his Newbridge Motorsport co-driver Matt Topham in a super-tense series finale at Donington Park on Sunday, having come achingly close to clinching the overall GT4 class honours in another outstanding season with the Aston Martin Vantage.
The Aston Martin development driver, who delivered a typically storming drive through the field in a challenging weekend for the team, completed his 2022 campaign with a seventh-placed finish at Donington. This translated to third place in the Pro-Am division, confirming him as a double-British GT champion. The result also ensured Turner and Topham recorded an extraordinary full set of podium finishes in the nine-race calendar, including seven Pro-Am and two overall GT4 class victories. The second of those overall wins, at Brands Hatch, in September, allowed Newbridge Motorsport to begin the ‘Donington Decider’ with the GT4 Class overall points lead and a real chance of clinching the big prize, as well as ensuring an almost insurmountable advantage in Pro-Am. But it also meant Turner and Topham would have to overcome a 20s Success Penalty during their pitstop in the race… Such a time deficit meant Turner needed things to run smoothly in the run-up to the race to give the team its best chance of success, but the weather had different plans for qualifying. A torrential rainstorm during the GT3 session led Topham to venture out on wets during his GT4 run as the windswept track dried rapidly.
“Matt found himself on the wrong tyres in the short session,” explained Turner. “It was unfortunate, and there was no way he could have made up the difference, and that cost us a lot in terms of grid position.” Indeed, Topham’s time was 9.113s away from the GT4 pole, meaning that Turner “would have needed to run a GT3 lap time to make up the difference!” Starting 12th in class, Topham has made it his business to race forward in 2022, and he did the same again at Donington. In an eventful opening stint, Matt fought his way into seventh in the GT4 class. But he also picked up a penalty for overtaking at a restart following an early Safety Car period, which cost the team an additional drive through the pitlane. That combined with the regulated long pitstop for the driver change to Turner (which also featured a small brake fire), dropped Turner down to tenth. In order to become overall GT4 champions, Turner and Topham needed to finish in the top five, depending on where their two closest rivals (the Stellar Motorsport Audi and the R Racing Aston Martin) were positioned. Both of those cars ran ahead of the recovering Newbridge Vantage throughout the race and the destiny of the title thus sat in the hands of each crew at one stage or another during the race. This included Topham and Turner, who temporarily led the points when Darren moved back into eighth position. But when the Stellar Audi passed the R Racing Vantage for second place, Turner had to race through to fifth to stand any chance of winning GT4 outright. Still in eighth place, he then encountered some fierce resistance from the Century Motorsport BMW. Turner finally forced the issue at the Melbourne Hairpin with a couple of laps to go, but by that time the GT4 Overall title game was up.
“It was one of those weekends,” said Turner. “We came here with high hopes. We had the championship lead, but we needed quite a few things to fall our way because of the Success Penalty for winning at Brands. Matt had a good stint, he was doing a great job and got the car up to seventh will all the shenanigans that was going on on-track. That was great, but unfortunately, he picked up a Drive-Through. That as well as the extra time in the pits, plus starting where we did meant it was always going to be a tall order to be in contention. “In the end we dragged it back up to seventh, and we needed fifth to win the title overall. But we finished runners-up and if we’d all got together at the beginning of the year and said we’d finish third in the championship, we would have thought that was an exceptional year. So, I think everyone at Newbridge can be proud of themselves. We’ve been consistent, we’ve been able to challenge for the championship, and to win the Pro-Am title again is fantastic.” Turner and Topham are only the second crew in the history of the British GT Championship to retain a GT4 Pro-Am title. The accolade also means that Turner is a double-champion for the first time in his car racing career, and can boast a championship title in every season that he has contested as a GT4 driver. In total, while at Newbridge Motorsport, Darren has notched up four overall class wins, 10 Pro-Am class victories and 15 podium appearances across the two seasons.
“The team has been fantastic, and I’ve really enjoyed helping Matt who has come on in leaps and bounds in these two seasons. The Vantage GT4 is such a great car, particularly over a full lap. Obviously, it’s still a fantastically competitive package, and second overall in GT4 proves just how competitive it is.” Darren gets a break from racing now until 2023, but will remain busy developing Aston Martin’s Valkyrie and AMR Pro through the winter until the lights go out and it’s time to fight for victory once again.