British sportscar ace Darren Turner clinched the GT4 Pro-Am drivers’ title alongside Newbridge Motorsport co-driver Matt Topham at Donington Park on Sunday, concluding an ultra-successful 2021 British GT Championship campaign with their Aston Martin Vantage GT4.
For the works Aston Martin Racing driver, who finished second in class in the race, the achievement represents the latest accolade with the British marque. It also capped a season of firsts for Turner, as he recorded his maiden British GT race victory and championship title.
“I’m delighted to have won the British GT Pro-Am Championship,” said Turner. “I guess much of the pleasure is from being a part of Newbridge Motorsport’s first year in the championship and working alongside Matt as he achieved his dreams of winning in British GT.
“I’m sure as it sinks in it will feel even better because it’s a great thing to have accomplished, but it’s really satisfying to watch the joy it’s brought to the team.”
The nine-round series traditionally climaxes at Donington Park and Turner and Topham went into the weekend’s finale with a comfortable 14.5-point over their nearest GT4 Pro-Am rivals.
While Newbridge Motorsport may have been in the pound seat, as always, it prepared a fiercely competitive Vantage for the weekend. Topham duly delivered a superb qualifying lap, allowing the duo to start from second in class in the race – exactly where they needed to be to protect their title chances.
The two-hour season finale began in damp conditions, after heavy rain had blighted the morning’s warm-up session. Newbridge duly revised the car’s set-up and found a compromise of balance and pace, giving Topham a fantastic opportunity to prove how much he’s improved his wet-weather skills in his first season alongside Turner.
In very tricky conditions, Topham held his own and moved to the top of the class in the early stages as their chief rivals in the Fox Motorsport McLaren closed in behind. This became a three-car battle when the Toyota Gazoo Racing Supra joined the fight. Topham valiantly held his nerve with classy composure.
The Supra retired not long after and Topham settled in to second position before handing over to Turner, both aware that maintaining the place would be enough to seal the crown.
“You could see from the on-board footage that Matt had a car with a lot of oversteer!” said Turner. “He did a great job dealing with the car and the pressure. When someone overtook him, he didn’t go to pieces. He just carried on doing the best he could do with the car at the time. He optimised the performance of the car the whole way through his stint. That’s all you can ask.
“It meant that we were in a great position when I jumped in. Today Matt absorbed all the pressure of winning the championship and he made it very easy for me.”
Turner’s job, though straightforward, was still challenging. Like all the pros in the second half of the race, he was sent out on slick tyres. And while there was a dry line, the circuit was still damp, greasy, and cold.
“It was a bit sketchy,” said Turner of the track. “There was enough of a dry line around the track to keep the temperature in the tyres, which was critical. I think a lot of people got caught out on the first lap into the Esses, because it was wetter there and you couldn’t really tell that until you got there, and I nearly went off as well!
“Our targets for the race was fairly simple. If the McLaren won, we needed to finish second, and if any of the others won, we just needed to finish. Once the Toyota went out and the Ginetta had its issues in the race, we knew we were in a strong position.
“I paced myself and stayed out of trouble to protect the car. By the time I got across the line there was a red flag, and I was like ‘Have we won?’ over the radio. Then the engineer came back and said: ‘We’re all good!’ and we were able to celebrate.”
Turner and Topham ended the season with 170 points, four clear of their nearest rivals. The result marked Turner’s seventh visit to the podium from eight attempts in British GT this season. It was a remarkable campaign that featured three class victories, including an overall GT4 win in the ‘blue riband’ Silverstone 500 event. It was also Turner’s second title with Aston Martin, having won the European Le Mans Series crown alongside Andrew Howard at Beechdean AMR in 2016.
“This was an amazing way to wrap up the season,” said Turner. “I’ve enjoyed wins in GT Cup and British GT, I got to race in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, which was an unexpected bonus, and I absolutely loved my time racing with The Heart of Racing in the Daytona 24 Hours.
“Probably the stand-out highlight of the season was winning the TT in the Goodwood Revival but being a British GT champion is very special too! I’m extremely grateful to all of my partners who make the racing possible and I’m looking forward to what 2022 brings behind the steering wheel.”
Donington Park marked the last competitive outing for Turner in 2021, as he now turns his attention to developing high performance Aston Martin Lagonda road cars for the rest of the year.