Record-breaking grid sets the stage for incredible season opener at Donington Park

Record-breaking grid sets the stage for incredible season opener at Donington Park

It's finally time. After what feels like an age, the GT Cup is about to go racing once again. The championship will have its season opener this weekend at Donington Park with the series' biggest grid at this circuit. A total of 38 cars will line up for the start of the season with eleven manufacturers represented. Following a difficult 2020, these numbers are a real boon for the championship, not only will they ensure some fantastic racing, but it really shows the strength of the championship.

Track time remains the same for this season. Competitors take to the track for a free practice session before briefly returning to the pits to prepare for the 15-minute qualifying session. This usually then gives teams a little more time to make any preparations for each day's races.

The group format is also the same with six groups on the grid, GTO, GT3, GTC, GTB, GTH and GTA. Group GTH continues to prove popular and is the largest group on the grid for 2021. Following its inception last season, Group GT3 has gained traction with double the full season entrants from 2020.

In Group GTO, the open format has attracted three very different competitors to the field. Richard Chamberlain returns with his iconic Porsche 935. The car had to miss the end of the 2020 season due to technical gremlins, but the team are back and ready to tackle a new year. Joining the Porsche is SB Race Engineering with Paul Bailey and Ross Wylie running a Brabham BT62. The car made its track debut last season, but this will be its first full season and is the only chassis racing in Europe. The final car making up the group is a Radical RXC GT3 run by Raw Motorsports. On board the radical will be Steve Burgess and Ben Dimmack, making their GT Cup debut.

With seven entries, Group GT3 is looking fantastic. The mighty 'Godzilla' returns to the group with Grahame Tilley and Will Tregurtha back for another run at the title. Current titleholder John Seale will be there to defend his crown, pairing up with Abbie Eaton in the Lamborghini Huracan for this outing. Three more Huracan’s line up on the grid this weekend, with Scott Sport's John Dhillon and Phil Quaife piloting the #61 Lamborghini. Fellow full season entrant Lucky Khera will be behind the wheel of another of the Lamborghinis. Khera and Dhillon both have made the jump from GTC to GT3 this season.

For this race, WPI Motorsport's Michael Igoe makes a return, rounding out the Huracan quartet. Igoe has drafted in Phil Keen to be his co-driver. Abba Racing are back in the championship for a full season this year, though there has been a bit of a change for the opening round. Following an incident for Jason Garrett in their GT4 Mercedes in preseason testing, Sam Neary will be partnering with his father Richard in their GT3 Mercedes AMG for this weekend. The final entry in Group GT3 is for Balfe Motorsport. Another father-son pairing sees Stewart and Lewis Proctor team up in a McLaren 750S GT3 – the first GT3 McLaren to run in the championship.

Moving onto Group GTC or the Lamborghini Group. The group currently consists of three runners, all opting for a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo. GT Cup veterans Topcats Racing will be running in the group with Jensen Lunn and Warren Gilbert swapping their faithful Marcos Mantis for a new Lamborghini. Both remaining GTC runners are from Stanbridge Motorsport. In the #41 will be James Simons and Fraser Smart with Graham Wilson joining the fray as well. The trio plan on sharing driving duties between them. The second Stanbridge car is in the hands of Chris Kemp and Stuart Hall who have upgraded to a full season entry following a brief debut last year.

From GTC to Group GTB and another six competitors. Three manufacturers are represented in this group including two Marcos Mantis, but not the pair we're used to seeing. Topcats Racing are bringing one of their cars to play in the hands of Charlotte Gilbert, but the second Mantis is for Andy Robey. Robey has swapped out his vibrant yellow BMW for a Marcos so there will be a bit of a learning curve for him this season. Current Group GTB titleholder Sam Randon returns to the grid, this time alongside Richard Marsh, in the first of three Porsche 911 Cup cars. David Frankland brings his Porsche back to the grid, following a rebuild, a slick new paintjob and the signing of a new teammate James Hillery. The third Porsche is for Valluga Racing with Nick Phelps behind the wheel. Phelps is currently only in for the Donington and Brands Hatch rounds but should bring a bit of an extra challenge to our full season entrants. The sixth entrant in the group is long-time GT Cup driver Chris Murphy. Murphy will be due a change of car later in the season, but for now will be running the only Aston Martin Vantage in the group.

Once again, the biggest group on the grid is Group GTH. With twelve entrants signed up to race at Donington it's safe to say that GT4 cars are a highly popular choice for racing right now. A combination of returning teams and new faces make a hugely exciting group grid. Starting off with our returning teams, Steve Ruston and John Whitehouse are back to defend their Group GTH title. Previous overall champions, and Group GTH champions two years running, Ruston and Whitehouse come into this season as the pair to beat.

Second in the championship last year was Feathers Motorsport's James Guess and they are upping their game for 2021. Exchanging their Ginetta for an Aston Martin Vantage GT4 and bringing Aston Martin works driver Darren Turner into the team suggests Feathers are going all out on an attempt at the title. Also back for more in 2021 are last year's Group GTA and overall champions Simon Orange and Josh Jackson. The pair have an interesting setup this year running cars in both GTH and GTA. Century Motorsport also have two entries in GTH and GTA for 2021 – David Holloway is back in the GT Cup for a full season alongside Adam Hatfield. The pair will be piloting an Aston Martin GT4 Vantage.

Alongside our returning teams, a raft of newcomers will be joining the championship for the full season and for the season opener at Donington. First up, Greystone GT have two full season entrants and a third for this weekend. All three are running a McLaren 570S GT4 with a pro driver on board. In the #23 car, Iain Campbell is teaming up with LMP1 driver and Le Mans winner Oli Webb, while in the sister #77 car, Mark Hopton is running with A1GP champion and former Indycar driver Adam Carroll. In the third McLaren, Richard Mason is sharing driving duties with former ELMS champion Jon Lancaster. The Greystone stable is hosting some excellent driving talent this season.

Two further McLarens make an appearance on the grid from Paddock Motorsport and Balfe Motorsport. The Paddock entry is in the hands of young gun Moh Ritson and Tom Rowlings, while the Balfe McLaren has Mike Price and Callum Macleod on board. The bumper GTH group is rounded out with an entry from Valluga Racing, Deranged Motorsport and Enduro Racing. Enduro dropped into the championship last year for an outing at Brands Hatch and after a good showing from Morgan Tillbrook and Marcus Clutton, the team are back for a full season. Valluga Racing are complimenting their Group GTB entry with a Porsche Cayman Clubsport GT4 in GTH with Carl Cavers and Carrera Cup GB driver Lewis Plato in their lineup. Deranged Motorsport should be making their debut in group GT3 but due to some logistical issues, their Bentley is unavailable for the season opener. Not wanting to miss out, the team are jumping into Group GTH with an Aston Martin Vantage for their drivers Matthew Lewis and, for this round only, Ollie Brown.

The final seven cars on the grid form Group GTA and they're almost all Ginettas. Last season's titleholders are still in to defend their crown – Simon Orange and Josh Jackson are running their Ginetta in parallel with their GTH entry. Fellow Orange Racing runners Russ Lindsay and Patrick Collins are also back in the group, looking to improve on their second place in last year's standings. Third place points finishers Alex Stevenson and James Kellett are back for more too, again with Century Motorsport. Ginetta number four is in the hands of Craig Wilkins, making the switch from Group GTH to GTA. Wilkins is being joined by Aaron Scott for this outing at Donington Park. Another interloper from last season, Makehappenracing, are upgrading their entry to full season for 2021. Stephen Walton and Chris Hart made a splash at a couple of rounds in 2020 with podium finishes and will be ones to watch this season. The final Ginetta on the grid is being run by Fox Motorsport with Ian Duggan and James Townsend on board. There is one entry in GTA that isn't a Ginetta – a Lotus Exige from Vector Racing being driven by Peter Jackson.

It's an incredibly exciting grid that will be lining up at Donington Park this weekend and we're expecting equally exhilarating racing. Following a rather odd 2020 season, it almost feels strange to be kicking off the season as planned, but here we are! Track action kicks off on Saturday with free practice starting at 10.55am. Full race coverage will be available on our Facebook and YouTube channels.