As first signs of spring go, it may lack something of the natural beauty of birdsong, but the unmistakable roar about to be unleashed at Oulton Park in Cheshire this weekend is a sure sign to motor sports fans nonetheless. It means that the super car grid of the British GT Championship is back for a new season.
There are few sights and sounds in world motor sport that quite match the run into the first corner, with cars like the Aston Martin DBRS9, Dodge Viper, Ferrari 430, Mosler MT900, Ford GT and Ascari KZ1R all trying to exit the corner higher up the order than they entered it.
GT racing is enjoying something of a renaissance over the past few years, due to the number of super car marques who now compete. Where once it would have been a fleet of Porsches, it is now a far more exotic grid. To ensure close racing, the cars go through a "balance of performance" test where they are assessed and then faster cars are "equalised" by being given additional weight to carry, or other methods such as air restrictors.
"We want to give our driver, teams, and the fans a really competitive championship to win and watch," says Stephane Ratel, whose company, SRO Motorsport Group, runs a number of GT championships around the world. "We don't want to have a championship that can be bought. We have a championship that teams and drivers really have to go and win."
While the "equalisation" process is one of the things that sets the championship apart, another fairly unique aspect of GT racing is that each car has two drivers, who share driving duties. It takes a lot of trust between drivers, who know that even if they have driven their socks off, and established a healthy lead, their partner can always go out and fall off the track.
In what looks likely to be an extremely close-fought affair, Craig Wilkins and Aaron Scott, in the ABG Motorsport Viper could be one of the pairings to keep an eye on. "This is my third full season in motor sport and my second in British GT," Wilkins said. "Last season we had a lot of issues finding the right set-up of the car and this year I think we've nailed it. Vipers have won for the last two seasons so see if we can make it three in a row."
Also expected to be among the front-runners will be the vastly experienced pairing of Hector Lester and Allan Simonsen, who will pilot the Rosso Verde Ferrari 430. Simonsen is a class act who enjoyed a very successful season in the FIA GT Championship last year.
The youngest pairing is 24-year-old Stuart Hall, and Daniel Brown, who at just 17, will be the youngest driver to appear in the championship. They will be behind the wheel of the Rollercentre Racing Team Mosler MT900.
*The British GT Championship starts at Oulton Park at 2pm today, with the second race on Easter Monday.