Granfors tops the table and the GB3 talking points after Silverstone
The GB3 Championship is already at one-quarter distance, with six of 24 races completed after the second round at Silverstone (7/8 May).
An early title fight is emerging, while storylines are being established up and down the grid which will likely run all season.
Let’s take a look at the state of play after the first of two visits to the home of the British Grand Prix in 2022.
Granfors storms through reverse-grid to lead standings
Joel Granfors stepped up from the F4 British Championship for this season, and has no doubt made the best start to life in GB3 of the seven making that step up.
A maiden podium in Race 2 at Oulton Park, which saw him have to defend from reigning British F4 champion Matthew Rees, was an impressive drive for only his second race in F3 machinery.
The narrow nature of Oulton may have made defending a little easier, but there was no fortune in how well he adapted to the full Silverstone layout as the F4 graduates experienced it in anger for the first time.
As James Hedley mentioned to The Checkered Flag after Qualifying, British F4 runs on the shorter National layout, meaning he, Granfors et al’s first experience of the run from Becketts to Stowe and through the newest section of track, including Abbey, Farm and Village was in pre-season testing.
For some, that will also have been their first running in the new Tatuus MSV-022, giving them yet another plate to spin as they negotiated the steep learning curve from F4 into F3.
Fortec Motorsport‘s Swedish driver seemed to take to the Grand Prix layout like a duck to water, though, going quickest in four sessions to Hedley’s two.
He then took double-pole on Saturday morning, his best time taking him just over three tenths clear of Tom Lebbon, who made his first front-row start in GB3.
He managed to finish ahead of then-Championship leader Luke Browning in both of the first two races, winning Race 1.
The pair have shared the podium in three of the six races so far this season.
Given their pace early in the season, it seems unlikely either of them will finish in the top three of the reverse-grid races, where the starting order is determined by inverting the Qualifying order.
In the ‘regular’ contests, they’ve been almost inseparable, sharing the rostrum three out of four times so far.
Granfors started 21st in Race 3 at Silverstone, but charged through the field to finish ninth, suggesting he was able to minimise, or at least cope with the dirty air several drivers have mentioned early in the year.
Meanwhile, Browning struggled somewhat and only moved up to 18th; the resulting 17-point swing was enough to take Granfors three points ahead of the Hitech GP driver after six races.
It will be worth watching how Granfors and his fellow F4 graduates adapt to the full Donington Park layout next time out (28/29 May).
The British Touring Car Championship and its support categories use the National circuit, with a mirror-image of the Fogarty Esses meaning the drivers cut out the Melbourne Hairpin and Goddards.
That’s certainly less technical for the drivers to get their heads around than half the Silverstone layout, but to be on the pace immediately will be a good sign of adaptability.
JHR and Hillspeed in unique Teams’ Championship battle
The GB3 Championship introduced a Teams’ Championship for 2021, which awards points to the two highest-placing drivers from each team in each race.
That is to say, if a team running three cars, such as Carlin, Hitech or Fortec, finished with all three drivers on the podium, only first and second place’s points would count towards the Teams’ Championship. Therefore, for three-car outfits, the Teams’ points will always be lower than the sum of the individual drivers’ points.
Most teams on the grid needn’t worry about that technicality, but at time of writing, Hillspeed and JHR Developments are only running one car respectively.
Nick Gilkes and Matthew Rees have taken markedly different routes into GB3, Gilkes moving to Britain as Canadian F1600 champion, while Rees won the British F4 title with JHR on his first attempt last year.
While they remain the only teams running one driver, JHR and Hillspeed’s hopes of finishing eighth in the Teams’ standings lie solely on Rees and Gilkes’ shoulders.
After Silverstone and Gilkes’ first podium in slicks-and-wings racing in Race 3, the Canadian has closed the gap to the Welsh driver to 19 points.
Rees had a positive first weekend at Oulton with a podium and a fourth-place finish in his first two races in GB3.
Gilkes qualified 17th, finishing 16th and 18th before narrowly missing out on a maiden podium to Arden Motorsport‘s David Morales in a ‘Can-Am’ battle in Race 3.
The pendulum swung back the other way at Silverstone, though, with Gilkes and Hillspeed scoring 27 points to Rees and JHR’s 22.
While Arden and Chris Dittmann Racing only run two cars each, they can factor into the Teams’ Championship battle as the three-car teams’ third car’s points are negated, meaning seven of the nine teams can challenge for the title equally.
There is likely also less individual pressure on their drivers, as the teams have two potential sources of points in each race.
Elite on top after first GB3 win
Elsewhere in the Teams’ standings, another fascinating dynamic is developing between the Championship’s two sophomore teams.
Arden Motorsport and Elite Motorsport joined the grid in 2021 after success in single-seaters and Ginetta series’ respectively.
Elite took a podium on their debut at Brands Hatch last year with Javier Sagrera (now at Carlin), but ran two cars for part of the season as Jose Garfias left the Championship after Snetterton to compete in Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine with Monolite Racing.
They eventually finished fifth in the Teams’ Championship, one place and 105 points behind fellow newcomers Arden.
Arden brought far more single-seater pedigree to GB3, having run from British F4 all the way up to the FIA Formula 2 Championship until the end of 2019, when it was replaced by HWA Racelab, itself now replaced by Van Amersfoort Racing.
They took 12 podiums over the season, with three wins coming through mid-season re-signing Roman Bilinski (now with Trident in FRECA).
Elite took just two podiums in 2021, but already have two through Tom Lebbon alone in 2022.
One of those podiums was also the team’s first win in GB3, coming in Race 2 at Silverstone.
The 2020 Ginetta Junior champion was delighted with his first win in single-seaters, though it wasn’t the team’s first win in the discipline.
That came a month earlier as Alex Walker won at Snetterton to lead the new GB4 Championship, with Elite trailing Fortec in that Teams’ Championship by six points.
Back in GB3, the balance has thoroughly swung the other way in the first two rounds compared to 2021.
Elite’s two podiums and one win, compared with a third place for David Morales in Race 3 at Oulton, sees the Thetford team ahead of Arden by 112 points a quarter of the way through the season.
John Bennett has stepped up from Ginetta GT5 Challenge for his first single-seater season this year and has excelled early on, sitting third in the standings after Oulton with two top-five finishes and eighth in the reverse-grid race.
He followed that up with another two top tens and 11th in Race 3.