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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Hat-trick of race victories for Charlotte Gilbert to begin GT Cup Championship title defence

On her return to the GT Cup Championship, Charlotte Gilbert drove brilliantly throughout the weekend at Donington Park and was rewarded with three class victories - including triumphs in both endurance events - with an overall victory also on the horizon.

Charlotte Gilbert, GT Cup Championship, 2024 Donington Park
Photo credits: GT Cup Championship

Charlotte Gilbert retuned to the GT Cup Championship by claiming three victories in Group GTC at Donington Park. Driving a Super Trofeo specification Lamborghini Huracan alongside Tom Rawlings, the pair dominated the class and came close to taking an overall victory. Gilbert and Rawlings won both endurance races, including the second where they overcame a pit stop success penalty, before Charlotte secured victory in her solo race on Sunday.

Gilbert is now a veteran of the GT Cup Championship and has most recently established herself as a frontrunner in Group GTC, for GT Challenge specification machinery. However, it was in Group GTB, while driving a Marcos Mantis, that Charlotte established herself in the championship.

After finishing fourth in the Group GTB standings in 2020, Gilbert enjoyed a fantastic 2021 season which saw her finish second in group, while also ending the year inside the top-10 of the overall standings. The GT Cup Championship use an aggregated points system for overall championship points, with class positions and the number of entries in each class used to calculate the standings. This allows drivers competing in all classes to challenge for the title, with speed and consistency rewarded.

Another strength of the GT Cup Championship is that older specifications of cars are allowed to compete, with Topcats Racing famed for previously running Marcos Mantis machines. Gilbert drove her Marcos superbly in 2021, collecting three class victories and ten podium finishes during the season. This included a run of eight straight class podium finishes to end the season, with Charlotte taking another step up in 2022.

Moving into Group GTC for the 2022 season, Gilbert drove a Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo specification car and would compete alongside other modern GT challenge machinery including cars from Ferrari and Porsche. Gilbert helped the Topcats Racing team finish second in the overall championship, her highest finish to date, while also securing the Group GTC title alongside Jensen Lunn and husband Warren Gilbert. Also driving a partial campaign alongside fellow female driver Charlotte Birch, the team continued to learn the characteristics of the challenging Super Trofeo car.

Further progress was made in 2023 with Charlotte remaining behind the wheel of the Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo. Becoming more comfortable in the car with every race weekend, Gilbert was able to claim the Group GTC Championship title while finishing an excellent third in the overall standings. A multiple class race-winner in the GT Cup Championship, Charlotte has now set her sights on the overall title.

Returning for a third season in Group GTC, Gilbert has teamed up with former Group GTH championship runner-up Tom Rawlings for the 2024 season. Rawlings is well-versed in a range of GT machinery, with his most recent experiences coming behind the wheel of a McLaren Artura GT4 in the British GT Championship.

Donington Park has historically been a successful circuit for Gilbert and she was aiming to take this form into the first competitive sessions of the season on Saturday. Free practice and qualifying were held back-to-back, with two sprint races and two mini-endurance races to follow across the two days. As a Pro Sporting classified driver, Rawlings took part in qualifying on Saturday morning and maximised the potential of the car to set the fastest time in Group GTC, while qualifying an excellent second place overall.

Tom took the start in the first sprint race of the weekend and made an excellent start to hold second place overall, while maintaining the lead in Group GTC. Rawlings continued to build his advantage in the early stages, before being forced into the pits on lap eight to retire the car following an issue with the seat.

With the grid for the first pit stop race of the season based on the fastest lap times from race one, the Topcats Racing team lined up on Group GTC pole position with Charlotte behind the wheel. Despite not driving in the earlier race, Gilbert made a superb start and was immediately on the pace, holding the class lead while maintaining second place in the overall classification. Setting an overall fastest first sector on lap three, this pace enabled her to build up a sizeable lead prior to the safety car being deployed on lap seven.

Charlotte made a great restart and this saw her maintain the runner-up position while holding off the Group GT3 leader Shamus Jennings. Continuing to run fast and consistent times, Gilbert pitted as soon as the pit window opened to hand over to Tom Rawlings with a lead approaching ten seconds. With the team running in the Pro Sporting category, the required pit stop was longer than some of their rivals, with the Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo dropping to fourth overall at the conclusion of the pit cycle, however they held the lead in Group GTC.

Tom immediately began setting quick lap times and moved into an overall podium spot following an issue for Jay Shepherd. The stopped car brought out a second safety car, with Rawlings restarting in the middle of the pack. The former GT Cup Championship runner-up negotiated the lapped traffic well and this allowed Rawlings to maintain the class lead with a healthy advantage. Despite the Group GTO machine of David Brabham overtaking the Topcats Racing car in the closing stages, Rawlings secured a maiden class victory of the season for the duo.

Sunday morning’s action featured a similar pattern to that of Saturday, with a practice session followed by qualifying. Finishing practice first in Group GTC, it was another encouraging start for Rawlings and Gilbert. Charlotte drove in qualifying and improved her time throughout the session, claiming Group GTC pole position while setting the fifth fastest time overall.

The race schedule was reversed from the previous day, with the mini endurance race opening proceedings. Gilbert took the start and held her class lead despite the challenge from multiple National Legend Cars champion Miles Rudman. Rudman applied significant pressure in the opening exchanges, with Gilbert also tucked up behind both Shamus Jennings and Paul Bailey in their Group GT3 and Group GTO machines respectively.

On lap eight, the safety car was deployed following an incident for Richard Neary, moving Gilbert up to fourth in the overall classification. On the restart, Charlotte was determined to move ahead of Jennings with the superior straight-line speed of her Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo machine assisting her in the fight. Passing the veteran driver on lap 16, Gilbert then moved ahead of Bailey on lap 18 to elevated herself into the runner-up spot. The Topcats Racing driver then extended her advantage before handing over to Rawlings from the Group GTC class lead.

Due to the success which the duo had in Saturday’s pit stop race, they would have to serve an additional success penalty during the mandatory stop. As a result, Tom rejoined the race second in Group GTC with the Porsche 911 of Miles Rudman just a couple of second ahead. Rawlings immediately set fast lap times and this enabled him to take the lead on lap 26. Racing consistently to the checkered flag, Rawlings and Gilbert claimed back-to-back pit stop race wins to open the season.

Charlotte lined up on the second row of the grid for the final race of the weekend, with Gilbert driving in the final sprint race. It was an excellent start for the Topcats Racing driver who immediately moved into the runner-up position overall, while maintaining the lead in Group GTC.

Gilbert was running solidly in second place and started to make inroads on overall race leader Jay Shepherd. The gap ebbed and flowed as the drivers dealt with lapped traffic, but Charlotte continued to extend her Group GTC lead. A brilliant end to the event saw Gilbert running her fastest lap of the race on the final lap, securing a third straight class victory while finishing less than three seconds behind Shepherd.

Charlotte drove brilliantly throughout the weekend and was rewarded with three victories, including triumphs in both endurance events. The partnership with Tom Rawlings has begun superbly and the duo will be targeting further wins in Group GTC, with an overall victory also on the horizon. The Topcats Racing duo will now be looking ahead to tackling the challenging Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit on the weekend of 18th/19th May.



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