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  • Writer's pictureLIAM REDFORD

Liona Theobald makes successful GT Cup Championship debut at Donington Park

Liona Theobald has made excellent progress as a driver since her circuit racing debut and, having stepped up to GT4 machinery, she successfully completed her first weekend in the GT Cup Championship at Donington Park with a best finish of sixth in GTH class.

Liona Theobald, GT Cup Championship, 2024 Donington Park
Photo credits: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Stepping up to drive GT4 machinery in the GT Cup Championship, Liona Theobald successfully completed her first weekend in the multi-class series at Donington Park. Teaming up with current British GT4 Am champion James Townsend, the duo achieved a best finish of sixth in Group GTH in the two-driver pit stop races. Liona also secured a sixth-place result in class in her sprint race, with James finishing fifth in his shorter contest on Sunday.

Liona has made excellent progress as a driver since her circuit racing debut in the Ginetta Junior Championship, with an assault on the GT Cup Championship her next step. Remaining with leading team SVG Motorsport, moving up into Group GTH for GT4 homologated cars was a smart move for the 2024 season. A year of development in 2023 saw Theobald race in the Protyre Motorsport Ginetta GT Championship where she ended the year sixth in the Pro class standings.

Remaining with the British marque for this campaign, Theobald’s decision to race in the GT Cup Championship allows her to gain significant track time, while being part of a two-driver team for the first time. A typical GT Cup Championship schedule sees drivers compete in two sprint races and two endurance races each weekend, with sprint racing duties often shared between teammates. As a multi-class championship, Theobald will also build upon her skills racing in traffic, with the negotiation of faster cars from Groups GT3 and GTO being a new challenge.

For the 2024 season, Liona has teamed up with James Townsend who was crowned Am class champion in the GT4 division of the British GT Championship. Townsend was also a multiple-podium finisher in the Pro-Am class and brings a wealth of experience in GT racing with stints in other championships such as Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain. Having driven the Ginetta G56 GT4 last season, Townsend looks to bring his knowledge to the team and assist with Theobald’s development.

The SVG Motorsport duo began their 2024 campaign by taking advantage of additional track time provided to drivers in the GT Cup Championship test day last month. Also taking place at Donington Park, this gave the pair an opportunity to further familiarise themselves with the car and work on a setup ahead of the first competitive race weekend. Completing the second highest number of laps of any team, Theobald and Townsend ended the day sixth in Group GTH, only half a second away from the second fastest time in group.

The first competitive running of the main weekend began on Saturday morning with a customary practice session taking place right before qualifying. A seventh-place result in Group GTH was a solid start, with Liona then taking part in the first qualifying session of the season. It was a productive session for the GT Cup Championship debutant who set the sixth fastest time in Group GTH and was looking ahead to her first twenty-five-minute sprint race later in the day.

Liona Theobald, GT Cup Championship, 2024 Donington Park
Photo credits: Jakob Ebrey Photography

Liona’s negotiated her first ever rolling start successfully and held her position at the conclusion of lap one. Holding off Jon Currie in the opening stages, Theobald was building up her confidence in the car in a race situation, before beginning to pull away from her rival.

After ten minutes of the twenty-five-minute race, Liona was catching those ahead of her for a top-5 position in Group GTH, with a series of personal best times aiding her progress. Coming within just three tenths of a second of her qualifying best, the SVG Motorsport driver was finding her feet in her GT Cup Championship debut.

At the halfway mark, Theobald then had to deal with faster traffic moving past from Groups GT3 and GTO. The second half of Liona’s race was spent attempting to overtake the Group GTC Porsche 992 Cup car of Keith Bush, with her rival’s machine having superior straight-line speed, while Theobald caught through the corners. Finishing her debut race sixth in Group GTH, it was a great maiden race for Liona who would be targeting a top-5 finish in the endurance to come.

Race two of the weekend was the first of a pair of fifty-minute pit stop races, with James getting behind the wheel for the first time. Lining up sixth in Group GTH courtesy of Liona’s fastest lap in race one, Townsend was in the thick of the action and drove a clean first lap. After falling to seventh in class, the SVG Motorsport driver ran in a competitive train of cars during his stint and was in contention for a top-5 position. Townsend also negotiated a safety car period and with some smart strategy, stayed out towards the end of the pit window which saw him run in the podium places of Group GTH.

With the partnership of Townsend and Theobald featuring two drivers which are not classified as a Pro or Pro Sporting, this means they have a shorter minimum pitstop time than some of their rivals. As a result, Liona was able to rejoin the race fifth in Group GTH, with a podium position in her sights. Following a second short safety car period of the race, misfortune then struck as Theobald was issued a drive through penalty which dropped her down to seventh in class.

The remainder of the race saw Theobald gain extra experience behind the wheel of the Ginetta G56 GT4, before taking the checkered flag in seventh position. It was encouraging first day of competition for SVG Motorsport duo, with the knowledge they gained across the day useful in preparing for Sunday’s action.

James was scheduled to drive the car in the majority of the sessions on Sunday, with Theobald joining him for the pit stop race. After the duo finished morning practice in sixth within Group GTH, Townsend replicated that effort in qualifying with a strong lap which was a couple of tenths faster than Liona managed on Saturday.

Liona Theobald, GT Cup Championship, 2024 Donington Park
Photo credits: Jakob Ebrey Photography

The opening race of the day was the mini endurance race, with Theobald getting behind the wheel for her final stint of the weekend. After being shuffled back to seventh in the initial stages, Liona was in a train of Group GTH cars, with a top-5 position within reach. On lap eight, the safety car was deployed after Richard Neary found the gravel and this was a good break for the SVG Motorsport squad. With two Sporting categorised drivers and no success time to serve in the pit stop, remaining in contention to the leading drivers would give the duo a great chance for a class podium.

As the racing resumed, Theobald was in hot pursuit of her competitors with the Group GTC BMW M3 of Chris Murphy the next on-track target. On lap 15, Liona ran her personal best lap and this was faster than the two cars ahead of her had lapped during the race to date. Once the pit window opened, Theobald pitted during the middle of the cycle and handed over to James for the second half of the race.

After the pit cycle, James was up to third position in Group GTH and was immediately fending off the challenge posed by Chris Hart. On lap 27, Hart moved into a provisional podium position while fighting through traffic. A pit stop penalty for the SVG Motorsport team then put pay to a podium finish with Townsend serving a drive through. This dropped him to seventh in Group GTH and this is where the duo finished, showing great speed but without the result to show for it. The result was improved to sixth following a disqualification for a rival, earning extra valuable championship points.

James drove in the final sprint race of the weekend and started from fifth position courtesy of the team’s fastest lap in the earlier endurance race. After falling to sixth in the early stages, Townsend was involved in a race-long battle with both Stephen Walton and Michael Orant and made a smart move on the Morpheus Motorsport driver to move inside the top-5. Pulling away from Walton, Townsend finished the final race of the weekend in fifth to record SVG Motorsport’s best result of the event.

It was a successful debut weekend for Theobald and Townsend who completed all four races and gained valuable experience as a partnership. Although suffering from misfortune in the pair of endurance races, the potential is there is to fight for podiums positions within Group GTH and that will be the next target for the drivers who have now completed over 150 races combined in Ginetta machinery.

The next round of the GT Cup Championship takes place on the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit on the weekend of 18th/19th May.



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