John Seale, up to now driving alone in Britcar, had been knocking at the door and showing all the signs of a class victory as his season progressed, and now, teamed with pro-driver Jamie Stanley (winner of three Sprint races on the bounce), he was able to take an overall victory in the JMH-run Class 2A Ferrari 488.
It wasn’t plain sailing for anybody - though sailing might be a rightful pun given the atrocious conditions. Heavy rain from daybreak had left the track awash, and barely seven minutes of the planned 20-minute Free Practice session had elapsed before the red flags were thrown, the Michael Igoe/Adam Wilcox Porsche 991 Cup and Rob Baker’s Smart 4Four having aquaplaned into the barriers, leaving both cars heavily damaged and Baker sustaining some broken ribs. With the pouring rain persisting, the normal qualifying format was abandoned, and each driver in each car would perform three mandatory laps behind the Safety Car, the grid selected by firstly, class, then championship positions within the class, leading to an interesting jumble.
A shambolic start – front row sitters David Mason (Ferrari 458) and Jonny MacGregor (Taranis) were initially on track ahead of the Pace Car – was compounded by misinformation and confusion regarding the lights-out procedure, which saw pole-man Mason follow the Pace Car into the pit lane while the rest of pack – 27 cars - took the rolling start. Three abreast and a cloud of spray into Abbey – two white Ferraris and a yellow Taranis – but it was Fulvio Mussi’s ff Corse 458 that took the lead, followed by MacGregor’s Taranis, and Seale’s 488. Mason, now into the race, was stone last, and in the gruesome conditions was going to make little progress, so an early stop was made for pro-driver Ross Wylie to take over and chase atonement. The two Butler Ginetta G55s of Lee Frost and Lucky Khera were capitalising on their high-end starting positions, and scything through the spray from the back were Richard Neary’s BMW M3 and Joey Foster in Chris Headlam’s Lotus Exige. In Class 3, Tom Barley’s Ginetta G55 led Ross McEwen, who had got the jump on team-mate Mike McCollum’s KTM X-Bow, and a cautious Nick Scott-Dickeson in the other #285 Ginetta, while looking particularly racy in Class 4 was Chris Bentley, taking the fight to the Ginettas in his SEAT Leon TCR.
The early pit stop for the Mason/Wylie Ferrari meant that it was three laps down on the leaders, and, whilst Wylie was cutting through the field with impunity, little real headway could be achieved until the leaders made their mandatory stops. As it was, leader Mussi held out as one of the last to stop, handing over the ff Corse Ferrari 458 to absolute beginner Ronnie Garrick, whose racing debut was sadly short-lived. John Seale, after passing the reins of his 488 to Jamie Stanley, had commented that the standing water at the end of the Hangar Straight and Pit Straight was particularly tricky, and first-timer Garrick proved the point, hitting the wall going into Abbey, and sadly retiring the erstwhile leading car with rear-end damage. This marked the start of several incidents at the same place; Alex Day, tackling the race alone in the ex-Rob Austin BTCC Audi A4, was caught out in similar fashion, retiring with damage, and Chris Murphy’s Aston Martin got rear-end assistance from Ollie Willmott, who had taken over the TCR-spec Astra from Darelle Wilson. The Aston joined the other retirees in the Abbey “dead” car park, while the Astra limped back to the pits with front-end damage.
Meanwhile, Wylie carried on, heroic and seemingly undeterred by the atrocious conditions, and, now on the same lap as leader Stanley, was mounting a serious challenge. Alas time ran out, and as the flag fell, just four seconds separated the winning 488 and the 458 runner-up, with Ben Sharich bringing home the Taranis started by Jonny MacGregor in P3, a lap down and the first of the Endurance contingent.
The Butler Motorsport Ginetta G55s were impressive, if occasionally pit-bound, and Lee Frost’s third and Lucky Khera’s fifth place in the Sprint category were fair reflections of their performance, while sadly the team’s BMW, driven well by Piers Reid, retired two laps from the end. Sam Neary capitalised on dad Richard’s early stunning stint in the ABBA Commercials BMW M3, finishing fourth, ahead of a raft of Class 4 runners: Guy Colclough and Max Coates took class honours in the SEAT Cupra TCR, ahead of the Tockwith Ginetta G50 of Ed Moore and Marmaduke Hall, and the Jon Watt/Kristian Prosser BMW M3, then John Clonis, who had taken over from Chris Bentley’s impressive run in the SEAT, and lone-driver Tim Docker’s VW Golf TCR. Splitting these was the stunning Class 3 McLaren 570 of Matt Cherrington and Stuart Willson, run by Track Focused. The two Porsche 997 GT3s in the race were well up at the start, but the rear-engined machines would have been challenged to lay their power down, hence Colin Willmott/Adrian Linggi and Dave Benett/Marcus Fothergill finished further down the order than you might have expected, and Andy Napier - disappointed by the early demise of Class 5 running-mate Rob Baker - took no chances in his Lotus Elise. Mike Moss, despite soliciting some expert advice on handling from Calum Lockie during testing, was unable to fulfil the potential of his unique BMW 1M due to persistent electrical glitches.
In the Endurance category, Mike McCollum and Sean Cooper bagged second place, taking the valuable Class 3 win too, in the Track Focused KTM X-Bow, ahead of Chris Headlam, who carried on Joey Foster’s great early stint in the Orbital Sound Lotus Exige, finishing ahead of title-chasers Simon Rudd and Tom Barley’s Ginetta G55, who got the better of the Ross and Sandy McEwen KTM in the second half of the race, with the #285 Team Hard Ginetta G55 next up, featuring the disparate experience of Sam Randon and relative novice Nick Scott-Dickeson. In Class 4, Sarah Moore and Matt Greenwood in the Tockwith G50 had a solid run to second, and the first points-paying position, whilst Canadian Fareed Ali held his Cayman steady, conscious of needing it in good condition for racing at another circuit the next day.
Race 2 - A Win at Last For Mason and Wylie
David Mason gave it everything in wet conditions to capitalise on Ross Wylie’s opening stint, to claim the duo’s first overall win in the FF Corse Ferrari 458 GT3.
This would be a foreshortened race for the Endurance contingent, the adverse weather and potential timetabling issues determining that they would run only for the same planned 50 minutes as the Sprint racers. Not taking part would be the Race 1 winner, a broken brake calliper discovered post-race putting paid to any further involvement from John Seale and Jamie Stanley’s Ferrari 488. Also sitting it out were Lee Frost’s Ginetta, The Wilson/Willmott Astra TCR, and the Garrick/Mussi Ferrari 458, whilst the teams did sterling work to get the damage fixed on Chris Murphy’s Aston Martin and Alex Day’s Audi A4.
A clean start in the wet conditions this time, with Ross Wylie taking an immediate lead over Jonny MacGregor’s Taranis, then Neary’s BMW, the two KTMs, a very fast-starting Colin Willmott, and likewise Marmaduke Hall’s Ginetta G50. Lucky Khera’s early race was marred by a slow lap – a spin maybe – which dropped him down the order, only to be repeated a little later as he was clawing his way back into contention, but stablemate Piers Reid was up into the top 10 in his BMW M3 and would maintain his progress throughout the race, while a pit stop for Chris Headlam dropped the Lotus Exige to the tail of the field.
Ross McEwen was on a roll this weekend (which would earn him Britcar Driver of the Day), the better of the two Track Focused KTMs at this stage, and worrying Richard Neary’s BMW for third place. Meanwhile Alex Day was in for some giant-killing, cutting through from the back of the field in the Audi and taking 13th place from Stuart Willson’s McLaren. Marmaduke Hall’s great start came to an end 15 laps in, the engine in the Tockwith Ginetta G50 cutting out on the circuit – the never-say-die Nigel Moore hurried round to try to get the car started, but to no avail.
When the mandatory pit stops were taking place, Ross McEwen left it late, placing the KTM third on the road before handing over to dad Sandy; Alex Day, atoning for his DNF in Race 1, was running fourth before making his stop.
David Mason inherited a healthy lead from Ross Wylie after the mandatory pit stop, but would now have to stave off the advances of Ben Sharich, who had relieved Jonny MacGregor in the Taranis. The gap, originally three-quarters of a minute, was coming down by about five seconds every lap, and with 15 minutes left to run, a win for the Taranis looked inevitable. But Mason responded - responded like he never had before, revelling in the wet conditions, and whilst Sharich was still bringing the gap down, it was now only one or two seconds a lap and by the time the flag fell, Mason was still 11 seconds ahead – additionally landing himself Sunoco Driver of the Day for his performance. Once again, the MacG Racing Taranis ran fast and faultlessly, a testament to Jonny MacGregor’s engineering and driving skills, while professional scheduler Ben Sharich kept it on schedule for the Endurance category win.
Behind these, Sean Cooper had taken team mate Mike McCollum to be the better of the KTMs, finishing third overall and taking the Class 3 victory, and the KTMs were separated by two Class 4 Invitation BMWs – Richard and Sam Neary were fourth overall, and an excellent fifth was lone driver Piers Reid in the Butler Motorsport M3, a sensational performance from the series newcomer.
While Alex Day took a late penalty for a pit stop infringement - rather spoiling an excellent race for him and pushing him back down to an unlucky 13th place - there was a fierce fight going on seventh place, and, importantly, the Class 4 championship points haul. Class 3 runner Tom Barley’s Ginetta G55 had been harried by Jon Watt’s BMW M3 for a while and as the clock ticked down, their squabbling had drawn them up to Max Coates’ SEAT. It was all change just two laps from the finish, Watt seizing the lead of the group in a move that saw Coates placed at the back of the triumvirate, and so they finished Watt (30 points, thank you), Barley, and Coates. Just four seconds behind this group was John Clonis, having taken over the SEAT of Chris Bentley, and bagging some valuable points for championship contention in what started out as a suck-it-and-see season.
Lucky Khera should have been in front of all this lot, but another a-typically slow lap in the Ginetta G55 (another spin maybe?) saw him come home 11th overall, though he did get his hands on the Class 2A winner’s trophy.
Tim Docker drove an understated race to 12th place in his VW Golf TCR, and Matt Cherrington/Stuart Willson took no chances in their beautiful McLaren 570, while good starts in the early stages didn’t materialise into top-end finishes for the Colin Willmott/Adrian Linggi Porsche 997 and the Ginetta G55 of Sam Randon/Nick Scott-Dickeson. With little to prove in the hazardous conditions, Sarah Moore/Matt Greenwood (Ginetta G50), Chris Murphy (Aston Martin Vantage), Fareed Ali (Cayman) and Andy Napier (Lotus Elise) did what was necessary to finish, while Joey Foster’s Exige could barely make up time after the early unplanned pit stop in Chris Headlam’s stint, while the Marcus Forthergill/Dave Benett Porsche 997 cruelly expired five laps from the end.
We go into the final rounds at Brands Hatch with some class titles up for grabs, and in Class 3 Endurance and Class 4 Sprint, 63 points are up for grabs at the final event. It’s all to play for! By Steve Wood