There was little to stop Peter Erceg and Marcus Clutton from taking the win on Saturday’s two-hour race around the tight Brands Hatch Indy configuration. Erceg took the Audi R8 GT3 away from pole into an immediate lead, and their direct competition was eliminated on the very first lap, as the second-placed Aston Martin Vulcan of Gleb Stepanovs speared head-on into the barrier coming out of Surtees, causing the deployment of the Safety Car for nine laps. There had been little scope for Mark Cunningham, in the SG Racing Porsche, to make one of his trademark storming starts, and it was fellow second row-sitter, youngster Charlie Hand, starting in the RNR Ferrari 458, that took up second place in the Safety Car crocodile, with James Whitley fourth in the Team BRIT McLaren. The top four began to spread out once the field went green again, and Jonathan Beeson pitted the class-leading Audi TCR to fix right rear hub issues . The Ferrari of John Seale had been harrying Brad Thurston’s Porsche 991, though once the move was made for fifth place, Seale was the first to take a mandatory pit stop, jumping back in the car for a second stint, while Ash Woodman’s Cupra TCR was resisting attention from Ameerh Naran’s GT4 Mercedes, with EDF stablemate Nick Hull overtaking Maurice Henry’s BTCC Audi to sandwich the Mercedes. Rhys Lloyd was another early stopper, handing the class-leading Astra TCR to the vastly experienced Yannick Mettler for a middle stint at quarter distance. Charlie Hand reported a lack of third gear when he brought the second-placed Ferrari 458 in for Chris Goddard to take over, and sadly Goddard retired the potential class-winning machine with an exhaust manifold concern after 43 laps, while Jamie Stanley, in the other RNR-run Ferrari started by John Seale, enjoyed a late-race skirmish with fellow pro-driver Stuart Hall’s Aston Martin GT4, but pulled up at the paddock rear entrance on the Cooper Straight with gearbox issues, while a little earlier, Adam Thompson had stopped the Newbarn Jaguar F Type at the same place, necessitating a short Safety Car period while the car was recovered to the pits.
Leader Erceg leaned towards his full maximum stint length in one sitting, pitting dead-on the 60% mark, and Marcus Clutton did just a handful of laps before making the second mandatory stop, this time for tyres, before taking the Audi to the flag, a textbook performance that saw a six-lap buffer over the rest of the field after 135 laps. During the Audi’s mid-race lapse of the top spot, Daryl DeLeon assumed the lead in the Porsche 991 started by Brad Thurston; they retained second place (and the Class C lead) once Clutton had got back in front, and this was a sensational performance by the squad running under the Team Hard banner, and managed expertly by Matt Cherrington – slick pit stops, with DeLeon, fittingly, doing the lion’s share of the driving in a stint timed to precision, topped and tailed by Thurston, who nursed the car home with a rear-end issue in his final 20 minutes, this great team effort winning them the Outstanding Achievement of the Weekend Award. The Class D victory went down to the wire, with Matt George, in the Venture Innovations Mercedes GT4 started by Chris Jones, sniffing perhaps an overall second place in the closing laps, but more importantly keen to put some distance between himself and the advancing Stuart Hall, who had relieved Peter Montague in the MKH Aston Martin. Hall had probably worked a little harder to bring the Aston into contention (Jones’s opening stint performance in the Mercedes earned him the Sunoco Driver of the Day award),and hit the rush hour traffic at the wrong points on the circuit, but the gap was less than four seconds at the flag. The final class podium spot was taken by the all-amateur duo of James Whitley and Chris Overend in the specially-adapted the Team BRIT McLaren, and they were just over eight seconds ahead of the Breakell Racing Mercedes GT4, with Ameerh Naran sharing the drive with reigning champion Tom Jackson. Splitting the GT4 quartet in the result were Trophy graduates Scott Symons and Owen Hizzey – from about 30 minutes in, they had never dropped out of the overall top five, momentarily holding third place mid-race in the SVG-run Ginetta G55 Supercup, and this was another impressive performance, considering this was, surprisingly, Symons’ Brands Hatch debut. Mark Cunningham feared that, even with ABS now fitted to the SG Racing Porsche 997, keeping up with a Ferrari was a big ask, so second in Class C for himself and dad Peter in their first foray of the season was a good result, and they shared the class podium with Maurice Henry and TCRUK front runner Lewis Kent, who were impressive in the Team Hard BTCC-spec Audi S3.
The TCR Class result was an ecstatic 1-2 for EDF Motorsport with Ash Woodman and Martin Byford’s Cupra ahead of the similar older model of Nick Hull and Richard Avery, who were relieved at last to have the machine in full working order, a fact that Hull celebrated with some impressive overtaking in his opening stint that troubled the track limits alarms. Doubly-penalised, they were 16 laps adrift of their winning stablemates at the end, and completing the class podium , a further lap back, was the Jonathan Beeson/George Heler Audi, on which Paul Sheard’s team had re-fitted a rear hub assembly in short order. The Dragon Sport by Amigo Astra had led the class in the early stages, but lost a wedge of time mid-race, and came to a halt at the bottom of Paddock Hill just three minutes from the end. The Newbarn Jaguar F Type rejoined after repairs to claim the Class F victory for Callum and Adam Thompson – what was first thought to be diff failure (the only remaining Jaguar component in the Chevy LS3 / Hewland drivetrain) was in fact a drive shaft issue, which the enthusiastic team put right in 20 minutes, to the relief and delight of boss Paul Murray.
Words: Steve Wood, photos: Paul Cherry.