Peter Erceg and Marcus Clutton, in the PB Racing Audi R8, posted another win in the two-hour encounter, though after Friday’s test session their involvement in the race was in the balance; handling issues, front and rear, were identified, and some small damaged components were located, but by Saturday morning’s qualifying session all was well and Erceg’s Class A GT3 machine annexed pole with a lap time over five seconds quicker than the best of the rest of the field. And the best of them was the Class C SG Racing Porsche 997 of Mark and Peter Cunningham, with Mark surprised to be on the front row of the grid, and with no need to perform one of his storming starts from the third row, so instead to make use of the clear track ahead to build a buffer back to the rival Team Hard Porsche. But it wasn’t to be – a problem with the in-car camera saw the yellow and black Porsche miss the cut to the grid, and Mark sat frustrated at the pit exit, joining the fray as the back of the field that thundered through from the rolling start.
From that point, Erceg established an overall lead for the Audi that would never be relinquished, though the race didn’t go without a minor drama; Erceg, ever the ultra-proficient am driver that likes to challenge the limits of his performance and endurance credentials, over-stepped his maximum stint allowance, which attracted the attention of the men in serious shirts upstairs, and Clutton, who usually takes the second mandatory pit stop quite early in his closing stint, was forced to take a stop/go penalty, sitting in the penalty box for 97 seconds before being waved away. Other than that, a trouble-free run saw the Audi finish a clear lap ahead of the rest of the field, consolidating it’s lead in the GT3 standings.
A first-lap Safety Car intervention, to remove debris, closed the field up, and once let loose, Mark McCollum took his KTM X-Bow ahead of a squabble between Brad Thurston’s Porsche and Chris Jones’ Mercedes, which had Dan Norris in Colin Whites’s Ginetta keeping a watching brief. Mark Cunningham had sensationally cut through the field from his pit lane start – taking no prisoners, he was up to third place, and by lap six he had closed the gap to the KTM and breezed into second position. Johnny MacGregor, in the MacG Racing Ginetta G55, had started from the back row after qualifying issues and was now taking places through the midfield, but, come the first pit stop, a gear shift problem was encountered, and the car was retired, joining Paul Sheard’s VW Golf TCR, a late entry by the veteran Eurocar and Mazda legend, boosting the Class E grid, but which only went four laps into the race.
Differing strategies evolved during the pit window, and a late-race Safety Car to recover the stricken Ginetta of Owen Hizzey, put paid to any serious challenge of the class positions. Daryl DeLeon had taken over the Team Hard Porsche from Brad Thurston, and overtaken the class-leading SG Racing Porsche, at the time driven by Peter Cunningham, and once the second stops had been taken by both, and Mark Cunningham was back in the SG Racing machine, the informed wisdom was that the Team Hard car would be ahead, giving Mark a considerable challenge, but a puncture for Daryl caused an unplanned pit stop, dropping him back, and then that caution period was a considerable influence – despite a wave-by, there were still large gaps before the field went green again, and DeLeon was stuck behind the Newbarn Jaguar with the length of the pit straight clear ahead of them, game effectively over . Cunningham, now safe in the Class C lead, kept pushing though, splitting the fraught battle for third place in Class D. Sean Cooper had taken over the dominant Track Focused KTM X-Bow from Mike McCollum, and led the class, but Matt George, now in the Venture Innovations Mercedes started by Chris Jones, had any thoughts of a challenge for the class win stymied by the long-gap Safety Car train, leaving him “disappointed”. Tom Jackson had consolidated the earlier work by Ameerh Naran (Sunoco Driver of the Day) in the Breakell Racing Mercedes, third in class and fourth overall, and was fending off an anxious-for-kudos Mark Cunningham for that overall position, which made life difficult for Stuart Hall in the MKH Racing Aston Martin he had taken over from Peter Montague; without Cunningham in the way, Hall may well have had a sniff of a class podium finish. Championship newcomer Colin White, assisted by Dan Norris, took the Ginetta G55-specific Class G honours; the veteran Ginetta campaigner was delighted by the performance of his car on Goodyear rubber, and Norris built a class lead in his early stint that the CWS team boss could build on. The SVG team got the Owen Hizzey Ginetta back onto track after it was recovered to the pits – they guessed it would be a simple re-set – making Mark Elman’s solid work in his opening stint worthwhile.
The Sheard Autosport Audi TCR of George Heler and Jonathan Beeson had a quiet start but was in the TCR lead by mid-race, though the team’s strategy fell apart due to the late-race Safety Car period straddling the closing of the pit-stop window – held up in the slow-moving and gap-heavy train, and anxious to refuel during their second mandatory stop, they missed the cut, and, pitting out of sequence, they attracted a post-race time penalty, leaving early class leaders Richard Avery and Nick Hull to regain the class victory in their Cupra TCR, now run by the new Race Road Competition team, the two drivers’ first class victory in the Championship. Sadly there were two retirements minutes before the end of the race; the Team Hard squad had worked hard prepping yet another touring car for their #34 entry, this time a Mercedes A Class NGTC, which regular pilot Maurice Henry and TCR star George Jaxon took from a back-row start – they were running third in Class C before the car expired with five minutes to go, which the Class F Newbarn Jaguar F-Type of Adam and Callum Thompson, with it’s rumbling LS3 V8 engine, was going well a drive shaft gave way in the last two minutes.
Text: Steve Wood, photos: Paul Cherry.