It wasn’t such an easy win this time for Peter Erceg and Marcus Clutton in the PB Racing Audi GT3, as they faced unexpected but welcome competition, and a strategically effective run by Brad Thurston and Daryl DeLeon, racing the Porsche 991 under the Team Hard banner, sealed the overall title.
This would be a race of surprises, too, with some Invitation entries fittingly adding spice to the season finale. The first surprise was born out of initial disaster; the Breakell Racing Class Mercedes lunched its engine in the Friday test session, but some quick thinking by the team saw a GT3 McLaren appear overnight, courtesy of the 7T6 outfit, meaning Ameerh Naran and Tom Jackson would now run as an Invitation entry in Class A, with some familiarisation needed in the free practice session. The second surprise came from Team BRIT, the GT4 McLaren of James Whitley/Paul Fullick trialling Sunoco’s new 70% sustainable fuel in the practice and qualifying session ; running as an Invitation entry, and with the track still drying after overnight rain, the team sent Whitley out on slicks as the qualifying session came to an end, and he stunned with a time that got pole position over the predominantly wet-shod field, nearly half a second ahead of Erceg’s Audi.
The track was soaking wet again as the race got going, or rather it didn’t, as back-row starter Harvey Caton’s Sheard Autosport Golf TCR was immovable due to a seized brake calliper, and the Pace Car continued, leading a somewhat confused field across the line as marshals and mechanics attended to the stricken Golf, which was soon on it’s way, and the course went green next time around. Erceg wasted no time in putting the Audi in front, and second-row starter Mark Cunningham followed in the SG Racing Porsche, though Ameerh Naran was still getting to grips in the GT3 McLaren and was passed by Mike McCollum’s KTM X-Bow. The lead in Class G was already being traded just behind the leading quintet between the Ginettas of Dave May and Bal Sidhu, but Sidhu’s machine slowed and came to a halt opposite the pit exit, calling for the deployment of the Safety Car. Just one lap of caution was required, and once the course was green again, Naran’s McLaren was harrying the KTM, a move down the inside of Goddards unsettling McCollum, who took to the grass, falling into the clutches of Brad Thurston’s Porsche, which was moving up from a mid-field starting position. Nathan Wells took an early pit stop in the Digiplat BMW GTR to investigate a throttle problem; the Woodrow squad replaced sensors, and Wells , though laps behind, diced amongst the GT4 runners before posting a discretionary retirement, joining Sidhu and Harvey Caton’s Golf. Whitley’s qualifying pace was proving to be no red herring, in fact he was closing in on second-placed, and taking Naran with him. Naran, with increased confidence, and increased grip in the drying conditions, then dispensed with Whitley, and from a long way back, chose Goddards again to relieve Mark Cunningham of second place. McCollum retained his lead of Class D despite a spin at the Old Hairpin, and Thurston ended his on-track skirmish with the overall title-contending Mercedes of Chris Jones by taking the first mandatory pit stop for the Porsche, jumping back into the car for a further solitary lap before returning to take the second mandatory stop, handing over to Daryl DeLeon for the young pro-driver to get his full 60% maximum stint time in.
As the halfway point of the race ticked over, the track conditions had improved enough for a change to slick rubber, Team BRIT one of the first to change as Aaron Morgan relieved Takuma Aoki in the team’s championship-registered McLaren, then Matty George, during the second stop for the Venture Innovations Mercedes previously driven by Chris Jones. Three-quarters of a minute separated leader Erceg from Naran when they pitted on the same lap after 67-minute stints; Erceg has proved to be the supreme amateur many times, but Ameerh Naran had proved a revelation in his emergency step-up to unfamiliar GT3 machinery in tricky conditions. Pro-drivers Marcus Clutton and Tom Jackson would take the Audi and McLaren respectively to the flag, and, at last, we could have a GT3 race to relish. Peter Cunningham, holding out on wets that had seen their best, had his Porsche swap ends and bed into the McLeans gravel, leading to another Safety Car period to effect recovery, and many elected to take their second mandatory stop , while lone driver Chris Murphy, impressively well-placed so far and now up to third in his BMW GTR, finally took his first stop, though his exemplary run came to a smoky end when an oil pipe in the BMW let go along the Wheatcroft Straight, Murphy wisely pulling off to the Redgate infield to minimise disruption. Clutton and Jackson were side-by-side into Goddards as the race entered the final quartile, the Audi putting a lap on the McLaren, though both would pit again, Clutton for a third stop and Jackson briefly holding the lead before taking a drive-through penalty, and once both were settled, Jackson had just had a lead of less than five seconds, which Clutton systematically eroded over a few laps, re-taking the lead with 12 minutes to go, and taking the flag 13.747 seconds to the good, showing what we should have had all season – well-prepared GT3 machines driven by outstanding amateurs and consummate professionals.
Third overall was the Track Focused KTM X-Bow, Sean Cooper taking over from Mike McCollum and proving the class of the GT4 runners, finishing a lap ahead of invitees James Whitley and Paul Fullick in the #67 Team BRIT McLaren. Whitley had held position ahead of some serious opposition, and Fullick had capitalised on his brief rainy stint in the car in the 6hrs back in August to maintain a good position, stunning performances from both drivers, and Whitley’s unexpected pole using 70% sustainable fuel earned him the Sunoco Driver of the Day award, while Chris Jones and Matty George bagged the second-placed class points, third on the road, provisionally claiming the Class D title, and being awarded the Outstanding Achievement prize for their consistent professionalism. MKH were next up, their race in the Aston Martin following the usual pattern of a solid opening stint by Peter Montague preceding pro-driver Stuart Hall’s climb into contention, while championship returnee Aaron Morgan was partnered in the Team BRIT #68 McLaren by Takuma Aoki, the disabled former motorcycle racer performing well on his debut in the car. Guy Ziser got a late call-up to pilot the Newbridge Aston Martin, and held it together in an unfamiliar machine in his opening stint, while BGT GT4 champion Tom Canning was no stranger to the car, and was getting into his stride when a pit-stop penalty dropped it down the order. Confusion at the start saw Jonny MacGregor penalised for overtaking under the Safety Car, but he rapidly recovered in the MacG Racing Ginetta G55, and some solid work by Josh Tomlinson earned them the Class G victory, though it was fairly close at the flag, the SVG-run G55 of Owen Hizzey and Marc Ellman being just 18 seconds adrift, while a penalty blighted the Jamsport car during Jamie Going’s stint, after Dave May had been the class frontrunner in the opening hour.
The strategy drafted by Dave Tyson and Matt Cherrington paid dividends for the Team Hard Porsche – the double mandatory stop sequence was followed by a forecast third stop for slicks, and though Daryl DeLeon complained of vibration, he was able to ease off in the closing laps to take an easy Class C win, ensuring the overall BEC title for himself and Brad Thurston, a terrific feat by Thurston in only his second year of racing, and another title and more kudos for rising star DeLeon. Mark Cunningham came home a lap adrift in the SG Racing Porsche after the mid-race excursion into the gravel, while the team Hard Mercedes NGTC had its best, trouble-free showing yet, Maurice Henry acting as rear-gunner for stablemate Thurston in the opening laps, while multi-champion Shields Bergstrom, all the way from Wisconsin, held it together for third in class. The TCR Class was led initially by Jonathan Beeson in the Sheard Autosport Audi, but an early pit stop gave the lead to Richard Avery’s Cupra, then, mid-race the JW Bird invitation entry Audi of George Jaxon / Scott Sumpton was in front, but a late race push by George Heler saw the Sheard Audi claim the win by just five seconds over the JW Bird car, with Nick Hull taking over from Avery to finish third, all three protagonists on the same lap at the flag. With a number of Invitation entries in Class F, Callum Thompson could gauge the performance level of the Newbarn Jaguar F Type for once; driving alone due to brother Adam nursing an injury, Callum couldn’t hold on to the Woodrow BMWs, which both retired, and the Chris Bialan / Simon Mason Cupra TCR took the class win, with Bialan’s impressive opening stint setting the scene for the rest of the race, while the Audi TCR of disabled Matthew Stockford and Team Dynamics manager Alyn James were given second place due to the Newbarn Jaguar being penalised for the late driver withdrawal.
The final championship points are now available from the BEC website.
Words: Steve Wood, photos: Stevie Borowik and Chris Valentine