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British GT – Thruxton - dailysportscar.com Cup Round 13
Redemption

Round 13 at Thruxton saw the British GT championship bounce back from the ignominy of Silverstone with a scintillating scrap from beginning to end. Team Tiger took a hard-fought victory, but Martin Short’s Noble so very nearly took the honours.

Raceday morning dawned under clearing skies and bright sunshine. After the cobwebs had been brushed away, the teams began the process of setting up in the pitlane in advance of the early race start – scheduled for 09.12.

Regrettably, there was a gap in the paddock; Team Aero Lewis had packed up and gone home. The Morgan had lost all of its water in the second qualifying session and probably blown a head-gasket. With the car due back to Richard Thorne on the Tuesday, the decision was taken to retire the car from the meeting.

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The surviving eleven Cup cars all made it to the track on time and the multicoloured grid gleamed in the sunshine.

The first lap was extraordinary; Gavan Kershaw, starting from sixth overall, took all but one of the N-GTs ahead of him around the outside of the complex and exited Segrave in second place overall. He fell back through the lap, but still finished that first circuit having gained a place.

The Lotus’s flame shone very briefly, however, as it pitted on the next lap and retired with a water hose failure. This was disastrous for the team’s title chances and would make the final three races of the season even more challenging.

As the Lotus bowed out, a fabulous scrap was beginning.

Dominic Lesniewski had made a good start and was second at the end of lap one. In his enthusiasm, however, he tried a move on the N-GT #44 Porsche at Allard and the two Porsches touched. The right-rear tyre’s valve was ripped off and the tyre shredded on the way round. The car lost a lap overall and rejoined at the rear of the pack. Adam Sharpe’s title challenged had also been badly hit.

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Chris Beighton in the Tiger Mantis had started as expected and was up to third at the end of the first lap; which became the race lead at the end of lap two. David Mason (Noble) and David Wandless (Tech 9 Porsche) both lost places on the first lap but benefited from the ills that befell the leading two cars. By the end of lap three, five cars were running nose to tail.

At the back of the field, Rob Horsfield was starting his best stint of the season in the Team Jedi Lotus. After a slow first lap, the Salisbury driver started to get into the track’s rhythm and his confidence and enjoyment were visibly improving with every circuit. As his lap times came down, so did the gap to the cars ahead.

Within ten laps, the Elise had caught and passed the #77 JWR Porsche and was suddenly taking five seconds a lap off the Jensen Corvette, driven by Paul Horton. Horsfield took the position on lap 16 and now had Lourenco de Veiga’s DRM Ferrari in his sights. As an illustration of the Lotus’s improvement, Horsfield’s fastest lap was 1:22.611 – five seconds faster than the team’s best time in the dry on Sunday.

After the trials of the previous ten races, things were looking good for the Lotus and it was pleasing to see the car running in seventh (and in the points) entirely on merit. Frazer Corbyn took over from Horsfield after 35 minutes and continued to lap quickly.

Disaster struck with 12 minutes to go; the clutch failed and Corbyn had to pit and retire. Racing is definitely cruel at times. There was racing throughout the Cup field, with de Veiga having an early scrap with Paul Horton; but it was at the front where the best racing was taking place.

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David Mason was driving the Noble superbly on his race debut (a wise selection by M. Short) to keep the pressure firmly on Beighton, and the gap was pegged to below two seconds in the early stages.

Pete Chambers was having to fight off a challenge from David Wandless’ Tech 9 Porsche and Ni Amorim’s #62 DRM 360. He held out briefly, but lost two places on the approach to the Club chicane. Amorim then started to pressurise the Porsche driver and took third place at Allard on lap ten.

The gap at the front got smaller and smaller and stood at just over a second after ten laps. Chris Beighton isn’t easily intimidated, though, and he held position, taking advantage of traffic to increase the gap to three seconds two laps later. David Mason clearly also is a battler and he started to reduce the gap again. The battle continued until the half-hour mark and the Noble pitted first. “David bided his time and left me with plenty of rubber,” said Short, later.

By this stage, the gap had increased to about six seconds and things were looking good for the Mantis. However, that was to change at the pitstop.

Beighton pitted from the lead, but they had to change an offside tyre and when Jon Finnemore resumed in the orange car, he trailed Martin Short by 13 seconds.

The first half of the race had seen some great racing and had been hugely entertaining. The second half was about to prove to be even better.

Finnemore was closing on Short by a second a lap with less than 25 minutes of the race remaining, but the wily Short was having none of it. The gap dipped as low as 8.7 seconds before it slowly started to increase again.

The Marcos had shortly before had a very big moment as it manoeuvred to avoid the slowing Jensen Corvette through the Club chicane, but Short was simply able to peg the gap on race pace alone. But then it started to go wrong for the Noble.

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With less than 18 minutes to go, Short posted a 1:22 and the gap had suddenly shrunk to 6.5 seconds. On the next lap the Noble slowed significantly (a 1:27 lap) and Finnemore retook the lead through Allard. It looked as though we were destined to lose the Rollcentre car.

But on the next lap the Noble’s time had improved to 1:25; and on the lap after that (with 14 minutes to go) it was 1:23. With 12 minutes remaining, the Noble was back up to normal race pace and had closed the gap to just three seconds, after the Mantis had again had to take avoiding action (this time with the Embassy Corvette) at the chicane.

So what had caused the Noble to slow? “The engine developed a misfire,” explained Martin Short. “I dropped it to about 5,000 revs for a couple of laps and that seemed to sort it.”

Almost unnoticed, Mark Cole had been sneaking up on the duelling front-runners and was only three seconds behind Short. This was developing into a classic.

The Noble was certainly back on song and with eight minutes to go the two cars were side by side through the chicane. The Mantis emerged slightly ahead and the gap was but a tenth of a second across the line.

This tremendous tussle continued around the circuit – the Mantis clearly faster on the straights and the Noble swifter through the corners.

The advantage seemed to be slowly swinging back towards the Mantis and Cole was getting ever closer to the back of the Noble – less than four seconds separating first from third with three minutes of the race left.

The pressure from Cole was eased when the car lost time while being lapped by two N-GT cars, but for Finnemore the pressure was definitely on; with two minutes to go he so very nearly lost the car through the chicane and Short was straight in there. As they crossed the line with the clock showing 49 seconds to go, the gap was 0.3s – classic stuff.

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But fate was to intervene again for the Noble and the misfire chose that exact moment to return. The gap had grown to more than a second as the cars crossed the line to start the last lap, but the Rollcentre car was now coughing badly and its pace dropped right off – enough to allow Mark Cole to nip through and deny the Noble second place at the death.

For the Team Tiger Mantis, there were no such concerns and they took their third victory in arguably the best race of the season. Suddenly, their title challenge had been brought back from the brink.

Jon Finnemore and Chris Beighton were delighted with victory. “That was hard work,” smiled Finnemore. “It was a great race with the Noble, but I had to take a lot of avoiding action with certain cars.” It turned out that the car was very marginal on fuel at the end, having just enough left in the tank for post-race scrutineering, but no more.

Martin Short was understandably very disappointed with the result, but his team mate was happier. “I’m over the moon to be on the podium. I brought it in second, and we passed the Marcos during the pit stops, but then the misfire set in. They have got the ECU in bits now, and hope they can fix it for the second race,” said David Mason. “A great car; a great team!”

Mark Cole had found the bumpy circuit not to his Porsche’s liking, but was happy with second. “My team mate is doing different times to me because I have experience in the Porsche Cup in 2002, but David did an excellent job, and we snatched second at the end,” said Cole.

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In fourth was the #62 DRM Ferrari which was brought home by Adam Wilcox. The five points that came with the position increased their lead to 14 points with just three races left.

Porsches occupied fifth and sixth places, Michael Caine and Adam Sharpe being unable to do anything except drive as fast as possible. For Sharpe this was particularly frustrating as he could see the #62 DRM ahead. “I was just waiting for him to drop it off the circuit, but unfortunately he didn’t,” said the Tech 9 driver, with a smile. That puncture had ruined his hopes.

Stuart Scott and Steve Wood had a nightmare race, which was not improved when they received a drive-through penalty with 15 minutes to go, after speeding in the pitlane. Jensen Motorsport likewise had a race to forget, Stuart Turvey’s spin across the line being symptomatic of their race (which ended with retirement out on the circuit).

The second DRM Ferrari at last recorded a finish, albeit three laps behind the Mantis.

This had been an excellent race and a marvellous start to the Bank Holiday proceedings.

The teams would now have six hours to regroup for the second race.
Mark Howson

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