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British GT – Thruxton - dailysportscar.com Cup Sunday Reports
Free Practice

GT proceedings at Thruxton got underway at 10.45 on Sunday morning (so as not to interfere with the local vicar’s sermon) in typical Bank Holiday weather – cool, overcast and with rain threatening.

The 75 minute free practice session started with a very pleasant surprise; on only his third lap, Martin Short set a time in the Rollcentre Noble that bettered the 2003 Cup lap record, suggesting that the luminous green machine would be adopting a front-running role at the Hampshire meeting. This initial impression would be reinforced later in the session.

It would turn out to be a surprising session, all in all; not the least of which would involve the second Tech 9 Porsche.

This car (number 74) was actually the ABG Porsche that ran at previous rounds of the championship and still sported its bright yellow paintjob. In the hands of series newcomers Mark Cole and David Wandless, the Porsche would end the session as the fastest car in class, having leapt to the top of the times after four laps. That initial time of 1:20.220 would be steadily improved upon through the session, until it settled at 1:19.082. When you consider that the Tech 9 crew hadn’t had time to do much to the car since taking delivery, this was impressive stuff indeed.

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Silverstone winners DRM had mixed fortunes in the session. Running two cars for the first time since Mondello, the team saw one car end up in fifth and the other not complete a lap.

The championship leading 360 of Adam Wilcox and Ni Amorim posted a lap of 1:20.400 on its fourth tour – good enough for third place and also below the lap record. Despite running for the full session, it was to be a further 32 laps before that time was improved upon; Ni Amorim setting a 1:20.236 with three minutes remaining.

The second car of Lourenco de Veiga and Jamie Smythe did not join the session until 25 minutes had elapsed, only to pull up around the track with an electrical problem, that was later traced to the battery.

Normally in free practice we would expect the Gavan Kershaw Lotus to be heading the times or thereabouts. At Thruxton, we did not even see the car on the track until 20 minutes had elapsed.

Barrie Whight had had an enormous accident during testing at the circuit two days previously and was apparently lucky to walk away virtually unscathed – the telemetry recorded the speed as being 111mph at the time of impact. The car was almost totalled and it took a lot of scraping around in the parts bin (and a lot of hard work) to put it back together again.

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For a long time, as Whight pitted frequently for adjustments to be made, the car was recorded as the slowest of the Cup runners. Eventually, though, the times started to come down as the driver got back into it. An initial 1:35 became 1:22.861, which became 1:20.682 with 30 minutes to go. Considering what car and driver had been through in recent days, this was encouraging.

Gavan Kershaw was not present for the session, being busy at Donington Park where he was racing Paul Whight’s Group C Aston Martin AMR1. A helicopter brought the team principal to Thruxton shortly before two o’clock.

Team Tiger were running around Thruxton for the first time, neither driver ever having been to the circuit before. Their only moment of drama came when Chris Beighton did some grass cutting in the Mantis, but no harm was done. The team was content with a comfortable 1:19.649 and third fastest in the session. The two drivers were intending to walk the circuit after Sunday’s track activity was complete, as they had on Saturday evening, in their attempts to learn the track and find more time in the races.

Another experiencing the circuit for the first time was Team Jedi Racing. Despite living only a few miles away, Rob Horsfield was making his first visit to Thruxton and was surprised by the speed of the track. He and Frazer Corbyn had a good run during the session, improving their times all the while and not suffering any dramas.

The guys from Team Aero Lewis were running reliably, completing 38 laps during the session, but unfortunately without front-running pace. They were still running the Richard Thorne Aero 8, but had spent the fortnight since Silverstone developing their own car, which will be back out for the final two races at Brands Hatch in October. As a result, the Morgan was running at 2003 speeds (this was the car that set the lap record in the hands of Neil Cunningham) and with a too-stiff set up.

Aaron Scott reported that the car felt nervous around the circuit, while Keith Ahlers was getting to grips with the nature of the track. “There are a number of fast corners where you can’t see the exit and you need to know the track to carry the maximum speed through those corners,” explained the Jersey driver. Both men were confident that there was still a lot of time to be found in the car.

Outside the team’s awning sat Keith’s Morgan Plus Four, in which he will be visiting (but not driving, after eight consecutive racing weekends) the Goodwood Revival Meeting next weekend.

The two JWR Porsches were both on the pace, with the #66 car of Pete Chambers and Michael Caine setting the faster time. The timing screens showed that all the Porsches were very quick around the first sector and Caine capitalised on this to eventually record a 1:20.018.

For Stuart Scott and Steve Wood, the session was one of continual improvement, with a 1:21.533 being the fastest time, set near the end of the session.

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The #76 Tech 9 Porsche of Dominic Lesniewski and the title-chasing Adam Sharpe was the sixth car to dip below the existing lap record, despite carrying 30kg of success ballast. The car completed an amazing 44 laps during the session, without incident.

Both drivers have been reclassified as ‘B’ drivers and will therefore incur an eight second penalty at the pitstop. This will be a tough challenge for the young driver-pairing in the races.

The Jensen Motorsport Corvette C5 was also running well, completing 32 laps in the hands of Paul Horton and Stuart Turvey.

A rain shower 55 minutes into the session seemed to spell the end of any time improvements. However, as the track started to dry again, Martin Short had other ideas.

With ten minutes remaining, the Noble improved to 1:19.545 to set the second fastest time of the session. But he wasn’t satisfied with that and minutes later he crossed the line with a time just five hundredths slower than that of the #74 Tech 9 Porsche.

Martin and co-driver David Mason had completed 39 laps during the session and had declared their intentions for the weekend.

Qualifying would begin just over four hours later. With rain crossing the area at regular intervals, could we be looking at a wet track during the afternoon’s sessions?

Qualifying Session 1 – The Gavan Kershaw Show
The heavens opened just moments before the session was due to begin, prompting all teams to dash across to parc ferme to change tyres. This was no quick process, particularly for those teams without centre-locking wheel nuts and/or more than one car to run. This meant that several cars lost quite significant chunks of the session as work was done on the car – in the case of the #67 DRM Ferrari, three-quarters of the session was lost.

Dominic Lesniewski’s #76 Tech 9 Porsche was one of the cars that did make it out early in the session and the driver started a very impressive stint with a 1:36.230. He followed this up on the next lap with a 1:31.915 and was third overall for a short time.

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Behind the #76 Porsche was David Wandless in the sister Tech 9 car. The Formula Ford racer was still learning the track and also learning the car, this being his first time out in a Porsche. Despite these handicaps, and despite the heavy rain, he was able to keep in touch with the leaders, eventually setting a 1:29.573 and taking fourth on the grid.

Fellow debutant, David Mason, was having fun in the revitalised Rollcentre Noble. Having briefly led the times in the very early stages of the session, he was another who was not overawed by the conditions and was staying in the top three in class.

As with the morning session, the Lotus was nowhere to be seen in the first third of qualifying. A delay in getting the wet tyres to the car was exacerbated by a coolant leak, which filled the cockpit with smoke. The car joined in after five minutes but pitted straight away. When Gavan Kershaw rejoined a few seconds later, his out-lap was good enough for fifth in class.

Almost inevitably, Kershaw’s first flying lap was good enough for first in class and fourth overall; 1:29.294.

Dominic Lesniewski’s response to Kershaw’s time was to go faster and he retook provisional pole with 1:28.832.

By this time, the rain had stopped and the track was slowly starting to improve. Kershaw found more time and snatched back the lead on 1:28.313.

With less than one minute to go, Kershaw improved his time to 1:26.524 and looked to have secured pole. This was confirmed 30 seconds later when Lesniewski crossed the line with a very impressive 1:26.940, but only good enough for second. The Porsche had crossed the line after the flag, but the Lotus still had a timed lap to complete and its driver was going to make the most of it.

A reshuffling of the timing screen indicated that something had happened, and that was that Kershaw had found a further second and a half to set a 1:24.965 and take sixth overall.

David Mason also continued to improve and took an excellent third on the grid with 1:28.178 in the Noble.

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DRM had been caught out badly by the wet weather and #62 lost half the session. Ni Amorim only had time for five laps and could not better 1:32.514 and eighth place. The sister car only managed two laps in the three minutes available to it and could not set a competitive time.

Faring better than these two was the JWR Porsche of Pete Chambers. The #66 was yet another victim of the tyre-change melee, being the fourth of the team’s cars to have its wheels changed. Chambers also only had five laps to set a time and came within a whisker (0.083s) of taking fourth place from David Wandless.

In sixth position was the Team Tiger Marcos Mantis, driven by Chris Beighton to a 1:29.832.

Keith Ahlers was having a difficult session, managing a 1:32.050 and seventh place while fighting a misfire (a known wet-weather problem) in the 2003-spec Aero 8, which affected his concentration.

The three remaining cars in the field, the Jensen Corvette, the #77 JWR Porsche and the Team Jedi Lotus all struggled in the conditions and all finished in the 1:40s. They all survived the stint without incident, though, and their co-drivers would be taking over for the second session just five minutes later.

But the first session belonged to Gavan Kershaw. “Apart from not being able to see through the screen very well, the car was brilliant. Barrie and I want to say a big thank you to the team for their excellent work over the weekend – apart from the rebuild, they’ve been on the road for 22 hours getting the car between here and Norfolk,” said a very happy Gavan.

Session 2 – A Noble Challenge
While the second session wasn’t quite as dramatic as the first, the result certainly was.

The rain stayed away, but the track was still wet as the session started. The question was, how quickly would the track dry and how long would the tyres last?

Adam Sharpe was determined to keep his title challenge alive and started proceedings with a 1:29.279. This wasn’t going to stay at the top for long and indeed Mark Cole set a 1:26.150 very shortly afterwards in the #74 Porsche.

This time, however, we were not going to see a host of time-trading at the front and Cole’s time was to stay the fastest until the chequered flag flew – but it wasn’t going to be good enough for pole!

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Sharpe was trying to get the pole position for himself and set second fastest time ahead of Martin Short in the Noble with a 1:26.797 (Short’s time being 1:27.795). Things were not going according to plan, however. “I should have got pole position easily,” said Sharpe. “The plan was to get a tow from the other car (#74), but his tyres went off and then he lost second gear. Then, later on, I was baulked by the Jensen Corvette, while on a fast one. I don’t know – it just didn’t click!”

Adam would finish the session in third place, but crucially he would be ahead of all his title rivals.

Barrie Whight was taking things carefully in the Lotus, at one point only being in tenth place. His time began to improve until, “I knew that I had to set a fast one through Church (where he had crashed on Friday) and it actually felt good when I did it! The steering rack had been damaged in the crash and the new one feels better.” He did that lap with two minutes to go and his reward was 1:27.794 and fourth position.

The two DRM cars were faring better in the second session. Adam Wilcox in #62 kept the car in contention with a 1:28.152 and sixth place, while the #67 at last got a chance to run at a reasonable pace – 1:32.832 being the fastest. This was the car that had twice been wrecked earlier in the year and the team had only taken delivery on Friday, leaving no time to set the car up.

The Morgan’s woes continued with Aaron Scott having to pit with a coolant leak after six laps. This was on top of the continuing misfire and the car was the slowest in the session.

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Jon Finnemore was unable to do much with the Mantis in the conditions and had to settle for seventh place on 1:28.168. The team has conceded that the title is almost certainly beyond them now, but there can be little doubt that a dry track on Sunday will see them back at the front in the races.

The JWR Porsches seemed subdued on the slippery track. Michael Caine managed fifth with a 1:27.938, while Steve Wood, despite only being six tenths slower than Caine, found himself back in tenth.

The Jensen Corvette was showing great improvement in the hands of Stuart Turvey, finishing just two tenths behind the Marcos in eighth.

But there were two outstanding drives in the second session.

The first came courtesy of Frazer Corbyn in the Team Jedi Lotus Elise. “I love driving in the wet,” said Corbyn and he proved it by setting a whole series of ever faster laps. He finished on 1:28.467 – ninth in class but just 2.6 seconds off pole and ahead of three Cup class cars. This was a massive lift for the team; the more so as the car had run faultlessly all day. “The car’s got grown-up brakes at last,” said the Lotus’s owner, Rob Horsfield. “We’ve now pretty much changed everything on the car, bar the bodywork, in an attempt either to improve reliability or speed.”

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Frazer was praying for rain, but perhaps the team’s luck is turning at last.

The other drive of merit came from Shorty himself.

This hasn’t been an easy season for the Noble – early promise being severely hampered by a misfire and several costly collisions and crashes. However, race two at Silverstone saw the Noble’s resurgence and Martin Short (following on from David Mason’s sterling work earlier) was demonstrating that that improvement had been sustained.

It looked as though the Noble would be unable to improve on its third place, which was itself commendable. However, at virtually the last moment of the session, Short crossed the line with a time of 1:25.943 to take pole.

This wasn’t an easy last lap for the Noble, however. “The windscreen wiper failed and I had to do the last third of the lap without being able to see anything,” beamed a happy Rollcentre boss afterwards.

Both sessions had been hugely entertaining. Will the races live up to them?
Mark Howson

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