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Team Tiger - A Rare Breed in the GT Jungle

The origins of Team Tiger lay in the classic sports car of the same name – the Sunbeam Tiger – and their foray into contemporary racing was initiated by a spontaneous purchase at an auction.

dailysportscar.comThe story begins in 1990, when Chris Beighton (right) and Jon Finnemore became acquainted through business. At this time, Jon was racing Road Saloons with a degree of success, but it would be several years before the pair would join forces in motorsport.

A trip to watch the Manx Classic (a sprint, hillclimb and autotest, using a small part of the IoM TT circuit) in 1996 provided Chris with the inspiration, and in 1998 he purchased a 1964 Sunbeam Tiger, with a view to competing himself . At this point, Jon, with his racing experience and car repair business, enters the story. Beighton explains; “I asked Jon if he’d prepare and run the car for me, though it was a departure for him, since he was more familiar with modern cars.”

Nevertheless, the Tiger, repainted from its original blue into the now familiar orange “house colour”, made the grid for the last round of the Anglo-American Challenge at Donington and finished in a creditable midfield position. The next year saw a full season of competition in the same series, where the pair gradually worked their way towards the front as the season progressed.

There then followed a period of domination, as the Tiger collected three consecutive AMOC Anglo-American Challenge crowns in 2000, 2001, and 2002. During this period, several wins in invitation races were also posted.

dailysportscar.comIt was during 2002 that Chris and Jon (left) made the serendipitous purchase of the Marcos Mantis at an auction, way out of kilter with their existing racing canon. “It looked a good buy, and we had no real plan for it, other than a bit of fun at trackdays,” explained Chris, “We’ve no idea of its history, but it had probably been used for trackdays, but certainly never raced.”

Fortunate, then, that after a few years of having nowhere to race competitively, the marque was finding a home for itself in James Tucker’s then-embryonic Britcar series. The pair entered the penultimate 2002 round at Brands Hatch in October, and instantly impressed, running at the head of the field until sidelined with mechanical problems.

The team then embarked on a full Britcar campaign in 2003, parallel with classic events in the Tiger. Though they took a win (the infamous “dead-heat”) at Pembrey, and were always there or thereabouts, Chris describes their season as “disappointing, with lots of problems,” owing to the frequent retirements posted.

The close season saw a lot of sorting for the Marcos, and following advice from Marcos afficionados such as Cor Euser and Glenn Eagling, a 302 cubic-inch Mustang engine was fitted, coupled to a new Hewland gearbox, and a conscious effort made to raise the game, and enter the new Cup class of the British GT Championship.

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They made an immediate impression with their pace at the first meeting of the year at Donington, qualifying in the top three for both of the first two races. Although teething problems meant that they didn’t finish either race at the Midlands track, it didn’t take long for the team to show that the early pace was no flash in the pan.

Their crowning moment came at Snetterton when they won round five in style. The next meeting at castle Combe was even better, with the Marcos taking a win and a second place. These results propelled Team Tiger from new boys to title contenders.

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There have been disappointments along the way, too. Silverstone was a particularly frustrating weekend, but the team has its sights set high for the final four races.

But all of this is only two-thirds of the Team Tiger portfolio. Chris also co-owns another Sunbeam Tiger, the 1964 Le Mans “Lister” car, with Tony Eckford, in which they contested the initial Le Mans Classic, and run in the current Top Hat and Gentleman Drivers championships. This is quite separate from the other classic events, where Chris and Jon share the orange Tiger. Chris cites the camaraderie and bonhomie of classic racing as one of its most satisfying features, highlighted by meeting former Rootes Group racer Peter Proctor (the original driver of the Le Mans Tiger) – “ …….a legend, with natural charm.”

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All three cars are prepared by Jon Finnemore’s St Peters Garage in Leicester, a Peugeot specialist employing seven people. Chris Beighton, a former British Senior Water Skiing champion, and captain of the British youth squad, is managing director of Westleigh Homes, which builds over 500 domestic and commercial properties per year, employing 35 staff, 35 site agents, and over 150 tradesmen. Westleigh is the major sponsor for the team.

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It is one of Chris’s site agents, Ian Chase, who is the only other regular member of Team Tiger, wielding the spanners at race meetings alongside Jon. There is also occasional assistance from Mark Lupton. “We’re all mates,” says Chris, “we’ve not had to put a team together and employ people, and we don’t really want anybody else.”

A small, but very successful team then, enjoying continued victories in the AMOC Anglo-American Challenge, and various invitation races, and shaking-up the establishment in British GT. A rare breed indeed.
Steve Wood

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