Motorsport – Castle Combe – R5 British GT Championship
There’s only an ‘F’ between Race and Farce
Castle Combe on June
22 promised much but delivered only disappointment for Eclipse Motorsport.
A huge crowd and fantastic
weather could have provided a stage for the team to build on their
fantastic victory at Silverstone. As it was a shambles of a race
left the team chasing points and a dreadful stroke of bad luck left
the #69 TVR badly damaged.
It all started well however.
An already strong GTO entry was boosted by the two factory TVR T400Rs
fresh from Le Mans and the returning Eurotech Porsche. With the
Mosler pair, the three regular T400Rs and the Corvette, that could
have meant a nine car tussle at the head of the race.
The early signs were
good, #69 was well up with the pack in the Saturday free practice
session in amongst a gaggle of seven cars within a second of each
Qualifying on Saturday
was better still, Piers Johnson hustling the car around the dauntingly
quick Wiltshire circuit just under half a second slower than the
polesetting Mosler of Martin Short. Sadly though it was still bettered
by the other Mosler and by both of the factory TVRs. This was shaping
up to be a firecracker.
Sunday lunchtime and
it was time to entertain the crowds. dailysportscar had arranged
for all five T400Rs to be displayed on track for the assembled TVR
Car Club faithful – this the first occasion when all five
race cars had been assembled together. The response was stupendous,
applause all the way around the circuit and a symphony of air horns
at Tower bend from the TVRCC.
There was a real buzz
around the race itself and the action from the off didn’t
disappoint. The build up had suggested that a TVR would push the
Moslers hard, but there had been something of an assumption that
it would be a factory car doing the pushing. Shane Lynch had other
ideas however, and by the first flat out right hander he had powered
by the two yellow and black T400Rs to grab third: orange and blue
is evidently faster as well as better looking!
Shane is rapidly getting
as good a reputation as Justin Wilson as a demon starter –
the critical difference however is that Shane races in a series
where the overtaking is generally done on the track rather than
the pitlane. Battle was joined.
And what a battle it
was. At the head of the field Tom Herridge had the lead in the #22
Mosler, with Shaun Balfe trying everything to get by. Shane was
next up in what rapidly became a six car train, the Moslers plus
our man, hotly pursued by the two DeWalt cars, split by a charging
Graeme Mundy in the #23 Race Sport Salisbury TVR.
It was going to get tougher
still though for Shane as a warning light (and a wisp of smoke or
two) in the cockpit of #69 gave cause for concern. Rob Barff in
the #91 TVR took advantage, he grabbed third and Shane now found
himself fending off Mundy. This race was fully alight, the first
six cars separated by just 0.9 seconds and the crowd was loving
every minute of it.
With Shane still distracted
by his dashboard warning lights, the Lynch / Mundy combo was fully
engaged. Mundy took advantage of the Irishman’s worries at
the start of Lap 9. He lined up #69 over the start / finish line
and then passed it at the first turn, the #23 car almost fully on
the grass to complete the move and up to fourth position, #69 down
Fifth would soon become
fourth however as the Moslers would soon gift the chasing pack an
advantage. Balfe was looking for a way by Tom Herridge, and there
was contact between the two in the Esses. It would eventually lead
to the #33 car’s retirement for the second consecutive race.
Herridge too pitted for
a puncture and all of this left an astonishing TVR 1,2,3,4 at the
head of the pack after just 12 minutes of racing, the TVR Car Club
contingent at Tower corner was clearly delighted! First non-Blackpool
built car was one of Stuttgart’s finest, Mark Sumpter charging
from the back of the grid in the #74 Eurotech Porsche.
Sumpter would grab fourth
position next as Shane pitted for a rapid investigation of his dashboard
alarm. John Griffiths was happy that it was simply a rogue reading
and the Irishman howled out to chase back the ground he’d
lost, now back in seventh spot.
With just 90 seconds
to the opening of the pit ‘window’ Graeme Mundy’s
fine run came to an end. He was still pushing very hard chasing
the flying Rob Barff when changing down from fifth to fourth for
the quick Tower bend he briefly found neutral. It was enough to
lose the fine balance needed for cornering with total commitment
and the results were horrifying: he lost the back end and slammed
with barely abated speed front end first into the barrier.
The front of #23 was
heavily damaged, the race over on the spot for Mundy, mercifully
though without injury. With the tyre barrier at Tower in total disarray
and the TVR in a dangerous position the Safety Car was deployed
almost immediately, but it just failed to pick up the leader and
so started a chain of events that was to leave everybody utterly
The train of cars behind
the SEAT safety car was somewhat confusing, the leader emerging
from pitlane ninth in the train and with no attempt seemingly being
made to wave cars by to preserve the status quo.
Before long though it was clear that this would be a long clear
up job and, for the first time since Oulton Park in 2002 the race
was red flagged (after 27 minutes).
The decision was reached
quickly that there would be a restart for a 20 minute run to the
flag, the race being decided on aggregate time of the two legs.
Confusion and controversy
reigned however over the grid order for the second leg. The Eclipse
TVR was one of several cars which had effectively lost a lap owing
to the poor positioning of the safety car. Ahead of it there were
just three cars on the lead lap, both DeWalt TVRs and Tom Shrimpton
in the Glenn Eagling Motorsport Marcos!
After all of the furore
and with most people still confused over the true position, the
cars reformed on the grid for a 20 minute sprint to the flag. It
looked like being a walkover for the DeWalt duo with only the Marcos
within striking distance.
So it would prove, but
behind them it was to be a barnstormer. While the two factory TVRs
finished the race in fast cruise mode, Michael Caine taking the
win in #92 (making Richard Hay a winner on his debut!), behind this
pair there was a real ding dong. A three car train of Martin Short,
Piers Johnson and Mike Jordan were pressing each other hard for
fourth. The gap to the Marcos ahead was enormous but it was tumbling.
Tom Shrimpton was really struggling with a Mantis GTO whose gearbox
was self destructing. He had already lost sixth gear and was having
to drive one-handed, the other being required to hold the car in
fifth, the sole remaining functional ratio.
The dice on the track
was fascinating but confusing, the order on track was Jordan, Short,
Johnson but the aggregated time told a different story, with Piers
leading Short and Jordan. Piers had been given the right advice,
“Just get right behind him, you don’t need to pass”.
This he did, almost welding the TVR to the towhook of the Mosler,
as the lap times tumbled again.
The three were dicing
on track, dicing for position and scything through Shrimpton’s
advantage. With lap times in the 66 and 67 second bracket, the hobbled
Marcos had no answer and all too soon it was Piers in third, Short
fourth and Jordan fifth.
It wouldn’t finish
like that though as two laps from home, Piers Johnson found himself
in the tyre wall: a rose joint had failed leaving the Eclipse Motorsport
driver a passenger, a hard fought podium position had gone and the
TVR was left badly damaged. A few late nights ahead for the Eclipse
It was left to Short
to take the flag for third, but even that almost went very wrong.
With the leading TVR behind him on track, the Rollcentre boss was
shown the flag a lap early, worse still he was under the impression
that he had won the race, cruising round with the door open waving
to the (very confused) crowd). Luckily someone, somewhere had the
presence of mind to direct the Mosler back to the pitlane rather
than the paddock, the final lap was thus completed and third place
confirmed - but there must still be thousands of people asking “Who
really won that race?”