Motorsport – Silverstone 3 Hours – R4 British GT Championship
The British Empire Trophy Goes Orange
a truly fantastic race and an equally fantastic result for
A first overall
race win for the team in the British GT championship brought
with it not only the glory of the top step of the podium but
the historic British Empire Trophy too. Round 5 would be the
longest ever race in the British GT Championship, a three hour
marathon over the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit. Ben McLoughlin
was in attendance too, ready to support the cause.
going to play a significant part in this race....Chris Pollard
and Piers Johnson, below.
GT champion Ian McKellar led the field around in the SEAT pace
car as Piers Johnson prepared to do battle with the Moslers
ahead. But Piers was ‘jumped’ by the Xero Racing
Corvette at Becketts, and would have to deal with three big
Yank V8s if he was to take this one.
Bas in the Corvette was pushing very, very hard to try to stay
with the flying Moslers and Piers was sensibly biding his time.
At the head of the race Tom Herridge was storming away, an
indication that strategy was at play. With this in mind the
issue of getting by the Corvette was becoming more urgent:
Herridge was more than four seconds ahead of the second Mosler
at the start of lap 2, but Piers was now in a position to challenge
Le Bas for third.
presented itself around the outside of the tricky Club corner
but Le Bas got a little sideways and the Eclipse man – perhaps
mindful of how far they would have to race today - decided
discretion was the better part of valour. He kept his momentum
though and by the time the pair reached Abbey curve, Piers
had grabbed third.
for the place wasn’t over yet though. As Piers reeled
in Jamie Derbyshire’s Mosler, Steven Brady in the fast
improving Ultima had blown by the Corvette and was in turn
closing down on the Eclipse T400R.
It was a
five car train now, with Steve Hyde in the CDL TVR also joining
in the fun – incredibly it was just six minutes into
a three hour race, and so much seemed to have happened already.
make a move was Brady: he edged past the Eclipse car for third.
Perhaps that was the spur that Piers needed, taking the place
next time around and then hustling up the inside of Derbyshire
at Woodcote for second place. With Tom Herridge now almost
10 seconds up the road it was time to get really moving.
lead began to shrink. Pressure from behind was relieved as
the Corvette and the Balfe Motorsport Mosler clashed, the Corvette
out on the spot and the Mosler hobbling round to the pits.
With 30 minutes
gone Piers was eight seconds adrift of the Mosler but steadily
nibbling at the difference, a cracking lap of 1:57.190 chewing
another few tenths away.
traffic, the orange TVR seemed to take the bolder approach.
The Mosler was getting large in Piers’ sights as the
hour mark approached, with the difference just two seconds
when a Porsche stranded in a dangerous position called for
the pace car to be deployed. Two seconds now became two tenths!
car pitted for fuel, tyres and a driver change to factory TVR
man Rob Barff. Piers stayed out, took the lead of the race
and the gameplan for Eclipse was now becoming clear: stay out
until half distance and make the race distance on one fuel
stop. Could they?
Porsche having been recovered, the pace car withdrew and Piers
was back into his stride immediately, with laps in the low
1:57s, Barff now almost two minutes behind the leader and in
clearly the major threat but there was trouble in store for
the #22 Mosler. It slowed dramatically as it passed the pits,
and #69 immediately pounced to lap the Rollcentre car and Barff
was left to complete a slow lap, the entire gear linkage having
come adrift. This was looking good – for Eclipse!
with 86 minutes to run, the orange Tuscan pitted, the last
of the major runners to do so. Fuel, a driver change to Shane
Lynch (ready to go, right), and tyres too, were the order of
the day, at least that was the theory. A stumble from someone
in pitlane saw the air bottle to power the wheel hammers discharged.
John Griffiths made the call for the car to get on its way,
rather than risk the delay of finding a replacement bottle:
Shane duly rejoined the race, enough fuel on board to finish
the race, but with tyres that were definitely past their best.
Could this be Eclipse’s undoing?
now led in the CDL TVR, just a second or two up on Shane. All
three T400Rs now ran together on track, with John Hartshorne
in the Peninsla TVR pushing to unlap himself
was now, incredibly, getting to grips with a car with just
one gear (fourth). He was lapping quickest of all! He would
unlap himself from the Eclipse car and would climb to second
overall before making a final pitstop for fuel with just 26
minutes of the race remaining, dropping the car to fourth.
It was looking
ever more like a TVR 1-2-3, but in what order?
just over 20 minutes and the Eclipse car’s lead a healthy
105 seconds, Shane pitted, those tyres now completely shot – a
fantastic achievement from Dunlop though, to run for over two
and a half hours at fierce racing speeds.
over to Eclipses’ third driver (and Shane’s 2002
team mate) Ben McLoughlin:
tyres were awful (they were literally down to the canvas) after
pushing so hard for so long. It was a risk to pit but a bigger
risk not to, now it’s fingers crossed time.”
out for the last 20 minutes and emerged back into the fray
just a handful of seconds ahead of John Hartshorne.
all though. Steve Hyde had received the “Hurry Up” board
from CDL boss Bert Taylor and was pushing hard too, in an attempt
to relieve Hartshorne of his second slot.
to have Hartshorne’s measure, first allowing the Peninsula
TVR backed car to come within 4.3 seconds, then imposing his
authority on the race. As the minutes ticked down it was a
question of fuel, did the TVRs have enough?
answer was yes they did. It was a race to the flag though,
with Ben controlling it from the front in the closing stages,
finishing just 2.1 seconds clear of John Hartshorne with the
charging Steve Hyde still 11 seconds further back. A TVR 1-2-3.
As the champagne
flowed, the Eclipse squad seemed almost stunned by the success.
It was clearly a popular win, with the whole paddock turning
out to applaud the team’s win. That desperately disappointing
day at Knockhill last year is history now.
Piers Johnson: “I
thought we had it completely covered apart from the tyres.
I knew if we could keep up with the Mosler we were laughing.
We pushed it as far as we could on fuel and it was coughing
and spluttering when I pitted. I had no idea we’d be
getting the British Empire Trophy, but what a great race for
Eclipse to get their debut win.”
Shane Lynch: “That
was touch and go at the finish. John (Hartshorne) was coming
up real quick and it could have gone any way there. We were
blessed. After days when we’ve had some terrible luck,
this was payback, but all in all it’s better to win a
close race than to run away with it.”
Ben McLoughlin: “ I
had the easy part – Piers drove brilliantly and Shane
was a real hero to do the times he did on tyres like that.”
So it is
the tremendous trio of Johnson, Lynch and McLoughlin that will
find their names engraved on one of British motorsport’s
most historic trophies. In the Championship, Piers and Shane
have closed the gap to the Mosler crews ahead, with just a
handful of points the difference between Herridge in second
spot and the Eclipse boys in third – a good result in
the next round at Castle Combe could really shake things up.
There’s a few weeks to savour this win though. Marvellous