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British GT Championship – Magny-Cours – May 1
France in France – Withdrawn

It was a massive disappointment to Jonathan France’s Embassy Racing team, and indeed to the British GT Championship in general, when the team decided to officially withdraw their entry from the race at Magny-Cours on race morning. Engine problems at the end of Saturday’s first qualifying session could not be resolved overnight, and the team did not have enough track-time left to run-in its spare engine, which was completely fresh from a rebuild.

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“If we had the problems with the engine on Friday, we could at least have run the spare engine in through the qualifying sessions, but it couldn’t have happened at a worse time for us,” explained Jonathan France. “The worst thing is that after the problem became apparent, we took the engine apart as far as we could and couldn’t find anything wrong. With it being an FIA event, the engine is sealed, so we are limited as to what we can do. The guys worked really hard all night and put it back together again and we ran the engine early on Sunday morning, taking it up to temperature and letting it cool down and then up to temperature again, but it is was weeping some water. We have confirmed we will race with the FIAs again at Silverstone in just two weeks’ time, and then we have two British GT rounds back-to-back. With three races so soon, we can’t risk losing either engine completely. It was a hard thing to do, but we had to withdraw from this event to re-group, get some serious testing in and maximise our chances of scoring points in the next two British rounds.”

Silverstone will at least provide Embassy with another opportunity to compare themselves with the likes of the factory-supported GruppeM team, though France admits that without the same support, it will be a daunting challenge to beat them. “It should have been an exciting race this weekend, and I was really looking forward to the spectacle. I, for one, think that the longer races are what GT racing is all about. The plan was never to race GruppeM at all costs here anyway, because the British Championship is too precious for us. I think we could have been closer to the Scuderia Ecosse Ferraris though, because the FIA cars running ahead would have prevented them from having a clear track, like the one they had at Donington.”

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Despite the bitterly disappointing outcome, Embassy will come back to the UK with some valuable lessons learnt. The logistics of getting the car, equipment, engineers, catering and other staff assembled on the continent were tested and France reported “no problems at all. European races are very much part of our future plans, so this is all part and parcel of what is to come for us.” The team will also benefit from the time that the car was on the track throughout the weekend. Every time the car completes a lap, the drivers gain familiarity with the car, the car provides data to the team and the team gels, using the data to make the car stronger. These benefits were not immediately apparent to a disconsolate France however: “if we didn’t have bad luck I don’t think we’d have any luck at all. We never have these kind of problems in the hundreds of miles of testing we do, but as soon as we get into a race weekend, that’s when they seem to start.”

Without being able to prove the strength of the combination of Porsche, Collins and Cunningham in the race, all that remains is, as happens all too often in motor racing, to ask “what if?” Friday’s tests and Saturday morning’s qualifying session showed that Embassy was as competitive within British GTs as they had been at Donington, with only the Ferraris and the Hughes / Pearce LNT TVR beating Ben Collin’s best qualifying time of 1:44.561. There is every reason to believe that Embassy could have been on the British GT podium, as a minimum, particularly as Hughes’ TVR suffered from a puncture during the race, which probably cost LNT at least two positions.

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Both Embassy drivers were quick throughout the weekend, Cunningham setting faster times than Collins in testing, but Collins coming up with the goods in qualifying “He’s the qualifying man anyway, I just do the muscle work!” was Cunningham’s explanation. Ironically, it was Neil in the car towards the end of the first qualifying session, when the water hose blew off the flat-six engine without warning. “I told the team I was sure I had killed the engine within 20 seconds of the problem, but the data showed I actually did it within three seconds! I hoped it wouldn’t have caused any damage to the engine, but maybe it was some kind of problem already that led to the hose coming off, no-one seems to know.”

Collins summed up his view on the potential the weekend had in store. “I’m never happy about being fourth quickest, of course, but we weren’t a million miles behind the Ferraris. Even though it turned out to be a really hot weekend, I think we would have been fine on our tyres and as a pairing, I think we would have had one of the best constant speeds throughout this race. It was never going to have been easy and we knew we would have had to treat it as a three hour sprint, but that is what all endurance racing is about these days.”

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The team have been forced to look at the immediate future, which means ensuring that the spare engine hits the dyno. as soon as possible. A full investigation will also be carried out on the damaged unit. This, along with some serious testing and the amount of ‘bonus’ track time that the Silverstone FIA GT race will award them, should see Embassy bouncing right back for the next round of the British GT Championship at Knockhill on 21-22 May. Data gleaned from the FIA race at Silverstone should also set them in good stead for the two rounds of the British Championship that will be held on the Northamptonshire circuit later in the season.
Paul Slinger

 

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