Racing – British GT – Brands Hatch – October 2
- Part 1
Out Of Trouble But Off The Podium
The Brands Hatch
Indy circuit had proved a rather controversial choice for inclusion
on this season’s domestic GT racing calendar - but there it
was as the season finale, and there was no way Embassy Racing would
be missing out on the chance to bag another podium.
drivers championship was sealed for Gruppe M’s Jonathon Cocker
at the last round, he was still out for ‘total domination’
and wouldn’t be backing off at all. Andrew Kirkaldy wanted
to win the most races in the season and to further bolster Scuderia
Ecosse’s impressive season statistics. This would be no walk
in the park for Embassy then, in a race that would in all likelihood
be something of a lottery.
is no point looking for the perfect set-up for a perfect lap around
Brands Indy, because they could be in traffic by about lap 5 so
we need to have the car sharp and racy – ready to pass on
the left and the right – traffic will probably decide these
races,” explained technical man Dave Beecroft.
pace that the Corvette had shown early in practice (Cunningham,
in the damp of Satyrday morning) was not the be-all-and-end-all
then - “It needs sharpening,” was Beecroft’s summary.
Still, it is always good to know the general pace is there.
his own pace was new-to-Embassy Richard Hay – “I haven’t
had as much time in the car as I would have liked but the car certainly
feels very good. It’s a lot different to the TVR Tuscan I
am used to, especially the brakes – I still have to get my
head around how late you can brake in the Corvette! Basically, the
car is very fast and I’m not at the moment…”
how to handle a big powerful rear-wheel drive car though, and he’s
really looking forward to the racing,” was Neil Cunningham’s
seal of approval on his team-mate.
mattered much to Embassy at Thruxton, a drive from the back of the
grid netting them their best ever position of second, but it made
sense to start at the sharp end of the grid for these races –
they would be intense enough, without having to pass the whole field
Hay would start
the first fifteen minute qualifying session (as the less experienced
driver) and Embassy’s tactics of getting him out first on
the track may have helped him to emerge onto a clear track for his
first flying lap – but the other competitors were still pouring
out of the pit exit as he came around to start his first flyer.
With a third
of the session gone it was clear that traffic was dictating the
grid as much as the machinery and talent driving it: despite being
bone dry (and pleasantly warm for October) there were a host of
Cup Class cars well up the timesheet, a comfortable looking Hay
down in seventh. Just when it was looking as though Richard was
going to turn the heat up and work his time into the mid 48s…..
it was red flag time, after a hefty shunt into the barriers from
a Cup 360, off on oil.
I brought it home!” summed up Hay, tenth with a 48.713.
The six foot
wide slick of oil, freshly drained from one of the RSR TVRs, took
a while to clear up and with some tyre wall repairs needed too,
Neil had a much longer break than usual before his fifteen minutes
of fame began.
They must have
been nervous moments – how would he know whether the oil dust
had done its work? Throwing the car into Paddock the first time
would be a heart in the mouth moment – in fact would the drivers
in session 2 be able to match the times set in session 1? “Well,
I’m first in the queue so I’ll be first on the oil,
it’ll just make it more exciting! Hope I’m not first
off on the oil as well though!” joked the Kiwi.
on being first out by making sure his time stayed at the top for
a short while, as he was already battling his way through traffic.
The Gruppe M
and Scuderia boys were tactically trying to find space – crawling
almost to a halt on the Cooper Straight, where other teams couldn’t
see them from the pitlane, and then exploding into the space they
had created – it worked for Sugden with a 47.662. Whether
Embassy had seen the games going on or not, Neil chose the option
of just keeping his head down and going for it. Holding fourth position,
despite an exceptional 46.675 from Kirkaldy, things looked good,
until word of the Ferrari’s laptime spread. It was clear that
the oil was no longer a limiting factor and responses from the new
Tech 9 N-GT car in the hands of Adam Jones, plus Greensall in the
TVR, knocked Neil back to sixth place. “I wanted to start
on the outside anyway…” The second half of the session
then showed little improvement to times, but fortunately there were
no incidents either.
Race one was
surprisingly incident free, yet full of interest: perhaps it was
just the novelty of seeing so much of the cars very, very often,
but it was a race of high intensity, that should have been played
out in front of a bigger crowd.
The first corner
saw Chris Niarchos skating across the gravel but powering through
it and emerging at Druids – lots of positions lost, including
one to the Corvette. Hay kept it steady and stayed out of trouble,
but Niarchos was able to haul him back in and draught by at Paddock
with ten minutes gone.
was keeping a watching brief on a pack of cars ahead, but the leaders
were streets ahead at the front, coming round to lap Hay before
the halfway point in the race. Problems for the Tech 9 Porsche and
GKR Elise promoted Hay to seventh overall though. “I couldn’t
get the car working the way it should be: it turned out the tyre
pressures hadn’t come up the same, giving me a bit of a handicap.”
Safety Car period was brought about by Tech 9’s Cup Porsche,
‘trying a Niarchos’ through the Paddock gravel, but
stopping just short of the track, in a dangerous spot. With the
Safety Car on immediate standby, Embassy got Hay straight in, the
leaders doing the same. The Safety Car was then thrown out into
the mix, the newly enthroned Cunningham just getting caught behind
it – if he had made it in front, he could have unlapped himself
and got into a very useful position. As it was now, only another
safety car period could help, because he had a full lap before the
next car ahead. Still, a lap is only 45 seconds or so after all,
and Neil is never there to make up the numbers….
going to let Tim Mullen put another lap on him without a fight when
racing resumed, the Irishman wiping the snout of the Ferrari all
over the Corvette’s rump down Cooper Straight. Places were
made up through the Cup cars with some hard charging, plus some
key N-GT cars falling by the wayside (the Ultima and Kirkaldy’s
Ferrari) helped the Embassy cause too.
Neil was on
a major charge now, with race-leading Tim Sugden behind him and
with no answer to the Corvette’s pace. “We thought Neil
could have been leading because the timing screen hadn’t shown
his pitstop so might not have updated properly with such a short
lap. If we could absolutely, positively have trusted it, fine, but
with even a slim chance he might have been leading and able to take
a win, we had to keep him charging,” explained team owner
Jonathan France. “Besides, GruppeM must have been having doubts
too – why else would their guys be telling us to let him past
with five minutes of the race to go, bearing in mind they were leading
by about 30 seconds?”
was no way I was letting him by anyway, it was great fun and we
put on a real show didn’t we? It’s not like I was holding
him up anyway, and the only blue flags I saw were for the cars I
was passing!” said Cunningham, making any discussion on the
timing situation rather rhetorical in any event.
His pace was
bringing him closer to Mullen now but there just weren’t enough
minutes left in the race and in the end it was a hard fought sixth
for Embassy, whose efforts were all concentrated at coming back
from the Safety Car disadvantage.
It was a great
show though and with the tyre pressures adjusted for the second
half of the race, had shown yet again what a powerful combination
Cunningham and the Corvette are, with front running pace right through
to the closing laps.