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Embassy Racing – British GT – Castle Combe – June 25
Best Of The Rest

Practice
Embassy’s Porsche sat in fifth place on the timesheet by the end of an overcast but dry early morning practice session, a position that team principal Jonathan France was getting rather more used to than he would like. “We always seem to be about there in practice or qualifying, but it should be a different story in the race. Our aim is winning, but we will always take satisfaction from being the quickest and highest-placed Porsche. Aiming to do that should mean we will be somewhere in the right order anyway. It is looking pretty good for this weekend actually, I am quietly optimistic…”

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“I was really wringing the car’s neck this morning, so I don’t know if I can go any faster, fifth seems to be where we are at the moment,” is how Ben Collins described his morning’s work. A 1:06.339 from practice was the benchmark but “later today, with a bit more rubber on the track, everyone will be faster.”

With just a few set-up changes to make in time for qualifying, it was a relatively leisurely morning for the team. “We don’t really run qualifying set-ups like some of the other teams do, we like to get the car ready for the race,” explained Jonathan France.

Qualifying
Sadly, Ben’s prediction on tumbling times was not to ring true for Neil Cunningham, who took the car out for the first of the afternoon’s qualifying sessions. “Second time round the clutch went through the bulkhead, so I had no clutch at all. See what a good team-mate I am, instead of going round and round in the car, I brought it in and let them fix the car for Benny!”

As a result of losing the opportunity for some fast laps, Cunningham would start Saturday evening’s race from eighth place, a 1:07.188 hardly representative of what the car could do. In the early evening the news for Embassy improved slightly, for they would move up two places before they even took up a grid place. LNT withdrew its two TVRs from the race, and seemingly from the rest of the championship.

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This news was inconsequential upon Collins’ qualifying position however, as his 1:06.065 did all the talking and was quicker than all but the dominating Scuderia Ecosse Ferraris. “I am pretty pleased with third, it is our best qualifying yet and we are only behind the Ferraris. The TVRs normally get a bit more out of the session, but it is looking promising for Sunday.”

Race
If the omens looked much better for Sunday’s race by virtue of Ben’s excellent qualifying performance (and Neil’s selfless act, of course) then Embassy still made the best of a less-than-ideal situation for Saturday evening’s race.

With the LNT TVRs already loaded onto the truck as the start procedure commenced, their official withdrawal meant there was no need for embarrassing Indianapolis F1-style gaps on the grid, and Neil Cunningham found himself on the third row after all. An incident on the formation lap for the Jones twins’ Porsche meant that Neil would start effectively from fifth place – up three places already from a troubled qualifying session. The GT2 class was looking rather sparse however, and when the RJN Nissan refused to move off the line at the start of the green flag lap, it looked like Embassy couldn’t finish any lower than fifth whatever happened. Attempts to recover the Nissan were not speedy enough to avoid a second green flag lap, but as the race started for real, the Nissan was able to re-join at the back, though it would not really feature at the sharp end of the race.

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Ignoring the Ferraris, whose pace was again unmatchable, at least in the hands of Kirkaldy and Mullen, Embassy had to concentrate on beating ‘the other Porsche’, that of Jordan and Caine, and the Eclipse Mosler, which Ben described as looking “more powerful than a Nascar on the straights”. After a couple of laps, those four were able to pull out what looked to be an easy advantage over a conservative Cunningham. “I was thinking of the last couple of starts we’ve had, where we have run into trouble, but if anything, I was a bit too cautious at first.”

Cautious was not a word suitable for use for Niarchos and Jordan on lap two, the Ferrari leaning on the Porsche at Camp Corner, making contact a couple of times and pitching Niarchos into a lurid spin just in front of the line. Neil Cunningham inherited fourth as a result, but despite a light puff of smoke from Jordan’s wheelarch where it was fouling the tyre, the Eurotech Porsche maintained its advantage over the Embassy example.

The Embassy RSR moved into third place just a few laps later when Keen, having just taken the lead, had to pit - some grass in the Mosler’s many vents needing clearing if Eclipse was to stand any chance of not overheating the engine. Kinch re-took the lead as a result, and was six seconds ahead of Neil Cunningham.

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“I stayed out of trouble and kept it nice and consistent, but I think some of the others’ rubber must have dropped off.” Neil’s easy, early pace meant his tyres were still strong, allowing him to start posting faster and faster laps, which is exactly what he needed to do, bearing in mind that the recovering Chris Niarchos was now bearing down on him, nine seconds behind. “I knew that because we all had big fuel loads, Chris would be cooking his tyres trying to catch me and Jordan was cooking his trying to get away. I was just doing consistent low 67s and waiting for the car to come to me.”

The gap between Cunningham and Jordan started to fall, sure enough, and Neil had kept in touch with the leader too, being less than seven seconds behind the leading Ferrari as the driver change window opened.

Kinch was, as usual, one of the first to dive in for a handover, leaving Neil to gain on Jordan for the overall lead. “I was right up with him, half having a look into Camp whilst being careful in case he was going to pit. As he lifted to move across for the pits, I so nearly hit him and I’m glad I didn’t, because I would have fired him straight down the pitlane! Once I was in the lead I just pushed on and tried to make a big enough gap, then brought it in for Ben, and it was a fantastic pitstop.”

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Ben Collins took over in second place with just less than half the race to run. The flawless Embassy pitstop meant that Michael Caine, having taken over from Jordan, was no longer a threat, the only question remaining was would Ben Collins be able to hold off a charging Mullen? “The car was in good shape and I was setting pretty good times all the way through. In the end the Ferraris were just quicker, Tim caught me up and I did my best to keep him behind for about five laps, but he was about a second a lap quicker. I wouldn’t say it was inevitable that he would get through, but it was very difficult to hold him and I was balls-out trying to stay ahead. I was braking deep into every corner to stop him out-braking me, but eventually he managed to get me out of Quarry.”

Ben Collins made pretty sure that the bold face of the Embassy Porsche stayed large in Mullen’s mirrors for several laps thereafter though. “I was pushing really hard and taking a lot of risks trying to keep up with him through traffic and managed to hold the gap to about a second. Once he broke through the traffic, he was gone and put a second a lap on us, which is probably about right.”

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Ben pushed on regardless, unable to match the super-expensive Ferraris for outright pace, but still bringing the car home for a richly deserved podium celebration. “To still be so close to them at the end is pretty good, and for tomorrow we have qualified the closest to them yet, so it should be a good chance to fight for a podium in a straight race.”

Neil Cunningham was also happy with third. “It was a great race, it was a shame the TVRs pulled out, but I think we would have beaten them. I would like to think we can get another podium tomorrow, but we can’t beat the Ferraris unless they have a problem or it rains, but that ain’t gonna happen.”

Jonathan France was encouraged to see that “third is where the team seems to be now, which is pretty good seeing as there are some much more experienced Porsche guys out there and we have only had the car for six months. We really need to finish the second in this championship, that is the goal now.”
Paul Slinger

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