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Embassy Racing – British GT – Donington Park – April 3
Finding Feet

Embassy found themselves firmly on their feet on their maiden championship outing - with bags of pace right from the start.

The field this year is a strong one, and competition will be tough between the top teams. The first goal for Embassy was to establish themselves as a top team from day one. The ideal way to do this would have been to walk away from round one with a good finish, to let them open the championship points account.

The ideal result wasn’t achieved on day one, but a hell of a lot was - and it all looks very good for day two.

Owing to a pre-race testing ban, the organisers now allow a solid 90 minute practice session on Saturday morning, for drivers to get familiar with the car and track. Neil Cunningham was first up - as calm as you like for someone who was about to take to the track in a brand new car, which had only done limited testing at Pembrey, well away from the competition. When he brought the car in to hand over to Paula his 1:11.636 was good enough for eighth fastest time “I should be at least a second quicker on a clear lap.” Paula working her magic to bring the time down to 1:11.250 - seventh in class. Excellent work, and first of the non-Porsche and Ferrari contenders, so ahead of the Moslers, TVRs and one of the Ferraris too. Team boss Jonathan France was “extremely encouraged, the four corners of the car are all working well, as is the gearbox and engine.”

dailysportscar.comLater in the afternoon it was another new experience for the team - its first truly competitive session. The new qualifying format means that the tactic will be to run one driver for the first fifteen minute session, and change drivers in the five minute stint before the second fifteen minutes qualifying begins. Embassy followed logic and put Neil Cunningham out first, thereby confirming he would start the race later in the day. A 1:12.568, just two seconds off the front row pace, was good enough for sixth on the grid. Still, Cunningham was disappointed to “have lost a couple of laps in the pits, we needed those to be right up at the top with the fastest guys. We only made a few changes from this morning but it feels dramatically different, it’s not responding as well in the bumps”.

Second qualifying (for the race on Sunday) was Paula’s job, but she faced a greasy, damp track on slick tyres. After a quick spin, the rain came down harder and it was apparent wets were the way to go. But then as the first cars came in the rain stopped completely, the seemingly inevitable first-round gale force winds dried the track out quickly - staying on slicks was the way forward. Paula was sitting fifth but the track was still drying and the times were tumbling. She worked the car down to a 1:13.727, seventh on the grid before the final lap as the chequered flag came out. Unfortunately “I hit traffic on the last lap just as I was going quicker.” Indeed, she needed to have made that lap count as most of the top ten set their fastest laps on their final tour - dropping Embassy to tenth for Sunday’s race. “I’m still pleased, I know it would have been better if we’d had a clear lap but it was never dry and we weren’t far off the 11.2 from this morning in the dry, so it shows we’ve improved the car. It was tricky out there, we have a fuel pick-up problem so when you release the throttle it cuts out completely then bangs back in when you put it back on. When it was greasy, it was making the back step out even going in a straight line!”

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Just a few hours later and the engine was running again, the V8 rumble shaking all around them, including the two brave northern lasses that Embassy had employed to… attract attention to their new racing outfit. Jonathan France was about to face one of the most difficult calls a team boss can - on his very first race. Spots of rain and a dull grey sky - would it stop, carry on or get worse? ‘It’s going to p--- down’ was the verdict “as long as it rains all the way through we’ll be alright.”

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Wets were certainly the right choice at the start and Neil Cunningham made sure everyone noticed the presence and potential of this new team - an awesome start and plenty of nerve into Redgate and down through the Craner Curves gave Embassy second place by the time the cars went through the Old Hairpin! A fantastic start from Neil Cunningham. But the Jones twins’ Porsche initially dropped back but then started reeling Neil in, and after four laps it (on intermediate tyres) was through.

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It hadn’t rained since the start and “a dry line started appearing after only five laps. There were so many cars out there that the dry line seemed to come through much quicker than I would have expected.” Sure enough, the intermediate-shod front runners were able to set faster times, as Neil’s became slower. The Balfe Mosler and VLR Porsche were next to challenge on their intermediates and found a way past in the corners - “I didn’t even know they were behind me” - leaving Neil nothing to do but press on as best he could, whilst praying for more rain.

It was still an excellent stint and if he’d had intermediates on, there was no reason to suspect Neil wouldn’t have been pitting from a podium position, rather than fifth. The pitstop itself didn’t go quite to plan, but for a new team these are the sort of problems to expect - the pressure on the mechanics enhanced by the chance of a great finish first time out. As it was, a stuck wheel and a mechanic getting caught in the airlines aren’t the worst that can happen, but it was enough to give Paula a tough job to do to bring Embassy back up the leaderboard, from to ninth in class.

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Now at least Embassy were wearing the right tyres, so Paula could put in some good laptimes in the mid 12s. It was a very difficult first race for her though - squally showers and strong winds drying the track off – but she coped very well though when deciding where and when to push. The car was giving her feedback as to how much grip she had, but not as much feedback as it will do when fully sorted. “I was just starting to feel quick, like I could start picking them off, but then two of the leading Porsches came through and one of them tagged the right rear as I was going down the Craners. I slid down the side of the track but then I just couldn’t get any grip, spinning and sliding on the wet grass.”

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It cost another minute to get back on track, leaving Paula scrapping with a few Cup class cars to the chequered flag fifteen minutes later. 14th overall and tenth in class is hardly representative of where the car could have been, but this is motor racing and the motor racing gods will rarely let a new team have everything their own way - so it was still smiles all round in parc ferme.

Team boss Jonathan France: “I feel much better, much more relaxed now, I was nervous in the race, but the car has come back in one piece and I’m still very encouraged”. Neil Cunningham took it one stage further - “We haven’t scratched the surface yet”. With a comment like that after a fine performance today, Neil has given us a strong indication of just how quick this car is going to be.
Paul Slinger

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