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Embassy Racing – British GT – Mondello Park – April 8

The race weekend in Ireland was preceded by a familiarisation session on Friday to help the teams get up to speed. Unfortunately for Embassy the amount of useful track time they were able to enjoy was cut short by an oil leak and subsequently a burst water hose on their Corvette’s mighty V8.

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So Embassy found themselves on the back foot somewhat – only really starting to learn on Saturday, where other teams had found good set-ups already. The drivers needed some setting up too – Paula Cook has never raced at Mondello Park before and Neil Cunningham last raced here “about twenty years ago, but it was a different circuit back then.”

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Saturday morning practice was a struggle to gain traction “we aren’t going for times because we aren’t at the optimum” explained team boss Jonathon France. “We know where we are losing out and its purely under traction – we’ve had to go backwards a bit on our set-up but it is starting to come together, Neil was one of only a few drivers who went quicker at the end.”

He would have to go quicker still in qualifying though if Embassy were to be at the sharp end of the grid. Keen as ever, he went straight to the top of the times with his first flying lap, which was already as good as his best in practice. He eked the time down by just under half a second as the session went on but his 1:46.520 was only good enough for sixth – “we still need to do some work” summed up Cunningham. “I was catching the Niarchos Ferrari, and to be fair to him he was driving very well. Where I was quickest he was slowing me down, but through the faster corners its just washing off and the Ferrari was pulling away again. It’s the right direction though, much more consistent and it doesn’t feel like a bad car.”

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Paula took over for qualifying session two and she was up against most of the quicker halves of each pairing. She managed a 1:46.984 but this time it was only good enough for ninth. “If only I’d had a clear lap… the car feels much better over the bumps but we’ve gone too soft now – it has lost the sharpness in turn-in.” “It’s a competitive field out there now” was France’s accurate realisation.

So the best chance for Embassy looked to be Saturday evening’s race. Paula looked very relaxed sprawled on the grass and basking in the unexpected Irish sun by the grid as Neil focussed on the job ahead – a focus he kept up through the rolling start and down into the first tight right-hander. The Corvette is always strong at the start and Neil exploited it to the full - taking a late turn-in, wide outside line, staying quick, out of trouble and making up two places in the process.

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The lead four soon started pulling a gap out on the rest of the field so a safety car was both good news and bad – Embassy were closer to the front, but Neil’s work was undone as the rest of the pack were back on his tail. He made the most of the re-start though, attacking the Scuderia Ecosse Ferraris and as the cars started to pit for driver changes he held third place on the track, but led for a few laps outright as the two lead cars came in before him.

On handing over to Paula there was a confusing safety-car/non safety-car period when it was on and off the track with lights on and off and yellows and green flags waving at different posts on the same lap. It was difficult to work out who this affected most but Paula was fourth by the time everything had shuffled around.

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The car was not as she wanted it though. Tim Mullen’s Ferrari was not hanging around and pulled ahead with apparent ease and with three-quarters of an hour gone Cook could not make the Corvette wide enough to fend off a battling Kirkaldy and Greensall combination.

Disappointing then to feel that Embassy were “bringing the car home” in sixth but the harsh reality of racing is it does take time to get up to speed and this is only their third race – ever. With a lot more data and feedback from the drivers, everyone is hoping for more speed and a better finish tomorrow.
Paul Slinger

 

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