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Embassy Racing – British GT – Oulton Park – July 17

Quashed Promise
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Embassy had high hopes resting on its weekend’s racing at Cheshire’s fabulous Oulton Park. Calling it the team’s ‘local circuit’ would be stretching the imagination somewhat, but it is the closest venue on the calendar for them this year. Jonathan France was keen to put on a show for his sponsors, but was also giving something to the fans – a free programme. “I wanted to do something for them, I think they should be able to know what is going on for the weekend without having to pay extra for it – they have already paid once to come in through the gates.”

A good idea and a great opportunity to raise the profile of the team, but of course it is results that will really grab attention and Embassy desperately needed a good finish after a recent run of ill fortune.

The weekend began with an early start on Saturday: free practice at 0830 hours meant Paula Cook didn’t even have time for one of her energetic runs before getting in the car. At 0845 Paula eventually emerged onto the wet track with just over three-quarters of the session remaining. “We were just waiting to see if the weather would decide what it was going to do. The track was still wet and with everyone doing 1:50s but the track drying there didn’t seem much point going out too soon.”

She put a few cautious laps in but it was apparent all was not well with the set-up. “The car is too stiff, there is no feedback coming through. I’m not surprised really as our last test at Croft was to make sure the new engine was running right and we didn’t have time for set-up work - it was even too stiff for Croft so we didn’t expect it to work well here like this.”

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Cue another pause in Embassy’s track action as the car was softened to allow Neil Cunningham to “go out and do something useful.” He re-emerged in the last fifteen minutes to do one quick lap, with his 1:50.329 putting him fifth fastest at the time, before the engine threw a belt. The session was effectively cut short anyway, with a heavy downpour five minutes before the end, but Neil was encouraged: “Not bad for one lap was it? I’d have got a 49 on my next one but lost a lot of time in traffic, so I think we are realistically only a second off the quickest pace the others were doing in the same conditions.”

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The engine seemed strong, which was a huge relief to the team. “We may even have some more power,” pondered Paula Cook, again referring to the Croft test, “even though the set-up was all wrong and we were concentrating on the engine there, we went a second faster than we have been before and I think it was mostly down to the engine.”

First qualifying was wet again and thoughts of even high 49s became a pipe-dream. The Corvettes set the early pace in the session, Neil Cunningham briefly holding pole before a red-flag incident involving the Ultima put pressure on the timetable and reduced both of the already short 15 minute sessions to a positively stunted 10 minutes apiece. Neil would have only two fliers left at the re-start and a 1:55.527 put him third. Delays in traffic meant he was unable to capitalise on the drying conditions for his final effort, being pipped back to fourth by Peter Le Bas in the Xero Competition Corvette. “Both Corvettes were going pretty well and could have gone a bit better. I was a bit too far behind when we went back out again and got held up by more traffic than the other guys, the spray they were throwing up slowed me too. The ABS and rear-weight advantage of the Porsche has told in this session, but we are up there where we should be.”

Just a few minutes later Paula was installed and a frantic ten minutes from the outset meant a maximum of five quick laps, which was nowhere near enough. “I had a bad session, I wasn’t happy with a single lap I did. It was a bit unsteady at the rear whilst braking and exiting the corners, so it leaves us a bit of set-up work to do. It would be easy to blame only having ten minutes, but it was the same for everyone else.” Paula slapped her own wrists as she looked at the timesheets, which revealed that her 1:58.844 was only good enough for eleventh overall, eighth in class. She would make amends on Sunday though, with an exceptional start…

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But Saturday’s race would have the worst possible start. Neil Cunningham “made a good start and saw the cars in front get together and start to spin. I got caught up in it but most of the trouble had finished and I was ok when a car came in from nowhere and went straight into a bunch of us. I think it was the Jones’ Porsche, but whatever it was it wrecked the rear suspension. I think me and Jordan could have got it on today – in a sporting way of course – and we should have been up there.”

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Cunningham tried to regain the track but the rear wheels were at angles that Chevrolet never intended them to be and it was a desperately bitter way to end the day, but game over nonetheless.

A resigned Jonathan France could only shrug his shoulders and say “it’s not meant to be our day, well it’s not meant to be our year really…”

Sunday at least would show that the road to recovery is not too far away. Commitment does pay off – whether it be making sure there is a race programme, backing the Lola F3 effort, supporting Embassy Race Radio… or ‘just’ running a GT race team.
Paul Slinger

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