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Embassy Racing – British GT – Silverstone - August 15 - Part 1
Embassy Move Closer to the Top of the Charts

Two solid performances from Embassy Racing saw the team re-asserting itself among the frontrunners, highlights of the weekend being a best ever qualifying performance of third on the grid, two storming drives from Neil Cunningham (one in the wet on slicks) and the sight of the blue Corvette leading the race, even if it was down to the leader pitting earlier in sequence.

Embassy was also raising its profile by giving away 1000 radios to promote Embassy Race Radio - broadcasting the race commentary for the whole weekend on 1602MW. No circuit public address system is a match for the mighty roars and screams the British GT cars emit, so the free radio idea was a huge success. In fact even drivers from other teams seemed to be keen on joining the Embassy Supporters Club, surely they were not just after a free radio…?

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Transistor action aside, the team was still fully focused on the racing, perhaps more than ever seeing as they had the swelled ranks of their supporters club to entertain now. Free practice on Friday had gone well for Embassy, the Corvette responding well to the tumbling times and clinging tenaciously to the top six throughout. Team boss Jonathan France was encouraged: “Paula drove really well, she was top of the [pop?] charts for quite a while and she was about half a second quicker than Neil.”

Embassy ended the session sixth after an hour and a half of quickening pace throughout the field, with Paula’s 1:56.365 set midway through the session.

The format of the race weekend was an odd one at Silverstone. The very welcome presence of the Le Mans Endurance Series race at the same meeting meant qualifying on Saturday, race one on Sunday morning and race two later on in the late afternoon / early evening.

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It was clear from the practice pace that a podium should be the aim and Neil Cunningham drove home the point with a 1:57.388 in qualifying. The time was a second slower than in practice but then so were most. Neil had ensured Embassy would start from its best position ever - eclipsing the fourth on the grid from the last round at Oulton Park. “Fourth at Oulton, third here, by Brands we should be on pole,” laughed Jonathan France: he probably meant it though...

“The car was great, I only got a few laps because of a red flag in the middle but at least we are starting from where we should be. I was a bit cautious through the fast stuff, that’s my excuse. I love the technical bits, I should have gone a bit quicker but realistically even if I had we would still be third, but the cars ahead are real big chequebook cars aren’t they?” suggested Neil Cunningham, rhetorically.

Race 1
Neil’s efforts on Saturday led to a few bets being traded in the media centre as to whether he would lead by the end of the first lap on Sunday - he was certainly going to push hard. Keen eyes focussed on the pack as it blasted out of Woodcote, this start was hardly ‘rolling’, it was ‘explosive’! The lead trio of Kinch, Jordan and Cunningham made an early breakaway from the pack. “Mike Jordan and I didn’t get the heat in our tyres very quickly - at some points we were both sideways together, looking in at each other! It was great fun but a bit out of control.” Cold tyres aside, Jordan and Cunningham were still going strong in pursuit of Kinch into lap six, then the white and blue Porsche faltered from second place, having lost a cylinder - and the blue and white Corvette moved up a place.

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After twenty minutes Neil was still battling away in second place “trying not to let that bloody Ferrari get too far away. It was in a different league and Kinch is a class act so I was pleased to stay where I did.” That translated to just seven seconds, with a gap of over 15 seconds to the Eclipse TVR, falling back in third. This was an excellent performance from Cunningham and Corvette alike

Lap thirteen and Kinch pitted to allow the more experienced and quicker Kirkaldy to take over the Ferrari, so there was a slim prospect of an Embassy victory … only possible if the 360 GTC ran into problems. Second certainly looked possible if both Embassy drivers could keep pushing on. Neil continued and led the race for four laps, lapping at just under the two minute mark, but with a decent cushion he didn’t have too much pressure. Or so it seemed... Jonathan Cocker had a very subdued stint after early gear selection problems had dumped him almost backwards at the start. He was well over half a minute down on Embassy when he pitted as early as the rules allow, to let Tim Sugden work his magic - which is just what he did. By the time Neil pitted Sugden was 1:27 down but as ever was really on it, passing Paula on her out lap and disappearing into the distance.

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“I can’t understand what happened because our pitstop was cock-on and we had 30 seconds over third place and with Scuderia’s extra time penalty in the pits we should have come out in the lead. Somehow Paula lost 30 seconds somewhere on the out-lap, which is incredibly slow. We should have been sitting pretty in second by the end of the race, so it is a bit of a mystery,” were the ruminations of Jonathan France.

With forty minutes gone, Paula had also succumbed to Greensall in the TVR on Hangar Straight and now had Mullen pushing hard behind - it was like Oulton Park all over again. Mullen perhaps remembered the four or so laps he had taken to find a way past the wide Corvette there, but this time it was over very quickly - but saw contact between the two and the Corvette nudged into a spin. “My mirrors were pointing at the sky and I hadn’t seen him on the outside at Stowe and we touched.”

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After losing eight seconds in the spin, the two minute barrier seemed very real to Paula and she rarely dipped beneath it, but having said that Neil’s pace had slumped from 57s through 58s and into the 59s before he pitted. There was a little pressure to stay ahead of the gradually gaining Mosler in the dying stages but in the end the Corvette crossed the line in fifth place.
Paul Slinger

Race 2 Report

 

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