British GT Championship – Brands Hatch

Teams’ Title Secured, Drivers Half A Point Ahead

A much-reduced Lotus Sport Cadena team arrived at the Kent Circuit for the weekend’s proceedings, but there was still very much a job to be done. With Barrie and Paul Whight otherwise engaged with Barrie’s wedding in Suffolk (which Gavan Kershaw and much of the team were also attending), just one car, two drivers, and a handful of mechanics were on hand.

George Mackintosh and Sam Blogg were still leading the GT3 championship and were coming under increasing threat from Barwell Motorsport’s Leo Machitski. The Russian-born driver was so determined to get the title that he had raced a Tech 9 Porsche 997 at Rockingham, solely to get points when Barwell was unable to organise an Aston Martin for him at short notice.

At Brands Hatch he was back in his DBRS9; a car possibly better suited to the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit than the Lotus Exige. It was going to be tough for the Cadena pair.

A few days prior to the race, the entry list indicated that six cars were entered in GT3 and that consequently full points would be on offer. However, just a couple of days later the RPM Porsche 997 dropped out after it became apparent that the parts needed to repair the gearbox wouldn’t arrive in time. The half-points now available ensured that it would be almost impossible for Machitski to win the title at Brands; the only possible scenario for that to happen would be two wins for Machitski, coupled with no points for Cadena - and anyway a small entry for the final round that would mean half points again.

But Mackintosh and Blogg have finished in every race so far and collected points at every race, and there was no guarantee of the Aston having a trouble-free run. During Friday testing at Brands Hatch, Martin Stretton had a huge off at Westfield in the other Barwell Aston Martin, which caused extensive damage to the car. So much damage, in fact, that Barwell was forced to do a very rapid deal with Prodrive in order to be able to field two cars in the race. If Machitski’s car had a similar off on this very quick circuit, the consequences could be similarly destructive.

The same applied to the Lotus, of course, but George Mackintosh and Sam Blogg were enjoying themselves after testing and free practice; “It’s a fantastic circuit,” said the Scot. Despite living in London and having raced on the Indy circuit several times before, this was his first taste of the Grand Prix version. “It’s not an easy circuit, but it’s very rewarding when you get it right.” Sam Blogg on the other hand, was a relative veteran; “I did ten laps in a Noble in a Britcar race last year,” he reflected, “but then the engine blew up and that was that!”

The two qualifying sessions didn’t go as well as hoped, with tyre selection being the crucial factor. Sam Blogg’s session started dry but ended wet, while for George Mackintosh the reverse was true. The results were pretty much even, with the two drivers setting fastest times a second apart and with the car well down the grid on each occasion. But this was never going to be about flat-out dicing for the lead; this was about points and nothing else.

The important thing was that the car was going well – and the engine was well on its way to 4,000 racing kilometres – and Mackintosh paid tribute to the contribution of his co-driver. “It’s been great racing with Sam this year,” he began. “His natural ability is coming through all the time and the gap between us is growing, but he sensibly doesn’t stretch the car too much; he keeps it within its comfort zone.

“It’s been a big learning curve for us this year, but it’s been a fascinating experience and we get to drive at fantastic circuits like Pau and Brands Hatch.”

By the time the first race of the weekend started, the circuit was dry and the sun was threatening to break out. Sam Blogg would start, but he had to look a long way in front of him to spot any of the other GT3 runners. As it turned out, Blogg would be involved in several battles for track position, but against either GTC or GT2 opposition.

The first lap was a good one and the Lotus driver got passed the Skater Motorsport Marcos LM500 and David Dove Ferrari before he crossed the line again. Next on his list were the Beechdean Ferrari 360 and the Jaz Motorsport Porsche 996 and he was past them before ten laps had been completed. He now found himself having to fend off the JMH Ferrari 360 of Phil Burton, but had also caught up with the much more powerful Mosler MT900R of Kevin Riley.

The gap was down to just a second, but before he was able to challenge, the pit stop window opened and the cars either side of him dived in. Blogg stayed out for a further four laps before handing the Exige over to George Mackintosh.

The Lotus’ task had been made easier by the demise of the #88 Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin on lap 16, and with the other GT3s a long way further up the road, Mackintosh just drove a sensible pace to bring the car home. There were no other retirements in the class and so the car finished fourth in GT3 and 14th overall. As expected, Leo Machitski and Jonathan Cocker won the GT3 race, but could only close the gap to the Lotus duo by 2.5 points.

“That was a brilliant race,” enthused Blogg, “the best one I’ve had so far. I qualified near the back but overtook a few cars and the Lotus was consistent all the way through.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” added Mackintosh. “Just getting your brain around this circuit is a challenge, but it is absolute fun.”

The only issue of the race concerned brakes, but a system check during the ten minute warm-up session on Sunday morning was enough to put to rest any worries, and the drivers relaxed ahead of the second race. They were joined by a thoroughly off-duty Gavan Kershaw, who had come along to see how his fellow Cadena runners were getting on. The mood was improved even further by the realisation that the previous day’s results had been enough to clinch the GT3 Teams’ title for Lotus Sport Cadena.

The second race of the weekend was probably even more dramatic than the rain-affected Donington round had been, but with this one taking place on a lovely late-summer afternoon in front of a good crowd. Three safety cars punctuated the race, but they worked in the team’s favour and George Mackintosh had a start as good as Sam Blogg’s had been the previous afternoon.

Starting from 26th spot on the grid, the Lotus passed three cars on the first lap and the Scot began to reel in the Skater Marcos. The first safety car (which was required following a crash that saw the Ascari exit the race) bunched the field and Mackintosh pounced at the restart, taking the Marcos before setting off after the RSS Porsche. Just before the second safety car period, the Lotus made its fifth overtaking move in ten laps.

The pit window’s opening coincided with the safety car and Mackintosh was in without delay.

Blogg found that he was unable to resist the temptation to race and had taken two more GTC Porsches soon after the restart; and when the third safety car bunched up the field again, he could see the Trackspeed GT3 Porsche 997 of David Ashburn ahead of him. Knowing that there were points to be gained, Blogg bundled his way past on lap 23 and stayed ahead.

He backed off a little later in the race and allowed the leading GTC cars past as they battled each other, but came home in a comfortable and excellent second place.

“26th to 13th and then 13th to seventh; not bad is it?” smiled a delighted George Mackintosh. “It was a great race, just really good fun.”

This had been a hugely uplifting end to a very successful weekend for the car and team. The #20 pairing now head off to the final race at Silverstone with half a point lead over Machitski. Just one, two-hour, race remains in the 2007 championship and it is all to play for. There is likely to be a large GT3 entry for the final race, including the two missing Cadena Exiges, but if the Barwell car fails to finish, or finishes behind the #20 Lotus, the drivers’ championship heads towards Norfolk.

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