GT Championship – Mondello Park
yet entering the FIA GT3 championship, Lotus Sport Cadena now has
the distinction of being the most widely travelled GT3 team, the
trip to Ireland making it three countries in three meetings so far.
With homologation for the international series still some way off,
this would of course be a short lived distinction. But with each
race comes valuable data for the development of the Exiges.
After Pau, the
decision had been made to develop the #18 T-car further and so just
two cars made the trip from Hethel to Ireland - numbers 19 and 20.
But the team had also enlisted some extra help for the trip across
the Irish Sea, and it was a familiar face to the British GT scene;
“We wanted to get another viewpoint on the project,”
explained Barrie Whight. “It’s so easy to get sucked
into the nitty gritty at race weekends that you sometimes miss the
big picture. That’s where Graham comes in.”
An old friend
of Paul Whight’s, Graham Nash was bringing his huge wealth
of experience to Ireland on a consultancy basis, to oversee the
engineering side of the operation. Initially for this meeting only,
the arrangement may be extended further into the season if the team
deems it to be a useful exercise.
went well with the full three hours being utilised by both sets
of drivers. The conditions on Friday were warm, sunny and dry; but
Saturday was very different with a heavy drizzle being the main
item on the menu for the 75 minute free practice.
#19 – Gavan Kershaw/Barrie Whight
was a subdued affair for Barrie Whight and Gavan Kershaw, with the
car finishing up 13th of the 16 runners; their best time of 2:03.515
was some eight seconds off the fastest GT2 car and also 2.5 seconds
slower than the #20 Lotus. But there was no cause for concern, with
the time difference being simply down to tyre choice, the #19 running
on full wets.
In fact, there
had been an issue with the tyres, this being that Avon simply hadn’t
brought enough intermediates along for the meeting. The tyre supplier
would thus have to hand-cut some slicks in order to make up the
shortfall, but the team rejected the first ones supplied on the
grounds of poor quality.
of the drivers was concerned with the situation, reporting that
the car was running well throughout the 75 minutes.
started in earnest after lunch, with qualifying for the two races.
First up was Gavan Kershaw and his session was on the one hand remarkably
routine, with no heroics being necessary to obtain a decent start
position for Saturday’s race; but on the other hand it was
also hugely impressive. After the initial slow installation lap,
Kershaw found his pace right away and stayed there for the full
session. His first flier was a 1:58.992 (which in itself would have
qualified him sixth on the grid), but his consistency thereafter
was extraordinary. Of his six subsequent laps, the slowest was just
two tenths slower, and his fastest – 1:58.670 – was
just three tenths quicker; and good enough for fifth on the grid.
No other driver was as consistent, and Kershaw’s pace was
a good omen for the race.
Barrie Whight found himself in the driver’s seat and about
to qualify for Sunday’s race. The start of his session, however,
wasn’t as promising as Kershaw’s had been and he was
struggling to get below two minutes; “I just couldn’t
get any heat into the front tyres,” said Whight. “For
most of the session I couldn’t go any faster, but then I decided
that I had to hang it all out and just go for it.” Go for
it he did, and he finished his penultimate lap an astounding 4.5
seconds faster than his previous best; “And it would have
been quicker, except that I got it so sideways at one point that
I almost stopped,” he smiled.
banzai lap propelled him up the grid to sixth, just a couple of
tenths behind the Team Tiger Marcos. “The adjustable traction
control really came into its own out there,” revealed Whight.
Kershaw, meanwhile, felt that qualifying could have gone better;
“We still haven’t got the best set-up,” said the
With the track
having dried by the start of Saturday afternoon’s race the
intermediates would no longer be an issue, as the full grid would
be racing on slicks. Gavan Kershaw took up his grid position, behind
the two GT2 cars in the race and two of the Trackspeed Porsches;
but he was looking a lot further ahead.
As the lights
turned green, Gavan Kershaw gunned it and headed immediately for
the inside. In a stunning move, he beat all but one car to the first
corner and as the field exited the second turn, the #19 car was
second only to the LNT Panoz.
With the GT2
Panoz easily pulling away from the field, Kershaw found himself
in clear air. With no immediate challengers behind, he just concentrated
on finding his rhythm; and again his consistency was amazing. The
majority of his laps were in the 1:48s (only rising above 1:50 on
his in-lap), and with each one he increased the gap over the GTC
cars by a few tenths. He could do nothing about the Panoz, but this
time –and for the first time - the impressive Exige had the
measure of the GTC runners.
By the time
the pitstop window opened, his lead over the #3 Trackspeed Porsche
was 13 seconds; and on lap 15, Kershaw found himself leading the
race overall, following the Panoz’s stop. The Exige led for
two laps before it headed pitwards, Kershaw’s lead over the
Panoz being 28 seconds at the time.
It was now up
to Barrie Whight to bring the car home; but he had a problem. An
engine mount had failed and the engine was leaning on the gearbox,
causing the driver all sorts of problems; “The car was changing
gear on me coming out of corners,” recalled Whight.
He dropped the
pace to around the 1:54 mark and waited for the GTC cars to catch
up; but they didn’t, much to Whight’s amazement; “I
couldn’t believe that we stayed ahead of the others, given
the state we were in.” Mechanical maladies and grip issues
had slowed the pursuing cars to such an extent that the gap actually
increased over the course of Whight’s stint.
The #19 survived
to come home second overall, much to Gavan Kershaw’s delight;
“Getting up the inside at the start got me the race. It was
a case of getting through and hanging on tight – just like
in my old oval-racing days,” he smiled. “It’s
the first weekend we’ve been able to worry the GTC boys and
the direction we’re going in is good.”
The team added
an extra brace to the engine mount overnight to prevent a recurrence
of the failure, and warm-up on Sunday morning was an opportunity
to test the repair’s integrity. The test went well and the
car’s time (slowest of the cars taking part) was not an indication
on the grid for Sunday’s race meant that Barrie Whight would
be lined up on the outside and so not in a position to even think
of emulating Kershaw’s first lap heroics. In fact, the absence
of the withdrawn Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari meant that the Team Tiger
Marcos could move up into the gap, and Keith Ahlers was able to
follow through in the Morgan. Having lost a position on the road,
Whight got his thoughts together and set off in pursuit of the Morgan.
However, no sooner had he begun to reel in the Aero 8 than his efforts
became academic; the safety car was out.
had crashed at the first corner and were stuck in the gravel. The
field was thus forced to circulate slowly behind the safety car
while the lengthy recovery took place. While still under these conditions,
the pit window opened and Whight had no choice but to pit, along
with the majority of the field. Gavan Kershaw took over and resumed,
still in sixth.
When the green
flags were eventually waved again, with 26 minutes remaining, Kershaw
was the first to react; challenging the Morgan through Dunlop Corner
at the end of the lap and making the position stick when the cars
reached Honda at the other end of the pit straight. He carried his
momentum through the next couple of corners and attacked Chris Beighton’s
Marcos through Ireland.ie corner, deposing the orange car with a
classic move on the inside.
finished there and was poised to claim his third victim of the lap
at Devaney’s, approximately two thirds of the way round. This
time, however, he got it wrong; “I clipped the (#5 Trackspeed)
Porsche as I was overtaking and began to spin,” admitted Kershaw.
“Then I hit him again with the front of the car; but fortunately
that knocked me back in the right direction and I didn’t lose
much time.” A big smearing of yellow paint on the front of
the Exige was evidence of the second contact.
spin, Kershaw quickly recovered his pace and caught and passed Oliver
Bryant’s Morgan with 21 minutes to go. This time, the Lotus
driver made no mistake while going past Jonny Lang’s Porsche
and he was now fourth overall.
was no lapping more than a second a lap faster than the two GTC
cars ahead of him. On lap 23, he got by Chris Beighton for the second
time and then quickly reduced the gap to Ryan Hooker in the #3 Trackspeed
Porsche; taking the place on lap 26. By the time the race ended,
Kershaw’s gap over the next car had risen to six seconds.
So ended a very
satisfactory weekend for the #19 Lotus Sport Cadena Exige, with
the two victories meaning something more than winning a class of
two cars; this time they had beaten the GTC field in a fair fight
– and convincingly. Enjoy that champagne Gavan.
George Mackintosh / Sam Blogg
started well for the drivers of #20, with the fastest time in free
practice on Saturday being some 2.5 seconds faster than that of
the #19. What did they put it down to? “Tyres,” said
George Mackintosh; “The driver,” smiled Sam Blogg.
a good test yesterday,” said Mackintosh. “It’s
a very technical circuit that takes some getting to know, but the
car’s great and we have had no issues so far.”
The team had
not been idle since Pau and had managed to find time to make some
adjustments to the ‘base’ car, a slightly wider track
being fitted to the rear. But overall, the car was still some way
back on the development curve than the two other cars.
came round, things didn’t go so well for the #20 and Mackintosh
struggled to get going, following a mix up on tyre choice, and ended
up the slowest of the 16 car field. With there being just the two
cars in the GT3 class, this had no major implications; it would
certainly make the race more interesting.
With the tyres
sorted, Sam Blogg was able to set a more representative time on
the drying track, outqualifying Barrie Whight until the latter’s
mega lap near the end of the session. Blogg’s time of 1:58.216
would mean a fifth row start (ninth place) for the Exige.
Just under three
hours later, the first of the weekend’s two races began in
brighter conditions and on a fully dry surface. At the back of the
grid, George Mackintosh waited for the opportunity to make up for
lost time; and in a repeat of what was happening ahead with Gavan
Kershaw, Mackintosh took the opportunity with both hands. “That
was great fun,” reflected the Scot later. “I took two
or three cars at the first corner and then outbraked the JMH Ferrari
into Turn 7a.” On the next lap, the #8 Hawthorns Motorsport
Porsche fell victim to the charging Scot.
By this time,
the rest of the pack had moved on and Mackintosh found himself in
a pocket of clean air and the rest of his stint was relatively quiet.
He was able to happily maintain a pace of around 1:53 and was easily
able to resist the advances of a recovering Phil Burton, in the
white and blue JHM Ferrari. From a starting place of 16th, the #20
was in tenth at the handover.
for Sam Blogg, the JMH Ferrari had managed
to get by at the stop and was now being pedalled by the rapid Adam
Wilcox. Blogg almost immediately upped the pace and was into the
1:51s within a couple of laps of resuming. He kept Wilcox in his
sights, but soon found the grip beginning to disappear from his
tyres and had to back off. With a couple of the leading GTC cars
retiring from the race in the second half, the #20 was able to maintain
its place on the road and finished eighth overall. For the second
race in succession, both cars had made it home and Mackintosh and
Blogg maintained their 100% finishing record.
The most positive
aspect to Saturday’s race was that both drivers had driven
faster in the race than at any point of the weekend so far; and
the car was trouble free at the end.
Sam Blogg took
the car back out for the ten minute warm up on Sunday morning and
continued the good work, his fastest time of 1:50.941 being almost
a second faster than he had previously gone.
Mackintosh the previous day, Sam Blogg would have more than just
the cars ahead to worry about at the start of his race; and he made
a good start, getting past Wilcox’s Ferrari on the first lap.
Whight having lost a place at the start, we briefly had the sight
of the two Exiges running nose to tail as the second lap began.
But things were not going to be easy for the next few laps; “There
was a bit of fun and games at the start,” said Blogg, “but
I had to then sit and wait for the tyres to come up.” With
the required grip coming only slowly, Blogg was powerless to prevent
first Adam Wilcox, then Matt Harris’s Trackspeed Porsche and
finally Alex Mortimer in the #96 RPM Porsche from going by. Worse
was to come, however; “I was braking for Dunlop Corner, when
suddenly I was T-boned by a Porsche.” It wasn’t clear
if the assault had come from Gary Eastwood or Phil Glew, but the
result was a spin that demoted the car further. Two laps later,
Glew was one of the drivers whose exit brought out the safety car.
As with the
#19 car, Blogg pitted as soon as the pit window was open; it had
been a very frustrating race for the young driver. George Mackintosh
resumed, having lost another position, to the Beechdean Ferrari,
at the changeover; but his biggest battle was to be with the car’s
very uncooperative tyres and his pace was a long way off that achieved
on Saturday. With such a lack of grip, Phil Burton was able to get
by the Exige in the JMH car and Mackintosh could do nothing other
than follow the Ferrari home in ninth place.
to the #19 Exige, the weekend had ended on a bit of a low for the
#20, but it had again finished and the drivers still led the GT3
only be viewed as a success for Lotus Sport Cadena, and another
positive step on the road of the Exige’s development. The
next round will take place on home turf in Norfolk at Snetterton
in three weeks’ time and the team can be assured of lots of
local support. But this time they will not be alone in the class,
with the Ascari KZ1s of Damax joining in, and possibly the return
of the Aston Martins. Will this be a reality check for the team,
or could they again produce a surprise?