GT Championship – Pau
Less than a
fortnight after Donington Park, Lotus Sport Cadena’s three
Exiges were to be found in the temporary paddock of the extraordinary
street circuit of Pau, in the French Pyrenees. This time they found
themselves the sole GT3 cars and would have the company of eight
GTC cars from the British GT Championship, plus 20 from the FFSA
Super Serie. It was also evident on arrival, and from weather reports,
that rain would not be a factor this weekend. The goal was simple;
make progress. Here's the team to do just that.
#18 – Paul Whight / Chris Randall
is an awesome circuit,” began Paul Whight. “None of
us have ever driven a street circuit before and it is very different;
you find yourself watching the barriers rather than the track.”
The first chance
to drive the tight, twisty, but in places very fast, track came
on Friday evening, during the first of the two free practice sessions.
Understandably enough, that first session was about finding the
way round and getting to know the track, rather than going for quick
laps. The #18 car ran reliably and without problems, and both Paul
Whight and Chris Randall got some valuable and useful seat time.
This was just as well, because the next time either of the drivers
would sit in the car would be on Sunday.
As we will see
later, car #19 had hit problems early on in the session and completed
just one lap. With the 45 minutes of free practice on Saturday morning
being the only opportunity to practice before qualifying on Sunday,
and with the required components for the affected car still being
in England, the decision was taken to put Barrie Whight and Gavan
Kershaw into #18.
Again, the car
performed well and, aside from minor bodywork damage, emerged unscathed.
But both sets of drivers had only had half of the potential seat
time and would have to find the available pace during qualifying
and the race itself.
would have the honour of qualifying first and took full advantage
of the semi-clear track (the British cars qualifying separately
from the French cars).
time set by the car on Saturday was a 1:25.835. Given that this
had been achieved by Lotus-meister Gavan Kershaw, for Randall to
record a 1:26.310 on his second lap in a car and on a circuit that
he was still getting to know, was both impressive and encouraging.
very happy with that time as it was bang on what I was aiming for,”
said a relaxed Chris Randall after the session, “but there’s
so much more time to be found out there; probably a couple of seconds.
Paul and I have had so little time in the car here, we don’t
know the corners well enough to attack them and so aren’t
carrying enough speed through them. I know that there is a second
to be found just by getting the first hairpin right. But we’ve
run out of testing time, so now it will be a case of chipping away
at the corners to find the lap times.”
was very happy with the way the weekend was proceeding, despite
missing out on the second practice session. “The car has been
superb,” said the team owner. “Because of that, we’ve
had the chance to work on the set up, trying things out. The car
is getting smoother and is handling better all the time. We’ve
still got some issues with the track and tyre width, but the #19
car will be testing the changes out. This car will be trying out
new aerodynamic tweaks.
is the area of development that has the most potential. With the
car as it is, you get to 100/110 mph and hit a (metaphorical) wall.
We’ll be doing more work after Mondello in conjunction with
The Sunday race
would turn out to be a good one for this car. Starting on a still
very warm and sunny evening, and in front of a big crowd, it was
an interesting mix of cars that crossed the line at the beginning
of the 58 minutes.
had prepared himself well for the start of the race and, once the
pack was past the no-overtaking portion of the track on the first
lap, began to move forwards; “I had a great set-up and was
able to take three cars on the first lap,” said Randall. “We
had a bit of understeer which made it difficult to turn in to corners,
but we were going well. Then the oil came down and it was a case
of tip-toeing around until that was cleaned up.”
The oil spill
had brought out the safety car and it stayed out for four laps.
After that, Randall drove steadily and concentrated on staying in
contention. He pitted with 23 minutes of the race remaining and
Paul Whight took over.
race was to prove uneventful but fruitful; “I overtook two
cars, but basically drove at 90% for most of my stint in order to
bring the car home.” It may not have been spectacular, but
it was enough to take the GT3 win. In contrast to the other two
Exiges, the #18 car was in great shape and ready for Monday’s
qualifying session went very encouragingly for Lotus Sport Cadena,
with all three cars setting a best time within three-tenths of each
other. The fastest of these was the #18, Paul Whight recording a
Sadly, the car’s
excellent weekend would soon be over. Despite leading the trio of
Exiges around for the first couple of laps (and a very impressive
sight it was, too), the #18 failed to materialise at the end of
the sixth lap. Whight had hit the barriers and, despite only light
damage being visible to the left hand side of the car, the car could
#19 – Barrie Whight / Gavan Kershaw
the spectacular manner of the #19’s demise at Donington, the
car needed little more than a clean up after the race; “I
didn’t even know the car was on fire until the team told me,”
recalled Barrie Whight, “but it looked worse than it was.
I’m told that oil fires are the ones that do for the engine.
Fuel fires aren’t that bad in comparison.”
The start of
the Pau weekend mirrored the end of the previous meeting for the
#19, with the car quickly succumbing to problems. There was no inferno
this time, just a failed driveshaft. “It was a temporary fix
that didn’t work,” said Whight. “The replacements
will be arriving on Saturday afternoon.” Just one lap had
been completed and so the two drivers commandeered the #18 car for
the second free practice session.
was first out and was quickly getting to grips with the track. Barrie
Whight’s session was less productive, however; “I was
a bit too anxious to make up for lost time and had a small contact
with the barrier. Fortunately, there was only slight bodywork damage
and when I came back out I just took it easy, to get my confidence
levels back up.”
By the time
qualifying arrived on Sunday morning, the newly arrived driveshaft
had been installed and the car was feeling strong. Kershaw was on
duty that morning and fair bundled the car around the track. A 1:24.152
was testament to his efforts; fastest in GT3 and fifth of the British
runners. “It’s nice to get some seat time,” smiled
Gavan afterwards.” The driveshaft went in okay and the car
With just the
Exiges in the GT3 category at Pau, what was the goal for Gavan Kershaw
this weekend? “We just want to learn more about the car,”
he replied. “We’ve got a wish list for things that we
want to try out on this car; for instance, we’ve got different
dampers and wishbone geometry on this car. If it works, we’ll
roll it out to the other cars. However, we’ve got to segregate
the list into those things that are for the team and those that
are for the manufacturer.”
less positive about other aspects of making the trip to the south
of France. “Because we’re the only cars here, we’ll
only get half points. The really ridiculous thing, though, is that
we’ll get ballast if we finish and be penalised for racing
against ourselves! The logical thing to do would be to race for
most of the distance and then retire shortly before the end,”
he said with a rueful smile.
The only thing
Gavan Kershaw had on his mind later that day, however, was racing.
12th in the combined pack, he made an excellent start and was past
both of the RPM Porsches on the first lap (“Who said you can’t
pass round here?”) and was now trying to bridge the gap to
the Morgan ahead. However, the car’s progress would be dramatically
slowed just a handful of laps later.
A French Porsche
dropped oil the whole way round the circuit and the race authorities
were too slow to react for Gavan Kershaw; “It was ridiculous
that we had to stay out there at racing speed while the oil was
going down. I ran over it twice before they did anything about it,”
he fumed. The oil caught him out before the oil flags were even
shown and a spin cost him a lap. The safety car came out too late
for the #19.
his composure and got on with the job of recovery. However, with
just under half of the race remaining, the car snapped sideways
on the driver and hit the barrier; “We think an upright broke,
which then broke a wishbone,” said the driver. “There
was nothing I could do.” The car’s retirement meant
more work for the Lotus Sport Cadena mechanics, and no chance for
Barrie Whight to get more seat time.
repairs were once more carried out by the enthusiastic team and
a fit and healthy car took to the track at 08.30 on Monday morning.
If Barrie Whight was nervous at the start of his session, he didn’t
show it and, given that his experience of the track extended to
fewer than six laps, set a very good time of 1:26.196.
He made the
most of his session and it was a very much more relaxed driver who
sat on the grid awaiting the start of the second race in the late
With his two
sister cars directly ahead, Barrie Whight was not going to try any
ambitious early moves; but as they both hit early trouble, the #19
driver found himself alone amongst Porsches.
He was now enjoying
himself and having a great battle with Miles Hulford in the #4 Trackspeed
Porsche, a battle that lasted for the majority of his stint. Barrie
Whight defended well and only yielded track position on the lap
before he pitted, with 34 minutes of the race remaining. “I’m
very happy with that stint,” he said, “and I was so
glad to get some pace at last.
chaos on the first lap, but I survived that and was going well.
Then Sam (Blogg) had a moment with a Porsche and I saw the #18 in
the barriers – Lotuses were dropping like flies! I then found
some space and had a great fight with Miles.
me a while to realise that I was focused on him and not on the track
and was going slower than I needed to; it’s easy to do that
With Gavan Kershaw
now installed, we were at last treated to the sight of an Exige
making rapid progress – it was like 2004 (and the legendary
#88 Elise) all over again; “I got my head down and just passed
whatever was in front,” said Kershaw.
He was soon
scything through the field; hunting down Phil Burton’s JMH
Porsche and passing in a breathtakingly brave move amidst a pack
of five cars on the approach to the first corner.
The car didn’t
miss a beat and Kershaw brought the #19 home for an emphatic class
win and ninth overall (of 29 starters). In the end, it was just
29 seconds off the winning GTC Porsche.
isn’t what today was about,” said Gavan afterwards,
indication the winner’s trophy in his hands. “Today
was all about the fact that the car is beginning to show its potential.”
probably only explored 50% of the potential,” added Barrie
Whight. “For instance, we’ve learnt today that the traction
out of slow corners is unbelievable; much better than a Porsche’s
– that will be a major advantage at Mondello. We’re
only just getting to know the car.”
ended by paying tribute to his team mate’s efforts; ““When
you consider that Barrie had had virtually no seat time in the first
three days of the meeting, to then set a qualifying time as fast
as the others and then to race as well as he did today; that made
the weekend possible.”
#20 – George Mackintosh / Sam Blogg
The third of the Lotus Sport Cadena Exiges was the ‘base car’;
i.e. it would be running in factory-fresh spec, with none of the
tweaks being tested on the other cars. It would receive these as
the season progressed as and when the improvements were signed off.
But this lack
of development in no way detracted from the buzz that George Mackintosh
was getting from driving at Pau; “It’s an extraordinary
circuit,“ he enthused, “and such a privilege to be able
to drive here.”
certainly wasn’t an easy circuit, but the London-based entrepreneur
was enjoying the challenge, despite a less than satisfactory start
to proceedings; “I was psyching myself up for the start of
Friday’s session and was very nervous. Then the (Trackspeed)
Porsche put the oil down and they red-flagged it on the first lap!
I could have done without that. But it’s a very bumpy and
tight circuit, very different to where we usually race; at places,
we are literally two metres from someone’s front door!”
His team mate
in the car, Sam Blogg (who was celebrating his 21st birthday later
in the week), was taking things in his stride; “The car’s
relatively new and the track is new, but we’re getting quicker
every time we get in the car. We got 20 minutes in each free practice
session, but there’s not much we can do about the car’s
pretty much maxed out,” added Mackintosh, “but there
is so much potential in the car’s aerodynamics; that is where
the improvements will come from.”
By the end of
the first qualifying session, Mackintosh was feeling a little more
grounded; “That was an uneventful session for me,” he
began. “I improved my time from yesterday but could have done
with an extra ten laps.” His 1:29.599 would mean a start from
the back row of the grid.
of this start position was that he would be able to see any first
lap dramas coming and react accordingly, but it was when the oil
was dropped early in the race that things started to get uncomfortable;
“I was two cars back from the offending Porsche and could
see the oil coming down and splashing around,” said Mackintosh,
who also confirmed Gavan Kershaw’s assertion that the cars
did a second lap at racing speed on the dropped oil.
As the safety
car was being deployed, George Mackintosh found himself suddenly
lapped by the much more rapid (Pirelli-shod FFSA) Vipers, with the
result that he was the filling in a Dodge sandwich as the SC peeled
off. “It was bumper cars at the restart, with me being bumped,”
said an aggrieved George. “They had no patience and were trying
to barge me out of the way instead of going round; on more than
one corner I was ‘assisted’ round.”
And things got
worse for the #20; “Then I lost radio-contact with the pits;
when you have it, you come to rely on it.”
these dramas, George Mackintosh completed his stint and handed the
battered car over to Sam Blogg. But things weren’t going to
get any easier for the youngster.
A great opening
part to his stint was soon ended by the onset of gearbox trouble.
“An engine mount failed and the engine was resting on the
gearbox,” explained George Mackintosh afterwards. “It
meant Sam couldn’t select a gear properly.” After a
late stop to get this checked out, Blogg resumed to try and get
to the end; achieving that aim, but with smoke pouring from the
back of the car. This didn’t signify anything serious, however,
and the drivers could celebrate a hard-won second in class.
The next morning,
Sam Blogg qualified the newly repaired Exige in between the two
sister cars with a 1:26.141 on new Avon rubber. “The car felt
good,” said Blogg. “We only stopped to check the tyre
pressures, but apart from a minor (and quickly sorted) misfire,
we had no problems.”
The car started
in 20th position for the second race, but it was destined to be
no easier for the two drivers. Just a handful of laps in, a Porsche
on the road ahead of Blogg had a moment and contact couldn’t
be avoided. The stop to repair the bodywork (with masses of gaffer
tape) lost them two laps and effectively put them out of contention
It was now just
a case of bringing the car home and George Mackintosh did just that
after taking over from Sam Blogg with 26 minutes remaining. The
car’s second podium of the weekend (18th overall) and the
points that came with it meant that Blogg and Mackintosh now headed
the GT3 driver standings. It also meant that they had a 100% finishing
record from the first three races.
had been made at Pau by Lotus Sport Cadena, and much had been learnt
about the car. With so little time until the next meeting in Mondello
Park in Ireland, there will not be the opportunity to do much to
the cars in the intervening period and so they will be racing in
pretty much the same spec.
But the Exige’s
potential is really starting to show now and Mondello could very
well be just the place to further illustrate it.