GT Championship – Rockingham
The Lotus Sport
Cadena squad debuted its third brand new Lotus Exige GT3 car at
Rockingham Motor Speedway near Corby over the weekend, and celebrated
with a 100% finishing record.
The new #18
car finally replaces the Lotus factory development car campaigned
so far this season by Paul Whight and Chris Randall. Whight would
be joined at Rockingham by GT debutant Russell Treasure, another
graduate from the Mid-Engined Sportscar Championship, following
in the steps of George Mackintosh and Sam Blogg.
The new for 2006 GT3 class initially enjoyed a five car entry with
a pair of Porsche 997s joining the trio of Exiges, but a broken
gearbox for the #15 RPM 997 would leave the Exiges battling against
the crack Tech 9 squad with, rather unusually, the driver pairing
of Leo Machitski and Jonathan Cocker, more usually seen aboard a
Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin. This pair was on a mission to take
points in the GT3 class, the 2006 title still very much up for grabs.
For the Lotus boys it was the usual story of pace vs development:
the battle to bring a brand new race car up to speed adds immeasurably
to the challenge of finishing races quickly and reliably.
the previous evening - “We got the car at 10:30 last night”
- the Friday morning session was interrupted by the almost inevitable
new car niggles but once the team had dealt with those the car proved
to have excellent pace in the afternoon session. Gavan Kershaw tried
the car for size and immediately got down to some highly impressive
lap times, before climbing back aboard his regular #19 mount and
all but matching his times in #18 - as Paul Whight and GT debutant
Russell Treasure found their feet with the new car.
go quicker still in #19, until his session was rudely interrupted
by the dry sump plug coming loose, stranding the Exige by the roadside
and forcing a red flag with half an hour of the afternoon’s
90 minute session remaining.
The #20 car
meanwhile was having an (almost) drama free day, a minor coming
together with a Ferrari in the afternoon session the only interruption
of a lengthy test and practice session for Sam Blogg and George
The unique (for
the UK) banked turn one was proving to be something of a telling
factor for many teams – who could take it flat and who couldn’t
being something of a test of driver mettle and, crucially, the capabilities
of the cars.
The Exiges were
“fully flat” through the banking, according to Barrie
Whight, once again underlining the traditional benefits of a light
and nimble car against the heavier and often more powerful opposition.
Graham Nash concurred: “The car’s at its best through
the fast corners, such as Turn 1 here and Coram at Snetterton.”
The new #18 Exige was in early trouble with its new bodywork causing
problems, fouling the rear tyres on both sides of the car, but Paul
Whight still managed to post a competitive time before the session
going far better for Gavan Kershaw in the #19 car, 1:24.690 good
enough for third fastest overall behind only the two leading GT2
There was good
news, and good form too, for Sam Blogg. He was encouragingly close
to Lotusmeister Kershaw’s time with a 1:26.024, second in
GT3, sixth overall and, critically, ahead of Leo Machitski’s
session would see Barrie Whight making an excellent start, a 1:25.081
good enough to better Porsche man Jonathan Cocker’s early
efforts. The 2004 British GT Champion though would grab back the
advantage late in the session, but his time was still slower than
Kershaw’s class pole time for the first race.
– Race 1
Gavan Kershaw was looking very racy at the start of Race 1 on Saturday
afternoon: he had a grandstand view of some argy bargy between the
two leading GT2 runners, but that clash barred his way ahead, and
instead he was left to chase down Phil Keen in the #3 Trackspeed
Porsche who had passed both the Lotus and the GT2 Panoz before the
past the Porsche by the end of Lap 1 (the Panoz having already re-passed
Keen) with a deft duck up the inside through the squiggly complex
before the pit straight.
pace soon saw the GTC class car fall well behind with a substantial
advantage in hand over the Sam Blogg pedalled #20 Lotus, the youngster
fending off Machitski’s Porsche 997 in a spirited battle.
But at the
end of lap 7, all of Kershaw’s hard work came undone, together
with the silencer on the #19 car’s exhaust. The black and
orange flag was shown and an enforced early stop saw the GT3 lead
swap from #19 to #20, Kershaw rejoining almost exactly a lap later,
now fourth and last in class - Sam Blogg now heading GT3.
his hold on the class lead after Machitski had a quick spin, damaging
his Avons in the process: Sam though had his own moment just a lap
or so later and by the end of lap 13 the pair were right together
By now the
brand new #18 car, Paul Whight at the wheel, was closing in on the
Porsche and was setting some impressive lap times in doing so.
It was all about
to change again though. Sam Blogg’s car had developed a minor
misfire and that was all that Machitski needed to get the Porsche
by the battling little Exige, Paul Whight going second just a lap
The pit stop
window now loomed and the Porsche was the first of the four GT3
runners to make a routine stop, after 17 laps. Paul Whight then
led the class, so all three Exiges had therefore done so in the
first half of the race! Sam Blogg followed in second with the recovering
#19 car still in the hands of Gavan Kershaw half a minute or so
behind in third, and fairly storming along.
laps later and all four GT3s had completed their routine stops.
Slight delays for the #18 and #20 cars meant that the task of chasing
down the Porsche now fell to Barrie Whight in the delayed #19 car.
Sam Blogg: “It’s
good to be in the sharp end of the race now the car is beginning
to really find some form. I got a good start but five or six laps
in developed a misfire, but still stayed pretty much in the hunt.”
(exiting the car, left): “The car felt strong but the grip
after the early laps was non existent. Tarzan (Hairpin) was impossible
I just could not get the power down. I had great fun out there though.
I drafted the (JMH) Ferrari for three laps and finally got past.
My first ever NASCAR style overtake!”
in the #34 Porsche looked to have the class won though. There was
a glimmer of hope for Cadena when the Porsche overshot turn two
(a legacy of the flatspotted rubber) – but the young Yorkshireman
ensured that he gained no advantage (and took no disadvantage either)
lapping the full oval and waiting to rejoin in the same position
he had left the race.
Any hopes that
Barrie Whight had of catching the Porsche were to evaporate with
a second failure of the same bolt securing the silencer on #19,
another enforced pit stop and more frustration. “We’ll
push the boat out and pop rivet it for the next race,” said
a rueful Gavan Kershaw.
So the #19 car
had led the class, dropped to fourth, popped back up into second
spot and, with a late puncture to add to their woes, would eventually
come home fourth, after a dramatic 60 minutes.
Whight it had proved to be “really frustrating, the car was
quick but the two stops really cost us a class win. Aside from that
I got a puncture right at the end. The rear diffuser took a bang,
possibly off a kerb, and part of it bent upwards and slashed the
tyre. I knew I was in trouble as early as turn two on my last lap
and struggled back. I lost third in class as a result and thought
I’d follow the example of a Tech 9 car a little while back
at Oulton, that is come around to the start finish straight and
cross the line when the chequered flag was shown. I drove off the
circuit onto the grass but the team was screaming at me to go back
on, I did, about two metres before the line, just as they flagged
for the end of the race.”
meanwhile was powering home in the still misfiring #20. He would
be “pleased we brought it home and very pleased that we’re
still leading the championship. There was a lot of bumping out there,
way too much contact.” It had indeed been a somewhat physical
race, and one incident in particular involved the GT3 Championship
leading car (and the GTC race leader).
seemingly down at the tight right hairpin behind the pits, Mackintosh
took his usual approach and braking point just as the GTC class
leading RPM Porsche was looking for a way past. The Lotus pilot
takes up the story: “I was ahead of the Porsche and more or
less took my regular braking line into the hairpin. His front right
hand corner hit my front left hand wheel. He got ahead as a result
but the Porsche started pouring out fluid immediately. He spun on
his own fluid a couple of corners later and I nearly got collected
though very much the lighter car, was all but undamaged and finished
the race third in class after recovering from a half spin, a legacy
of the impact with the Porsche.
the second spot in GT3 was taken by Paul Whight and GT racing debutant
Russell Treasure (below): “Unbelievable, I only got my International
Licence this week and to finish on the podium in my first race at
this level is just fabulous. The car was great and the team are
just a magnificent lot.”
summed it up for the team: “I’m delighted we brought
all three cars home for the first time and to get two on the podium
is excellent.” Here are Sam Blogg and George Mackintosh.
A major step
forward then for the Lotus Sport Cadena squad and there was still
Sunday’s race to come.
- Race 2
After an action packed GT3 race to open the weekend, Sunday’s
60 minute event would be a rather quieter affair, but it would mark
another important milestone in the effort to develop the Lotus Exige
The #18 and #20 Lotuses started well back for this one and whilst
they ran quickly and close together for much of the race, they weren’t
to play a part in the outcome of the race overall.
would start in the #19 Exige and he would be matched against Jonathan
Cocker in the Tech 9 997. This pair was never more than three seconds
apart, running in third and fourth overall. Both would lap very
quickly indeed, Cocker setting the best GT3 lap of the day, a 1:25.505
on lap 3, but Barrie Whight was almost as fast (a 1:25.7 on lap
4, almost matching Kershaw’s Saturday pace).
Whight and Kershaw were absolutely thrilled with the pace of their
Exige against the new Porsche: “Don’t forget that car
has been a podium sitter in the European championship.”
later that his charge had been blunted by fluid loss from the Exige
ahead, but that was roundly denied by the team. Barrie Whight: “There’s
no way the car was losing fluid to the extent that Jonny claimed,
we had no problems at all. Of course we’re delighted with
the win. That was a good example of exactly where the car is in
performance terms – that’s where we’re at.”
after 18 laps, and with Kershaw straight into the low 1:26s, he
was catching the Porsche even before Leo Machitski got into it.
A relatively slow out lap and then laps in 1:30 by Machitski sealed
a comfortable GT3 win for the #19 Lotus. Fluid leak or not, the
#19 Lotus absolutely dominated the second half of the GT3 race,
and even had the Safety Car allowed the Porsche to catch up, the
result wouldn’t have been in doubt.
meant a third class win of the season so far for the #19 squad:
they will however miss the next double-header at Brands Hatch –
Barrie Whight (right) having an altogether more important event
to attend. The future Mrs Whight awaits!
“That was a great stint from Baz. The car was perfect when
I got in it and in truth that was a reasonably straightforward run.
The car is really beginning to show the results of all the hard
work so far this season now and it has been very hard work from
the whole team. The interest in the car is phenomenal. We have had
a huge number of people in the garage this weekend taking a look
at the car, taking a look at GT racing. It is looking very good
for the future.”
eventually took over from Russell Treasure in the #18 Lotus (after
the starting driver had been waved through on his first attempt
to pit – at the same time as George Mackintosh), and chased
home Sam Blogg’s #20, these two finishing 11th and 12th overall.
So a 100% finishing
record and no major reliability issues at all for the three Exige
S GT3 cars, all three driver squads visiting the podium during the
weekend and the class battle leading #20 squad of Mackintosh and
Blogg making it there twice.
very hard indeed to race cars as you develop them,” said a
tired but delighted Gavan Kershaw. “But we’ve seen this
weekend that the cars are now quick and reliable. I’m very
chuffed indeed to have beaten the Porsche, that is a truly significant
result with the aim in sight of seeing Lotus compete in Europe once