GT Championship – Snetterton
A full strength Lotus Sport Cadena
made the ‘long trek’ from Hethel to Snetterton ready
to make battle with the Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS9s and,
for the first time, the Ascari KZ1s of Damax. As well as the third
Exige, the team brought along a healthy lead in GT3 to be defended
and, rather less welcome, an awful lot of extra weight.
team’s support for the series (and being the only entrants
in the class for the last two meetings), the organisers deemed a
concession to be unnecessary and applied the full handicapping criteria.
Thus, both #19 and #20 would be carrying an extra 60kg, while one
of the much heavier Barwell cars would carry 30kg; the second Aston
and the Ascaris would have no extra weight at all. It didn’t
take a genius to work out who had got the raw end of the deal here,
but at least the field of seven GT3 cars would mean that full points
would be up for grabs, rather than the half points awarded at the
French and Irish races. Sam Blogg and George Mackintosh arrived
in Norfolk with a seven point championship lead over Barrie Whight
and Gavan Kershaw, with Chris Randall and Paul Whight a further
five points behind.
With the three
cars being at different stages of development, Gavan Kershaw (smiling
as ever, above) decided that it was time to be Mr Motivator. In
testing on Friday, he drove all three cars around the track and
got them all in to the 1:12s; thus demonstrating that, while nobody
knows a Lotus like Kershaw, there was no major advantage enjoyed
by any one car over the others. This gesture enthused the team and
drivers and everyone went to work with a spring in their step. The
Lotus Roadshow added to the sense of occasion at the team's local
#18 – Paul Whight/Chris Randall
The plan originally was for this car to be the third new chassis
by this stage in the season, but with so much development happening
on the #19 car (whereby any successful enhancements would be transferred
to the other cars) the decision had been made to postpone the switch.
As had been shown by Gavan Kershaw earlier, the old ‘test
hack’ still had plenty of speed in it and the 90 minute free
practice in the Saturday morning sun went well. Apart from one thing;
“All three cars have had noise issues,” explained Paul
Whight. “It’s not the volume, but the high pitch of
the exhaust note that’s the problem with us.” With the
‘noise police’ insistent on changes being made, silencers
had to be modified or replaced; “Our car has ended up with
a length of pipe sticking out of the back of the exhaust –
if the Porsches get as friendly as they normally do, they’re
going to be finding holes in their exhausts!” laughed Whight.
With Snetterton being a power circuit, and very
different from Pau and Mondello, there was no great expectation
of running at the front of the field. However, Chris Randall was
very positive about one particular aspect of the car’s performance;
“The brakes are fantastic,” he declared. “What
we lose in the straights, we make right back up on the brakes!”
Free practice saw the car running comfortably in
the 1:14s and able to dip into the 1:13s, despite running on old
rubber on narrower rears than the Kershaw car; nine inch rears compared
to the #19’s new ten inch wheels. “I’ve done a
1:13 dead on old rubber. If I can get into the 12s in qualifying
I’ll be happy; if not, I’ll have a very long face,”
said Chris Randall.
The younger of the two Group C drivers qualified
first, and he achieved his aim on only his second lap. Three rapid
laps delivered first a 1:12.855, then a 1:12.639, before finally
a 1:12.559. This was good enough for tenth overall and fifth in
class and Randall was very happy with his pace.
Paul Whight managed to set his fastest time (1:15.543)
on his first lap in the second session. However, on his second lap
he pitted to have some set-up changes made and, with there being
only 15 minutes available in which to qualify, found that he was
unable to improve in the time left once he resumed.
But the car was in good shape and would need nothing
more than tinkering before the afternoon’s race, which would
begin ten minutes ahead of schedule at twenty past four, in glorious
The weather may have been glorious, but, alas, the
#18’s race was not. Chris Randall had barely found his feet
when a gearbox mount gave way (in previous races a weak spot on
the Exige had been the engine mounts, but these had been reinforced)
on lap three. With most of the race ahead, Randall had no choice
but to back off the pace and switch to a survival strategy.
His pace in the circumstances was impressive. Having
got used to the problem, he managed to get the car moving again
mid-stint and at one point reached the 1:14s; but he was losing
ground all the while. He kept it going to the pitstop window and
Paul Whight took over.
The car pitted on lap 27, but it was clear that
the problem was getting worse all the time. Lap 29 was a 1:19, followed
by a 1:23. Whight tried to go faster and brought the time down to
1:18, but that was more than the car could take and it coasted to
a halt across the line.
It was to be
a busy night for the Lotus Sport Cadena mechanics, one that saw
the engine and gearbox replaced. Such was the scale of the job that
repairs were only just completed in time for the second race, early
on Sunday afternoon.
The one opportunity
to test the repairs (warm-up) had come and gone a long time previously.
But at least the car was in the race.
With the race
start being shortly after lunch, the sun was at its hottest and
it was very warm indeed in the car. Paul Whight was starting a long
way down the grid after the qualifying issues, but it seemed to
be going okay. The car was able to circulate in the 1:15s consistently,
but didn’t seem able to go any quicker; and so it proved.
A clutch problem was preventing the driver from changing down more
than one gear at a time and this cost the car time on every corner.
on lap 24 and handed over to Chris Randall. Although able to go
a bit faster (getting into the 1:14s), the same problem was hampering
progress, much to Randall’s frustration. But worse was to
follow as a CV joint failed soon afterwards and the car was out
for the second time. On both occasions, the #18’s race had
lasted 32 laps.
“It’s been a turbulent weekend,”
mused Chris Randall afterwards, “but despite all the mechanical
problems, we’ve shown the car is capable of being quick on
a power circuit. We were monstering the Porsches!”
#19 – Barrie Whight/Gavan Kershaw
After the great leap forward that had been Mondello Park in June,
the drivers of #19 were looking forward to a good tussle with their
GT3 foes; GTC had been beaten in Ireland, so it was now a case of
racing against their peers in the new category.
Things rarely stand still in the world of Lotus
Sport Cadena and the car was sporting a number of enhancements that
had been applied in the workshops in the three weeks since the last
race. As well as the ten inch width rears, the car had a new diffuser,
new barge boards and various other tweaks; the pace of development
on the car is unrelenting.
mechanically sound and both Gav and I are happy that what’s
been done to the car is working,” said Barrie Whight after
free practice; a session that had seen the car set the eighth fastest
time overall with a 1:11.638. “We’re not off the pace
as much as we’d feared.”
not happy that we’ve got GTC cars overtaking us on the straights,”
added Gavan Kershaw, “but nobody’s going through the
corners faster than us. I’ll be looking for P3 in qualifying;
if we do that, we’ll have done all we can do. The one thing
we know for sure is that the car is consistent over a race distance.”
Before qualifying began, Kershaw was delighted to
note during the driver briefing that Barwell Motorsport was treating
Lotus Sport Cadena very much as a direct competitor. The Exige may
not yet be homologated for FIA GT3, but the Aston Martin team has
clearly been keeping an eye on its rival’s progress over the
past few weeks.
did little to allay Barwell’s fears as Kershaw put his rubber
where his mouth is and planted the Exige on the fourth row of the
grid; third in GT3 with 1:11.763. He may have been a second off
the #66 Aston Martin’s pace, but that car was carrying no
ballast and no GT3 equivalency formula yet exists in BGT; in other
words, this was not a race of equals.
up was Barrie Whight for qualifying for Sunday’s race. With
the two Ascaris having their faster drivers in the seat, it was
no surprise that they took the two top places in class. But things
were close for third spot.
On a busy track, Whight was struggling to find the
space for a clear run and a fast time. On two occasions he backed
right off in his quest for the space, but it just wasn’t there.
His fastest lap came two-thirds through the session at 1:13.721.
Paul Drayson, meanwhile had made the most of his first lap and recorded
a 1:13.699. This was to remain his best lap and so Whight missed
out on third by four hundredths of a second.
Gavan Kershaw’s start at Mondello Park had
been fantastic, with a cheeky blast up the inside at the first corner
leaving him second overall; what could he do here?
His goal of
moving up through the field was made considerably easier by first
Chris Niarchos starting from the pitlane in the GT2 Ferrari and
also by the kill-switch tripping on Phil Keen’s Eclipse Mosler.
Stuart Turvey made a poor start in the #45 Ascari and Kershaw now
just had Jonathan Cocker’s #66 DBRS9 ahead of him. Rather
as the laws of physics state that a bumble bee shouldn’t be
able to fly, so the laws of racing say that an Exige shouldn’t
be able to monster an Aston Martin on a power circuit. But it took
Kershaw until only the third lap to do just that and local hero
was through into the class lead; “I’ll bet they weren’t
expecting that!” said the Lotus man.
Despite his power advantage, Cocker could not regain
the place; but help was to come from a third party. A spin had dropped
David Dove’s Ferrari a long way back and the leaders were
soon lapping the red car. Unfortunately for Kershaw, as he tried
to do the same, the cars touched and the Exige spun back down the
field. Although recovering quickly, Gavan had lost a lot of ground
and was now behind both Ascaris. Worse still, the second Aston was
right on his tail and lapping quicker.
This four way battle continued up to the pitstops.
The Aston swept by the other three cars, but Kershaw was able to
take the #90 Ascari and close on to the tail of the #45. Before
he could make a move, however, both Ascaris pitted for their driver
changes. Unfortunately for the Lotus, both cars rejoined the track
just in front and he would now have to race the KZ1s’ faster
Kershaw closed as the Ascaris came up to speed,
but he couldn’t get through. For several laps, the Exige was
right behind his two rivals into Russell Bend and on lap 24 he made
his move; ”…….and then I was in an Ascari sandwich,
and there was a bit of rubbin’,” was how Kershaw described
the moment, one that saw his car come off worst. A spin across the
grass was the immediate result of the contact, but the car was out,
the gears refusing to work for the driver.
As with the #18 sister car, an engine and gearbox
swap would be required. Unlike the other car, the #19 was able to
take part in warm-up, but the sight of Dave Kershaw kneeling at
the back of the car after the session looking at the gearbox and
shaking his head did not auger well. “The gearbox isn’t
right, but there’s no time to change it,” explained
Gavan Kershaw. “We can race, but it’s a question of
how long it will last.”
ideal circumstances for Barrie Whight to start the race in, but
at least he would get a race, unlike on Saturday.
start was as assertive as Kershaw’s had been and he wasn’t
hanging around for three laps before getting the Aston, doing the
deed on the first lap. The Chelmsford driver then spent the next
dozen laps with a big angry green machine in his mirrors, but he
wasn’t fazed and was able to keep the Aston at bay.
But it wasn’t
just the DBRS9 that Whight was fighting; “The tyres lasted
for 15 minutes and then I had understeer into Sear Corner followed
by massive oversteer out of Coram,” explained Whight. “I’m
not a drifting champion like Gav, but I was coming through Coram
sideways; I was on the limit every time just trying to get round.”
Unfortunately for Whight, he went over the limit on lap 13 and spun.
Only ten seconds were lost, but the Aston was now ahead.
Whight carried on and handed the car over to Gavan
Kershaw without further problems. The Ascaris were well out of range
by this point, but it was still conceivable that the #66 could be
caught once more and a Kershaw charge is virtually guaranteed. But
not today, alas; “A supercharger pipe came loose, otherwise
I would have been after him,” reflected Kershaw afterwards.
The car was into the 1:12s before the problem and its fastest lap
came on lap 29; but with the problem costing him several seconds
per lap, all the Norfolk driver could do was bring the car home
to fourth place.
After such a weekend, it would be reasonable to
find two disappointed drivers; but not a bit of it. “Okay,
it’s been a little bit frustrating, but it’s easy to
see the positives,” began Barrie Whight. “We have moved
forward,” agreed Gavan Kershaw.
“It’s been great to see all the local
support here,” continued Whight. “We’ve had 250
Lotus employees come to cheer us along and the interest from the
factory has been tremendous. There’s been a real big-meeting
atmosphere about it today.”
Sam Blogg/ George Mackintosh
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” is George
Mackintosh’s summing up of the #20 Exige. The car with the
least amount of development of the three finds itself leading the
way in the GT3 championship after an unbroken run of points finishes.
“The strategy so far has been to finish and Sam and I are
coming round to the idea that perhaps we should just carry on as
we’re going, rather than look for more and more speed with
new mods. It seems to be working so far!”
Free practice on Saturday morning saw 39 trouble
free laps completed by the two drivers, with both able to dip into
the 1:14s quite comfortably; the fastest time of the morning being
the qualifying session that afternoon, Sam Blogg was able to beat
that time by two tenths; his 1:13.992 being just three tenths off
the #66 Aston Martin and 15th fastest overall. “That was a
good qualifying session,” said the youngest of the Lotus drivers
(right). “We’re beginning to get nearer to the pace
of the #19 car.
Earlier, George Mackintosh had enjoyed a trouble
free qualifying, staking out his claim to an 11th row slot for Saturday’s
race with a 1:15.615.
The London-based Scot’s race was a curious
one. Whereas normally there would be much to-ing and fro-ing mid-pack,
here he found himself embroiled with just one car for the full extent
of his stint, this being the #16 Motorbase Porsche. Initially falling
behind, Mackintosh rallied and retook the spot midway through his
stint. Thereafter he kept ahead and pressed on towards the pitstop.
When Sam Blogg
took over, he too found himself with nobody to fight with. This
didn’t appear to bother him, however, as he got his head down
and buried the throttle. He upped the race pace to the 1:15s and
just had a blast; “I really enjoyed it; really good,”
he said later. “I had no issues with the car and the tyres
were consistent through to the end; the Avons were working well.
I just stayed on the pace.”
For the first time this season, the pair found themselves
without silverware at the end of the race, but they had finished
(unlike the two other Exiges) – 12th overall and fifth in
class - and picked up more valuable points. They had also managed
to shed 20kg of ballast for the second race.
While the numbers
18 and 19 cars were being rebuilt on Sunday, there was absolutely
nothing to be done on the #20 car and the two drivers busied themselves
by cleaning the car and entertaining visitors.
By the time
the Sunday race started, the heat was intense; what was it like
in the car? “Not too bad,” said Blogg, “there’s
some ducting in the car.”
(left) had another way of dealing with the heat; “You’ve
got so much adrenalin pumping at the start that you forget about
the heat. It’s only later in the race when you begin to notice
Even with the heatwave, Sam Blogg found his tyres
to be on the cool side at the start of the race; “I struggled
to get heat into the tyres at the beginning. But when they came
in I began to catch up again.” As was the case with Mackintosh
in the first race, Blogg found himself embroiled in a private battle
with a GTC car; this time it was the #70 Ferrari of Calum Lockie.
The gap ebbed and flowed until Blogg made a move stick on the 14th
Once past the Ferrari, the Exige stayed ahead until
the pitstop, even with a touch of understeer. George Mackintosh
took over, but found that he was having to contend with the car’s
only gremlin of the weekend; “We had an electronic problem
on the gear shift that was costing a second/second and a half on
each lap; the kind of thing that sometimes develops at the changeover.
So it was back to heel ‘n toe.”
With his pace
curtailed, it was a case of bringing it home; although he did depose
the David Dove Ferrari (this time driven by the team owner) once
more. The car’s 100% finishing record had been maintained.
The points haul from the weekend was enough for
the pair to maintain a seven point lead at the top of the championship,
but they now had Aston Martin driver Leo Machitski closest to them.
With Barwell’s future commitments unclear, things were still
looking good for the Lotus drivers.
It had been
a mixed weekend for Lotus Sport Cadena, but crucially the project
had once again proved itself to have moved forward. The last word
goes to Gavan Kershaw.
”We need to do some tyre work and things like
that; but the main thing is that GT3 doesn’t seem like such
a big challenge now. British GT3 is beatable, and we’re confident
that we’d be midfield if we were running in the last race
of the FIA series.”
Rockingham is next; a circuit seemingly made for
the Lotus Exige.