Looking Back To British GTs In 1999

It was the return of the John Greasley / Blue Coral Porsche 911 GT1 (in the Walter Hayes Trophy meeting at Silverstone – November 5-6) that sparked the thought to look back to a previous era of the British GT Championship – the 1999 season, the last year of the GT1s.

They were GT1s then of course, not the current versions called GT1s. This piece will simply focus on the clutch of GT1 cars that raced that season – a classic season of domestic racing.

The race report of the first round of the ’99 season, at Silverstone (on the now defunct sportscarworld), began like this.

Apart from Le Mans, there's nowhere else in the world now that boasts six absolutely top-line GT1 cars - and there are more to come (Sintura/Harrier). Trying to pick the favourite from this group is no easy task. Porsches outnumber the British cars, but the 911 GT1s have had to remove their ABS brakes. They should still have a traction advantage, but the V12s may have it on top speed - not so relevant on the International Circuit.

Those six were (in qualifying order at Silverstone):
James Munroe / Chris Goodwin McLaren F1 GTR 1:15.189
Julian Bailey / JC-W Lister Storm GTL 1:15.303
Steve O’Rourke / Tim Sugden McLaren F1 GTR 1:15.315
Magnus Wallinder / Geoff Lister Porsche 911 GT1 1:15.625
David Saunders / Stephane Ortelli 1:15.888
Thorkild Thyrring / John Greasley 1:17.481.

The brain plays tricks over time, doesn’t it? I’d forgotten that John Greasley was driving the yellow, Pennzoil 911 GT1 in 1999, initially with Thorkild Thyrring. Lister and Wallinder raced the Blue Coral car, and it was these two who were going after the title.

That 1999 text continued as follows: John Greasley is quietly confident that his two Porsches have what it takes. "The very nature of our extremely experienced team right now means we’re very confident of a good result, starting the season as we mean to continue. Plenty of work to do of course, but we’re ready."

Not everyone was quite as ready as the team behind the G Force Porsches though. James Munroe would soon have an appointment with Her Majesty’s Prison Service, while David Saunders never did find the money to run his 911 GT1.

Round 1 was a classic. The late Steve O’Rourke remarked that his partner put in "his best drive ever in my car - apart from Le Mans (in 1998 – when Tim Sugden and Bill Auberlen drove the bulk of the 24 Hours to take fourth place)."

JC-W started his first race in a Lister GT1 – and he was up against Chris Goodwin and Magnus Wallinder. The current Creation man started fairly cautiously, and it was the orange McLaren and the Blue Coral 911 that dominated the early going (they were 50 minute races then – which meant no refuelling needed, and anyway the cars were so expensive to run, 50 minutes was enough for most wallets).

Steve O’Rourke was always off the pace of the front runners, but he did enough to give Tim Sugden a chance in Round 1. The Yorkshireman drove like the wind, and he picked off Julian Bailey in the Lister, as both caught Geoff Lister in the Blue Coral Porsche. Sugden had 12 seconds to make up with five minutes left – and he caught and passed the Porsche for the lead, at Bridge, of all places, on what might have been the last lap. But there were six seconds left to the 50 minutes, so one more lap, and the Porsche held off the Lister Storm by 0.142 seconds for second – the three of them crossing the line 2.5 seconds apart.

Now we’re not going to look at each race in that much detail, but rather will give a flavour of how the season developed.

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May Bank Holiday at Oulton Park saw Chris Goodwin racing alone (James Munroe was absent for some reason), and it was a blistering finish again, JC-W holding off Wallinder in the Blue Coral Porsche by half a second, with the ‘Munroe’, EMKA (above - the guy with the pony tail is Adam Deborre, 2005 GruppeM race engineer) and Pennzoil cars third, fourth and fifth. First Lister win for JC-W.

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Snetterton had the blue Porsche on fire in qualifying – “wiring loom, turbos, the rear floor, shock absorbers, rear bodywork,” were all damaged, said John Morrison – and a start from the back of the grid produced third place, the Lister winning again, while the EMKA McLaren suffered a rare engine failure.

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GT2 was won by the Lister Storm (in 2005 it’s called a GT1), Rob Schirle and David Warnock at the wheel, on its debut in the Privilege Championship. Warnock would race to considerable Lister success over the coming years. The Munroe / Goodwin F1 GTR was second.

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Brands Hatch GP circuit produced a third straight Lister win, this another comfortable one over the Porsche – and the Lister pair was steaming ahead in the championship points.

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Next up was the British Grand Prix meeting, with 34 cars on the grid – and the Sintura had arrived, after barely getting going at Brands. It was still in need of some testing, but came home third in front of the GP crowd, behind the victorious (first win of the season) Blue Coral Porsche (which always seemed to shine at the GP meeting). Magnus Wallinder certainly did.

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The Lister drivers led the championship by ten points at this stage. John Greasley and Steve O’Rourke had clashed early on in their supercars, the former believing that the latter had left the door open for him: he hadn’t. Greasley was sharing his car with John Morrison from here to the end of the season, with the departure of Thorkild Thyrring.

Donington in August produced some very un-summerlike weather – for a double-header meeting. It was a novelty then, but has become very familiar since. Wallinder, the Swede, suggested that this event would be “a critical weekend for the championship,” and he was spot on. The Munroe McLaren had vanished from the entry list, the Daily Express having caught up with James Munroe’s activities (to the amusement of the paddock crowd), but Mike Quaife’s 4WD car added to the GT1 numbers, as did Jamie (father of Piers) Masarati, in a Porsche.

Richard Dean – working with Team LNT these days (2005-6) – put the Sintura on pole for the first race, Magnus Wallinder the Blue Coral Porsche on pole for the Sunday event. Immediately after the Saturday race, the Blue Coral / Slick 50 team submitted a protest regarding the Lister Storm GTL’s bodywork, so the result of Race 1 would be provisional for now.

It had looked like a probable first win for the Sintura, Kurt Luby taking the lead and easing out a gap – but then Julian Bailey closed in, especially as the Richard Austin-owned car was in slight brake bothers. It had a new car niggle at its pit stop, the door not closing properly, Richard Dean having to bring it to a sudden halt jus up the pit lane – whereupon he stalled it, and any chance of the win was lost. JC-W and Wallinder repeated their Oulton Park scrap, the Lister winning again, the Porsche half-spinning as they lapped a mighty GT2 battle (also won by the Lister – which was really on a roll in this class too).

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And then the Storm GTL (and Storm GT2) did it again on Sunday. The Sintura handicapped itself on intermediates, when wets would have been better, but late on Richard Dean was really hustling it along – until he lost it down from the Craners, and launched the car backwards into the tyres at the Old Hairpin. It survived remarkably intact, ‘Deanie’ holding his hand up to his first car-breaking incident since he raced in Japanese F3 in 1994. The Lister had a better wet weather set-up than the Porsche, but the fastest man on the track, as on Saturday, was Tim Sugden – who even unlapped himself from the leading pair.

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Silverstone again for the next one – and the last round, in October – and a monster crowd turned up, most of them in Minis. Cue a Laurence Pearce story about how he used to drive around Kingston in his youth, in a Mini – sitting in the passenger seat. His Storm GTL had a clutch problem in the race, finishing fourth, the win, the first and only one, ever, going to the Sintura. The Wallinder / Lister Porsche had a stone jammed in a rear caliper and finished a close second. This was going to go all the way….. and there was a protest from the other camp, regarding the front suspension of the Blue Coral Porsche.

The points position was very provisional for now.

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Croft saw a 'home win' for the Lister, Julian Bailey having also raced in the FIA Championship at Donington Park, on the same day. The Blue Coral Porsche was second, the EMKA McLaren third, Tim Sugden putting in his umpteenth stunning drive of the year, as he recovered ground that the McLaren’s owner had lost.

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Spa was a thriller on a drying track, the Sintura first across the line, the Lister right behind, but the Judd-powered car eventually received a 10 second penalty for passing under yellows – so it was Lister first and Blue Coral third. The outcomes of the protests at previous races were expected to be resolved in time for the last race… at Silverstone.

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And they were – none of the protests were upheld, and the Lister's wins and consistency ensured that the title went to Laurence Pearce’s team. The last race ended up a G Force 1-2, John Morrison and Sean Walker sharing the yellow Pennzoil car, in second place.

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Looking back, it was a year packed full with fantastic racing – plus acrimony, fires (the blue 911 GT1 had another fire at Spa, again not on race day), huge expense on the part of the entrants (perhaps Porsche owners particularly), big crowds at times, big grids sometimes… but the writing was on the wall. It would be GT2s headlining the series in 2000, and so began another period in British GT history.

Last word to one of the 1999 Privilege Insurance British GT1 Champions, JC-W: "My first Championship win."

Rather spookily, the sportscarworld report of the final 1999 Privilege GT race followed his comment with this: It probably won't be the last. He's eyeing the FIA next.

And he and Julian Bailey duly won that championship of course, in 2000 - in the GT2 Lister.

Meanwhile, it will be a real pleasure to see John Greasley and that Blue Coral 911 GT1 at the Walter Hayes meeting on November 5-6.

 

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