Britcar, Donington Park, 15/5/04

The GTS Motorsport team had a race of mixed fortunes on Saturday, as the BMW M3 of Harry Handkammer and David Leslie took the win through canny strategy and strong driving, but the similar, but lower-powered car of David Smith and Calum Lockie suffered an untypical and spectacular retirement.

Few series outside of British GT can boast an entry of 34 cars these days, and the flexibility of the Britcar regulations, plus value-for-money track time, is attracting cars and drivers from not only struggling club series, but major national championships too.

Pole position went to the Damax N-GT Ferrari 360 of team boss Robin Ward and the vastly experienced Nick Adams, their time of 1:13.220 being just over a tenth of a second faster than the big DTM Mercedes of Andy and Julian Rouse. The Supertouring Nissan Primera of Martyn Simms and Andy Clarkin was next up, a refugee from the sadly-struggling Formula Saloons championship, followed by the Handkammer / Leslie BMW.

Fifth on the grid was the brilliant orange Team Tigers Marcos Mantis of Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore, moonlighting from the British GT Cup class, just in front of the similar, silver, Topcats example, regular driver Martin Parsons returning from his Pembrey sabbatical, and joined by Rupert Bullock.

The “droop snoot” Porsche 911 RS of Jon Clonis was seventh, the Ford electronic specialist being joined this weekend by star driver Piers Masarati. Then there was the stunning, Falken-liveried Nissan Skyline of returnee Nigel Mustill and Andy Middlehurst, followed by an impressive performance by “landlord” Mark Smith and David Cuff in their BMW M3, and Warren Gilbert and David Upton in the Topcats TVR Tuscan challenge machine. “We’ve done no testing, and we’ve got a basic set-up,” explained Gilbert. “It’s scaring me, Craners is touch and go every lap, and at the moment, the car is driving me, but by the end of the race…………”

Peter Seldon and Eugene O’Brien lined up 12th, and it was unlucky 13th for Calum Lockie, a trip to the McLeans gravel ruining his session. “The ABS tripped-out and I went straight on. After we were recovered, I couldn’t get a clear lap,” commented the disappointed Scot.

In the smaller classes, controversial BTCC independent Anthony Reid secured the class 3 pole in the works, Judd-engined MG ZR he was sharing with Fiona Leggate, in front of Sean and Michael McInerney’s Honda Integra R, and the Volvo S60 of Don Norchi and Piers Johnson, the British GT man having a spare weekend away from his Eclipse duties in the TVR.

In class 3, series returnee Andy Dunlop bagged pole in his MG ZR160, closely followed by team mates John And Mark Hammersley, then the ageing, but obviously quick, Honda CRX of Andre Severs and Philip House.

So, as the cars formed up on the grid, one significant player was missing from its front-row slot. The Rouse Mercedes was stuck in the paddock, it’s gear linkage broken, and would not be racing.

Handkammer made the best of the gap left by the absent Mercedes as the field was released by the pace car, side-by-side with Ward’s Ferrari as they negotiated Redgate for the first time. Finnemore’s Mantis was right with them, though, and took the lead down through Hollywood. As they crossed the line to end the first lap, the orange Marcos had already pulled out a gap over a four-car pack comprising Ward, Handkammer, Masarati in the Porsche and Middlehurst’s Skyline. Sadly, the promising Nissan Primera of Simms crawled into the pits with clutch problems. Repairs were effected, but their race would last only a further twenty laps.

The first clash came at the start of the third lap, when Piers Johnson’s Volvo came into contact with the BMW of Nigel Stephens, as the pair disputed tarmac at Redgate. Both pitted for cosmetic repairs, and were on their way again, though now out of contention.

The leading quintet began lapping the Fiestas and Clios as early as lap four, and the experienced Masarati used the traffic to his advantage, taking Handkammer for third, then Ward for second, on consecutive laps, though by now Finnemore was over eight seconds up the road.

Meanwhile, it was feast and famine for the Topcats team, as a poor-starting Bullock recovered seventh place from O’Briens’s BMW, and David Upton spun the Tuscan at the chicane. Ward’s Ferrari then began to sound distinctly flat, and he dropped to fourth, around the same time as Andy Allen, struggling in tenth place, pitted for investigation into a mystery rear-end vibration. He would continue, with novice Paul Goody taking over later in the race, to finish in 22nd place, 10 laps down.

With just 18 laps on the board, Ward brought the Ferrari in for an early driver change and refuelling stop. Masarati was now gradually reeling in Finnemore’s Marcos, and was aided by the safety car being deployed on lap 24, with the race a half-hour old.

Alistair Davidson had beached the SuperMini, now resplendent in Cadburys Boost livery, into the gravel at McLeans, and Gary James’ MG pace car held the field for four laps, until the dusty Mini toured back to the pits for a check-over. Only a few of the significant contenders elected to take a pit stop at this juncture, including Handkammer, though both Allen (long stop) and Adam’s Ferrari (quick in-and-out) came in for a second time. David Smith, languishing in 14th position, brought the second GTS Motorsport M3 in for Calum Lockie to take over.

The safety car crocodile had allowed Masarati to be within sniffing distance of Finnemore as the pack was let loose, and the considerable nose of the big Porsche was locked into the flavour of the Mantis exhaust fumes all around the lap, though the Marcos did then gradually pull away. Middlehurst’s Skyline, and Bullock in the Mantis, both non-stoppers so far, held third and fourth.

Leslie, having relieved Handkammer, was assertively moving through both the back-markers and those ahead of him on the road, and as Finnemore brought the Marcos in at 45 minutes (above), passed the Skyline for second, behind Masarati. Those amongst us with analytical minds were determining already, that, should the status quo remain, a maiden win for number 39 BMW was on the cards. Parsons now took the Topcats Marcos over from Bullock, but Masarati ploughed on relentlessly in the now smoky Porsche.

dailysportscar.comWith the race 45 laps old, Upton pitted for team boss Warren Gilbert to take over the TVR Tuscan, and Adams, though nursing the sick Ferrari, still managed to take Seldon’s BMW for eighth. The Damax car would not last for much longer, however, giving up the ghost with just over 15 minutes to go. “We developed a misfire on lap three, and it felt like it was running on seven cylinders, though we could still manage 1.16s,” explained Adams. “Then we had a bent pulley, lost the alternator, and that was it”.

Beighton, making progress after the mandatory pit stop, beached the Team Tigers Marcos at McLeans on lap 51, bringing out the safety car once more. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite catch Masarati’s leading Porsche, and whilst the laborious task of waving through 27 cars of varying speeds ensued, Masarati dived into the pits for John Clonis to take the final, short stint. After four laps, the field was released once more, with Leslie now in the lead, and a clear track ahead, and Clonis second, with a seven second deficit, and five slower cars to tackle ahead of him. Martin Parsons was upholding Marcos honours in third, and Calum Lockie, by skill and luck, had managed to haul the BMW up to eighth.

But not for long, for with just under 20 minutes to run, large plumes of spoke emitted from the blue M3 as it climbed out of Schwantz Curve, and Lockie parked on the inside of McLeans, a rod thrown. “I was having a fantastic run, and it just blew up, no warning. This is the first mechanical failure on this car for nearly two years, and it’s a pity, because David did the solid job that he’s supposed to, and gave the car to me in good condition to finish the race,” he said later.

Topcats was now the team to watch, since Parsons was taking five seconds a lap out of the 30-second gap to Clonis in second, but with time running out to the flag. Warren Gilbert was driving the open-top Tuscan like a man possessed, sensationally weaving through a quartet of slower cars across the start line, and picking off a train of stragglers leading up to Coppice. He wasn’t just lapping, though, he was also making postion, and unlapping himself from the front runners, harmlessly nerfing Clonis as the pair came out of the chicane together.

Beighton had got moving again, but crawled into the pits with a collapsed wheel with just five minutes to go. “The brake pedal went straight to the floor, which is why I ended up in the gravel,” he explained, “then we had a suspension failure.”

Clonis had by now got the wake-up call, and responded to Parsons’ pursuit, though the silver Mantis had now slowed slightly itself.

Leslie (#39, above) crossed the line after 74 laps to take a well deserved win, a lap ahead of Clonis, Parsons, who revealed that he’d had no clutch for the last four laps, and the steady and consistent BMW M3s of Smith / Cuff and Seldon / O’Brien rounding out the top five.

“A good win in difficult circumstances,” was how David Leslie described the race. “Harry had a good first stint, and we were helped by the pace car periods, particularly the second one, when we identified high temperatures in the diff, and were grateful of a few slow laps to cool it down.”

“That was a damn good race,” extolled runner-up Piers Masarati, “and this car is really good, considering it’s fifteen years old.”

dailysportscar.comClass 3 was won, as expected, by the works MG of Fiona Leggate (left, about to take over) and Anthony Reid, a lap ahead of Sean and Michael McInerney’s Integra, and the Renault Clio of TOCA package regulars Julian Griffin and Neil Waterworth.

John Hammersley was back to his winning ways, taking class 4 with son Mark. Team mates Andy Dunlop and the mysterious “ZAK” were second, ahead of the stealthily consistent Bernie and Andy Bowden in their venerable Vauxhall Cavalier.

A long gap now for Britcar, until July 24, and a Max Power-type spectacular at Brands Hatch.

1 BC2 39 Handkammer / Leslie BMW M3 E36 74 LAPS
2 BC2 54 Clonis / Masarati Porsche 911 RS 73
3 BC1 12 Parsons / Bullock Marcos Mantis 73
4 BC2 33 Smith / Cuff BMW M3 E36 72
5 BC1 3 Seldon / O’Brien BMW M3 E36 72
6 BC1 23 Mustill / Middlehurst Nissan Skyline 72
7 BC1 20 Gilbert / Upton TVR Tuscan 70
8 BC3 80 Leggate / Reid MG ZR210 Judd 70
9 BC3 62 McInerney / McInerney Honda Integra R 69
10 BC3 84 Griffin / Waterworth Renault Clio 69.


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