Britcar & Britsports
– Brands Hatch Indy, 24/7/04

Britcar 3 Hours
This was an event in which the Class 2 machines dominated, both in qualifying and the race itself, and which produced some surprises.

No Rouses this weekend, since Julian was committed to the TOCA package, where he engineers the Fortec Formula Renault cars, though it must be said that the Rouses’ domination thus far this year has not been so great. The most regular threat to the big white Merc has come from the GTS Motorsport BMW M3 of David Leslie and Harry Handkammer, and it was they who took pole during the half-hour qualifying session, with a 50.634. “The car has been re-shelled and rebuilt after it’s shunt in the Nurburgring 24 hours “explained Leslie, “and we’ve just had ten minutes testing at Bruntingthorpe on Thursday before bringing it here.”

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David Cuff and Mark Smith (above), in the Metcalf Motorsport BMW M3, have been threatening the front-runners all season, a claimed second on the grid with 50.816 was to the delight of the drivers, who again appear not to suffer from lack of testing. “We’ve had no time in the car, just half-an-hour at Snetterton, but we’ve made some significant upgrades from the original Kumho series specification. This car is actually better than it looks!“

Richard Meins was always there or thereabouts last season, and marked his return to Britcar, ably assisted by ETCC star Simon Harrison, with third on the grid in his BMW M3. The car is now run by the Arrow team, featuring personnel from the crack German Schirmer endurance specialist team, though, sadly, the regulation teutonic bib’n brace outfits were not in evidence.

Formula Saloons refugees Martyn Simms and Andy Clarkin showed just what a Supertouring machine can do, placing the Honda Accord on fourth, and Calum Lockie was next up, in the second, lower-powered GTS Motorsport M3 he shares with David Smith. Sadly, the engine expired after the time was set, so his day was over.

Or was it? Bo McCormack, 17th on the grid in his Challenge-spec Ferrari 360, and due to drive alone, invited the ex-British GT champion, and a man who knows his way round a 360 Modena, to do the final hour, and Calum then scoured the paddock with an entry-list and pen, seeking the signature of every other driver, to gain approval of the late change!

Jeff Wyatt and Colin Simpson were sixth in the latter’s Marcos Mantis, and Piers Masarati was seventh, sharing the venerable “droop-snoot” Porsche 911 RS with owner John Clonis. Warren Gilbert placed the amazing Topcats TVR Tuscan on eighth spot. “I’ll be surprised if it runs for three hours,” said Warren. Slim chance of Andy Farrell and Charlotte Osborn getting their stints in, then?

The new BMW M3 GTR of Andy Allen and Dave Kempton is not yet race-ready, so the pair have acquired an M3 CSL. Straight from the box, it posted ninth on the grid, but would be beset by teething troubles during the race. The Topcats Marcos Mantis rounded off the top ten, driven today by Mick Mercer and regular pilot Martin Parsons.

Gwyndaf Evans secured class 3 pole in the heavily-revised works MG ZR Judd, in front of the BMW M3 of Nigel Stephens and Michael Caine, then the Volvo S60 of Don Norchi and Oulton Park British GT victor Piers Johnson. Gwyndaf would be handing the MG over to rising star Fiona Leggate at some time during the race, as the young BTCC aspirant would be helicoptering in from the MG meeting at Silverstone, in her world record attempt to compete in seven races in different cars at two circuits in 24 hours.

Class 4 pole was bagged by the Woods/Scott pairing – familiar names, but Richard Woods and Mark Scott drive a Ford Focus, and are regulars in the Ford Saloon series. Second in Class 4 was the Honda Civic Type R of Neil Armstrong and Andy Barnes, followed by the indomitable father and son duo of John and Mark Hammersley, in their production-based MG ZR190.

Nigel Geensall, also racing in Britsports, languished down in 22nd place, sharing the Life Motorsports BMW M3 with novice Paul Goody, and the Marcos Mantis of Jon Harrison and Andy Ray never completed a full lap, due to a failed hydraulic pipe. Repairs were affected, and they would start from the back.

Gary James wasn’t to know that he was in for a busy afternoon as his MG Pace Car led the field around, and it was Leslie who took the lead into Paddock Hill Bend, but Cuff in the chequered maroon and white BMW was snapping at his heels, and took the lead at the Druids hairpin. Clarkin’s Honda Accord, Simpson’s Marcos, and Masarati in the Porsche completed a five-car group that immediately pulled away from Meins, heading the rest of the field. Lap 2, and amid the frantic front-end action, first Clarkin, then Simpson, relegated Leslie, who now had his mirrors full of Masarati. On the fourth lap, Clarkin deposed Cuff at the head of the pack, and Simpson once more followed him through. Three laps later, Simpson hustled the blue Mantis into the lead, but only just, and the Marcos and Supertouring Honda began to circulate as one around the track. With the race less than ten minutes old, there had been four lead changes, and frenetic action at the front end. “They should remember it’s three hours, not a sprint race”, said Leslie later. “The Marcos and the Accord got a bit excited, I got hit several times in the side by Cuff, and the Honda was spewing fuel. I dropped back and let them get on with it.”

The race had settled enough for Leslie’s liking after 13 laps, as traffic reduced the front bunch to a train, and he passed Cuff around Clearways, leaving him to contend with the predatory Masarati. Just one lap was all it needed, and the rainbow-striped Porsche was up to fourth.

Simpson pitted from the lead on lap 16, and was away again after some cursory checks, but had gone from the vanguard to being the guards van, with some catching up to do. With Clarkin now out on his own in front, Leslie chose his moment to sneak back into the top spot. It was a tenuous lead, but one the car would retain for the rest of the race. Cuff by now had slipped back, still playing night watchman for the top four, but would never really figure again, and retired just before the first hour after 61 laps.

With just under half and hour run, Phil Cutts went into the gravel at Paddock, but it would be five laps before the Safety Car was deployed so that the errant BMW could be recovered. To early for most to pit yet, but the Ferraris of Bo McCormack and Witt Gamski opted for a fuel stop, as did Simpson, handing over to Jeff Wyatt. Paul Goody also elected to come in, the beginner handing the M3 to Nigel Greensall for a long middle stint. Andy Farrell mistimed his stop in the Topcats Tuscan, coming in as the Safety Car let the pack loose after the five lap caution, and Clarkin challenged Leslie’s lead temporarily on the run up to Druids. Richard Meins’ BMW, so far the best of the rest, slowed dramatically along the Bottom Straight, and crawled into the pits with a puncture. Just a new tyre, no fuel, no driver change, and he was away again.

Clarkin pitted the Honda for the first of the two mandatory stops on lap 52, handing over to Martyn Sims, just as the helicopter carrying Fiona Leggate was seen to land behind the Foulston Centre. This left the way clear for Masarati, having inherited second place, to move onto Leslie’s tail. He wouldn’t trouble him for long however, for the Safety Car was once more required, there having been Honda discord at Druids, where Simms’ Supertourer, and Andy Barnes’ Civic were beached deep in the gravel. Being just before the hour ticked over, most thought this an opportune time for a first stop. Leslie stayed on board, but Masarati handed over to John Clonis, and Meins put Simon Harrison in charge of the BMW.

Sadly, Gwyndaf Evans had to park the works MG on Bottom Straight with oil pressure problems, but some canny thinking ensured that Fiona Leggate’s participation in the event could be registered in some way – let’s wait until the record attempt is confirmed!

It was eight laps before the safety car released the field once more, and Leslie responded to the clear track ahead by posting a 51.046. Tim Christmas, sharing a BMW M3 with Paul Wallace, had yet to stop, and with 80 laps on the board, was up to second position. Sadly, whatever their strategy, it came to nought, as the car would retire after clocking up exactly 100 laps. Nigel Greensall was wringing the neck of Andy Allen’s old M3, having now dragged the car off the bottom of the timing screens, and in 17th place, faster than anybody around him.

Stealth is the name of the game in endurance racing, and old hands like Martin Parsons, hitherto not troubling the leaders, were now seriously in contention. Parsons had hauled the Marcos up to fourth, behind the similar machine of Wyatt, and in front of the Supermini of Bill Sollis/Alastair Davidson, and the new CSL of Allen and Kempton. Leslie had by now lapped the whole field. There was drama very soon though, as Wyatt crabbed down the pitlane, the Mantis having suffered suspension failure, and incapable of moving in a straight line. “It was going like a dream, then I came out of Graham Hill Bend, and something went at the back – race over,” said the disappointed Milton Keynes stationer.

The Cutts/Bennett BMW continued its obsession with the gravel, trying the Druids blend this time, and on the ninety ninth lap, the Safety Car made its third appearance, with around seventy five minutes to, giving the perfect opportunity for that last mandatory pit stop. Leslie handed the leading M3 to Handkammer to finish the race, and Clonis gave the Porsche back to Masarati for a final push. Parsons stayed out in the Topcats Marcos, inheriting second, whilst team boss Warren Gilbert was threading the TVR Tuscan through the field like a man possessed once the green was given once again after four laps of caution.

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So, as the race reached two-thirds distance, Handkammer (#39, above) had completed 121 laps, with the Parsons / Mercer Mantis in second, a lap behind and still to stop again, in front of Masarati’s Porsche, a further lap adrift, then Simon Harrison, setting the track alight in the BMW, in front of the Supermini. Calum Lockie, having relieved Bo McCormack at the wheel of the Ferrari 360, was now sixth. Class 3 was led by the steady M3 of Nigel Stephens and Michael Caine, and the Hammersley duo once more headed class 4.

Far from being a run to the flag, the final hour produced drama galore. Piers Masarati brought the rough-sounding Porsche in to retire with engine problems. “I didn’t break it – it broke while I was driving it,” was his mildly indignant response to pit lane commentator Brian Jones. The Druids gravel claimed yet another victim, and the Safety Car made it’s final appearance as the pink Team Think Renault Clio was pulled out of harm’s way. Parsons handed the silver Marcos to Mick Mercer, and Simon Harrison came in for a splash’n dash.

With 45 minutes to go, the places below the leader were anybody’s property, as Harrison moved into second, and Warren Gilbert took first the Supermini, then Lockie’s Ferrari, before unlapping himself from team mate Mercer. Clarkin, back in the Honda Accord, but out of contention after the earlier off, set a new fastest lap of 50.939.

Gilbert’ s stunning run came to an end with 30 minutes to go, as he pitted to let Charlotte Osborn take the final stint, losing three laps as checks to the rear end were made (the car, not Charlotte!).

Lockie was now running fourth, with the strong possibility of catching Mercer before the three hours were up, but it wouldn’t be necessary, since Mercer spun at Clearways just five minutes from the end, and vacated the car on the inside of Clearways. Too late for a safety car, and too dangerous to leave, the officials terminated the race three minutes early, and it was another fine win for David Leslie, Harry Handkammer, and the GTS Motorsport team.

“The team did well to make the car run for three hours, and there’s still more to come from it,” smiled Leslie.

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Calum Lockie was more than pleased with his class win, as was Bo McCormack, on his first visit to the Britcar podium. “I tried to keep it smooth, but there were times when, going round Clearways, it was going da-da-da-da, and I thought the tyres were knackered, but they’re not down to the canvas yet,” said Lockie.

So, three hours of interest, excitement and achievement. As the old police recruitment poster used to say, “Dull it isn’t”.

Next race is the Willhire, at Snetterton on the Saturday of the August Bank holiday weekend.
STEVE WOOD

Result
1 2 39 Handkammer / Leslie BMW M3 E36 181 laps
2 2 36 Meins / Harrison BMW M3 E36 178
3 1 14 McCormack / Lockie Ferrari 360 177
4 2 43 Sollis / Davidson Supermini 174
5 1 12 Parsons / Mercer Marcos Mantis 173
6 1 20 Gillbert / Farrell / Osborn TVR 173
7 3 67 Stephens / Caine BMW M3 E30 172
8 2 40 Greensall / Goody BMW M3 E46 170
9 3 66 Norchi / Johnson Volvo S60 167
10 3 64 Gannon / Gannon Honda Integra R 167
11 4 91 Hammersley x 2 MG ZR 190 166

Britsports / Gold Arts 100
The combined race for the Britsports and Gold Arts 100 competitors was to take place over two 45 minute races, with an aggregate result given. The series returned to a sunnier Brands Hatch than had greeted it earlier this year in April, and this time events were to take place on the shorter Indy circuit.

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Once again it was the ever-swift Mike Roberts who was fastest in qualifying, ahead of his Jade team mates. Brendon Deschamps posted a remarkable lap to claim fifth overall, whilst Merrick Linnet’s Caterham took 11th, just ahead of Bruce White’s similar car, and racing journalist Mark Hales in the Ariel Atom. The top five lined up:

1. Mike Roberts – Jade Sports Prototype – 45.642
2. Sinclair / Alpass – Jade Trackstar – 45.712
3. Seldon / O’Brien – Jade Sports Prototype – 46.152
4. Millard / Flux – Prosport LM3000 – 46.274
5. Deschamps / Dudfield – Radical SR3 – 47.113

dailysportscar.comLooking to make more of an impression in the race were Andreas Halkiopoulos, sharing his Juno SSV6 with Adrian Holley, and the pairing of Dave Mountain and Geoff Page, in their striking Van Diemen RF03, which in its yellow livery looked not unlike an 80s Renault F1 car. Simon Leighton and John Taylor were keen to make amends for qualifying problems, and long-distance expert Nigel Greensall (right) was preparing for a shorter race than usual, partnering Richard Dencer in the Radical Prosport.

In race one, the Jade team all made it through Paddock Hill Bend in “formation”, though Sam Alpass was clearly attempting to change the order, pushing Roberts hard on the opening lap, although Roberts was able to respond, and started to increase the pace. This meant little, however, when the self-destructing engine of Graham Booth’s Caterham poured oil over the crest of Paddock Hill. Ben Butler and Bruce White were both caught out in their Caterhams, and were soon joined in the gravel trap by Simon Heaps in his Radical. After a Safety Car period, in which most of the field chose to make their pit stops, Chris Dredge found himself promoted into the lead, his Radical followed by Brendon Deschamps, and Andreas Halkiopoulos in the Juno.

Unfortunately for Mike Millard and Ian Flux, the throttle on their Prosport stuck open toward the end of Millard’s stint, much to his surprise: “I had to take to the grass when it happened, to avoid hitting a Caterham,” he grinned, before affecting a quick fix in preparation for race two.

Attention now shifted to Chris Dredge, who had yet to pit with only 15 minutes remaining of the first race. When he did, dropping himself down to seventh, the battle between Halkiopoulos and Roberts became the scrap for the lead. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Roberts made it stick at Paddock Hill Bend, and celebrated by posting the fastest lap of race one. Meanwhile, the battles were continuing through the field, with Peter Seldon passing Simon Hopkins for fourth, and Keith McKenzie holding off a cluster of Caterhams in an effort to retain his 13th position.

Cruelly, reliability problems affected both Geoff Page, running third in the Van Diemen, and Nigel Greensall’s Radical, both pulling up shortly before the first chequered flag, which was taken by Mike Roberts, closely followed by Andreas Halkiopoulos and Peter Seldon, who were both within four seconds of Roberts over the line.

However, this was only the halfway point, and a leisurely lunch break enabled most of the teams with problems in race one to patch up their cars sufficiently for the second 45 minutes. Unfortunately, Nigel Greensall and Richard Dencer were unable to make the second start, but a low rate of attrition saw a healthy grid of 25 cars line up.

Once again it was a Jade that led into the first corner, but this time it was the Trackstar car, piloted by Sam Alpass, that squeezed out Roberts and Seldon, although the latter got rather overexcited at Clearways, and spun out of the immediate battle. However, Seldon determinedly hung in, and quickly repassed Deschamps for fifth, lapping faster than the race leaders in the process.

The frenetic pace continued, and the leaders soon found themselves caught up in the tail end of the field, which bunched up the top four of Alpass, Roberts, Adrian Holley in the Juno and Mike Millard’s Prosport.

Frustratingly for Roberts, up until then in with a good chance of his first overall victory of 2004, his tyres began to go off. “It was understeering horribly,” he explained, “I was losing a couple of seconds through Clearways alone.” Holley passed the Jade with relative ease, and this seemed to inspire him, as he produced the move of the race, slipstreaming past Alpass into Paddock Hill Bend, and defending a counter move all the way round to Graham Hill Bend. After the stops, which saw Eugene O’Brien, Ian Flux and Tony Sinclair join the fray; Holley retained his lead thanks to a combination of staying out late, and some impressive laps whilst the others were changing drivers.

Ian Flux, despite being a lap ahead, enjoyed a scrap with Mike Roberts, still getting the most of his ill-handling Jade and beginning to up his pace once again. Eugene O’Brien, an old sparring partner of Flux’s in British Touring Cars, also joined the battle, until Flux spun the Prosport at Clearways. O’Brien was further assisted by the stop/go penalty handed to Adrian Holley for speeding in the pit lane, although Holley himself missed the flag for five laps before dashing in, although he was unable to stop O’Brien’s promotion to first on the road.

Sadly for him, Tony Sinclair had to pit to remove a stone stuck underneath his throttle pedal, which allowed Flux through to third on track. Any chance of overall victory dashed by the problems in race one, Flux set about enjoying himself, and caused a few gasps by allowing O’Brien no more than just enough space to lap him at Druids. As ever, class two was being hotly contested, and Richard Gomes and Ross Kaiser fought hammer and tongs behind Stuart Brodman’s similar Radical, although Kaiser, sharing with Richard Fearns, narrowly won the class on aggregate. Meanwhile, the experienced Mark Hales had spent a lonely race putting the Ariel Atom to good use (below, with the Millard Prosport), and had managed to put some distance between himself and the Gorman/Thompson Caterham.

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O’Brien crossed the line first, but the combination of Andreas Halkiopoulos and Adrian Holley had amassed the most laps over the distance, and the Juno drivers delightedly took their first win. “It’s a good feeling to win as a team, Adrian did very well,” said Halkiopoulos, before dashing off to catch his plane home. Others were more frustrated, like Mike Millard: “We had fun, but there’s no catching the Jades at the moment.” The teams go away to regroup, work on reliability issues, and prepare for the next meeting, which will support the Britcar 300 race at Snetterton on August 28th.
Mark Dishman

 

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