Britcar – Thruxton, September 11
This was a dominant performance from Andy and Julian Rouse in the two-hour race, but they were rarely more than half a lap clear of a squabbling pack, which seized the opportunity left by the absence of some significant front runners.

dailysportscar.comThe GTS Motorsport team had elected to give this race a miss, since lead drivers David Leslie and Calum Lockie were due to race in the LMES round at Spa, which left Calum’s driving partner David Smith spectating from the grassy knoll by the chicane. Down through the classes, too, there were gaps, but the entry was filled by some of the ubiquitous occasional starters that Britcar welcomes.

Topcats had brought three cars along, but the regular driver of the Marcos Mantis, Martin Parsons, was ill, necessitating team boss Warren Gilbert to mix and match his now four-man squad over the Mantis and the two TVR Tuscans.

Jon Clonis had found a new driving partner for his “droop snoot” Porsche, Mike Jenvey being a work colleague from the Ford R & D plant. Mike is currently leading the Formula Vee championship, but this would be his first time in a GT car, and his first time at Thruxton.

The forecast had been for rain, but the late-morning qualifying session was held in dry, windy conditions, and the Rouse’s Mercedes claimed pole with a time of 1:20.141, over a second clear of the Mark Smith / David Cuff BMW M3. “We had a bit of a misfire, and I only roughly knew my way round,” said a surprised time-setter Cuff.

Richard Meins, driving the splendid Schirmer M3 E46, was third, followed by the Topcats Tuscan of Mick Mercer and Richard Fores. “ I reckon we could have definitely got pole,” mused Fores, “because I only did three flying laps before the drive-shaft broke, and on each of those laps I hit traffic at the chicane."

Fifth was the Nissan Skyline of Nigel Mustill and Andy Middlehurst, in front of the “Barbie” pink Porsche 996 GT3 of Philip Harris and Jensen Corvette test driver Stuart Turvey. “My daughters chose the colour,” explained Harris. Next up was Andrew Farrell, alone in the second Topcats TVR Tuscan, then the Marcos of Jon Harrison and Andy Ray followed by the similar car of Colin Simpson, and Milton Keynes’ favourite son, Jeff Wyatt. The top ten was rounded off by the Clonis / Jenvey Porsche.

dailysportscar.comFurther down, the works MG ZR of Anthony Reid and Fiona Leggate (left) was 12th, and the Topcats Mantis of Rupert Bullock and the now double-stinting Mercer was languishing in 17th spot.

The Class 4 MG ZR of John and Mark Hammersley was nearly four seconds ahead of the next car in its class, the Clio of Meyrick Cox and Will Paul. “It’s not that impressive, because we were faster here last year – it just means that the others have slipped back further than us,” said veteran Hammersley.

Time just slips away when you’re enjoying yourself, and for reasons that nobody could fathom, the post-lunch programme was running late, and the circuit curfew of 6.30pm was in danger of jeopardising the full two-hour duration of the Britcar race. Thankfully, the usual slick operation of the BARC in the intervening races ensured that the pace car led the field away at 4.27, with just minutes to spare.

Julian Rouse sped away into a lead that, but for a handful of laps after the pit stop, the big white Mercedes would never relinquish.

Mercer’s TVR was second, and Meins in the BMW was third at the end of the first lap, with Mustill’s Skyline fourth, then Mark Smith’s maroon chequered M3, and Harris in the Porsche. Poor Rupert Bullock had picked up a puncture already, and beached the silver Marcos on the high kerbing of the chicane. For three laps he sat there, the marshals having abandoned their attempts to move the car since its unsighted position meant that it was far too dangerous to work on – a point proved as Harrison’s Mantis straightlined between the stranded car and the Armco.

The safety car was deployed for just one lap, which did little to upset the equilibrium of the race. Mustill had taken second just before the caution, but the man on the move now was Jeff Wyatt, who had split the two Topcats Tuscans, Mercer having slipped behind Meins and Harris.

The leaders began lapping the back markers by lap 10, and behind Rouse’s eight second lead, the trio of Meins, Mustill and Harris were constantly changing position as mistakes were made, opportunities seized, and sudden bursts of speed found. The class battles were no less fraught, Michael McInerney’s Honda Integra and Nigel Stephens’ BMW side-by-side through the chicane (below), and surprisingly, Andy Bowden’s Vauxhall Cavalier was holding off an impatient John Hammersley for the class 4 lead.

With a quarter of the two-hour race run, Meins was still holding second, but Wyatt had disposed of Mustill and Harris, and was closing in on the German-run BMW. It would be a short-lived pursuit, however, for the dark blue Mantis slowed dramatically for a while, allowing Mustill past, and eventually giving best to Harris too. Mustill’s Falken-liveried Skyline was now on a charge, taking Meins for second, before being the first to stop, on lap 31, for fuel and driver change, indicating that they were making this a two-stopper.

Wyatt had now got his second wind, passing the slowing Meins, then Harris, into second position, but with no hope of catching Rouse, who by now had a 38 second lead. Andrew Farrell was pit-bound in the number 20 Tuscan, retiring with a holed radiator.

With just five minutes to go before the half-way mark, the big black cloud that covered most of Hampshire finally released a squally shower, and as the mackintoshes came out, the McInerneys came in, Michael initiating the flurry of mid-point stops, and handing the Integra over to son Sean. The heavy hitters, however, all stayed out a little longer, and Wyatt was once more down to fourth.

“It’ll blow over,” was Andy Rouse’s weather forecast, and indeed he was correct, the windy shower never really having bothered the proceedings, and with Harris now having handed the pink Porsche to Stuart Turvey, Meins (below) had inherited the lead, with Wyatt back into second once again.

All the stops had been made by lap 55, leaving Andy Rouse in the lead again, but Colin Simpson, having taken over from Wyatt, brought the Marcos in to retire with gear selection problems just a few laps later. “It jumped out of gear, which is why I slowed, then it started selecting its own gears, and in the last 15 minutes of my stint, I just had fourth and fifth. Colin took it out in that condition, but couldn’t continue,” explained Wyatt.

Anthony Reid had done a solid job in the works MG, but a lurid slide through the complex had indicated that it was time for new rubber, fuel and driver change. Fiona Leggate maintained Reid’s good work, and would finish a creditable sixth overall, and two laps ahead of the nearest class 3 challengers, the McInerneys’ Honda.

John Hammersley had eventually managed to get past the Bowden’s Cavalier, only to have the engine on the usually-reliable let go on the privateer MG ZR before the end.

Just 30 minutes to go, and Mercer, having relieved Bullock in the Topcats Mantis, was hauling it up the order, and Richard Fores, having taken Mercer’s place in the TVR Tuscan, was similarly on a charge nearer the front. Andy Middlehurst brought the Skyline in for its predicted second stop, letting Nigel Mustill in for the final stint. The pair had barely recovered from their first out-of-sequence stop, and had been running eighth.

Series debutant Matt Jackson had used his BTCC experience to maintain a mid-field position in the family-run Ford Focus, but now brother Dan, in his first-ever race, was fighting off the attention of Clonis’s big Porsche. They would both succumb, however, to the pace of the flying Mercer, whose car, you will recall, lost four laps at the very start of the race.

Fifteen minutes to go, and we were not denied the obligatory last-minute dramas. Meins had a quick in and out, the Smith / Cuff M3, back in contention again after marking time for most of the race, needed a top-up, and in the closing minutes, Turvey brought the Porsche in with a puncture. This was rapidly rectified, and the car despatched from the pit lane just before Andy Rouse took the chequered flag, and it would be over a minute before Richard Fores crossed the line for second, after a fine run in the Topcats TVR Tuscan challenge machine. Mark Smith and David Cuff proved that stealth still counts, posting third.

Andy Allen and Chris Wilson, sharing Andy’s “old” M3 E46, salvaged an unspectacular weekend with a steady run to seventh, and third in Class 2., and credit must go to singleton driver Paul Fenton, whose tenth place finished reflected his position more or less throughout the race.

Julian Rouse revealed that the win was not as easy as it had looked: “The car ran faultlessly, but it was a case of riding out the weather, and watching tyre wear. We timed it perfectly, but the rears were split down to the wires.”

Bernie and Andy Bowden were surprisingly low-key about their well deserved Class 4 win. “A good result at last, considering it’s my first time at Thruxton, and dad’s second,” said Andy, “We held Hammersley off for quite a while.”

“Really, really pleased,” was ex-England cricketer David Smith’s view of his second place in Class 4 in the Alfa Romeo 156, adding “I’ve not been out for three months, but we’ve got a new gearbox, and it was fantastic. Well done to Brunswick Motorsport.”
Steve Wood

1 1 1 Rouse / Rouse Mercedes 190 DTM 84 laps
2 1 26 Mercer / Fores TVR Tuscan 84
3 2 33 Smith / Cuff BMW M3 E36 83
4 1 2 Harris / Turvey Porsche 996 83
5 2 36 Meins BMW M3 E46 82
6 3 80 Leggate / Reid MG ZR210 81
7 2 40 Allen / Wilson BMW M3 E46 80
8 3 62 McInerney / McInerney Honda Integra R 80
9 1 23 Mustill / Middlehurst Nissan Skyline 80
10 2 76 Fenton BMW M3 E36 80
11 1 12 Bullock / Mercer Marcos Mantis 79
12 2 54 Clonis / Jenvey Porsche 993RS 79
17 4 97 Bowden / Bowden Vauxhall Cavalier 74


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