Britcar, 23/10/04; Time, Tees - a Croft Original
This was Britcar’s (and many of its drivers’) first visit to Croft, and they were greeted by a circuit whose ambience and nature was similar to that of the other outpost of British racing, Pembrey.

Cancellation of other races earlier in the programme meant that the proposed two-hour night race would now be run in the late afternoon, with the chequered flag dropping on the cusp of darkness. Several major players had elected to miss this round, notably (and strangely) the father and son duos of Rouse, McInerney, and Hammersley. No Calum Lockie either, nor the John Clonis Porsche, which was still being fixed after its Silverstone problems.

Their absence, though, didn’t detract from what was a varied and interesting entry, and, despite the fact that the timetable had been adjusted, the 45-minute qualifying session would still be held immediately before the race, with just a ten-minute break in between.

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It was Geoff Steel (above) in the Class 2 BMW M3 who made the early running in qualifying, visibly quicker than anybody else, as the majority tip-toed around the damp track. Poor Dom Lesniewski, subbing for Andy Ray in the Harrimax Marcos Mantis, barely got going, not even completing a flying lap, and sitting out the remainder of the session. “Rain restricted our testing on Friday, so we didn’t realise that a rosejoint on the left rear suspension was cracked,” he said. “I selected third for the first corner, and thought I’d locked up, but when I accelerated and the rear felt loose, I realised it must be a suspension problem.” The blue and yellow Mantis would be repaired, and start from the back

It was Nigel Greensall, sharing Philip Harris’ pink Porsche, who secured pole with 1:29.381, just under half a second quicker than David Leslie, in the BMW M3 that he shares with Harry Handkammer. Third was Colin Simpson, driving alone this weekend, in his Marcos Mantis, followed by the Anthony Reid / Fiona Leggate works MG ZR-Judd.

dailysportscar.comThe Topcats Marcos Mantis of Martin Parsons (right) and Rupert Bullock lined-up fifth, with Andy Allen’s BMW E46 sixth, and the impressive Matt Jackson, in his Ford Focus, seventh, despite mechanical problems curtailing his session to a mere eight laps, and having the added hindrance of legend Colin Stancombe in his pit crew (”Still blundering along, old chap”)!

Eighth was the smart BMW M3 of Paul Fenton and Mike Gardiner, followed by the similar car of Mike Salmon and David Ellis, and the Barwell Motorsport Honda Civic Type R of Mark Lemmer and Alan Blencowe rounded out the top ten.

Class 4 pole was bagged by the works MG ZR of Peter Felix and veteran Don Kettleborough, eleven seconds off overall pole, and 15th on the grid.

With qualifying over, the cars were held in the pit lane, then released onto the grid once positions were clarified, and Gary James led the field round in the MG pace car.

“I let Harry have the first corner,” said Philip Harris, rueing his gentlemanly conduct, for, as indeed, Handkammer’s BMW took the inside line into Clervaux, the pink Porsche took the very lightest of taps from a fast-starting Martin Parsons, sending the Porsche onto the rough on the outside of the bend, and the Marcos into a spin. This caused confusion for the guys at the back of the grid, who had only just entered the straight after negotiating the final hairpin, notably a frustrated Lesniewski, who was hoping to get an initial jump from his back-row slot; “The green lights were out, and there were waved yellows – I wasn’t sure if the race had started, until (team boss) Trevor Griffiths told me over the radio.”

It was a lively first lap, with Reid and Simpson trading second place, Harris recovering in fourth, and the ultra impressive Matt Jackson’s Focus holding off Lemmer. Colin Simpson, having secured second by the end of the lap, deposed Handkammer at the front next time around, as they negotiated Tower.

Within five laps, the leaders had caught the back markers, crucially, at the hairpin, allowing Handkammer to close up on Simpson, who had begun to disappear up the road. Simpson, however, spun at Tower, and rejoined in third behind Reid. The nimble MG, however, was no match for the power of the Marcos, and Simpson was soon past once more, by which time Handkammer’s lead was over a half a minute.

Dom Lesniewski was now carving his way through the field, and with fifteen minutes of the race run, was up to tenth place. Lemmer’s Honda was sandwiched between the BMWs of Salmon / Ellis and Fenton / Gardiner, which was setting the tone for his afternoon, for he would be squabbling with one or other of them throughout the race. The trio tripped over themselves at the Complex on lap 14, Salmon spinning, Gardiner doing likewise in sympathy, and Lemmer escaping unscathed, as did Handkammer, who watched it all unfold in front of him, as he attempted to lap them.

Harris spun the Porsche at Tower, and, unable to move, the safety car was deployed on lap 19, with 30 minutes on the board. This caused a flurry of pit-stop activity, both Handkammer and Simpson diving in, as did Parsons, who had been gradually recovering from his first-corner mishap. Simpson, however, did only one lap before pitting again for a long stop, whilst the field was still under caution, to secure a loose battery tray.

dailysportscar.comThe pink Porsche was recovered, and after a jerk-start from the tow truck, was pit-bound to hand over to Greensall. Nigel did only a handful of laps (still managing to wave a front wheel, right), however, before retiring the car. Philip Harris explains: “We fitted a new gearbox after Silverstone, but the linkage wasn’t functioning properly. I approached Tower, braked, thought I changed down, but was effectively in neutral, with no engine braking, so I went off. Nigel tried it for a few laps, but it’s undriveable.”

The safety car came in after four laps, and Rupert Bullock immediately celebrated with a quick spin in the Topcats Marcos at Clervaux . Reid was now in the lead in the Class 3 MG, with only a brief gap to David Leslie, then that man Jackson again, all three on the same lap. Salmon’s ultra-wide BMW was a lap-down in fourth, holding off Lesniewski’s blue and yellow Marcos. Simpson had got going once more, and was taking no prisoners.

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Leslie, having relieved Reid of the lead (above), was surprisingly pitbound just before the half-way mark. A stop-go penalty had been awarded, since the GTS Motorsport crew had commenced refuelling before a fire marshal was in attendance. Dominic Lesnieswki had by now got past Salmon, which wasn’t without its drama, since the bonnet of the Marcos was askew, and, having also passed Jackson’s Focus, he immediately pitted, as the hour ticked over. “It was earlier than expected, because I had a coming-together with a BMW, which made the bonnet sit higher, and I really couldn’t see anything over it,” he said.

Paul Goody brought the Life Motorsport BMW E46 in for Andy Allen to take over, and singleton Matt Jackson came in for his mandatory stop. Simpson was recovering in seventh, and Bullock had the silver Mantis in 14th. With 45 minutes to go, and with, coincidentally, 45 laps chalked up, Reid, who still hadn’t stopped, was fending off Leslie for the lead.

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This was stirring stuff, as the two erstwhile BTCC team-mates circulated nose to tail, Leslie unable to pass the MG at any point around the track, but giving Reid a full-beam flash of his headlamps at the Hairpin on every lap.

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Colin Simpson’s weekend got worse, since, having recovered back to third place, he was once more back in the pits. A few more laps, and he was back yet again, the blue Marcos (above), having got progressively more dusty and grimy, now with a marker cone wedged in it’s front wheelarch. “First the battery box, on which we made a makeshift repair, then a suspension mounting bracket,” said the Scots garagiste.

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Reid eventually pitted with just 30 minutes left to run, handing over to Fiona Leggate, who ran into the encroaching darkness without lights, leaving Leslie a clear run to the flag. Jon Harrison, having taken over the Harrimax Marcos from Lesniewski, pitted for investigation after spin, a suspected puncture found to actually be oil leaking from a reservoir onto the rear tyre. A further exploratory lap saw him spin onto the wet grass at the Complex, into retirement.

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So yet another win then, for the now dominant GTS Motorsport pairing of Harry Handkammer and David Leslie (above).

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Anthony Reid and Fiona Leggate were a delighted second overall, winning Class 3. “That was a great battle with David, we were waving at each other, and he was flashing his lights – it was the highlight of my race,” said Anthony, also revealing that it had not all been plain sailing; “We lost power steering just after the safety car period, and then, when Fiona took over, we had an alternator problem, so it was best to run without lights,” which made the pair’s performance even more exceptional.

Andy Allen was pleased with his continued return to form with his “old” BMW E46, with Paul Goody having finished third, and won Class 2. “We had a flat period in the middle of the year, but now we’ve fitted a new gearbox, Paul did a great job, and we’ve had a great day,” he said.

Dom Lesniewski, despite a DNF, was impressed with the Britcar series: “I enjoyed the meeting, just a shame it couldn’t have been a night race. The Britcar series is a massive boost for endurance racing, not only in the UK, but around Europe, and I hope that in a few years, series like this will be matching audience levels like F1 or Le Mans.”

If only, Dom, if only!
Steve Wood

Result
1 39 1 Handkammer / Leslie BMW M3 E36 75 laps
2 80 3 Reid / Leggate MG ZR-Judd 73
3 40 2 Allen / Goody BMW M3 E46 72
4 72 3 Jackson Ford Focus 72
5 12 1 Parsons / Bullock Marcos Mantis 71
6 63 3 Lemmer / Blencowe Honda Civic R 71
7 76 2 Fenton / Gardiner BMW M3 E36 70
8 81 4 Kettleborough / Felix MG ZR 180 70
9 86 3 Reynolds / Field Honda Integra R 69
10 69 3 Kraemer Ford Focus 69

 

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