Britcar Night Race – Donington, 6 November

Time was always going to be tight, with a full programme of Britsports and the almost “tin-top formula libre” Open race, so the truncation of the main event, due to a number of factors, was mildly disappointing, but not unexpected. In fact, thanks to the slick organisation of the BRSCC, who engaged the necessary resources to make the meeting a success, the day’s qualifying and racing had run faultlessly, and by nightfall, the estimated 6,500 ticket holders were relishing the rare treat of night-time racing in Britain.

Qualifying took place in the late morning, followed by an acclimatisation session immediately before the race, and it was Ian Flux, sharing Phil Burton’s Ferrari 360, who topped the timesheet with a time of 1:19.542 on the damp track, a full two seconds quicker than the similar machine of Sugden and Coleman. Third was the BMW M3 of regulars David Leslie and Harry Handkammer, and fourth would have been one of the Topcats TVR Tuscans, qualified by a quartet of drivers, including the ubiquitous Jeff Wyatt, but the team elected to race this car only in the Open event, so their grid slot was taken by the Supermini of Nigel Greensall and Alastair Davidson. The Willie Moore/ Alastair McEver BMW M3 was next up, and Geoff Steel impressed once more, taking sixth in his M3 (which Michael Symons would start). The second Topcats Tuscan was seventh, in the hands of team boss Warren Gilbert, old friend Richard Fores, and race engineer Brian Howard, having his first competitive outing for six years.

It was Topcats again in eighth, the usual pairing of Martin Parsons and Rupert Bullock in the Marcos Mantis, then rookie Tony Rodriguez in the taxed and insured road-legal BMW M3 CSL, partner Ed Moore needing to complete some Formula Ford heats at Silverstone before dashing up the M1. The Clio of Julian Griffin (who was piloting a far more powerful Viper in the Open race) and Jon Simmonds rounded out the top ten.

dailysportscar.comThe evening practice session, held as day turned very quickly into night, saw everybody go faster than in the damp daylight session, David Leslie best at 1:14.675, until the 30-minute session was red-flagged exactly half-way through, Brian Howard having rolled the Topcats TVR at Goddards, after skidding on the contents of Carolyn Barker’s BMW’s sump. The long clear up meant that only a further five minutes practice were possible, before going straight into a shortened 100-minute race.

Woes in the Open and practice had served to deplete the field, notably the Coleman / Sugden Ferrari being missing from its front-row slot, and as the pace car peeled off, it was Burton’s Ferrari that took the lead, though Willie Moore charged through from third row, and by Redgate both he and Leslie were in front. They were caught out, however, by the evening dampness, Leslie sliding wide, and Moore going into a half-spin. In the ensuing confusion, Nigel Stephens’ BMW E30, Greensall’s Supermini, and Griffin’s Clio were all caught up in incidents, which continued down the hill into Hollywood, bringing out the red flags immediately. The BMW and the Mini were extensively damaged, but the Clio was able to take the restart.

The organisers decided that the restart would be held under safety car conditions, ie, not a restart at all, but release of a caution, and there were yet more missing as the pack were let go once more.

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lip Harris retired the pink Porsche, which had struggled in qualifying with gearbox problems, and Burton would be taking the Ferrari no further. “Lack of illumination, we’re calling it a day,” announced Ian Flux, not realising the irony of his statement.

It was Leslie who took the initiative this time, followed by Moore, though Michael Symons was swamped by those around him as they crossed the line. Moore had a bad first lap though, because it was the incredible Mark Lemmer, in the smart Spoon-sponsored Honda Integra, who was following Leslie as the first racing lap was completed, with Piers Johnson’s Volvo third, then the Class 4 MG ZR of “girlracers” Fiona Leggate and Alexandra van der Velde. Willie Moore was down to ninth, all of which indicated that this had the makings of an unusual race!

With just six laps run, both Bullock in the Marcos, and Mark Hammersley’s MG were pitbound, the drizzly conditions now requiring more appropriate rubber. Leslie had a long, long lap, and dived in too, Lemmer on his tail. Apparently, it had been a fraught lap; “It started to drizzle, and we were all sliding,” said Leslie. “Willie went past me, and spun, then Lemmer, but I unfortunately touched him, and he spun too. I stalled the car, and for moment, it wouldn’t restart. I decided it was time for wets.”

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Moore (above) left it one more lap before he changed tyres, leaving Johnson braving it out in the slick-shod Volvo in the lead, followed, strangely, by the diesel VW Golf of David Turner, who had also elected not to go for grooved rubber. These two were alone in their decision, and by lap 13, once everybody else had stopped, Leslie was third, and in pursuit of the leading pair, taking seven seconds a lap out of Johnson’s advantage.

It took twelve laps, though, before the white #39 BMW would take the lead – one that it never again relinquish.

There was now an hour of the race left to run, and while Leslie began to extend his lead, the two non-stoppers, Johnson’s Volvo and Turner’s Golf, were holding station in second and third, conscious of the threat of Willie Moore, who, having unlapped himself, quickly set about the diesel Golf. Matt Jackson, alone again in the Ford Focus, pitted to retire with bent steering, claiming a swipe from an unidentified assailant, and Julian Griffin put the very steamy Clio to bed too.

Willie Moore came in with 50 minutes to go, handing over to Alastair McEver, and Johnson brought the Volvo in five minutes later, staying in the car. “He was doing such a great job, it made sense to let him carry on,” said car owner Don Norchi.

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Some off-track action at Redgate saw the safety car deployed, which triggered another bout of pit stops, David Turner at last bringing the Golf in (above), for Lloyd Allard to take over. The Bullock / Parsons and Hammersley / Hammersley combinations also made their changes at this juncture.

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Yet to give up her seat, though, was Fiona Leggate; she had found no problem in attracting racing partners, having been side-by-side with the Hammersley MG for a while, and was now annoying Andy Demetriou in the Honda. Once she passed him, however, the pair of them pitted, and with just 30 minutes to go, Fiona handed the MG to diminutive maritime lawyer Alexandra van der Velde. James Kaye relieved Demetriou, and Leslie, having now established a two-lap cushion, gave the GTS Motorsport BMW to Harry Handkammer.

As the race drew to a close, Piers Johnson was putting in a final blast, but poor Martin Parsons was having a dreadful time. “Thank God it’s over!” he said at the end, “I’ve been everywhere – on the grass, in the gravel, up the Grand Prix loop – and when I spun at Coppice, I saw why; the smoke from that bonfire they had just lit!”

So, with the drizzle, mist, and bonfire smoke combining, the race was brought to an end just a minute prematurely, and Handkammer crossed the line a lap ahead of the Moore / McEver BMW. Third, and winner of Class 2, was Ed Moore in the black road-going BMW CSL, another whose car owner had waived his drive to maximise the opportunities. “I struggled in the Open race,” said Tony Rodriguez, “because I stood on a rusty nail during the week, and I’ve got a bad foot. The car is completely standard, no engine mods. at all, and we’ve done three qualifying sessions and three and three-quarter hours of racing today. We’ll be back next year with two cars.”

Fourth, and winner of Class 3, was the excellent Piers Johnson. The Volvo, never more than an also-ran hitherto, had really shone in the conditions. “We’ve had a mystery misfire all day,” revealed Johnson, “which came in at 5500rpm, so I’ve had to be careful, changing up early at 5000rpm”.

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The Hammersley family wrapped up Class 4 in their MG ZR, in front of the similar Leggate / van der Velde machine. “The best race ever,” exclaimed Mark Hammersley, “side-by-side with Fiona, neither of us giving an inch, but each of us confident of the other’s ability – really clean stuff.”

Worthy of note was third-in class Andre Severs and Philip House, in their ageing Honda CRX. Now regular class podium visitors, the pair’s old one-make series machine now looks a treat, and is obviously reliable, and proves that the Britcar series is eclectic and suits a variety of budgets. “We need more lights and better wipers, but the old girl got us home again,” said Severs.

The whole night-race thing kicks off again on the Brands Hatch GP circuit on November 20.
STEVE WOOD

Result
39 Handkammer/Leslie 1 1 BMW M3 E36 1:39:02.584 63 74.68 1:23.705
82 Moore/McKever 2 1 BMW M3 E36 DTM 1:39:21.998 62 1 LAP 73.25 1:24.624
32 Rodreguez/Moore 3 2 BMW M3 CSL 1:39:22.657 61 2 LAPS 72.06 1:26.259
66 Norchi/Johnson 4 3 Volvo S60TS 1:39:58.174 61 2 LAPS 71.64 1:27.811
88 Turner/Allard 5 3 Volkswagen Golf Diesel 1:39:33.659 60 3 LAPS 70.75 1:29.982
60 Kaye/Demetriou/Lemmer 6 2 Honda Integra Type R 1:39:50.227 60 3 LAPS 70.55 1:27.270
40 Goodie/Allen 7 2 BMW M3 E46 1:40:07.902 60 3 LAPS 70.35 1:28.143
12 Bullock/Parsons 8 1 Marcos Mantis 1:39:06.193 59 4 LAPS 69.89 1:28.264
38 Symons/Steel 9 2 BMW M3 E36 1:40:15.109 59 4 LAPS 69.09 1:29.229
86 Reynolds/Field 10 3 Honda Integra Type R 1:39:42.815 58 5 LAPS 68.29 1:30.359
91 Hammersley/Hammersley 11 4 MG ZR 190 1:39:58.117 58 5 LAPS 68.11 1:30.083
47 Salmon/Ellis 12 2 BMW M3 E36 1:40:09.769 58 5 LAPS 67.98 1:28.178
81 Leggate/Vanderville 13 4 MG ZR 190 1:40:14.831 57 6 LAPS 66.75 1:28.396
63 George/Blencowe 14 3 Honda Civic Type R 1:39:41.560 56 7 LAPS 65.94 1:27.794
9 Severs/House 15 4 Honda CRX 1:39:48.232 55 8 LAPS 64.69 1:33.642
59 Rupert LASLETT 16 4 Ford Fiesta 1:41:03.502 55 8 LAPS 63.89 1:36.142
10 Burton/Burton 17 4 Proton Coupe 1:38:14.825 53 10 LAPS 63.33 1:33.046
36 Nigel RATA 18 1 Marcos Mantis 1:40:22.567 53 10 LAPS 61.99 1:29.419
75 Gillatt/Clynes 19 3 Vauxhall Vectra SRI 1:40:06.381 46 17 LAPS 53.94 1:40.506
44 Fothergill/Bennett 20 2 BMW M3 E36 1:04:30.382 30 33 LAPS 54.58 1:32.710
72 Jackson/Jackson 21 3 Ford Focus 46:11.047 27 36 LAPS 68.61 1:27.573
87 Halliday/Donaldson/Donaldson 22 3 BMW M3 E30 55:54.557 26 37 LAPS 54.58 1:29.607
84 Griffin/Simmonds 23 3 Renault Clio Cup 49:08.532 22 41 LAPS 52.53 1:30.105

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