Britcar Open Race – Brands Hatch – Nov 20
Part 1 – “Happy Birthday to Me,” Nigel Greensall
Bad weather and a depleted grid served up a confusing start for the Brands Hatch GT open race, the initial, planned 60 minutes (for each of two halves – overall result on aggregate) cut back to 55 minutes before the green flag, then 50 during the first part of the event.

An initial 17 car entry had suffered a casualty in testing when the Noble M400 of ‘boss’ Lee Noble suffered a gearbox glitch serious enough to warrant the car’s withdrawal.

An icy cold wind and rainfall with a hint of sleet were an unhappy combination on a now seldom raced upon Grand Prix circuit, the treacherously ‘green’ new tarmac from Dingle Dell through to Stirlings proving particularly tricky.

“There’s ‘Slippery’, ‘Very Slippery, ‘Extremely Slippery’ and ‘*Expletive Deleted* Slippery’ and that section is definitely in the last bracket,” commented the ever erudite Piers Masarati, between the two races. With the rain / sleet coming down as the field got underway, it was an odd opening period, several cars pitting before the race was underway.

dailysportscar.comSteve Donovan didn’t get as far as Dingle Dell on lap 1, spinning out of Druids, while leading. Donovan had fended off the immediate challenge from the Team Griffin Viper and led the field up through Druids, but then spinning slowly backwards into the tyre wall on the inside of the run down to Graham Hill Bend.

The race lead was initially inherited by the Audi A4 Supertourer, its turbo power and four wheel drive traction powering it past the Viper, the Team Griffin car heading pitwards for a rapid change to intermediates.

The A4 was also suffering in the slippery conditions and was soon being caught hand over fist by the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari of Chris Niarchos: the 360 had pitted under the green flag laps to change tyres and had rejoined at the tail of the field. It didn’t stay there long however, thanks to a combination of pace and a trail of cars heading for the pit for inters or wets.

There were sadly two early casualties - the rapid Flux / Burton VRS Ferrari 360 disappearing from pitlane to paddock, reason unknown, and the immaculate, Ian Donaldson-owned, Oakfields BMW M3 GTR pitting with a tooth stripped from the diff - after a very pacey start in the screaming ex ALMS and JGTC car.

Also moving up rapidly was birthday boy Nigel Greensall (from the back of the grid), travelling unfeasibly quickly in the #48 Group N Beechdean BMW M3: he was soon up to third overall and pulverising the times of the Audi ahead.

By the 10 minute mark, the Audi’s charge was over and both the Ferrari and Greensall’s BMW powered by, together with Phil Bennett’s similar #37 BMW - now almost matching Greensall’s pace, but some 30 seconds back.

By now just the top five cars had yet to pit (or so we thought!), with the fast recovering, but cautiously driven, Team Griffin Viper the leading car of those that had pitted.

EERC boss James Tucker was looking skywards as the weather turned ever more wintry: “I gather its snowing on the M3, I should get down on my knees and hope it doesn’t get worse here.” The early change in weather had caused the start of the race to be somewhat disjointed, but things were now slotting back into place as the sleet began to fall.

The timing screens responded immediately: ‘Due to adverse conditions the race will now be run over 50 minutes,’ seemed a good excuse to grab back a few minutes lost to incidents earlier in the day, rather than a sensible response to a change in the weather.

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Fastest laps were now being traded between Niarchos in the Ferrari and Masarati in the recovering PK Porsche. Piers though was racing for pride: the repairs / tyre change to the Porsche had left him a three lap mountain to climb, but it seemed that the Masarati “winning hands” were unwilling to surrender just yet, the 911 now back up into the top 10. Notice the rear wing (above), about to bent back into shape by the downforce it created. Phil Bennett is ahead of the Porsche here.

Also charging by now was Peter Seldon in yet another BMW M3, this time the #3 car, the Viper was his next target with the top three beyond that.

There was a minor whoopsie for Alun Edwards in the ISL Marcos Mantis, the car getting all crossed up out of Graham Hill Bend and kissing the barrier on the inside of the circuit. “I’ve got absolutely no grip at all,” Edwards would later report, the Mantis having another brief excursion which would leave the driver steaming (literally! – vapour rising from his head) and his hard working team attending to the Marcos’s front corner with the gentle assistance of a hammer!

With half of the shortened race now run, Niarchos’s lead was now steadily growing, Greensall’s pace not enough to make an impact on the 360, but enough to keep Bennett at bay. The ‘Ring record man was in trouble with the ABS on the Kruse Motorsport BMW: “Without it, it’s a lot worse than if you’re driving a car which never had it.” Fixing the brakes was the number one priority in the short interval between races.

The pattern for the race looked set: all of the top three needed to pit and the order seemed quite stable.

With 15 minutes to go however there were two surprises in store.

The first was a nasty one for Niarchos, the Ferrari suddenly losing grip at Sheene Curve and sliding into the gravel trap. A now 50 second lead was lost, together with any chance of an overall win in the aggregated final result. Greensall led (below) but Bennett remained a threat – or did he?

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Now for the second surprise, this time a nasty one for Bennett – Greensall HAD pitted as the race got underway, a fact not picked up by the timing screen, but fully acknowledged by the race officials. With the combination of his pace and the certainty that Bennett must pit, the result of the first 50 minutes racing suddenly seemed a foregone conclusion.

With seven minutes to run, Bennett finally pitted for his compulsory 60 second stop, and Greensall lapped the second placed car to further consolidate an already comfortable lead.

Behind this pair the third placed Viper was coming under pressure from the Seldon M3 and Piers Masarati was steadily climbing the order too, dispensing with the challenges of Witt Gamski’s solo driven Ferrari 360 and the immaculately prepared #32 Simpson Motorsport BMW M3 CSL / GTR hybrid. A brief spin when getting by the Steve Hyde pedalled Topcats TVR Tuscan saw PK finally grab fifth place from the Eclipse Motorsport regular.

As the clock ticked down the battle to watch was the Seldon BMW vs. the Team Griffin Viper for third spot, the Viper (only Neil Waterworth drove in race 1) being driven cautiously (“All that power and no grip – we had it up to 185 mph at Bruntingthrope, but not here! I was so misted up I couldn’t see a thing.”) and Seldon sniffing glory. The #3 M3 finally passed the Chrysler on the last racing lap to set up a 1,2,3 for BMW M3 E36 racers, the Group N spec cars clearly proving to be rather more friendly beasts in the awful conditions.

For Nigel Greensall it was a very happy 43rd birthday, and a lead of some 150 seconds to carry over into the second 50 minute race.

Race 1 (50 mins.)
1 48 Greensall / Davidson BMW M3 E36 51:46.393 29 1:43.362
2 37 Bennett / Richardson BMW M3 GTR 53:10.575 28 1:43.159
3 3 Seldon / O'Brien BMW M3 E36 52:06.957 27 1:44.939
4 22 Griffin / Waterworth Chrysler Viper V10 52:22.114 27 1:47.311
5 30 Masarati / Donovan Porsche 53:19.129 27 1:40.870
6 35 Gamski Ferrari 355 Challenge 53:30.268 26 1:52.601
7 15 Griffiths / Hyde TVR Tuscan 53:37.842 26 1:47.844
8 32 Rodriguez / Dawe BMW M3 CSL 53:38.233 26 1:49.515
9 51 Charlton / Charlton Lotus Elise Sport 52:35.988 24 1:51.558
10 4 Bryant / Bryant Ferrari 360 GT 52:49.628 24 1:52.329
11 11 Edwards / Newman Marcos Mantis 51:24.382 23 1:59.559
Not Classified
23 Treasure / Cummins Lotus Elise Sport 53:11.053 22 2:04.608
5 Hurst / Wood Audi A4 Supertourer 44:41.877 20 1:46.972
34 (Mullen) / Niarchos Ferrari 29:56.812 17 1:41.638
1 Donaldson / Donaldson / Povey BMW M3 GTR 5:29.081 2 1:45.539
43 Burton / Flux Ferrari 360 Challenge 15:59.477 1

Part 2
Birthday, Part 2, Plus Two GTs Excel

They lined up in finishing order for the second 50 minute race, and for the balance of the day it remained a wet track, as misty and murky conditions covered southern England. There was no sign of the Audi or the Flux Burton Ferrari, while Tim Mullen was busy suggesting that the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari probably wouldn’t start, as there was so little time, and the gravel had to be cleared out. With no chance of an overall win, Mullen stood down, giving the Canadian more track time – and the Scottish team pulled a clever move by taking the pit stop right at the start, joining the field a minute and a quarter behind the leader.

dailysportscar.comThe Edwards / Newman Marcos was having its r/front hub assaulted with a club hammer before the start, and did join in, but Alun Edwards found he had a vibration that was so bad, he was “thinking about retiring at the end of lap 1. Then I saw the Viper go off, so I thought that maybe we could limp round for a result.” The tough old Mantis did just that, although it wasn’t a pleasant ride.

Julian Griffin in the Viper went off (was pushed off?) at Stirlings, where it was so horribly slippery, but damage didn’t look too bad. With the lovely Simpson Engineering-run M3 CSL (#32) in coil trouble very early on (completing 21 laps in the end), and the Treasure / Cummings Lotus out after 10, there weren’t many cars left.

dailysportscar.comBut the survivors put on a good show for an encouragingly sized crowd. Eugene O’Brien in Peter Seldon’s blue BMW took off into the distance, the ex-BTCC man on fine form. The gap back to the already pitted Niarchos stayed amazingly consistent for lap after lap (at a minute and a quarter).

The early racing was for second, between Davidson in the first part winner, Donovan in the PK flier (with flapping rear bodywork), Gamski’s Ferrari 355 and the Steve Hyde Tuscan.

O’Brien was 18 seconds clear after four laps, by which time the Davidson car was fourth, 25 behind – but with birthday boy Greensall to come, and a huge lead in the bag, O’Brien was always going to struggle to pull out enough.

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Ian Donaldson in the Oakfields BMW had got among the second to fifth group by lap 3, but was stationary on lap 4. “We’re just working through teething troubles: it’s been back to bare metal, and was only finished at 5am on Friday morning.” It covered 24 laps (out of 29) in the end.

dailysportscar.comGamski (right) made his stop early (lap 8) on from third, leaving Donovan in a lonely second, Davidson back up to third, just ahead of the silver TVR – with Niarchos now fifth, but still 74 seconds behind O’Brien. The Ferrari passed the TVR and yellow BMW on the same lap (12), and now the gap to the leader was coming down (to 66 seconds). Phil Bennett took over in the #37 BMW, and chased furiously after Gamski’s Ferrari, just seven tenths behind at the flag (in sixth). John Griffiths came home next in the TVR, well clear of the Charlton’s Lotus.

Lap 14 was almost half distance (time), and O’Brien led Donovan by three quarters of a minute, with Niarchos another 17 back and Davidson 80 behind the leader. Greensall and Masarati took over on laps 15 and 16, and a lap later Niarchos was 56 behind in second, with Masarati’s Porsche third, 81 seconds behind the 360.

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Niarchos was out of reach, coming home a minute clear – of Masarati, who gobbled up anything in sight, with an impressive sequence of faster and faster (as the track became less wet) laps. 1:38.308 was the best one, the only man under 1:40. He picked off the blue BMW (which had resumed racing in second, after its lap 19 stop) out of Graham Hill Bend on lap 28, and continued to lap faster by five seconds per lap. Great stuff from the man who’s been involved in the Rolex 24, Spa 24 and some ALMS races this year. His chase of the BMW was the highlight of the race.

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But with the SE Ferrari and PK Porsche both hitting delays in race 1, the overall winners were Greensall and Davidson – by a lap from Seldon and O’Brien. PK finished third, Phil Bennett hurried home to fourth overall, Gamski was fifth after a steady, faultless run, and Hyde and Griffiths were sixth, after a fun run in the Top Cats Tuscan.

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Alun Edwards was amazed to take ninth in part 2 in the orange ISL Marcos - and eighth overall (Doug Newman had driven solo in part 1).

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The Bryants made it home in the DAMAX Ferrari 360, #4, despite chronic screen misting, this car still displaying its tribute to poor John McLoughlin on the roof. Oliver Bryant has since rushed off to Bahrain for the Festival there.

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Man of the event? Pick one from Greensall, Masarati and Niarchos. “You can’t do more than what you can do,” summed up Piers Masarati (in Ron Atkinson mode – which is a little unfair, as Piers’ comment makes absolute sense, unlike most of the former footie commentators’ gobbledy goo).

Chris Niarchos probably gained most from the event, although all concerned seemed grateful for some end of season GT racing… on the GP circuit. That’s the one that they can’t usually race around, for reasons that are too complicated to go into here.

The lunatics present then made ready for Britcar night qualifying, then the race itself. 90 minutes around the 2.65 mile track in the dark and the rain: it was quite a spectacle, but that’s another story. Britcar will see racing through the night – in summer – next year.
GG & MC

Race 2 Result
1 34 (Mullen) / Niarchos Ferrari 51:24.932 29 1:40.222
2 30 Masarati / Donovan Porsche 52:24.056 29 59.124 1:38.508
3 3 Seldon / O'Brien BMW M3 E36 52:33.252 29 1:08.320 1:43.615
4 48 Greensall / Davidson BMW M3 E36 51:58.994 28 1:41.899
5 35 Gamski Ferrari 355 Challenge 52:39.718 28 1:45.091
6 37 Bennett / Richardson BMW M3 GTR 52:40.397 28 1:42.237
7 15 Griffiths / Hyde TVR Tuscan 52:16.610 27 1:50.164
8 51 Charlton / Charlton Lotus Elise Sport 52:08.510 26 1:52.722
9 11 Edwards / Newman Marcos Mantis 52:06.836 25 1:58.213
10 1 Donaldson / Donaldson / Povey BMW M3 GTR 52:32.509 24 1:45.388
11 4 Bryant / Bryant Ferrari 360 GT 51:56.986 23 1:52.359
Not Classified
32 Rodriguez / Dawe BMW M3 CSL 53:08.661 21 N.C.F. 1:45.739
23 Treasure / Cummins Lotus Elise Sport 20:41.403 10 D.N.F. 2:00.163
22 Griffin / Waterworth Chrysler Viper V10 0 D.N.F.

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Overall Result
1 48 Greensall / Davidson (above) BMW M3 E36 1:43:45.387 57 laps 86.43 mph 1:41.899
2 3 Seldon / O'Brien BMW M3 E36 56 laps 1:43.615
3 30 Masarati / Donovan Porsche 56 laps 1:38.508
4 37 Bennett / Richardson BMW M3 GTR 56 laps 1:42.237
5 35 Gamski Ferrari 355 Challenge 54 laps 1:45.091
6 15 Griffiths / Hyde TVR Tuscan 53 laps 1:47.844
7 51 Charlton / Charlton Lotus Elise Sport 50 laps 1:51.558
8 11 Edwards / Newman Marcos Mantis 48 laps 1:58.213
9 4 Bryant / Bryant Ferrari 360 GT 47 laps 1:52.359
10 32 Rodriguez / Dawe BMW M3 CSL 47 laps 1:45.739
11 34 (Mullen) / Niarchos Ferrari 46 laps 1:40.222

 

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