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Group C Racing, Barcelona – Race Report
A Winning Start For Evans And Donovan

The Group C Racing Series opened its 2013 season with two 30-minute races on the 4.665km Circuit de Catalunya, as part of the "Spirit of Montjuïc" Catalan Classic Revival meeting; the first of the seven rounds to be held this year.

The long, harsh winter that affected much of Europe, and which had only recently ended, probably affected the grid size after testing opportunities had been severely limited, but the series was pleased to welcome new cars and new entrants to its ranks in Spain.

Both 2012 champions – Gareth Evans in C1 and Mike Donovan in C2 – have returned for the full season with the cars that carried them to the title last year; Evans in the #31 silver Mercedes C11 he shares with Bob Berridge, and Donovan in the #111 ‘Listerine’ Spice SE88C; while several other returnees have made the step up from C2 to C1.

Tommy Dreelan has committed to the full season in the #14 ‘Leyton House’ Porsche 962 he acquired from Richard Eyre towards the end of 2012...

...while Adrian Watt has swapped his Argo for the #15 ‘Applebee's’ Spice SE89P.

Neither Dreelan nor Watt have sold their old cars and the Irish racer (who was also taking part in the FIA Historic F1 races at the circuit in his March 761-4) entrusted his #170 C2 Spice SE86 to the safe-keeping of Aaron Scott for the weekend.

Joining the series for the first time would be Mauro Pane in his #69 Lancia LC2 and Stephane Verbeeck in his #51 ‘Kenwood’ Porsche 962.

Verbeeck was sharing driving duties with fellow Belgian Hervé Regout, who was himself also due to race Christophe D’Ansembourg’s #17 ‘Jägermeister’ Porsche 962.

Alas, an engine failure for the orange car in practice on Friday meant that Regout would be restricted to just the one race; and it was even worse for Italian racer Pane, after crown wheel and pinion failure in the second qualifying session meant that he and teammate Jon of B would be going home early. 

Also new for 2013 was Peter Garrod’s #72 Intrepid RM1, which has taken up residence alongside his Nissan NPTi90 in the workshop.

Qualifying took the form of two 40-minute sessions, with the fastest laps from the combined 80 minutes determining the grid (which would be the same for both races), and pole went to the Mercedes. A 1:43.848 in the morning session would have been enough on its own to claim P1, but Bob Berridge decided to let the C11 stretch its legs a bit in the afternoon and lowered the bar to 1:40.637.

Steve Tandy booked himself a starting position alongside the #31 on the front row when he set a 1:44.633 in the #27 ‘FROMA’ Nissan RC90K...

...while the second row would be occupied by the C2 Spices of Donovan (1:46.282) and Scott (1:46.764). A 1:48.598 for Regout meant a fifth-place start for the #51 Porsche (although Verbeeck would request to start Race 2 - his first-ever Group C race - from the back of the grid rather than in the midst of a rolling pack of 500+ bhp monsters) and it would be joined on Row 3 by Adrian Watt, who was unable to improve on 1:49.716 in his Spice after suffering suspension failure early in the afternoon session, which also damaged the bodywork.

With Pane’s withdrawal of the #69 Lancia, his place on the grid was taken by the #60 Cheetah CT606 of Eric Rickenbacher – the green car having suffered a driveshaft failure in qualifying, which resulted in a team member having to drive overnight from Switzerland with a spare – and he was joined on the fourth row by the #33 ‘Tic Tac’ Porsche 962C of Henrik Lindberg.

Kent Abrahamson (#28 Nissan RC90K) and Rupert Clevely (#6 Lancia LC2) claimed Row 5, while Tommy Dreelan and Peter Garrod placed their new toys on Row 6.

The grid was rounded out by the pink #40 Spice SE90 of Richard Bateman.

Combined qualifying result - here

The first of the races began at 09:50 on Sunday morning, which was evidently too early for Tommy Dreelan and Aaron Scott as they both managed to arrive late and were required to start from the pitlane.

The rolling start was a clean one, but it wasn’t long before we had an incident; Rupert Clevely and Kent Abrahamson tripping over one another on the opening lap at the hairpin. Abrahamson’s Nissan managed to get going again okay after a spin and continued in the race after a quick once-over by its crew, but Clevely’s Lancia was heading for the pits and into retirement with front-end damage.

Unaware of this incident, Gareth Evans was pushing hard to put some clean air between himself and the yellow Nissan of Steve Tandy at the head of the field and was managing to extend his lead by about a second a lap in the Mercedes.   The yellow R90CK had suffered rear-end damage after a spin in second qualifying, but the repair had been a good one as the car’s pace testified. Alas for Tandy, his cockpit began to fill with smoke as a small electrical fire broke out and he was forced to pit. Happily, the source was quickly identified and the fire extinguished and the car would be ready in time for Race 2 later that day.

Less happily, we had by this point lost both Eric Rickenbacher’s Cheetah and Adrian Watt’s Spice; both cars having dropped a valve in the opening minutes of the race.

These early dramas had allowed Aaron Scott to make rapid progress from the back of the field in the #170 Spice and he found himself in fourth place overall following Tandy’s retirement. Hervé Regout was holding third at this point, but his Porsche had been suffering with an electrical issue all weekend which was depriving the engine of a significant amount of power and his top-end speed was badly compromised.

He put up a stout defence of his place for several laps, but the Spice was through with about ten minutes of the race remaining.

The yellow Nissan’s sudden disappearance also gave Mike Donovan a clear run at the leader, but while the gap was coming down Evans was in control of the situation and ready to respond when the need arose. It wasn’t long though before Donovan was more concerned with the car behind than with the one ahead.

Tommy Dreelan had also managed to avoid the opening lap incidents as he made his way from the pitlane and was soon making progress in the Leyton House Porsche. He passed Peter Garrod’s Intrepid on Lap 3 and Richard Bateman’s Spice on Lap 5...

...but he soon found that the next car in his way – the Tic Tac Porsche of Henrik Lindberg – was an immovable object and a duel began that would run to the flag.

Similarly, Donovan was mounting an epic defence of second place as Scott looked to fight a way past. On more than one occasion the two cars were side by side, but the current custodian of the Eau Rouge Cup just managed to keep his car ahead.

Eventually, Scott accepted that discretion was the better part of valour and eased off his attack, leaving Donovan to take the C2 win by half a second after 17 laps.

By this point, Gareth Evans had taken a dominant victory, with his margin of victory being 6.642s.

"The C11 ran relentlessly all weekend - which is a real credit both to the factory at Mercedes who originally designed and built the car, and also the boys at Chamberlain Synergy who stripped and rebuilt a perfect race car over the winter," he said. "Once again, they proved their preparation is absolutely second to none. I just had to drive it around and hang on tight."

Second in C1, fourth overall was Hervé Regout in the #51 962, while Henrik Lindberg managed to hold off Tommy Dreelan in the Porsche duel to claim the final podium spot.

Richard Bateman finished seventh, while Kent Abrahamson recovered from his early unscheduled pitstop to take eighth from Peter Garrod a couple of laps from the end.

A little over five hours later the surviving field was reassembling on the grid for the second of the day’s races. Both Dreelan and Scott managed to take up their grid places on this occasion, while Stephane Verbeeck started from the back at his own request, as mentioned earlier.

The start was again a clean one, with Bob Berridge reaching the right-hand Curva Elf ahead of the field while the fight for real estate began further back in the pack. Aaron Scott took the opportunity to get past Donovan for third before the #111 race winner could settle, while Rupert Clevely leapt to fifth overall at the expense of both Kent Abrahamson and Henrik Lindberg.

But before the opening lap was over, Peter Garrod would exit the race in dramatic style as his Intrepid suffered a major engine fire.

The driver managed to pull over and exit without injury, but the damage to his car was obviously significant and the recovery process would require the assistance of the Safety Car which was immediately scrambled.

As had been the case at Le Mans last year, Berridge found himself following the Safety Car for several slow laps and only ten minutes of the race remained when it switched off its lights and headed pitwards.

The Mercedes again made it to the first corner at the head of the field, but Steve Tandy soon saw his mirrors full of Spice as Scott looked for a way past (Mike Donovan’s Spice having expired with apparent alternator problems shortly before the end of the caution) and second changed hands before the end of the lap. Tandy stayed in touch with the C2 leader, while Clevely held onto fourth; but further back Tommy Dreelan was again locked in combat with Henrik Lindberg for fifth, and Stephane Verbeeck was challenging Richard Bateman for seventh.

 The chances of Bob Berridge yielding a lead are remote at the best of times and this occasion was no exception, with the C11 sweeping to its second win of the weekend.

Aaron Scott took second and C2 4.7s behind the #31, while Steve Tandy took second in C1 and third overall just over a second adrift of the #170. Rupert Clevely completed the C1 podium with a well-deserved third in the #6 Lancia.

“Group C cars are without doubt the most fun cars to drive,” said Scott.

Mike Donovan and Aaron Scott on the podium after Race 1

“I’m really grateful to Tommy for letting me race the Spice this weekend and I hope to get another chance later this season. Bob and the Group C team have built an excellent series and I hope they get the entries they deserve. There are plenty of cars out there and they are available at very good prices – I’ll certainly be spreading the word!”

Despite missing out on a podium, Tommy Dreelan finally overcame Lindberg’s resistance near the end to take his second fourth place of the day; “I really enjoyed both races,” he said. “Starting the first race from the pits really made things fun and I had a great battle with Henrik in both races – he beat me in the first and I got him in the second.

"I’m focussing on the Porsche this year and I’m sure I’ll get better with each race.”

And Stephane Verbeeck was able to celebrate his first victim in Group C racing, as he passed Bateman’s Spice two laps before the end to finish seventh.

“It’s nice to finish on the podium, but frustrating that we were so much down on power,” said Hervé Regout. “We were probably missing 150-200bhp and it meant I just couldn’t get past the C2s. But Stephane did very well in his first race and he can only get better as he gains experience.

“I’m looking forward to more outings this year – Christophe (D’Ansembourg) bought a Peugeot 905 last year and we’re hoping it will be ready for Spa.  Whatever and wherever I end up racing, I know that I’m very lucky to have the opportunity!”

Race 1 result - here

Race 2 result - here

The Group C Racing Series reconvenes at Donington Park on May 3rd-5th, where the cars will again be the undoubted stars of the Donington Historic Festival.

Mark Howson