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GT Cup, Brands Hatch - Race Reports
A Brace For Martin

Mark Haynes' GT Cup series has apparently been going from strength to strength - so time for the former editor to see for himself, with the added bonus of a couple of International GT Open races too (reports to come), all four on the Grand Prix track in Kent.

There were some familiar names in the line-up, 'refugees' from other series, or another time: Gary Eastwood in an FF Corse Ferrari, Colin Broster in an ABG Porsche, Nick Foster in a Geoff Steel BMW and David Back in a JMH Ferrari - all former British GT runners. As was Paul Cope, who was out with the very same Venturi that he used to race in British GTs.

"One of the charms of this series is that a 1994 Venturi can race fairly with more modern Porsches and Ferraris," pointed out Cope, who last came to our attention with his Le Mans Series ProTran AER: a great run at Donington Park in 2006, with Phil Bennett. Kevin McGarrity and 'Stig' Collins also drove this car.

But 25 minute events mean single drivers - although Mark Haynes has his Pro-Am GT Trophy endurance events on the stocks now, and they're expected to develop nicely for 2011.

It was a decidedly chilly Brands Hatch on Sunday, and with the Goodwood Revival on offer to the south-west of here, it was a disappointing crowd present - but the hardy souls saw some fine racing, particularly in the morning (GT Cup and Int'l Open) events.

The pace of the front-runners wouldn't have disgraced the international series, with the fastest pair of cars in the 1:31s - and it was pairs of cars battling away that was a highlight of the first race.

The top pair comprised Alex Martin's Porsche and Michael Saunders' Cerbera - and they put on a fantastic display at the front for 14 and a bit laps - until the TVR spun under braking at Graham Hill Bend on lap 15, and the starter wouldn't fire up the V8 again. Typically these two were half a second apart, but often less, and there were audible oohs and aaahs from the Paddock grandstand as they lunged into Druid lap after lap. They touched there on lap 11, Martin blocked very firmly on lap 13 - and starting the 15th, Saunders was faster out of Paddock, held the inside under braking, and took the lead. Martin tried to get him back 200 metres later and they  touched again, the TVR staying ahead until it slithered off at the same point on the next tour. A fantastic race between these two.

It wasn't quite so eventful for what became second place, between the FF Corse Ferraris of Gary Eastwood and Leon Price, but they were nose to tail throughout and finished just six-tenths apart after 17 laps - 27 seconds behind Alex Martin.

The next pair along were the Class 2 chargers, Marco Pullen taking his seventh class honours of the year in his orange Ferrari, six-tenths ahead of Colin Mowle's KTM. Colin Broster had made it a threesome for 10 laps, but dropped back to third in class, sixth overall - half a second ahead of Nick Foster's BMW.

Paul Cope's Venturi had made a slowish start, but moved up from 11th to eighth, his last victim being Foster - until the maroon French machine pulled off after 11 laps, a head gasket having failed.

Tom Andrew took Class 3 in another X-Bow, the pattern of pairs of cars repeated with second placed Dan Norris-Jones six-tenths behind in his Exige.

Class 2 points leader Keith Webster dropped away at the end in his BMW, but Alex Martin and Tom Andrew had been the Class 1 and Class 3 leaders before the race, so their form was expected. This had been good, close racing throughout the field - but race 2 turned out to be something of a disappointment.

Why? A right old hoo-haa at Paddock on the opening lap, which was a great shame. The Saunders TVR had been repaired - but owing to just a single quick lap in qualifying, it started eighth (its second best lap was only a 1:34).

The prospect of the big yellow Cerbera romping up to the front was enticing, but Saunders and Leon Price ended up in the Paddock gravel, Gary Eastwood was delayed, the Pullen Ferrari was damaged, Michael Symons' BMW likewise - and so the Safety Car bottled them all up until the start of lap 5.

Alex Martin moved serenely away to become the first double race winner of the year ("I prefer a close race") - and it was Nick Foster who climbed from sixth to second overall, first in Class 2. Gary Eastwood made similar progress, tenth to fifth. Foster's last scalp was the Keith Webster BMW, Ben Harvey's KTM was an excellent fourth and Sam Mowle's similar machine was sixth.

Class 3 went to Sarah Bennett-Baggs in her Butler Motorsport BMW, the pattern of the morning completed by the presence of Tom Andrew in his KTM right behind.

"It's a great series," summed up Nick Foster. Indeed it is. The developing Pro-Am endurance format will doubtless liven up proceedings, particularly in the mid-field, where some of Sunday's entries raced well, but without making much of a visual impact.

(With apologies for the paucity of photographs.)