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Britcar GT/Production, Spa – Race Report
Sumpter & Slater Sing In The Rain

Mark Sumpter and Adrian Slater, in the Paragon Porsche 911 RSR, stamped their authority on Saturday evening, in the Britcar in the mixed Britcar GT/Production three-hour race, though a spirited drive from John Gaw, in the Kinfaun Porsche 997, livened up the early part of the race.

With the Apex Tubulars Porsche of Jim and Glynn Geddie not taking the start due to a blown engine, 42 Cars lined-up for the 7pm start, in rain that had threatened for much of the afternoon. Pole-sitter Sumpter took the lead from the rolling start, with Sean McInerney in the Eclipse Mosler just slightly behind.

It’s just a short blast from the start line to the tight hairpin at La Source, and Almo Coppelli, starting Peer Slipsager’s Ferrari 430 from the inside 0f the third row, saw a clear swathe of tarmac against the pit wall right up to the apex, and powered into it, arriving on the brakes almost alongside the Bayhar-backed Porsche. It’s tight there now, though – very tight on the inside - and as Coppelli struggled to turn the car through the acute radius, the tail wiggling as he laid on a bit too much power.  McInerney, Steven Brady’s Prosport, and Pat Gormley in the Topcats Mosler all tiptoed back past him round the faster, wider line.

The plumes of spray from the Paragon Porsche left everybody in the wake guessing, and Sean McInerney got the Mosler’s nearside wheels on the rumble strip as he powered for the climb up from Eau Rouge, the seemingly innocuous spin being just tagged by the recovering Coppelli - the Ferrari careering hard into the barriers, then spinning across the track into the opposite Armco. Sean McInerney eventually crabbed  back to the pits, the rear of the newly liveried machine about 30 degrees askew of the front, but the situation with the Ferrari was serious, causing the immediate deployment of the Safety Car and the medical team.

Fears for the Silverstone-domiciled Italian’s well-being were thankfully unfounded, for he was discharged from Verviers hospital with no injuries, and back at the track for the end of the race.

It was eight long laps, and 38 minutes of the race, before the safety car came in, with the rain now torrential, and the return to racing speed, in very changed conditions, caught some out. Javier Morcillo, in the Azteca Motorsport Porsche 996, clashed with another car, damaging the radiator, and limped to the pits to retire, whilst Tim Saunders (Honda Civic), and Keith Webster’s BMW M3 (which Calum Lockie had wrung the neck of in qualifying) were both out too.  The Master Motorsport Prosport dropped rapidly down the order, from second down to 11th, before pitting early on lap 14; “Big problems with aquaplaning, struggling on the straights with the flat bottom  and no driver aids – the car was difficult to keep in a straight line” reported Steven Brady. Three laps were lost while the team re-jigged the car to a safer set-up, and the machine ran perfectly for the remainder of the race. As the rain eventually abated, though, now well out of contention, 18th overall was the best position Mike Millard could manage at the finish.

Another car to drop swiftly down the order was the Hawthorns’ Porsche 996; the windscreen wipers failed at the start of the race, added to which, starting driver Jan Persson was unwell, and had several uncomfortable nauseous moments in the car. Having circulated in fourth place during the caution, the Porsche slipped right to the back once the field went green, leaving Rod Barrett to take it over for the long climb back.  The Class 2 Topcats Marcos had early problems too; traction control problems, then faulty lights. Rupert Bullock and Mick Mercer hauled the car back up the order, but they sadly retired ten laps from the finish with a broken output shaft.

The extended early caution, plus now the considerably slower laps in the torrential rain, meant that strategies could now be compromised, perhaps to the better for some teams. John Gaw, however, was going for it, passing Sumpter for the lead and extending the gap to around 13 seconds by lap 12; and punching in progressively faster laps as the rain eased slightly. “Our car doesn’t suit those conditions – I just had to let that Cup class car past” said Sumpter.

The conditions, though, at this point had eased enough for the brave to make some moves; Mike Jordan, in the Production Class 1 Mustang, passed the struggling Prosport for 9th, whilst invitee Steve Kent got his BMW E46 in front of Keith Gent’s similar machine, for 12th. The battle for position just behind them, though, was more fraught, Wayne Gibson, in the Intersport BMW M3 having a quick spin as he tussled with Adrian Newey’s Lotus.

With 20 laps gone, the rain had stopped and Sumpter began to ease the big Porsche back on terms with Gaw’s Class 2 version, reclaiming the lead on Lap 23 with just over half the race left to run.

Behind them, Duncan Cameron had held third in the MTECH Ferrari 430, but, when he pitted to hand over to Mike Edmonds 25 laps in, the place was taken by Pat Gormley in the Topcats Mosler. Good news for Moslers has been scarce in Britcar lately and, after a disastrous early season, owner Andrew Beaumont had claimed back the car for himself and Caterham mate Gormley, who was having an impressive debut drive in the machine.

Gone by this point, though, was, the Langford/Knight Porsche 935, with gearbox problems; third driver Tony Jardine not able to take his stint in the car.

The Paragon Porsche retained the lead through the rest of the race, the machine evocatively showing-off its LMS heritage in the gloom,  as Sumpter flashed alternate yellow headlights coming up to lap back markers. Adrian Slater took over with a little over an hour of the race left, holding steady until a further Safety Car period with 30 minutes left on the clock.

The Jemco Ginetta G50 had made decent progress through the race, Kevin Hancock moving into the overall top 10 before pitting to hand over to Leigh Smart,  but they were robbed of a good finish after an “off” on lap 41, the car sustaining front end damage. The further caution, however, assisted the Paragon car’s marginal fuel situation, allowing Slater to assert his authority, his penultimate lap being the fastest of the race.

Second place fell to the Topcats Mosler, a good result at last, thanks to the new partnership of Beaumont and Gormley, and that wrapped-up the Class 1 finishers.

Third overall, and the Class 2 honours went to the Rockingham-winning MTECH Ferrari 430, though at one point towards the end that looked in doubt.

Mike Edmonds pitted under the second safety car period and, after a splash of fuel, Duncan Cameron found himself falling into the clutches of Keith Robinson, who had taken over the MJC Ferrari 360 from Witt Gamski, and was on one of his traditional late-race charges - having already taken Phil Dryburgh’s Kinfaun Porsche, he got within three seconds of the red Ferrari, before Cameron responded, the gap opening out to 13 seconds at the chequered flag.  Behind the Kinfaun Porsche – 5th overall, and completing the Class 2 podium – was the first Class 3 GT car, the Ginetta G50 of Andrew and Mike Jordan.

The young BTCC star got the bulk of the work done on that fraught first lap, up to 10th before the safety car came out, and thereafter was never challenged for the class lead, dad Mike having to carefully co-ordinate his opening stint in the CBT Mustang before taking the family Ginetta to the flag, in front of old Eurocars sparring partner Kevin Clarke, the first of the Production runners, in the Intersport BMW shared with Wayne Gibson, though Clarke rued their initial tyre choice; “We started on inters, and then we called Wayne in early – maybe we should have changed to wets then, but we stuck with them”

The Hawthorns Porsche 996 bagged the Class 3 runner-up spot, Jay Shepherd being part of an exciting pursuit in the closing stages. Hunting at the head of a pack comprising Alistair MacKinnon’s Exige and Steve Wood in the Mustang, the two GT cars bullied their way past Jon Harrison in the Topcats #35 Marcos Mantis; though the American muscle car, with its barn-door of a back wing,  didn’t get past the Topcats machine.  Thus, series sponsor MacKinnon, having taken over the Red Bull liveried Lotus from F1 A-lister Adrian Newey, claimed the final class 3 podium place. “We only needed the one pit stop, due to the safety car and weather conditions, so Dean (Lanzante, team owner and potential third driver) made the honourable decision to forego his stint” said MacKinnon afterwards.

The same situation happened in the JordanSport/CBT camp, Stuart Scott relinquishing his turn in the Mustang, leaving Steve Wood to capitalise on car-hopping Mike Jordan’s impressive first stint.

This had been the car’s best showing yet, though they finished less than two seconds ahead of the Torquespeed BMW E46 of Keith Gent and Michael Caine, the latter having donned   a set of slicks towards the end and posted the third fastest lap of the race – only Slater and Millard were quicker.

Unlucky 13th overall was the Guy Spurr/Chris Cooper BMW 320i, the front-running Production 2 machine failing post-race scrutineering and being excluded from the results, leaving the top class podium spot to the invitation entry from Moore Racing, the little Honda Civic of Gary Coulson and hotshoe journeyman Phil Keen; the quietly spoken architect doing the lion’s share of the work.

Bagging maximum points in the class though, was the Lawson/Wilds/Wilds BMW 320i, back in the groove again after an enforced absence, with Synchro Honda Accord of Dave Allan and Peter Venn second, three hours on the pace auguring well for the future. Rounding out the class podium was the family-run Ford Escort Turbo of Dave, Jason and Michael Cox; just desserts for their hard work and early-season struggling.

Production 3  honours were similarly taken by an invitation entry, the turn-up-and-race MG ZR of Robin  Walker and Mats Wahlgren; the lone registered-entry of Ewen Honeyman/Alistair Weaver, in the ex-Jensen Button Honda S2000, being flanked by the MGZR of former Britcar regular Gary Smith and Simon Byrne.

The integrated Aston Martin Challenge was headed by the Nicholas Mee Racing entry of Karsten Le Blanc and Christaen Van Lanschot, extending their 100% finishing record – and 100% challenge-winning record – with an impressive17th overall; the pair showing visible improvement, race by race. The invitation Brunswick Aston was second home, in the hands of Ian Barrowman and Mark Griffiths, with the Tiger Coffee entry third, George Miller and Aston specialist Les Goble at the wheel.

There had been tales of fortune and misfortune in this race. The conditions meant that some of the saloons could outrun the  GT cars – witness the  mercurial rise of the Robert Day/Paul Phipps BMW M3 from 37th to 17th place in the space of a few laps – whilst others couldn’t make the best of it; two stops for three planned drivers effectively not being the way to go in the conditions, as seen by the Cunningham/Cunningham/Bradley Seat, and, with the lucid David Fenn having the final words here, the JDR Lotus Elise of David Fenn/Robert Fenn/James Barclay; “Tales of woe” he started, adding “The windows fogged up at the start, and I had to loosen my belts to wipe the screen with my glove. Then the throttle jammed open coming into the Bus Stop, - I was approaching it with one foot on the brake, and the other trying the free the accelerator pedal – I had to go straight on and stall the car to stop. James took over after I limped back to the pits, and had our best period of the race, but after Robert got in the car, the engine went on three cylinders, sounding like a tractor, and we just hobbled round top claim some points.”

Full results here.

Steve Wood