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GT Cup

Bute Motorsport GT Cup, Brands Hatch GP - Full Report
Danny Winstanley And Matt Seldon Sing In The Rain

After four highly entertaining races at Silverstone and Oulton Park, June saw the GT Cup visit Brands Hatch for the first time this season, with the ever-challenging Grand Prix circuit being the scene of battle.

There were several changes to the field that had contested the previous round at Oulton. Leon Price’s Group 1 Ferrari 430 GTC and Colin Simpson’s Group 2 Marcos Mantis had unfortunately not yet recovered from their troubles at the previous rounds, but we had two BMWs joining in at Brands – the #23 Group 1 E46 of Pete and Matt Seldon, and the #46 E92 M3 of Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson. The latter was such a late entry that Andy Dawson had no time to crunch the numbers and assign it to one of the three groups, so it would run as an ‘Invitation’ entrant.     

Action began on Saturday, with two practice sessions and qualifying on the 2.433 mile course, with the #99 TVR Cerbera of Michael Saunders leading all three sessions. The spectacular yellow car was clearly at home on the GP circuit and its driver was no doubt intent on atoning for his error at the previous round, which had cost him a podium finish in the second race.

The Seldons were keeping Saunders honest in the #23 BMW, shadowing the TVR all day, while Oulton winner Danny Winstanley saw constant improvement in the #78 TVR Sagaris throughout the three sessions; the green machine qualifying on the front row for the first race just ahead of the championship-leading Porsche 997 GT3 of Andy Ruhan.

Group 2 was also shaping up to be a close-run encounter, with Benjamin Harvey’s #45 KTM X-Bow qualifying a couple of tenths faster than the #7 Morgan Aero 8 GT of Tom Andrew, while the Porsche 996 of Colin Broster was keeping a watching brief in third.

Andy Yool had made some changes to his #56 Chevron GR8 after a bitter/sweet Oulton Park (where victory in race one was followed by the frustration of being kept out of race two by the lack of a replacement radiator) and it was the small but oh-so-nimble car that took Group 3 pole, just 0.126s ahead of Adam Hayes’ #9 BMW E46 M3. Oulton winner Mark Radcliffe was third in the #19 M3.

With that, it was time for the field to relax and discuss their day over dinner in the GT Cup hospitality unit and look ahead to the racing to come; but while Saturday had seen warm, sunny and above all dry conditions, Sunday would turn out to be very different.

Race One

The race-day forecast had suggested showers were likely to be a feature of the day, but the timing of the first major one of the day couldn’t have been worse for the GT Cup runners; the rain coming down in force just as the field began its formation lap. And although the timing screens soon showed that this was now officially a wet race, this was of no use to the drivers; all of whom were approaching the line to begin the race on slick tyres.

Thus it was that Michael Saunders headed into Paddock Hill Bend to start the race at a much reduced pace as he and the rest found that the track had suddenly become a very slippery place.

Despite this, the field seemed to have navigated this most challenging of corners (in any conditions) safely – but as the cars headed down the hill, Andy Yool and David Tomlin found themselves caught out by the lack of grip. Tomlin was able to get the #66 Ferrari 430 pointing in the right direction again and rejoin, but sadly Yool’s Chevron had impacted with the tyre wall with sufficient force to cause significant rear-end damage and end his day.

Neither Saunders in the Cerbera, nor Danny Winstanley in the Sagaris were able to find any grip as they rounded Druids for the first time and so were unable to prevent Stephen Ritchie from taking the lead in the #71 Group 1 Porsche 997 GT3 along the Cooper Straight; and by the time the pack headed into Clearways, Benjamin Harvey was behind him in second in the Group 2 KTM X-Bow.

It was clear that the conditions were treacherous, with several cars finding trouble in the opening few minutes. Andy Ruhan had a small off in the #6 Porsche, which dropped him a number of places, while Rupert Martin found the back end of his #49 Ferrari 430 snapping away as he put the power down at the Clark Curve. This had the unfortunate effect of pitching the yellow car backwards into the pit wall. Moments later, Ritchie spun at Surtees and handed the lead to Harvey, who then completed the second lap a full three seconds faster than anyone else.

Unfortunately for the Group 2 driver, just as it looked likely that he would be building up a big lead, the officials called the Safety Car out after they had deemed the conditions to be so bad. This would protect the field, but hamper Harvey.

The rain wasn’t actually falling that heavily, and the lack of grip was more a result of the absence of rain for several weeks prior to this weekend. This meant that it was not obvious if switching to wets would help; and in the end only three cars did – Pete Seldon’s #23 BMW, Sean Winder’s Ferrari 360 and Barclay Dougall’s #37 E46.  

The race restarted after two laps behind the safety car, with the rain having eased up quite significantly. It was still slippery out on track, however; "You really couldn't do much more than keep the car pointed in the right direction," said Gary Eastwood, at the time struggling along in sixth in the #8 Ferrari 430 GTC. "There was so little grip that the car was slithering all over the place. It wasn't frightening, just frustrating!"

Benjamin Harvey didn't seem to mind and held on to his lead. The laptimes were beginning to come down, however - the fifth lap being some five seconds quicker than the second - which suggested that the track was starting to dry. Any improvements in grip came too late for Michael Saunders, though, who found the Paddock Hill gravel at the start of Lap 6 and was beached. This left Danny Winstanley as the main challenger to Harvey and the green Sagaris quickly began to reel in the leader.

Not far behind the battle for the overall lead came the fight for second in Group 2. Tom Andrew’s #7 Morgan Aero 8GT had been pursued relentlessly by Colin Broster’s #15 Porsche from the start and, on Lap 5 the Porsche found a way through. Two laps later, however, the Porsche looked to be in trouble as it seemed to slow, allowing the Morgan back in front. Broster lost three seconds on both Laps 7 and 8, causing him to be passed by four Group 1 cars, but then suddenly his pace returned to normal and he could focus on regaining lost ground.

In Group 3, the combination of the Chevron’s demise and a truly wretched weekend for Barclay Dougall – his BMW hampered by a number of issues – left us with a duel for the lead between the Beemers of Adam Hayes and Mark Radcliffe. Hayes ended the first lap with Radcliffe directly behind him, but then had the fortune to find the delayed Porsches of Ruhan and Ritchie between him and his pursuer on the next lap. This was how it stayed until the Group 1 cars began to find grip and pace and started to move past. The #9 retained the advantage, but on Lap 9 a small wobble for Hayes was enough for Radcliffe to grab the lead in #19.

By this point in the proceedings, Winstanley’s new-found grip had allowed him to take the lead from Harvey with a new fastest lap.

Eastwood, by now in fourth, found himself able to finally get past Tom Andrew’s Morgan at the start of Lap 9 and went by at Paddock Hill Bend.

Unfortunately for Eastwood, the Aero 8’s rear end had blocked the sight of a yellow flag at the corner (which was being displayed as the Cerbera was recovered from the gravel trap) and the question now was, had the officials seen it?

More immediately, however, Stephen Ritchie spun his Porsche again as he rounded Clark for the ninth time and found himself stranded in the gravel, just off the racing line. This was clearly a position of danger and the Safety Car was scrambled again. This was particularly galling for Andy Ruhan, who had just set the fastest race lap so far – 1:40.016 – but who now found his momentum retarded.

Ritchie was quickly recovered from the gravel by the marshalls and drove back to the pits to have the damage assessed.

The caution period again lasted two laps and the race went green again with just two and a half minutes remaining on the clock; i.e. two more laps.

Winstanley made an assertive restart and kept the lead on the drop down the hill. Harvey was still in second place in the Group 2 X-Bow, but his six-second gap over Eastwood had evaporated during the second caution and it was clear that he was now at the mercy of the Ferrari. He had already actually lost second place once, when Eastwood prematurely went past just before the line at the restart, but the #8 driver realised his error and backed off, allowing the X-Bow back ahead. Further round the track, though, Eastwood made a legitimate pass and was up to second.

Just over a second separated the Sagaris from the Ferrari at the start of the final lap, but Winstanley had no intention of wasting this opportunity and completed the final 2.4333 miles with a new fastest lap of 1:33.973 to take his second win of the year by 2.096s.

 “It was mayhem at the start, so I just took my time and drove at my own pace,” said Winstanley. “I just tried to drive within myself and hang on in there while others started spinning off. In the end the race came back to me and I’m delighted to take the win.”

While Eastwood finished second on track, his earlier misdemeanor was punished with a 20-second post-race time penalty.

This dropped him to tenth and promoted Andy Ruhan to second. Michael Symons took third in Group 1 after a great recovery drive from eighth midway through the race in the #31 BMW GTR E46.

Benjamin Harvey hung on to the Group 2 lead to the flag, despite finishing just a couple of seconds ahead of the Tom Andrew’s Morgan after being passed by several Group 1 cars on the final lap. Colin Broster was just half a second further back in third in the #15 Porsche, but any last minute challenge for second had been thwarted by having the Invitation BMW of Wayne Gibson between him and the Morgan.

Adam Hayes wasn’t able to respond to Mark Radcliffe in the final two laps after the restart and so it was the #19 BMW M3 that took the Group 3 crown.

Barclay Dougall finished a distant third to claim more valuable championship points.

Race 1 Result

Race Two

The GT Cup field now had three and a half hours to grab lunch, effect repairs and generally refettle their steeds before the second race of the afternoon. For a number of runners in each group also, there would be the matter of adding or removing success ballast.

The rain began to fall more consistently and strongly as the afternoon progressed, meaning that, while conditions were unlikely to be easy in the later race, at least everyone would be starting on tyres much better suited to the conditions; i.e. wets!

And it was proper rain when the cars headed out to start the second race, to the extent that the first lap was run behind the safety car. Michael Saunders was again on pole, on account of his second-fastest qualifying time, but it was Matt Seldon in the #23 BMW E46 who began the ascent of Hailwood Hill in the lead after passing the #99 Cerbera at Paddock Hill Bend.

Andy Ruhan was up to third in the #6 Porsche, but Benjamin Harvey had again made a great start in the #45 X-Bow and was up to fourth after passing Danny Winstanley’s Sagaris.

Winstanley had a very difficult opening lap and had fallen to eighth by the end of it.

Things were going much better for Gary Eastwood, who had gone from eighth to fourth in the #8 Ferrari in the same distance after passing Harvey along the Brabham Straight.

At the head of the field Seldon initially held a second and a half advantage over Saunders, but from Lap 3 onwards the gap started to come back down as the yellow Cerbera became more sure-footed.

Kevin Clarke had made a great start in the #51 BMW E92 M3, going from 11th to fifth on the opening lap. He then was able to defend from Stephen Ritchie’s #71 Porsche, but was soon coming under threat from Winstanley’s TVR as it started to make progress through the field.

The fight for second in Group 2 was again between Tom Andrew’s Morgan and Colin Broster’s Porsche, while Adam Hayes was prevailing in the early stages over Mark Radcliffe in Group 3.

At the start of Lap 3 Eastwood dived down the inside of Ruhan at Paddock Hill Bend to grab third and was able to close the gap to second place to just over a second as Saunders and Seldon became more and more embroiled. But just as things looked like developing into a full-blown three-way fight for the lead, the Safety Car was back out on track for the third time that day after Andrew had dropped the Morgan into the gravel at Druids. The Morgan was quickly dragged out and was able to continue without visiting the pits.

At the end of Lap 6 the race went green again and Matt Seldon made the most of the breathing space that the Safety Car had given him, stretching his lead back out to eight-tenths of a second. The restart, however, was disastrous for the championship leader Andy Ruhan, who lost the back end of his Porsche at Clearways and dropped to the rear of the pack.

This took the pressure off Eastwood, who suddenly had a two-second cushion over Clarke in fourth.

And it wasn’t much better for Mark Radcliffe and Rupert Martin, the #19 Group 3 BMW and the #49 Group 1 Ferrari tangling at Surtees and losing a lot of time before resuming. This left Adam Hayes with a clear run in Group 3.

The battle for the overall lead again quickly heated up and by the end of Lap 9 Saunders was really pressuring Seldon. Just a quarter of a second separated the two at the end of that lap and they rounded Druids nose-to-tail. As the BMW headed into Graham Hill Bend, however, the back end swung out suddenly. Seldon managed to hold it and got round the turn safely, but Saunders had instinctively reacted to the twitch and this caused the Cerbera to go into a spin. The #99 quickly recovered, but had lost seven seconds and two places.

Unfortunately, Kevin Clarke’s fine run in the #51 BMW had just come to an end. The car had set the fastest lap of the race so far on Lap 8, but next time around was heading to the pits with a problem, and there it stayed.

The pace was increasing through the field and this started to bring the X-Bow into range of Broster’s Porsche as more and more Group 1 cars passed the Group 2 leader, and with two laps to go the yellow car was just two seconds behind the green one.

And it was a similar story at the head of the field as Eastwood got ever closer to Seldon; the gap being 2.162s on Lap 9, 1.154s on Lap 10 and just 0.479s as the last lap began.

All eyes were on this battle as the first half of the Indy circuit was navigated, but the leader kept things steady and had several car-lengths advantage as they headed out of sight and onto the Grand Prix loop. Half a minute later, the leaders burst back into view at Clearways and……Seldon was still ahead and far enough to prevent any further challenge. The BMW crossed the line after a dozen hard-fought laps to take an excellent win by just 0.472s.

Eastwood again took second, and this time would be allowed to keep it, while Winstanley resisted a determined assault from Saunders to win the TVR battle and take third to round off a very successful weekend for the youngster.

The battle for Group 2 ended in the same manner as that of Group 1 with Broster pushing Harvey all the way. It was, however, the KTM driver who prevailed over the Porsche, the gap here being 0.546. Francis Galashan had driven a steady race in the #57 Porsche 996, to take third in the group ahead of Sean Winder and Tom Andrew.

Things were a little more comfortable for Adam Hayes in Group 3, who took the win in the #9 E46 M3 by 25.466 seconds from Mark Radcliffe’s #19 M3. Barclay Dougall again finished third, a lap down after more difficulties in the #37, but there is little doubt that the Scot will bounce back at the next round.

This had been an excellent afternoon’s racing at Brands Hatch in the most challenging of conditions. There had been some scintillating individual performances throughout the field – might Benjamin Harvey have taken an overall win in the first race had there not been two caution periods? – and the racing was clean in both encounters, which is to the great credit of the whole field (compare this with racing elsewhere that day – in better conditions – at Silverstone and Oulton Park.)

The Bute Motorsport GT Cup now moves on to the Snetterton 300 on June 25th and 26th, where more great racing is guaranteed.

Race 2 Result

MH