1st April 2001
Great Start for Corus Drivers
The GT pairing of Edward Horner and Matt Turner, supported for a second successive season by Corus Hotels, made an impressive run in the opening round of the Privilege Insurance British GT Championship at Silverstone on Sunday, April 1st. Co-driving for Parr Motorsport in one of the team's works-backed Porsche 911 GT3 RS racecars, the former Lotus Elise stars demonstrated huge potential for the coming season.
Representing Porsche Cars GB on their return to motorsport after a gap of almost ten years, Parr Motorsport has two of the new-for-2001 Porsches entered in the 2001 GT championship. Sharing the other car are Kelvin Burt, one-time Formula 3 champion and ex-Volvo Touring Car driver, and Marino Franchitti, younger brother of American Champ Car front-runner Dario.
The two cars lined up side-by-side on the second row of the GTO class grid for their first race of the new season. Matt Turner was pleased to have qualified third in the highly competitive category, just ahead his Parr Motorsport team-mate Kelvin Burt in the #54 car. Pole had gone to the Hayles Motorsport Chrysler Viper driven by Ben Devlin, who caught the changing conditions in qualifying just right with his final run. Fronting the twenty-four-car field were six of the more powerful GT category entries, although two of these were forced to start from the pitlane after emerging late from their garages.
With bright sunshine and a dry track, and in front of a generous crowd, the massed ranks rounded Woodcote to take the rolling start. To the sound of more horsepower put to the floor than an entire Formula 1 grid, the race erupted into life as the lights turned green.
The experienced Burt was clearly in his element, scything through the cars around him to complete the opening lap a clear leader in GTO, fifth overall. Turner, his Porsche immediately identifiable in the orange and purple livery of Corus Hotels, took advantage of the wake and followed him through in second position in an action-packed first minute to start the race.
Curtis Hayles had not made the best possible start in the pole-setting Viper, and as they came out of Luffield to complete the first lap the Viper spun. With Burt already clear, it was Turner who had to keep a wary eye open as chaos erupted in his mirrors. Another Porsche, caught by the pirouetting Hayles, was pitched sideways into the gravel. The driver, Marcus Fothergill, regained control, but not before he'd careered back across the track towards the infield, trailing kitty-litter in his wake. Although safely heading down the main straight by now, the result of all this was to ensure both the Parr Motorsport cars a clear run to Copse corner, with Turner now a second ahead of the group battling for third-place.
Burt's lead in GTO was to extend right through to the driver change and beyond. Matt Turner, meanwhile, had more of a battle on his hands. His speed was also such that before long he was catching up with the tail-enders in the GT category. The first he had to contend with was one of the TVR Speed 12 GT cars, but he seemed equal to the task. "Kelvin and I were running one and two in the class, but I had to work harder to get past the TVR in the GT class. I used the tyres quite hard too and they suffered a bit." On lap two he made his move, snatching fifth overall, but he was to pay a penalty a few laps later when the grip at the rear began to go. On lap eight a minor indiscretion (to quote team manager Paul Robe) sent him wide and onto the grass. He lost about six seconds regaining the track, and this was just enough to allow the two Harlow Motorsport 911s, driven by Terry to dive through.
Also closing down on Turner was Rob Barff in the TVR Speed 6 and Stephen Day in the TSM Porsche. With typical grit and determination the American did his best to work the debris clear from his tyres, but not before the TVR had muscled through. For a while the Corus car looked in danger of slipping back another slot, but Turner did a good job of holding the blue and white Porsche at bay. Before long he was back in his rhythm and the gap opened out to a significant and comfortable six seconds. He was also closing on the Barff TVR once again and threatening a move for fourth place before the time came to hand over to Edward Horner on the twentieth lap.
Earlier in the day all the Parr Motorsport drivers had been working hard on their driver changes. The regulations stipulate that at any time between twenty and thirty-five minutes into the race the car must return to the pitlane and the drivers swap over. As Turner swept up towards the team garage he was already loosening his belts. Not until the car is stationary can he actually undo the buckles, but all the practice must have paid off. The two made an exceptionally quick exchange and Horner was back out on track having lost just two places on the track, but gaining a string of bumps and bruises. The mechanics and pit crew had hauled the two drivers about forcibly; throwing Turner unceremoniously from the cockpit as Horner was thrust into the driver's seat.
Horner was rapidly on the pace, and had regained the first of those places within a lap - the Barff TVR becoming a distant green blur. Ahead the #78 Eurotech Porsche of the Jones twins became Horner's next target, but brother David was on good pace too. "I was able to stay on terms [with the #78 Porsche] to begin with," explained Horner, " and was catching it for a while, but then the rear tyres really began to go and I had to take it easy."
Kelvin Burt was still circulating in the sister car, leading GTO and running fifth overall. With several of the GT front-runners electing to make early stops it had not been long before the #53 Porsche had been inheriting yet more places and, just as Turner handed over to his co-driver in the pitlane, Burt found himself the outright leader.
It was a brief honour. Mike Jordan in the monstrous Lister Storm, first in the GT class, was already closing down on the diminutive 911. He was swift to pounce. Two laps later, and it was Burt's turn to pit, swapping seats with Marino Franchitti. It was another slick change-over, timed at a little over 12 seconds, ensuring that the Scot swept away from the pitlane still leading the class.
all went well, but two or three laps into his stint Franchitti detected
a sudden deterioration in the car's handling. Suspecting a puncture,
he radioed ahead to the team requesting replacement tyres. Franchitti's
pitlane visit was a quick one, but the unscheduled stop effectively
cost the team its chances for a podium. A full twenty seconds behind,
the #44 Harlow Motorsport Porsche was suddenly leading GTO, but not
for long. In hot pursuit came current GTO champion Mark Sumpter, and
within four hundred yards he had taken the inside line through Copse
to snatch the top slot.
Closing back onto the tail-end of Edward Horner's car, Franchitti was throwing down some very respectable times - despite the car's wayward handling. Unaware of the Scottish driver's problems, and that there was actually a position at stake, Horner gallantly allowed Franchitti by on lap 39. "When Marino came up behind me I just let him through. I didn't realise it was for position!" he explained later.
From line astern, however, Horner had the perfect view of Franchitti's Porsche. "The rear end was moving around so much it was untrue!" Just holding a straight path was about as much as Franchitti could do, but it didn't appear to slow him down too much.
By this time Paul Fuller, who had taken over from Fothergill in the Harlow Motorsport Porsche, was actually closing on Sumpter for the GTO lead, but the title-holder was not about to give ground so late in the race. The rest of the class was also closing up and, as they come round to take the chequered flag, Franchitti was less than half a second adrift of the third-placed #78 car, with Horner close by to take fifth.
"I'm disappointed we didn't win, of course," said Paul Robe, the Parr Motorsport team manager, "but I'm still very encouraged all the same. Kelvin was impressive. He set fastest lap by over a second and handed on a generous cushion. Matt's initial laps were very good too, and he shadowed Kelvin closely. Edward picked up a few places and did exceptionally well in conditions that were hardly ideal. Fifth was a good finish, and I'm very pleased for them."
"It would have been nice to finish 1-2, but 4-5 is still fine for a start," acknowledged Turner. "It's the longest we've ever driven in the dry", explained Horner. "All our testing has been in the wet. Yes, it is a little disappointing, but we've learned a lot. There are many positive points to draw from the weekend."
The team is back on track in two week's time, April 14th and 15th, when PowerTour heads for Snetterton in Norfolk for Round 2.
Team and Motorsport: Marcus Potts 01869 347356
Porsche Cars GB: Karen Angus 0118 925 2720 Mobile: 07774 728911
Andrew Davis 0118 925 2733 Mobile: 07787 532461