7th May 2001
& Third for Parr in
Parr Motorsport came through to record an impressive one and three finish in Round Four of the Privilege Insurance British GT Championship at Oulton Park yesterday, Bank Holiday Monday. Kelvin Burt and Marino Franchitti took the GTO win while Matt Turner and Ed Horner, driving the Porsche works car supported by Corus Hotels, made up for the disappointment of not finishing at Donington by securing their first podium of the year. In every respect it was a dominant and impressive team performance.
The sweeping dips and curves of the Oulton Park circuit clearly suited the new Porsche 911 GT3-RS. In pre-race testing the Porsche team had been well clear of the rest of the GTO field, so it was no great surprise when Kelvin Burt headed the GTO timesheet at the close of Sunday's first qualifying.
Such was their advantage that the team was able to luxuriate in a "waiting brief" during second qualifying. When the first session's provisional pole was clearly in no danger, the duo merely scrubbed in a set of race tyres and bedded in the brakes. "That was holiday driving!" said a very relaxed Burt as he emerged from the car.
Neither Matt Turner nor Ed Horner had such an easy time in qualifying. A fuel-related misfire was quickly fixed, but neither driver managed a traffic-free run. Sixth in class was hardly representative of their potential, and Ed Horner was especially disappointed. "I could do so much better," he said afterwards. Monday, and raceday, would offer him the opportunity to prove his case.
The coincidence of warm sunshine and a Bank Holiday is rare enough, and it was an opportunity for the people of Cheshire to turn out in force. The best crowd of the year basked in the heat to enjoy Monday's PowerTour spectacular. There was certainly plenty of action, though the number of incidents in earlier races did mean that the GT finalé was almost two hours late in starting. With a six-thirty curfew on the Oulton Park circuit it was going to be touch-and-go whether the race would run the full hour, but in the end it was only shortened by five minutes.
The rolling start was introduced to GT racing as a safety measure, but it now generates one of the most awesome spectacles in motorsport. This was no exception. As the cars swept up through Deer Leap and onto the startline straight the lights turned green. With pedals floored, the crescendo of noise could be felt as well as heard. Rob Wilson, starting the GT Viper on outright pole, made a good run into Old Hall to retain his lead, but so did Kelvin Burt. "My only concern was to get the white TVR safely behind me," explained the former Touring Car ace. "I got the drop on him at the start, although he was trying to come back at me into Old Hall, but once we were through there, that was it!" With the more powerful GT Speed Twelve safely behind him, Kelvin headed off after the leading GT cars.
Matt Turner in the second of the Parr Motorsport Porsches also had the satisfaction of seeing off a TVR at the start. The new Tuscan R has proven a worthy contender in GTO this season, but Matt had the measure of the black and yellow car. "I had a really good start," admitted the American. "I passed the Tuscan almost straight away and was then able to keep out of trouble." He started to move slowly but steadily through the pack, with the Paragon Porsche being the next to go. The Tuscan followed him through. By lap five Turner was running a comfortable third in class, seventh overall. It was an impressive beginning.
Making the task of looking impressive appear far easier than it really was, Kelvin Burt spent the first few laps filling Dave Warnock's rear-view mirrors. The Lister Storm is not the easiest car to drive and Warnock admitted before the race that the sometimes narrow and very twisty Oulton Park circuit doesn't suit the car. On the straights he exploited sheer horsepower to maintain his advantage, but the nimble little Porsche was a good match through the corners. Eventually the tyres warmed sufficiently for Warnock to ease away, but it took some while.
With the Storm's departure, Burt was left to contemplate a relatively lonely race. Within half a dozen laps he'd created an advantage of some fifteen seconds or so over second in GTO. "The hardest part was just keeping my concentration, he said. "You need other cars around you to focus your mind." He was soon lapping tail-enders, and that helped, but not before he'd had a wake-up call at Knickerbrook. "I caught the tyre stack on the chicane. I cut the kerb a bit tight, bottomed out and the jolt bumped me wide into the tyres. There's a scuff mark, but no damage."
Matt Turner had settled into a good rhythm by this time and his lap times were not far off those he'd set in qualifying. Having seen off last year's champion in the Paragon 911, he was now closing in on the first of the Jones twins in the #78 Porsche. The gap had narrowed from over two seconds to less than one, but that Tuscan R was still close on his tailpipes. Theirs was starting to develop into a very close battle.
It got much closer still on lap 13, when the black and yellow TVR dived through to take the place. Matt fought back straight away, and was harrying the Tuscan all the way. It was almost his undoing. "He locked up coming into the chicane," said Turner, "and went very sideways. I thought he was going to take me out!" Luckily not, and with the Tuscan heading for the driver change next time through Turner was able to put in some unhindered laps before he too pitted on lap 17. Those laps saw the orange and purple car through to second in GTO and sixth overall - a position Ed Horner retained as he came back out on track following a quick swap.
By this time Kelvin Burt, still in glorious isolation at the head of GTO, was more than a minute clear in GTO and still holding fourth overall. It had been an astonishing run from the one-time Formula 3 champion, who held out until lap nineteen before handing over to his co-driver. His last and best lap, in a time of 1:40.137, sliced a full seven and a half seconds off the previous GTO lap record.
The driver swap went very smoothly and Marino Franchitti was back out again with the lead intact and more than thirty seconds still remaining of the advantage. Next placed in GTO turned out to be Ed Horner in the second of the Parr Motorsport Porsches, who had come back on track just in front of the #78 Porsche. There was to be no repeat of the Donington incident this time, however. Horner was consistently lapping in the low one minute 41 bracket and keeping up with the Joneses was no problem at all. Indeed, he was easing away from the blue and silver Porsche by as much as two seconds a lap. Unfortunately, matching him second for second was the now-ubiquitous Tuscan R.
For half a dozen laps or more the two cars were nose-to-tail. It was actually one of the more entertaining of several scraps going on within the race, although Horner appeared to be getting the better of it. He'd just created a relatively safe margin of almost a second when the Zest Racing Ferrari took to the gravel at Cascades. That in itself was of little consequence, but the marshals then decided they couldn't extract the car without the help of a tractor unit and safety car, and that changed the situation.
"Before the Safety Car came out I was pulling away from the TVR quite easily," said Horner, taking up the story. "Then we all got squashed up and my advantage went. The restart went OK, but I got caught behind one of the Mantis tail-enders coming into Cascades. On the run up towards Island the Tuscan nipped ahead. I was able to close back up again quite easily through the corners, but he was stronger than I was on the straights. That made it almost impossible to get back past him again."
And so it proved. Try as he might - and he got very close on more than one occasion! - Horner couldn't exploit his cornering ability without the Tuscan getting back on the straights. They crossed the line less than a second apart, with one recording the first ever podium for the all-new Tuscan, and the other the first podium for the Merrill Lynch-sponsored Porsche.
Blissfully unaware of all this excitement, Marino Franchitti had been pressing on in the #53 car. The safety car period had actually worked in his favour, and when racing had resumed he found himself with almost a full lap's advantage over the battle for second. "I pushed only as hard as I needed to - and that wasn't very! I felt so relaxed. The tyres were fantastic, and Kelvin set us up so well for the finish that I could take it really easy." Quite how "easy" this was is harder to judge when you examine the lap times. His best of 1:41 dead was still second only to Kelvin Burt's new record. Franchitti crossed the line still on the GT lead lap, fourth overall, to record the team's second victory of the season.
The battle for outright victory grew more exciting in the final laps, with the front few places changing hands several times in the closing minutes. The win eventually went to Tim Harvey in the Hayles Viper, with Mike Jordan in the Lister snatching second on the last lap from Bobby Verdon-Roe in the works-entered TVR Speed 12.
Franchitti dedicated the result to his father, who had flown back overnight from Nazareth in America where he had been watching Marino's brother Dario in action. "He drove straight up here from Heathrow to watch me race," said a delighted Marino. "That meant such a lot to me."
Ed Horner's initial disappointment at not holding second was understandable but short-lived. "I'm very pleased to have the podium finish," he said. "Hopefully we've turned the corner now," he added, with reference to the bad luck he and Matt have suffered of late. "Yes, it's a big lift for Matt and Ed," confirmed Paul Robe, Parr's team manager. "In his own words, Matt and Ed had felt they'd had a 'monkey sitting on their back', and he's got rid of that now." As his thoughts turned to the win by Kelvin and Marino, Paul's face beamed with pleasure. "Brilliant! After a week of hard work, with two rounds back to back and a test day on Tuesday, this is really first class! They both drove fantastically well. We mustn't forget that it's a two-man team, and Marino was as much a part of the win as Kelvin. Now we've proved we can get both cars on the podium we just have to do it again!"
The team has a break of three weeks before the next Bank Holiday and Round Five at Croft.