08th July 2001
Parr Pair Consolidate Championship Hopes at Brands Hatch
The Parr Motorsport pairing of Kelvin Burt and Marino Franchitti extended their lead in the British GT Championship in yesterday's eighth round of the British GT Championship with an excellent second place.
The result takes them to 93 points, twenty-eight clear of title-holder Mark Sumpter and more than fifty ahead of closest on-track rival, the TVR Tuscan R of Martin Short and Rob Barff. Also making good progress were Matt Turner and Edward Horner in the Porsche team's other 911-RS, who finished fifth despite a gearbox problem.
Saturday's qualifying session had already shown that the Porsche teams were going to find it hard to compete against the Tuscan on speed alone. Although Parr's Kelvin Burt had been the first to set his name against provisional pole, and headed the timing charts for most of the first session, Martin Short had come through in the closing stages to snatch the top slot by three tenths of a second. "We're fighting hard with the TVR and it's very quick over one lap," agreed Paul Robe, Parr's team manager. "Reliability is the other side of this story, and to a degree that has played into our hands so far, but it will get harder and harder as the season progresses." A quick examination showed that this was the Tuscan's fourth consecutive pole, yet Paul was keen to stress the continued improvements being made by Ed Horner and Matt Turner in the second of the Parr Porsches. Horner, third quickest, proved that the works-supported team was "the best of the rest" with a time just eight tenths shy of Short's pole-setter and half a second clear of fourth.
All the important moves were made in the first of the day's two qualifying sessions. Outward appearances initially suggested that the afternoon might offer the chance of a quicker time, with the track fully dry and temperatures slightly cooler, but very few cars improved. "We did look at the possibility of a quicker time," admitted Paul Robe, "but the conditions were not suitable. We decided to use the track time for practice and to scrub in the new tyres for tomorrow."
For the first time this year the GT teams were offered the opportunity of a fifteen-minute warm-up session on Sunday morning. Times were generally quick and Marino Franchitti was delighted to emerge fastest in GTO just ahead of Matt Turner, although the RollCentre TVR was notable by its absence.
The teams and drivers always look forward to the opportunity to compete over the full Grand Prix circuit at Brands Hatch, where the likes of Dingle Dell and the high speed run down Hawthorn Hill offer a rare chance to experience a traditional race track at its best. Add in a grid of over thirty cars - the largest this year - and you have the perfect recipe for an entertaining GT race. Even so, the crowds were still pretty thin on the ground come two o'clock on Sunday - although much of this was put down to the delayed completion of the Henman semi-final at Wimbledon.
At least the threat of rain had receded, even if a blanket of grey clouds still hung heavy over the Kent countryside. If the sky was dull the action on track was anything but. What's more, it began almost straight away. As the cars rounded Clark Curve and the Jaguar pace car veered off into the pitlane the two-by-two procession moved with apparent stealth along Brabham Straight. Dave Warnock, taking first stint in the pole-setting GT Lister, held back awaiting the change from red to green on the lighting gantry. It was criminally late in coming, and the cars were almost over the line before the switch was thrown. The result was almost inevitable, and as the leading pair rounded Paddock bend, still in the early throes of getting down the power and jostling for position, there was the lightest of touches. Rob Wilson, powering the GT Viper around Warnock's outer edge, was tipped into a spin that sent both cars flying headlong off the track.
Wilson traveled farthest, coming to rest broadside in the deepest gravel, but Warnock was left just off the racing line and facing back up the hill. The emotions rushing through his mind don't bear thinking about as a pack of more than twenty racecars headed towards him like a herd of enraged buffalo. The first few came through cleanly, including Michael Caine in the TVR Speed 12 and both the Parr Porsches. They were on the inside line, but others were further over to the left. Tim Sugden, making a rapid start from seventeenth, was unsighted as he rounded Paddock. He attempted to slow, but a heavy thump up the rear sent him careering directly onto a collision course with the stationary Lister. He caught the wedge-shaped Storm three-quarter frontal and was propelled skyward, landing twenty feet beyond and just inches away from the Viper. Three other cars; the #59 Lotus, the #20 Marcos LM600, and the Tully/Dove Marcos Mantis all came to grief.
It was readily apparent to anyone watching that this was a serious accident. Even if the red flag wasn't going to be waved, a safety car was inevitable. For the moment, however, the rest of the cars were still out there racing and some important moves were taking place. A brilliant start from Kelvin Burt had seen him through to the class lead even before he and Rob Barff, starting the RollCentre Tuscan R, had reached Paddock. Matt Turner had also made an excellent run in the orange Porsche from fourth, and he tucked inside the blue and green TVR as they rounded Druids. This gave the two Parr Motorsport cars first and second in class within half a lap. On the exit of Druids Barff then got everything wrong, and next he knew Rymer had followed Turner through.
As the first four rounded Graham Hill bend, with Caine leading in the Speed 12, Lockie a remarkable second in the DWR GT2 Porsche, and then Geoff Lister in the NCK LM600, Burt tucked inside the yellow Marcos to snatch third overall. Out on Cooper Straight the more powerful GT car re-asserted its authority, but the move and pace were all indicative of Burt's determination and mood. Concerns for those involved in the first corner mayhem aside, it couldn't have been a better start.
Within seconds of the dust settling at paddock the safety car was heading up the pitlane, lights ablaze. The message went out, and marshals all around the track readied their yellow flags and "SC" markers in anticipation of a lengthy safety car period. Most of the team managers advised their drivers of the situation via radio, but not everyone it seemed. While many slowed, a significant number kept on racing. One to ignore the call was the Ohano GTO Mantis, needlessly ending its race at Hawthorns. Another was Terry Rymer, who nipped past Turner as the American eased back. Turner was furious. "The call came over the radio; "Safety car, safety car!" and I eased off," he explained later. "Straight away Rymer went by me. There was nothing I could do about it." Paul Robe was keen to support his driver's reaction. "I didn't want our drivers to make a mistake or an infringement under the yellow flags, so advised them over the radio that the safety car was being deployed."
Turner had a very graphic description for the appearance of gravel trap at Paddock. "The cars looked like a load of turtles digging holes in the sand," he said. True enough, they did. For six laps the PowerTour safety car lead the race while the turtles were extracted, but that was the easy part. Unfortunately, David Warnock had taken a nasty knock and, although conscious, was complaining of neck and back pains. The medics were cautious, taking great care as they removed him from the car. The #59 Lotus, although virtually undamaged in the accident, had subsequently caught fire, but the #20 Marcos was able to get going again, albeit three laps down.
Once the green flags were waved and racing resumed Kelvin Burt was able to pull away at the head of GTO, easing out a lead of several seconds over Rymer in second. For a time he also held on to the coat-tails of Geoff Lister in the NCK LM600, but the GT Marcos eventually settled into a rhythm that was about a second a lap quicker. With the yellow car pulling away, and then among the first to stop for the driver change, Burt was left to run a pretty lonely race for the rest of his stint. "Initially I profited out of the accident at Paddock," he said. "I came out fourth [overall] and could have got away then," he added, "but then the safety car came out. After that I hadn't the time to establish as much of a lead as I would have liked."
In the thick of things was Matt Turner. He was now stuck behind Rymer, although his lap times suggest he might have gone quicker had he been able to pass the former bike champion's very similar Harlow Motorsport Porsche. "I just couldn't get back ahead of him," said Turner. "In the end I decided to follow him round and look after the tyres." Rymer offered him only one slim chance, when the Harlow driver ran wide onto the dirt at Graham Hill bend, but it was too small a mistake for Turner to exploit. What's more, he now had Barff giving him trouble. "He was having a go at me all over the place and keeping me on my toes," admitted Turner, but the Tuscan driver eventually gave up. He was the first to take to the pitlane when the twenty-minute "window" opened for the driver changes.
Barff's departure brought Neil Cunningham in the Tech-9 prepared GT2 911 onto Turner's tail, and the Australian was keen to make up for a poor qualifying run. They'd had a small coming-together at the start and now the two were battling again. It didn't last long, with the GT car retiring on the next lap when the alternator belt broke and the battery died. Turner was initially concerned the fault was his, but Cunningham was happy to accept responsibility. "No, our retirement had nothing to do with any contact. That was my fault anyway," he admitted. "Matt was in my blind spot and I moved over early. My rear wheel caught the side of his door." The accompanying photo shows the scuffing to the #54 car that resulted.
Unable to make any impression on Rymer the team called Turner in for the swap with Ed Horner on lap 14. To begin with all went well, but as Horner prepared to drive off he found himself unable to find first gear. He struggled with the shift as valuable seconds ticked away before finally finding the gear he wanted and powering out onto the circuit. The delay not only cost him almost 18 extra seconds but also manifested itself as a problem with third gear, which was no longer working. Through the twists and turns of Brands Hatch that was going to cost him dear as the race developed.
Kelvin Burt stayed out for several more minutes before heading for the pitlane and the exchange with Marino Franchitti. Although leading the class from Rymer, his ten-second advantage was considerably less than he's been used to in recent races. Even so, a slick change with the young Scot saw the #53 car back out and leading again, but the margin over Martin Short, now pedaling fast in the #55 Tuscan R, was only seven seconds. What was more significant was the fact that the TVR was lapping around a second faster and, with almost half the race yet to run, it was going to be close.
Ed Horner, meanwhile, was battling gamely with his uncooperative gearbox. Once all the other driver changes were taken into account and completed the lengthy pitstop had effectively dropped the orange car from third in class to seventh, and Horner was left with a mountain to climb. He set about it with characteristic determination, bearing down on Mark Sumpter at the rate of three seconds a lap. The Paragon Porsche driver was complaining of "excessive oversteer", but this seemed to be a common Porsche affliction at Brands, with all bar none voicing similar post-race gripes. It took Horner three laps to dispose of the GTO title-holder. That brought the Corus Hotels-sponsored Porsche within sight of the second of the TVR Tuscans, this one being the #99 Stanton/Hyde example. Horner's times were also significantly quicker than Stanton's in the Tuscan - quite a feat considering his problematic gearing - but the chase raged amid a string of backmarkers. As fast as Horner closed on the TVR, another slower car interposed to allow it breathing space.
One of these was the Hayles Racing GTO Viper driven by Stephen Day. The car had started last after missing qualifying, and had stayed there, or thereabouts, throughout the first half of the race thanks to the safety car. With Day at the wheel it was a fast mover, if a lap down, and it took Horner two attempts to get far enough ahead to be able to cross it off his list. By that time the Tuscan had affected a satisfactory escape and was closing on Adam Simmons, running third in the ex-Rymer Harlow Porsche. With little over five minutes to run Stanton snatched the place, leaving Horner the challenging task of catching and passing Simmons. He made a game attempt, halving the twelve-second gap by the time the two cars crossed the line, but it had been too much to expect under the circumstances. He was visibly disappointed. "People won't have been aware of the problems I had with the gearbox," he said, hot from the car " It looked as though I was driving like a complete prat." In reality he did remarkably well and maintained a good pace, while the way he dispensed with Sumpter and Day was both entertaining and decisive.
While Horner had been engrossed in his attempts to regain lost ground, Marino Franchitti was more concerned about Martin Short in the RollCentre Tuscan R. The factory TVR was clearly quicker on the day, typically by a second or more per lap, and Franchitti was pushing as hard as he could. Try as he might he couldn't get the Porsche to travel any quicker, and while the occasional backmarker gave him some respite, it was Robin Liddell in the #19 Marcos LM600 who was eventually his undoing. The GT car was running third overall and heading for second when it came through to lap Shorty in the TVR. The Tuscan lost a second or so in the exchange but Franchitti lost more. "I allowed Liddell to go through on the back straight after Surtees," explained Franchitti. "He was a lot faster than me along the straight and I lost as little time as I could there," but it was still enough to bring the Tuscan right up onto the back of the Porsche. A lap later, as the two cars rounded Paddock to start their thirty-first lap, Marino was forced to concede the place.
Eight minutes of the race remained but, try as he might, Franchitti had nothing more to offer. "He was right on the edge every lap, using all the circuit. He was very, very good, but that car is ridiculously fast," he said of the TVR. "I couldn't do any more. I tried as hard as I could, but the car simply couldn't go any quicker." They crossed the line five seconds apart. The overall win went to the TVR Speed 12, with Bobby Verdon-Roe bringing the black car home a comfortable victor over Robin Liddell, who had passed Dave Weltz for second with time to spare. The result gave the Blackpool factory its first ever double top.
"I'm very disappointed that we didn't win the race, to be frank," said Paul Robe afterwards. "The result has confirmed our thoughts about the speed of the TVR. We know we've got a battle on our hands now and we have to pull out all the stops if we're going to take the game back to them again. Although Kelvin and Marino have built up a reasonable margin in the championship it's going to get very close. We're still in a very strong position, but we're going to have to work very hard to find some more time."
"As far as Matt and Edward concerned," he went on, "that was a shame. Matt drove a very good first session and I was very pleased with his performance. Keeping Barff behind him was a brilliant bonus for us. Unfortunately, during the driver change Ed was unable to find first gear easily. That may have manifested itself as damage to third gear, but it also cost us time. That was a disaster and put them down to about sixth or seventh. Ed drove very well, despite the problems with the gearbox. Had we not lost that position to Rymer under the safety car, and then the extra 18 seconds in the pitstop, Matt and Ed would probably have taken another podium."
A quick calculation suggests that they would probably have finished third behind Burt and Franchitti, but the result still moves them ahead of the Jones twins in the GTO Championship. The points table now reads as follows:
Burt and Marino Franchitti: 93
The team now has a break of two weeks before they're back in action at Donington Park for Round 9 on July 21st and 22nd.