19th August 2001
Turner and Horner take 6th Podium Finish in a Historic One-Two for Parr's Porsches at Knockhill
Turner and Horner move into 2nd place
Parr Motorsport added a new element to the history of British GT racing last weekend at Knockhill in Round Ten of the 2001 Privilege Insurance British GT Championship. For what is believed to be the first time since the series was founded in 1993 a class two machine lead the race overall, by right and before the compulsory pitstop. Porsche driver Matt Turner followed team mate Marino Franchitti in 1st and 2nd overall as they lead the more powerful GT1 class cars and GTO cars at a rain soaked Knockhill, Scotland.
For the first time this season the two Parr Motorsport Porsches achieved a complete GTO lock-out. Not only did they dominate qualifying, starting the hour-long race first and second in their class, but they romped away with the early stages of the race before recording an emphatic one-two finish.
Star of the Knockhill weekend was local Scot Marino Franchitti, making his GT debut on home turf. His impressive first-stint charge took him through the best of the GT field to emerge as a clear overall leader. By rights it should have been more than enough to set up his co-driver, Kelvin Burt, with the perfect opportunity to record that historic GTO win. Instead he was held back in the pitlane while the second-placed Hayles Racing GT Viper swept through to reclaim the top slot. Although Burt rallied brilliantly, the GT category Viper was now able to exploit improving track conditions and a straightline power advantage to secure overall victory. Kelvin Burt took the chequered flag just eleven seconds adrift, with team-mate Edward Horner finishing fifth overall and second in GTO after a brief pit lane fire.
It rained overnight. In fact, it rained almost solidly for eighteen hours. By the time the morning dawned, the Knockhill circuit was hidden beneath a thick, clammy swathe of damp fog. The conditions were actually so bad that there was even a possibility that the entire meeting could be cancelled. In the end the official GT warm-up at nine on Sunday morning went ahead, but the fog was so dense that the entire fifteen minutes were run entirely behind the safety car. After that, and almost imperceptibly, the cloud lifted, only to be replaced by persistent drizzle.
As the day wore on the light improved but the track conditions deteriorated. By the time the GT cars headed out for the start of their 60-minute race there were sections of the circuit under inches of standing water. Significantly, the perimeter of the track was also a slimy quagmire of sodden grass and mud. In a change from normal team practice, Marino Franchitti would be swapping roles with Kelvin Burt and taking the rolling start in car #53. As usual, Matt Turner would be driving first-stint in #54.
Almost an hour behind schedule the race began, but it was a tame beginning. The first six laps were held under safety car conditions, with the whole grid effectively on parade as they followed sedately behind the Jaguar pace car. From a safety viewpoint, this achieved three things. The passage of the cars helped to clear some of the standing water, and six laps did a better job of warming the tyres than one would have done. It also meant that by the time racing began the cars were line astern, not side-by-side, and we had a good clean start with no incidents.
As the cars headed up the hill to begin their seventh lap the Jaguar pace car pulled into the pitlane. The three GT cars at the head of the grid sped away along the straight, with Marino Franchitti in car #53 tight up behind. Wilson in the GT Viper got the jump on David Warnock in the pole-sitting Lister into turn one, with Michael Caine in the TVR Speed 12 the next to pass the Storm. This brought Franchitti onto the title-holder's tail, and as they sped down through Daewoo towards the hairpin the Porsche tucked up the inside, out-braking the skittish Lister into the tight righthander. At the end of the first racing lap the GTO driver was already up to third and catching the eye of the heavily partisan crowd.
Although the rain had eased, it had by no means stopped. Under these conditions the GT cars really suffer. They find it impossible to transfer their greater power to the track without wheel spin and traction problems, handing the performance advantage to the more nimble if fifty percent less powerful GTO cars. Lap by lap Franchitti was able to pick off the GT cars ahead of him, with the TVR Speed 12 the next to fall. This was, to a certain extent, a matter of chance. As they came to the end of the straight and prepared to tuck down into Duffus Dip, the front right wheel of the TVR caught a puddle on the apex. Michael Caine simply couldn't hold the car, and the Speed 12 spun inelegantly down the hill. "I was all over the back of the Speed 12 at the end of the straight," said Franchitti afterwards. "I was wondering how I was going to get past, and then he caught the kerb or something and spun. Thank you very much!" Franchitti gratefully swept by.
Franchitti was now faced with the more challenging task of catching and passing Wilson in the leading Viper. Initially he didn't look to be closing too quickly, with the gap narrowing at the rate of only half a second per lap. Then, in the time it took to complete the twelfth, he'd snatched almost three seconds out of the Viper's lead. As they approached the hairpin Franchitti made his move, diving through to claim the top slot. It was brief joy. Exiting the corner the Viper used all the power of it's massive V-10 to accelerate up the hill, crossing the line just four hundredths of a second in front. Franchitti was able to hold the right hand side of the track, forcing Wilson a little wide as they entered Duffus Dip. Then, in an extraordinarily bold move, Franchitti stayed to the right as they came down the hill. They were side-by-side as they negotiated the sweep to the left, with Franchitti bravely determined to hold the best line for the tight right-hander at McIntyre. It paid off.
After only six laps at race pace Franchitti had taken the overall lead. Talking about it later, he appeared very laid back about the manner of his achievement. "The car felt really good and I was able to narrow the gap to the Viper quite steadily. I wasn't driving on the limit and I was using much less of the track than I had in qualifying. I knew I could have gone a lot faster if I'd needed to, but I was taking it easy." One wonders what might have happened if he'd been really trying! Having got ahead of the Viper, he began to ease away. "To be able to pull out a second a lap here, with such a short lap, is terrific," he admitted.
Matt Turner, starting the second of the Parr Motorsport Porsches #54, was doing almost as well. His greatest concern at the start had been Andy Purvis in the #19 GT Marcos, but he swiftly disposed of the yellow LM600 on the first run up the hill. His next target was the tentative Warnock in the Lister Storm, who fell to the American's advances on the following lap at McIntyre. By the time the Speed 12 spun through Duffus Dip Turner was already close behind, and was the second of eight to pass the stricken TVR behind Franchitti. The two Parr Porsches promptly set off after Wilson like a pair of hounds chasing their quarry. "Marino got by the Viper in what I thought was a really ballsy move," said Turner, who found the Viper a much harder prospect to pass. Wise to the game, Wilson was defending hard, and although Turner was putting in some quick laps times, the combination of coping with backmarkers and the Viper's straight line speed meant that the gap stabilised at around four seconds. "I simply couldn't get by," he said, "but Paul [Robe] kept telling me how far ahead of the TVR I was, which was reassuring." In fact, Rob Barff in the Tuscan R was uncharacteristically some 25 seconds adrift and a rapidly diminishing threat.
It was not until the 20th lap, when Wilson became the third car to pit for the driver change, that Turner was able to move ahead. His times immediately improved, and he set a string of his quickest laps despite admitting to a few driving difficulties. "The puddles after Clark were a real problem. I couldn't see them!" he said. Shorter than his co-driver, Turner was finding it hard to peer over the brow of the hill and was being repeatedly caught out by the fluctuating size and position of the standing water. He was also ten seconds behind Franchitti by then, but the GTO one-two was also the race one-two. It was an unprecedented situation.
Half a dozen laps later and Turner pulled into the pitlane for the swap with Ed Horner. Unfortunately, neither of the Parr Motorsport cars enjoyed a faultless pitstop. The hand-over to Ed Horner initially went well, but then the car stalled and refused to re-start. "It was just one of those things," Horner insisted. "Then it didn't want to fire up again. It can happen to any car at any time, but I just know people will think it was my fault! There must have been a build-up of fuel in the exhaust, because the whole thing ignited. It was pretty spectacular! Gary shouted out "It's on fire, it's on fire. Get out!" I ignored him, and Paul [Robe] was great. He said to give it one more try, and I did. It went! I was so relieved." The delay cost the pair about forty seconds, but such had been the pace of Turner's first stint drive that Horner came back out on track still seventh overall, fourth in GTO.
In some respects far worse was to befall the leading #53 car, since the delay they endured was totally beyond their own control. On its first lap out after the driver swap the #20 NCK Marcos braked early for the hairpin - or David Jones in the #78 Eurotech Porsche braked late - and the two collided. The Porsche struggled back to the pitlane, but the Marcos was too badly damaged to move. Part way through Franchitti's 29th lap the safety car was deployed to assist in the recovery of the stranded racecar, and the team took this as an opportunity to call in the young Scot for the exchange with Kelvin Burt. The timing was excellent, since the Parr Porsche enjoyed a forty-second lead over the second-placed GT Viper, then being driven by Tim Harvey.
Parr should have been able to complete the pitstop comfortably and have the car returned to the track without losing position. Inexplicably, the stewards closed the pitlane with the safety car on the far side of the circuit. When Kelvin Burt was eventually released the situation was totally reversed. The car's massive advantage had disappeared completely, to be replaced by a deficit of nearly thirty seconds. Even allowing for the time it usually takes the pair to swap places, which is usually fifteen seconds or less, plus travelling into and out of the pitlane, the car should have been back out a good ten seconds ahead of the Viper. Instead the team now faced the realisation that their chances of winning outright had vanished, and Kelvin Burt only retained the class lead because his own team-mates in car 54 had themselves suffered a slow stop.
When the safety car was withdrawn Kelvin Burt began a spirited fight back, overtaking a string of backmarkers in his attempt to regain the lost ground on Harvey's Viper. He picked off the Ferrari up the hill into Duffus, which brought him onto the tail of Martin Short in the RollCentre Tuscan. The TVR appeared to be having a less than brilliant day by recent standards, although this may have been due to nervous regard for the car's impending entry for the Suzuka 1000 kms. Whatever the reason, Burt swept by the green and blue car on the approach to the chicane, followed quickly by a pass on Mark Sumpter in the #77 Eurotech Porsche. Within one lap Burt had eliminated all but one of the remaining cars between himself and Harvey, but this last was the TVR Speed 12.
Unfortunately, the rules had changed by now. The rain had all but ceased and a dry line was starting to appear around the circuit. Now able to make better use of their horsepower advantage the GT cars were getting quicker as the conditions improved. Although still faster than the TVR, Kelvin took four determined laps to get ahead of the Speed 12, by which time Harvey had extended his lead from five to eleven seconds.
Ed Horner, meanwhile, had found himself in the middle of a mixed string of GT and GTO cars, some of them backmarkers but most of them fighting for position. "The car felt fantastic when I got out on track. It seemed to have so much more grip than the other cars," acknowledged Horner later. The hardest nut to crack was the GT Marcos LM600 being driven by David Leslie, the former Nissan Touring Car driver. Although quicker through the twisty bits, Horner simply couldn't overcome the GT car's speed down the straights. All this time his nearest rival for class honours, the GTO Viper being driven by Stephen Day, was disappearing into the distance. "I'd tried several times to pass the Marcos GT car, and I could see the Viper getting away," he said. Then, on lap 42, Horner got right onto the tail of the Marcos as they came down Duffus Dip. "I tried to nose up on the inside at McIntyre's, but then it all went wrong. I had a huge moment and half spun, then stopped. I was a little fortunate really to get going again without losing a place." He recovered with the loss of about seven or eight seconds, but it now looked as though he would have to settle for third behind the Hayles GTO Viper. That was until Day also took to pirouetting, this time at the final hairpin. The V-10 engine stalled and wouldn't restart, leaving the car stranded just off the racing line. "I came round to the hairpin and saw the Viper," said Horner. "I had to look twice to make sure which one it was, and when I saw it was it was the GTO Viper I felt very relieved."
For a couple of laps the race continued, but with no sign of the Viper being able to move to a safer position the organisers decided to wave the red flags. Just eleven minutes of the hour remained and the race was abandoned. After the one-lap countback Horner was declared second in GTO, much to Matt Turner's relief. The American had worked so hard for the first stint and felt, quite rightly, that he and Horner deserved the extra points.
Kelvin Burt put everything into those final minutes. He set a new GTO record on his penultimate lap in an attempt to stay in contention with Tim Harvey, and he was still lapping consistently faster than Mike Jordan in the third-placed GT Lister Storm. Some indication of how difficult the conditions remained, however, can be drawn from the fact that this new record of 58.284 seconds fell far short of the 51.378 he set in dryer circumstances to claim pole.
Kelvin Burt crossed the line second overall to record another class win, but not the outright victory the team so obviously deserved. Afterwards he admitted that a combination of the changing conditions and the speed of the TVR had prevented him making an impression on Harvey's lead. "I was held up by the big TVR and it took a couple of laps to get past, but Harvey had made the break by then. He was quicker than me anyway, and the car was snapping a bit in the puddles. It wasn't worth throwing the race just to regain the place we deserved to be anyway." The loss of the overall win had clearly affected everyone, and none more so than Kelvin. "They're always so quick to come down on us like a ton of bricks," he said. "We do everything perfectly, and they still treat us like this. That pitlane business cost us the race, there's no doubt about it." Ed Horner felt equally aggrieved, but for very different reasons. "It was a shame we were delayed in the pits. If that hadn't happened, and allowing for the problem with the other car, we could have won here today. We should have won here today! All the same, it's a really good result for the team."
By their actions the organisers ensured that the first-ever British GT race win by a GTO car would not happen at Knockhill, but it had come very close. Marino Franchitti was overjoyed by the class result, which virtually assures the duo the 2001 GTO title, but admitted to a hint of frustration that the outright victory had been denied them. "I feel delighted and disappointed all at the same time, but mostly very happy," he said. "That red light in the pitlane cost us the race. We beat all the big cars fair and square." It remained, however, a popular result with the crowd, to whom the name of Franchitti is fast becoming a synonym for Scottish motorsport success.
Afterwards the youngster admitted to some pre-race nerves. It had been the first time this season that Franchitti had been charged with taking the rolling start. "Knowing I was going to be driving the first stint was extremely nerve-racking until the point I got into the car," he said. "Once I was strapped in I felt much happier, and once I was in the lead I was delighted. I couldn't believe it!" His co-driver also admitted to some apprehension. "Marino did a very good job. I was a bit nervous at the start. I don't like watching - I prefer to be in it - but he did the business."
Aside from the fiasco in the pitlane, the race included a variety of other unusual features. The front row Viper and Lister, for example, were allowed three warm-up laps before the start and then permitted to travel through the pitlane before being pushed backwards onto the grid. With the exception of the #22 Ultima, the remaining cars were only permitted two laps. The Ultima, however, was forced to start from last, not from 11th where it had qualified. In another episode, the #97 Marcos had spun off at Clark's after just two racing laps, but was recovered by the tow-truck during the safety car period twenty laps later. Returned to the pitlane, it then completed a driver change and was allowed to resume racing! It was 32 laps down on the leaders by then, and the original driver had spent half the race sitting behind the Armco. Even the final incident that brought out the red flags had briefly tempted controversy. Although stranded in a dangerous position it was nevertheless within a few yards of the pitlane and also close to the track's shorter circuit hairpin by-pass. It is doubtful that the car would have taken all of the eleven remaining minutes to clear, even had the marshals pushed it to safety, so why was the safety car not deployed? Then, on the countback rule, it transpired that there was a possibility that the GTO Viper, cause of the red flag incident, could actually be classified as second in GTO, ahead of Turner & Horner. Fortunately, closer examination of the times revealed that Horner had passed the stationery Viper twice, crossing the line just six seconds ahead of the cut-off. That late spin was so nearly far more costly than it had previously appeared!
Despite all its problems the race survived the farcical details to remain a thrilling spectacle. The generous crowd endured appalling conditions to be simultaneously entertained, bewildered and drenched.
The next race takes place at Thruxton over the weekend of September 1st and 2nd. It could be crunch time for the championship, with Kelvin Burt and Marino Franchitti now standing on the brink of claiming the title. They have a total of 119 points, with their team-mates Matt Turner & Edward Horner equal second on 76 with last year's champion Mark Sumpter and his current co-driver Shaun Balfe. The two TVR Tuscans are next up with Stanton & Hyde on 68 and Short & Barff on 59. The mathematics suggest that that the only way Burt & Franchitti can be denied the championship is if they fail to score another point in the last three races, while either one of the pairings currently on 76 wins every race.