24th June 2001

Turner takes the lead at the start while Horner sets quickest lap with an oil drenched windscreen at Castle Combe

Sunday was a scorcher. The hottest day of the year so far and 17,000 people enthusiastic spectators descended on Castle Combe. Added to the 8,000 who had attended qualifying, this made for the best ever attendance at a PowerTour meeting and the largest event at the track this side of the last World War. It set the stage for a thrilling day's racing and a battle of a very different kind in Round 7 of the British GT Championship.

A poor turnout in the GT category had been boosted by the arrival of the ex-Roock Racing Porsche 911 GT2 driven by Ashley Ward and Jonathan Rowland. This made a grand total of four, but the two newcomers were fresh to the car and had qualified a lowly tenth. The GTO Viper, meanwhile, had succumbed to engine problems and wouldn't be racing. The scene was set for a firework start, and we got one.

As the pace car broke away into the pitlane the leaders powered through Camp Corner to begin the first lap. The three GT cars at the front got away quickly, thundering away towards Quarry with their own race to run. Matt Turner, taking the roll in car #54, made another of his blisteringly good starts, and was in among the Tuscans as they rounded Folly and headed up Avon Rise three abreast. From way back Rowland had made an even more meteoric start, and the silver GT2 Porsche had muscled through to snatch fourth by the time the pack reached Quarry. Kelvin Burt, from eighth, had been struggling to find room amidst the crush. "It was a complete melee!" he said. "The silver GT2 Porsche was in the middle of it all, and seemingly out of control." In the process he took a knock at the front, but thought little of it at the time, and lost ground to Tim Sugden in the Vent-Axia 911. To everyone's amazement, all twenty cars survived the first corner intact.

Pressing home his advantage, Matt Turner had done well to maintain his charge and cut across the grass at Quarry to be in front of the two Tuscans as they all headed out around the back of the circuit. Across the Esses and onto Old Paddock Bend, he was bearing down on Rowland in the GT2 911. Through Hammerdown he got the line for Tower just right, braked a fraction later, and was through to be fourth overall, leading GTO.

By the end of the opening lap Turner was a second clear of Barff in the #55 TVR, with Sugden a gnats whisker clear of Kelvin Burt, fourth in class and 8th overall. On the run up to Quarry Burt swept around the outside of Sugden, and started bearing down on Barff. By the time they reached the Esses, the two were nose-to-tail, with Richard Stanton in the second Tuscan following him through. After his awesome start Rowland was slipping back at a rate of knots, and was down to tenth again by the end of the second lap.

With Turner leading by a clear hundred yards or so, eyes were now focused on the battle for second. It was tooth and nail for four laps, with Burt always looking the more eager, but Barff seemingly able to use enough of the TVR's grunt to keep the Porsche driver at bay. The two were gaining on Turner, and as they came through to complete their fifth lap the twosome became a fast-moving three. Tight through Quarry, Barff got the inside line for the Esses and nipped ahead of Turner to regain the GTO lead. On the very next lap, Kelvin Burt made exactly the same move. He and Barff extended an advantage over Turner of almost two seconds, with the American now coming under increasing pressure from Richard Stanton in the second Tuscan.

By the seventh lap the leading TVR Speed 12 with Bobby Verdon-Roe at the wheel was already fifteen seconds clear of a titanic struggle between Rob Wilson (Viper) and David Warnock (Lister) for second. They all started lapping the tail-enders. The first two to be caught were the #59 Lotus and the #97 Mantis, and Barff found them enough of a handful to allow Burt to close right up on his rear valence. Once past, he'd ease away a fraction, only for the process to repeat itself each time another backmarker hove into view. Matt Turner also appeared well able to cope - better perhaps that Richard Stanton - but he couldn't hold the Barclays DeWalt TVR at bay for ever. On lap twelve the yellow and black car powered out of Quarry to sneak ahead into those Esses again. That first chicane was fast becoming Matt Turner's least favourite section of track.

Things stabilised for Matt at this point, and although Shaun Balfe in the #77 Eurotech Porsche was never far behind, fourth in class was where he stayed until an early driver change on lap 19 placed Ed Horner in the car. Kelvin Burt, meanwhile, was giving Rob Barff a very difficult time. Lap after lap the Porsche driver hung on to the back of the TVR, getting alongside through Camp Corner on several occasions, but never quite able to make the 911's better handling overcome the TVR's straight line power. "He was making a lot of mistakes, but he was too quick, especially through the two fastest corners." For fourteen brilliant laps they entertained the crowds until suddenly, and without warning, the TVR's engine blew as they rounded Tower Corner. The green and blue car baulked suddenly, and Burt did well to avoid careering headlong into the TVR's rear. "It just blew up," said Burt. "I thought I was going to hit him." Observers remarked on probable contact, but Burt was unsure. "I'm small!" he added, by way of explanation, hunching his neck and peering through the spokes of an imaginary steering wheel. "I can't see the very front of the car. I may have hit him, but I don't think so."

With the TVR's retirement, Burt found himself second overall and leading GTO by a whopping 32 seconds. He stayed out for a further six laps, extending his class lead as the driver swaps came into play until he was more than a lap clear of second-placed Mark Sumpter, now driving the #77 Eurotech car. For two laps Burt lead the race overall, before a fast exchange by the much-practised BVR and Michael Caine GT combo regained the top spot for the TVR Speed 12.

Ed Horner's swap with Matt Turner had been typically quick, although Matt had encountered a few problems with his belts that probably cost them a second or so. "I saw the official looking at me as I came down the pitlane entry," explained Turner. The run into the pits at Castle Combe is winding, slow, and awkward, and littered with officials. "I didn't want to get caught loosing my belts too soon, so I held back. Then two of the catches snagged as the guys were heaving me out of the car. I had to sit back down to undo them again." Horner sped back out onto the track just behind but a lap down on Kelvin Burt, and just in front of the second-placed #99 TVR. He was seventh in class.

Two laps later and Stanton pitted, handing over to Steve Hyde. It was a marginally quicker stop, and the TVR came back out on track just ahead of Horner. His work with Merrill Lynch probably makes Ed quick with figures, but it doesn't take an Einstein to work out that his lap times in the low one oh-sevens were significantly quicker than the Tuscan driver, who was tending towards the mid-eights and nines. Mark Sumpter, still leading in the #77 nine-eleven, was less consistent, but typically lapping in around one minute ten. With more than twenty laps still to run, and the gap between first and third starting from around fifteen seconds, there was a good chance that Horner could reel them in. His best of 1:07.219 on lap 27 set a new lap record, and came hot on the heels of a 07.616 and was followed by a 07.230. The orange car was all but flying. The car felt great," said Horner. "I was doing really good times, and reeling in the TVR and Sumpter lap after lap."

This impressive spurt brought him tight onto the rear end of Hyde's TVR, but no PowerTour GT race would seem to be complete without a Safety Car period. Just as Horner was starting to get the measure of the TVR, out came the Jaguar saloon, yellow lights flashing. Tim Harvey, in his attempts to pass a backmarker, had misjudged his move and ended up in the tyre wall at Camp. This had actually happened on lap 21, but it was a remarkable ten laps before the decision was taken to introduce the safety car while the Viper was removed.

Two laps - and that's all there were behind the SC - was more than enough to pack everyone together tightly. Unfortunately for Horner, however, he had Mike Jordan directly behind him in the convoy. The Lister GT driver had his sights set firmly on the TVR Speed 12 at the head of the pack and wasn't about to make space in his agenda for GTO battles. As soon as racing resumed Jordan Stormed through, and had cut the deficit to Michael Caine from thirty seconds to seven within a lap. "I got hustled out of the way by Jordan at the restart," explained Horner. Also making ground was Ashley Ward, now driving the Tech 9 GT2 Porsche. In a straight line he had the edge on Horner, and got through to place himself between the Parr driver and his immediate quarry: the Hyde TVR.

The two Porsches were well matched and gaining rapidly on the Tuscan. Then, disaster. On lap 36 Ward's car snapped sideways as he slipped up on what proved to be his own oil. Horner, who was directly behind him as they powered through Old Paddock Bend, bore the full brunt of the fluid as it erupted from the sheared hose. For a while the Parr PCGB driver was driving blind, and lost six seconds in one lap. Like a rabbit freed from a trap the TVR was away and into the distance, but all credit to Edward Horner, who recovered his composure and endeavoured to press on. Initially the wiper made the situation even worse, but remarkably his lap times were still in the sub-one-minute-ten bracket. No longer losing ground Horner then began to gain on Sumpter, who had already fallen victim to the charging Hyde. The TVR was able to lap a second or more quicker than the handicapped Horner and had victory in the bag.

Edward's ordeal was not over yet - it was about to get worse. On lap 42 he came up to lap a backmarking Esprit just as the red Lotus took to the verge. A cloud of dust and chaff blossomed into the air, descending in a thick blanket across the Porsche's sticky windscreen. Gamely he pressed on, but any chance of catching Sumpter for second was now gone. "I'd loosened the belts a little," explained Horner, "so that I could lean over and peer through a clearer portion of screen on the right hand side. I think my eyes must have adjusted after a while, because it got a little easier. I didn't use the wipers again though!"

The task now was to hold on to third, which he did with ease, crossing the line nearly twenty seconds ahead of Godfrey Jones in the Preci-Spark Porsche after the latter had gone for a last-lap waltz with the Ferrari at Camp. It was a very relieved Edward Horner who clambered out of the car in parc fermé. "I think I'm just fortunate to finish," he said. "Under the circumstances, I'm really pleased to have got third, but disappointed because I know we should have won this one. I was catching the TVR and Sumpter, and I knew where I could pass them. We were the quickest car in the class and I'm really pleased to have set fastest lap."

Paul Robe was full of praise for his driver. "Edward did a monumental job to bring the car home at all, let alone maintain a pace that was as good as some who could see perfectly," he said. "It's been a tough weekend for us all," he added. "Kelvin had a good battle with Rob Barff, and seemed to have got the better of him even before the TVR had its problem. Kelvin gave Marino a comfortable lead, and then we had a problem with the radiator." Any idea what caused it? "Not yet. Something went through the radiator, but I don't believe it was contact with another car. I don't know what it was, but I would suspect debris from the track." Examination of photos taken during the race would suggest that the damage was sustained early in the race. "The hole was very small, and fluid loss was slow. It wasn't until the car stopped for the driver change that the loss became significant. I saw that, and knew we couldn't continue. It was too great a risk for the engine."

With no points for Kelvin Burt and Marino Franchitti their lead in GTO has been cut back from 32 points to twenty. They remain on 80 points, Sumpter & Balfe have 60, the Jones twins are on 50, and Ed Horner and Matt Turner stand on 48. "The target is to finish first and second in the championship," said Paul Robe. "I believe we can still do that." Based upon their recent run of four podiums on the trot, there's a good chance that Ed and Matt can be there before too long.

Their next chance comes at Brands Hatch on July 7th/8th. The twisty Kent circuit may suit the Porsches better than Castle Combe has done, but only official testing next week will reveal just how close the contest has become.


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