Mon 30 Jul 2012
We had the spectacular sight (and sound) of Jim Geddie's McLaren MP4-12C GT3 entering its first race on UK soil for the new McLaren and Nigel Mustill's Audi R8 LMS swelling the Group 1 ranks, but problems for Kevin Riley's Mosler and Dan Stringfellow's M3 would mean two non-starters.
The GT Cup competitors chose to spend the first day of proper British summertime at the perfect location, Cheshire's beautiful and leafy Oulton Park circuit never looks better than when it is bathed in sunlight.
Kevin Riley and Dan Stringfellow would have been amongst them in their Mosler and M3 respectively but engine troubles dashed their hopes. Riley arrived for testing on Friday but the mechanics couldn't get the engine firing on all cylinders and reluctantly KRM Motorsport had to withdraw. Stringfellow was still without a working engine prior to the meeting.
Another Group 1 car was present but would not be racing. Jordan Witt explained "Our luck at this place is appalling; I hit oil at Shell and went off. The accident wiped the oil lines out so it did the engine. I've stepped into my dad's GT4 car and he has got into a spare GT4 car. It's still a great car but I think if I had been able to start in the GT3 car, even from the back of the grid I could have won here."
Witt junior dropped to Group 2 and Witt senior dropped to Group 3 accordingly.
In qualifying Derek Johnson was quickly onto the pace largely thanks to his tyre management; "We actually went about a second faster in testing yesterday and I could feel the difference today, but then we were on a different tyre strategy. That time yesterday would have put us on pole but it is still really encouraging to be so close to the GT3 cars."
And it was close. As Geddie's tyres came in he topped the times with a 1:40.586 with Chamberlain and Johnston 4/10ths and 6/10ths back respectively second and third overall.
Ironically Chamberlain had to thank Johnston for posting the time that promoted the 935 above the 458. "I'm glad you were pushing on because I had been pootling around 3 seconds off the pace but when I was behind you that is when I realised!"
Nigel Mustill was late onto the track in the Audi R8 having had something of a morning rush to get the correct Pirelli tyres fitted and pressures adjusted. "This is only the second outing I've had in the car and the tyres were still coming in but it felt fantastic. It is my first time on Pirellis but they felt very nice and consistent. My aim is to get used to the car."
Mustill would start from sixth place and was looking to improve on his 1:45.304 during the race.
The R8 was split from its Group 1 counterparts by Jordan Witt and Ian Loggie's Porsche 997, again tightly gapped for Group 2 with a 1:45.099 and a 1:45.230 respectively.
Colin Broster narrowly missed out on Group 3 ‘pole', by only 8/1000ths of a second. "It is frustrating because we are about a second off where we should be
1 77 G1 1:40.586
2 55 G1 1:40.986
3 41 G1 1:41.180
4 98 G2 1:45.099
5 24 G2 1:45.230
6 39 G1 1:45.304
7 62 G3 1:47.237
8 15 G3 1:47.245
9 35 G3 1:48.675
10 97 G3 1:49.500
11 11 G3 2:03.224
The first third of race 1 was a highly entertaining scrap at the front of the field by the key protagonists in Group 1. The Porsche 935 then abandoned leaving the remaining duo to continue the fight for the lead in the middle third. The race was only resolved the way of the ultimate winner, Jim Geddie and the McLaren, in the final third.
Despite what was to come it was Richard Chamberlain that made the perfect start on the outside into Old Hall, carrying more speed into the apex than Jim Geddie's McLaren and launching the 935 into the lead.
Nigel Mustill appeared to have got the leap on Loggie's Porsche over the line but unfortunately it had happened rather too soon: "On the parade lap the Porsche wasn't making any attempt to come back past me and I didn't realise I was out of position on the start." A drive-through penalty halfway through the race was the result, dropping the Audi out of contention.
Back to lap one though and Jim Geddie was under pressure: "These are big tyres and it is hard to get heat into them, I gave it a bit too much power a bit too soon out of Shell and span the tyres up and the Ferrari passed me."
Johnston confirmed "We were all going far too fast for the cold tyres right at the start - Jim's car got unsettled coming out of Shell so I just planted it and scraped past him. It was cat and mouse after that. It was just non-stop, looking through the windscreen, looking at the mirrors, looking everywhere! When Richard's turbo kicked in he was gone but I have better brakes and I had to be careful not to hit the back of him, but careful to keep watching Jim right behind me too."
For the next five laps the three lead cars were indeed disputing the same piece of tarmac, Johnston in particular working very hard, placing the 458 well to defend against the hard-charging McLaren. The first development was a sad one. Just as the lead trio bunched slightly as they came to put a lap on Rowbottom's Ferrari it was Groundhog Day for Chamberlain as he suddenly lost power, the car switching to safety mode without warning. "I lifted off for Lodge, changed down, went on the throttle and there was nothing, only loads of flame out of the back as if it was over fuelling. The guys behind did a great job to avoid me. It is the same problem as Snetterton really, it is proving elusive but we can't replicate it on the rolling road. We've changed every sensor on the whole car and all the logs say everything is okay so the problem isn't anything that is being logged..."
Johnston swerved to avoid the suddenly slowing 935 and it was a doubly gleeful moment - not only had he avoided a collision, but he had inherited the overall lead.
Geddie was really starting to push to try to take it away though and Johnston knew the fight was on; "Boy did he make me work! I knew I was limited on my tyres and as soon as they went I knew that was it. He showed me the side of his car a few times and I knew I had to yield, so he came through on the back straight, if it was the last lap I might have blocked him but it wasn't and there was no point."
Geddie took the lead as they completed Lap 9 and then began to show his pace. On his first clear lap at the front he pulled away by 2.3 seconds. He wound the McLaren down to a best lap of 1:40.384 on the penultimate lap, taking the chequered flag after 15 laps with a 7.7 second lead over Johnston.
In Group 2 Jordan Witt, who had arrived intending to race the GT3-spec Chevron in Group 1, made the most of having to switch to a GT4 version of the car with a well-executed plan coming to fruition and giving him the win over Loggie's Porsche.
In Group 3 John Saunders managed to keep the Trackcars Ginetta in front for the first couple of laps but Colin Broster managed a great run through Lodge and Deer Leap in ABG's Porsche, hugging the pitwall and taking a lead he wouldn't relinquish as they turned into Old Hall.
Saunders had qualified a whisker ahead of Broster, but then had 50kg of ballast added for the race and it was a setback; "We thought we'd lost the ballast after the last race but because the clutch seized on the formation lap there I wasn't classed as starting that race so we had to keep the ballast here and it was always inevitable that the Porsche would come through."
Jim Geddie: "It has taken us long enough to get the car out but it is good to get the win. The car will be one of the top cars, no doubt. McLaren are working with us and, we've got a meeting with them coming up and we'll certainly do a few more rounds of the GT Cup Championship with it. The Ferrari was holding me in the quick corners where the McLaren really comes into its own, but it was quick on the straights. It was too dangerous to try anything into Druids where I really pulled him back but in the end I passed him on the back straight."
Derek Johnston: "That was the best race I've ever had, it was very good fun. I don't think I've ever worked that hard. At least Jim will have to carry some weight next time!"
Jordan Witt: "It went to plan really. I stuck with the Group 1 cars out front until their tyres fully came in, when I knew I couldn't race them anymore. That meant I had built up a gap of around seven seconds that the team showed me over the pitwall so then I could just manage it from there and keep the gap, keeping it calm and not doing anything stupid."
The grid for race 2 was formed based on the fastest laptimes set in race 1. The order was #77, #41, #55, #98, #24, #39, #15, #62, #97, #35, #11.
After the intensity of the start of Race 1, Race 2 was perhaps a more straightforward affair. Sadly two cars were lost straightaway - #24 not being able to get away properly on the formation lap and coming straight in to retire; and #62 calling at the pits briefly too before heading back onto the track but only to pull straight off.
Chamberlain made up a place again at the start, this time demoting Johnston to third place with a bold move at Old Hall. By the end of lap one Geddie led by half a second and Johnston was 2.6 seconds adrift from his Race 1 buddies.
Broster had built a lead in Group 3 of 3.2 seconds from Chris Bentley on lap one and was in pursuit of Mustill's Group 1 Audi, untroubled by anyone else in Group 3; "I thought I could probably catch the Audi but then I thought what would I do then if I did catch him?!" In the end Broster drove a faultless race, taking a fine pair of class wins at his local circuit.
With three laps done Chamberlain still had Geddie very much in sight but once again the gremlins struck and the 935 slowed suddenly again, this time being parked up at Knickerbrook. This left Geddie clear to take his second win of the day.
"Actually I'm secretly glad because my brakes started to go as I was pushing so hard. The rest of the car was great and the brakes can be sorted through development. The key for that race was to get a good start and not letting the rocket-ship  get ahead so I'm really pleased."
Derek Johnston had a lonely but uncomplicated run through to second place and Mustill brought the R8 home third overall and in Group 1.
With half the race gone Jordan Witt had been third overall when a hose clip broke and despite pulling straight into the pitlane the Chevron was a steamy retirement.
Witt senior tried to give the family some honour and the factory some cheer as he gained on Bentley's Porsche to try to take second place in Group 3 but he couldn't find quite enough pace to mount a challenge.
Either that or he may have simply been deafened when Bentley's header pipe cracked open right in front of him, the Porsche man confirming that picking up his second podium of the day had been very aurally challenging!