Richard and Sam Neary, driving the Invitation entry Team Abba Racing Mercedes GT3, took a convincing win in Race 1, with 17-year old Sam also bagging pole position in hIs fIrst outing in a GT3 machine. In fact, it is believed that he is the youngest ever driver to race a GT3 car, made all the more important by his maiden success.
Extremely high winds blighted the whole event, no doubt affecting performance, and leaving many teams wondering where their pace had gone during the 30 minute qualifying session, though the grid was much as expected, with the exception of the Paul Rose/Kristian Rose Saker, which would start at the back due to exhaust issues in qualifying. Another Class 1 car out of synch would be the VR Motorsport Praga, a late-discovered fuel switch issue stopping it from taking it’s place on the front row next to the Mercedes, and joining the race a lap down.
Richard Neary, taking the first stint in the Mercedes, led away from the rolling start, but making a stand for the regular runners was Chris Hart, in Steve Harris’s Saker, making an ambitious move down the inside at Riches; there was slight contact, and the Mercedes retained the lead, which it would begin to build. On the move was Mark Cunningham, starting the SG Racing Porsche from 10th on the grid and taking third place midway through the opening lap. Following him through was Paul Rose, his Saker up to fourth by lap two, then third when he deposed Cunningham.
Close action in the opening laps upset Ben Sharich’s progress, a tap in the rear of the Taranis causing him to take stock of any damage issues, and how to drive around them, and by lap 12 the field was spread around the track, with the exception, that is, of two squabbling Ginetta G55s – Steve Burgess in the RAW-run car enjoying side-by-side action with series debutante Will Stacey, racing for Addenbrookes Hospital charity, but certainly not a charity case when it came to talent. Leading Class 2 in the early stages was the Saker of David Brise, just ahead of Paul Bailey’s Ferrari 488, and the late-starting Praga was making progress, Grant Wiliams up to 13th.
Bang on schedule, with 24 minutes of the race run, Bailey brought the Ferrari into the pits, for pro-driver Andy Schulz to take over, a move followed by Peter Bassill (Ginetta G55), Moh Ritson (Ginetta G50) and the VW Golf of newcomer Jeff Clark, handing over to son Ru. This, while sensible in normal circumstances, would prove to be not the best option, as the Safety Car was deployed just minutes later – Chris Hart had parked the second-placed Saker with driveshaft failure and needed recovering.
A dash for the pits ensued for most runners – even those who normally stay out till last knockings, like Mark Cunningham and David Brise – and in Team Abba’s case, a double stop to take on two churns of the maximum-allowed 25 litres of fuel.
The Mercedes, now with Sam Neary on board, had retained the lead during the caution period, and once it as lifted, had a one-lap lead over Kristian Rose, who had taken over from dad Paul in the #3 Saker, while losing-out big time due to the Safety Car were Andy Schulz, an almost definite second place and class win now doubtful, and Ed Moore, having taken over the Tockwith G50 from Moh Ritson, at the head of the queue behind the Safety Car, with the leaders bringing up the rear, the best part of a lap to the good.
The Tockwith G50 would be just one of a succession of retirements around this time, pitbound with mechanical issues, as was the VW Golf of Ru Clark, while Al Boulton wasn’t out long in the Praga either, the fuelling concerns now thought to be a pump issue, and the stunning car was pushed into the garage for investigation.
So, the top three in the final 15 minutes were Sam Neary, Kristian Rose, and Alan Purbrick, who had taken the Class 2 ALP Saker over from David Brise, but was only just ahead of a three-way battle for Class 3 honours; Ben Dimmack’s Ginetta G50 was catching Peter Cunningham’s Porsche for the top points place, and both were moving up on class leader Sam Tomlinson, in the RVS Tec G50 started by Will Stacey, which as an Invitation entry would be scoring points, and by the final lap, third, fourth, fifth and sixth were together, all fighting, and it could go any way. Cunningham, then Dimmack, took Tomlinson, leaving Cunningham a tenuous class leader, but with a faint sniff of an overall podium if he could catch Purbrick. It wasn’t to be though – Purbrick’s Saker was just one second ahead at the flag, as Peter Cunningham drove the race of his life (which would earn him Britcar Driver of the Day) to cross the line just half a second in front of Dimmack, who made a last-gasp dash for the class win, with Britcar debutant Sam Tomlinson just 1.275 seconds further back. Four cars separated by less than three seconds after 60 minutes of racing – how much more competitive can that get?
Team Abba brought their high-level experience to the party to claim a comfortable win, having flexibly strategized a history-making performance by teenager Sam against the experience of dad Richard, begging the question, is the child now becoming father to the man? Paul and Kristian Rose, too, put in a stupendous performance from the back of the grid to second place at the flag, in the JPR Motorsport Saker, driving around a niggling brake issue, and third overall, and Class 2 honours, for Alan Purbrick and David Brise in the ALP Saker was redemption for an absolute mare of a season so far.
So the Safety Car either fell your way, or it didn’t, particularly if you pitted religiously to the received wisdom of the 60/40 pro-am strategy; Andy Schulz was as fired-up as always in the SB Race Engineering Ferrari 488, valiantly attempting to claim a lap back from the leading Mercedes, and seventh overall, second in Class 2 was no reflection of his and Bailey’s potential, and the same goes for the MacG Racing Taranis – the early unsettling of the rear-end damage for Ben Sharich, the pit stop seconds before the Safety Car was deployed, meant that Jonny MacGregor had to work hard in a less-than-perfect car to get eighth place. Peter Bassill pitted to schedule too, in the Century-run Ginetta G50, handing over to teenage prodigy Emily Linscott, with lap times indicating that they might have finished further up than 11th overall, though they did pick up the third-placed points in Class 3.
The Forelle Estates Porsche Cayman has been ever-improving since it joined the championship, and, with regular driver Mike Price joined by pro-driver Marcus Clutton, they sealed to Class 4 win, ahead of lone-driver Tim Docker, unable to implement his trademark last-lap heroics in the Maximum Motorsport VW Golf this time, while a late start, and pitting to schedule, stymied the EDF Ginetta G50 of Paul Calladine and Graham Roberts, who completed the Class 4 podium.
Lone Class 5 runner Rob Baker kept it honest in the Smart For-Four, but was thwarted by a mechanical issue which caused retirement minutes from the end of the race.