In an entry on finalised only finalised in the days leading up to the race and a car that was only race prepped in the Rockingham garages the night before the race former Production champions Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson won by two laps in what the pair hope is a delayed start to a full season in the Britcar Dunlop Production GTN Championship.
“It's nice to be back to be honest with you,” said Gibson after the finish. “We weren't sure if we were going to carry on with Britcar this year. We sort of had a mad decision yesterday and we had a word with James [Tucker] and basically got into the championship yesterday and it's nice to come back and win the first race.”
In hindsight the performance was one of near dominance, the pair leading from nearly two-thirds of the Production race's 97 lap duration – with tranches either side of the team's pitstop just on lap 37.
A wheel bearing problem had affected their qualifying, so Gibson started from second in the production classes (fourteenth overall on the combined grid)and initially ran third, behind the Topcats Racing Ginetta that had started from pole and the Smith family's Reflex Racing entry started by Matt Smith, which jumped into the lead after the first racing lap. The Essex-based driver's lead was not to last though, as first Gibson in the Intersport BMW then Mark Cunningham in the SG Racing Seat shuffled past to lead a tightly bunch leading quartet.
For Rockingham – following some confusion at the season opener at Silverstone – the Cunninghams, Mark and father Peter, had been moved back into Class 1 of the Production field. Though their attempted off-season move into Class 2 came partly because of the strong opposition in the faster class they began at Rockingham acquitting themselves well against the BMWs and Ginettas that dominate the class.
Their race at the front, unfortunately, came to an early end as the black Supercopa running off at the Brook Chicane to bring out the first of two safety car in the 150 minute race.
The car's resting point – nosed into the tyre wall on drivers' left was only part of the problems. As the small team and the two drivers frantically tried to repair the car the damage was apparent. Mark explained to www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk that a ball joint in the front suspension had broken, dropping an arm onto the left-front wheel rim, shearing the rim in two and causing the accident.
To the credit of the team they repaired the car at it returned to the track later in the race to complete a total of 69 laps – the best of the cars not to be classified.
The Intersport team's stop to put Kevin Clarke into the car, dropped them from the lead, the Topcats Ginetta – piloted by Mick Mercer from the start – taking up the point ahead of the Motionsport Lotus Elise. When both made their first pitstops the afternoon - Topcats on lap 44, then, after a stint leading by a full lap, the Motionsport entry - Kevin Clarke inherited the lead for Intersport once again, protecting a healthy advantage for the final 37 laps of the race.
“A lot of these smaller cars they seem to lose the pace after an hour or so but our car just keeps soldiering on and soldiering on,” assessed Gibson. “It's more set up for 24 hour racing and twelve hour endurance racing and that's where we seem to gain.”
After their stop the Motionsport team, with Simon Phillips driving the car to the checkered flag, held onto second place. Mark Ticehurst and Owen Mildenhall stood on the final step of the podium, giving the works-supported Mazda MX5 its first trophy in Britcar competition.
The already thin Class 2 field was not helped by the pre-race problems for Dave Allan's Honda Jazz. After running well in the unofficially timed test session the day before Allan was upbeat ahead of qualifying. However, a precautionary engine change that forced the Synchro Motorsport team to miss qualifying would also end Allen's race without the Jazz completing a lap.
Like Class 1, in Class 2 the win also went to a BMW running team – ING Sport - that was also absent from proceedings at Silverstone – due to Anthony Wilds' wedding a few days before – as he and co-driver Ian Lawson triumphed over the small field in the class that saw only one other classified finisher – the APO Sport SEAT of Alex Osborne and James May (no, not that one).
Lawson started the car, but pitted after 31 laps to hand the car over Wilds. The early stop dropped the two laps behind the class leading SEAT, leading to some confusion as Wilds explained; “the team told me we were two laps behind when we came out, but in fact when the SEAT pitted and came out we were in front. So I was pushing to catch him, but actually I was coming up to lap him.”
Both Lawson and Wilds reviewed a tough day in the car in hot conditions. Lawson having to cope with the heat during two early safety while the longer stinting Wilds described their car as tougher to drive than the GT machinery, the BMW's h-pattern gearbox especially tiring around the technical Rockingham infield.
“The car was superb,” Wilds extolled the virtues of the Rick Johnson prepared 3-series. “ING Sport did a fantastic job – it never missed a beat. It's lovely to be back in the old car – it just sings everytime you get in.”