Invitation entries swept the latest round of the Dunlop Production GTN Championship as non-championship runners won both classes in the two hour race at Snetterton.
Gino Ussi – a familiar name to the Britcar paddock dominated the front of the Class One field in his KG Motorsport BMW. He had clinched class pole during the previous day's qualifying and converted the advantage into an early lead ahead of the Topcats Racing Ginetta G50 and the SEAT of Mark and Peter Cunningham.
A pair of safety cars dampened what could have been a interesting on-track battle for the lead as two of the GT cars the Production GTN entrants shared the track with expired prematurely with mechanical issues.
The early neutralisations also benefitted the Class Two leaders. After a stuttering campaign with their Ferrari last season Production champions Bullrun have reverted back to their SEAT and following a victory at Castle Combe Richard Adams and David Green were back in action, sometime third driver and recent BTCC debutant Martin Byford on hand as team manager in the garage.
Adams had started the car but, as the slower of the two drivers was fearful of losing time in one of the bigger Class Two entries of the season with six other entries including Production points leaders Alex Osborne and James May in their older shape SEAT Leon.
While Adams kept the lead May in the APO Sport car had already had to pit to replace a punctured tyre on the car that plunged them down the order, already a lap off the overall pace before the second outing for the safety car. The pair would end the race as the final classified finisher in fifteenth.
At the head of the field the Cunningham's black SEAT gradually faded from the lead battle to be replaced by Chris Randall and Simon Phillips' Lotus Elise.
With Randall starting the car the little Lotus climbed as high as second in the opening hour, ahead of the Topcats Ginetta started by Mick Mercer. Early in the second hour Randall took the lead when Ussi pitted from fifth overall – the earlier safety cars enabling the more fuel frugal Production cars to mount incursions upon the GT dominated leaders.
However, Randall himself pitted only a handful of laps later giving Ussi a full a lap advantage as Simon Phillips slotted back into second. Emerging back onto the track with a healthy advantage over the Topcats entry the Production podium should have been settled at that point.
However a stranded Mazda MX-5 GT brought out the safety car for a third time, bunching the pack up and putting Gary Smith in the Ginetta within sight of the Lotus as they weaved around the three mile circuit.
For the closing laps of the race the battle for the lower steps of the podium raged, all the while with the GT ranks carving their way through the slower traffic. A slow lap – some two seconds down on normal pace – from Phillips as he was lapped by GT leader Phil Dryburgh left Smith just a fraction on a second behind the Lotus, The Topcats Racing driver able to overhaul a 0.2 second cushion on the final lap to take second place by just 0.781 seconds, nearly 30 second behind the race winner.
“It was just a fabulous car,” Ussi praised Keith Gent's team for the winning car. “I haven't raced for a year but when he asked me if I wanted to do this race I jumped at it. I got on pole and went off from there. There was no problem at all, in fact I diced with a Ferrari and a couple of GT3s during the race it was great. And I was surprised – the tyres lasted a lot longer than I thought they would.”
Fourth went to another Lotus Elise, Jeff Mileham and Stephen Guglielmi Honda powered version, with Jensen Lunn and Sarah Bennett–Baggs fifth ahead of the Bullrun squad, who eased to victory by three laps over Tim Saunders in his ex-BTCC Honda Civic.
“Looking at the qualifying times and pace in testing I was as quick as all but one of the opposition drivers – both first and second drivers – and David was obviously quicker than everybody,” said Bullrun driver Richard Adams. “So the plan was if I could at least stay with, or slightly ahead, of the competition by the time I came in then the strategy would work out and that's exactly what happened.”
“I plugged to go out first and planned to do 48 minutes. The two safety cars actually played into our hands very well, though it wasn't very exciting for me having safety cars for nearly half my stint. When the second one came out we pitted at the right time so we were out and right on the tail of everybody else with our stop already done, so it was job already done. It took us a couple of laps to overtake the other six cars in our class and we just held the lead. The pace was steady all the way through and we ended up with a couple of lap lead. A perfect weekend.”
The final step on the Class Two podium went to Mike Wilds and Piers Ward in their Mazda.