Oulton Park hosted the third round of the Britcar Endurance and Praga Category this weekend in front of a large crowd keen to escape their homes as the British summer seemed to finally get underway. With the usual two races preceded by a single 30 minute qualifying session it was the Praga category that really got to shine as they dominated qualifying and filled the first four rows of the grid.
At the head was the #111 Tim Gray Motorsport Praga R1T of Richard Wells and Alex Kapadia who in the 14th of 15 laps clocked up a time of 1:32.780 taking pole 0.325 seconds ahead of the CW Performance Praga R1 of Christopher Wesemael and Richard Morris.
The session was marred by an early red flag and with traffic playing it’s part on fading tyres Kapadia got the required time.
“It was slightly frustrating for the drivers who went out first because there was a red flag after about 4 or 5 minutes.” said Kapadia after the session. “It wasn’t great for them as it really interrupted their session. Richard went out again and did a few more laps and the other problem we have with the Praga is it’s so quick compared to everything else that it’s rare to do a lap without getting any traffic so Richard’s laps were affected a bit by traffic.
“I got out and again the best bit of my tyre was affected by traffic but luckily I managed to get a lap in near the end that was good enough for pole even with a bit of traffic but it’s looking positive for the race.”
With traffic causing a problem on the tight circuit Kapadia was grateful that some of the GT3’s that appeared earlier in the season had chosen to skip this round.
“It’s a circuit that really suits a lightweight, nimble car with a bit of aero. However, some of the quicker GT3s that were at the previous races haven’t turned up this weekend so we’re not moaning, it’s going to help our race.
“When we’re at circuits like Silverstone and Snetterton we’ve been equal on pace but we’ve been gaining it in different ways so we’re tripping over each other. Here we’ve got the top nine Pragas all in a row at the front of the grid so it’s going to be a great battle.”
Behind the Praga lockout saw the Motus One McLaren GT3 of Will Power and Dave Scaramanga take class pole in P10 overall alongside the seasoned Britcar campaigners that are MacG Racing in their Ultima derived Taranis making their first appearance of the year.
With just 6 laps under their belt due to a suspension problem, the MacG squad were happy with their position on the grid but felt they could have done better.
“Yesterday there was an incident where a wall was tagged,” said Jonny MacGregor. “It was at the start of the day so we thought it was all okay because we did all the sessions yesterday and then this morning we did a couple of reasonable laps. Fortunately I was just on a lap that was a bit slower to give myself a bit of space before I went for it. Into the hairpin I braked and the rear end went extremely unstable. I came in and one of the joints in the suspension that had been hit yesterday had failed.
“It’s a shame because we didn’t get a really good solid lap in in qualifying. We should have been comparable with the McLaren, to be honest this circuit plays to all our weaknesses. We’ve got a very stiff car here and a very aerodynamic stable car but on a bumpy circuit that doesn’t have many high speed corners it doesn’t really help us. There are no long straights for our power to really make a difference but we’ll work through it, we’re finding more and more time as the weekend goes on.”
With just the two competitors in Class 1 and Class 2 missing completely it was the lower classes that filled up the rest of the grid. The four cars in Class 3 were led by the Ferrari 458 Challenge of Charlie Hollings and Chris Goddard whilst the largest class with 10 entrants, Class 4, saw the Team Brit Aston Martin Vantage GT4 take pole just 0.009 seconds ahead of the Seat Cupra TCR of Ashley Woodman and Martin Byford.
As predicted the Praga contingent dominated both races, with pole sitter Richard Wells quickly getting on the pace and building a strong lead at the start of both races. However luck wasn’t with the rally driver turned sportscar racer, as safety cars in both races cut his lead.
“Race one we started in pole so had an advantage,” said Wells. “I managed to get the start and then after that it was really about just getting my head down and just having a clean run and getting those lap times in. I think we pulled 9 or 10 seconds on P2 and then unfortunately the safety car came out so that brought the pack back together.
“We then called into the pits, swapped over and I think we had a small delay in the pits so we dropped down to P2.”
After taking over the car from Wells, Kapadia found himself fighting with the #29 CW Performance car with Richard Morris and Christopher Wesemael. As the pair fought it out Angus Fender caught up in the Praga Race Academy car and was in the right place to grab the lead as safety car signs appeared around the track but with no safety car being deployed. With the green flag appearing almost immediately Fender was quickest to react and powered past Wesemael and Kapadia who found themselves blocked along Lakeside by a slower car.
Fender was able to pull away and hold the lead to the end as both chasing cars struggled to clear the back marker.
Further back Jonny MacGregor was happy with the performance of the Taranis claiming second in class and seventh overall having led the class for much of race 1.
“The car was very good,” said MacGregor. “In the first race we were a bit more competitive because we were on new tyres so actually in the first stint I got a 17-18 second lead, then the safety car and it all went. I kept up with Will through a bit of it and then through the traffic he pulled out a bit of lead towards the end.
The Class 3 victory went to Hollings and Goddard in the their Ferrari 458 challenge over a minute ahead of the #69 Porsche of Marcus Fothergill and Dave Bennett who were tussling with Mark and Peter Cunningham in the the SG Racing Porsche.
Class 4 also saw a close battle with Team Brit taking a tight victory over the EDF Seat Cupra of Woodman and Byford. The #68 Aston Martin GT4 driven by Bobby Trundley and Aaron Morgan was chased for the entire race by the Cupra with just a few tenths separating the Aston from the Seat at the end.
Race 2 seemed to follow a similar pattern, Richard Wells was again away and into the distance from the start and again the safety car took the victory from him.
The Class 4 winners from race one, Team Brit, found themselves in the tyre wall at Brittens and the resultant safety car picked up the pack moments before the pit window opened. This was 5 seconds too late for Wells who had passed the pit entry whilst most of the following pack were able to creep in, most having realised what was about to happen and had slowed almost to a crawl on the drive to Lodge Corner.
“We just had some bad luck with the safety car and the pit window,” said Wells. “Again we got a decent lead and the safety car came out and as we were coming round it was literally a few seconds to the pit window to open. We missed it and had to do another lap behind the safety car and we’re a minute down. Alex did a phenomenal job to work his way back to get back into the points.”
At the restart it was the #333 Team Praga Three Lions car with Gordie Mutch at the wheel in the lead with Jack Fabby in the #91 in P2 and race one winner Angus Fender catching them in P3.
Having retired from race 1 with mechanical issues, the #333 was hopeful of a good result but couldn’t hold off the charging Angus Fender who came through to take his second victory of the day 4 seconds ahead despite Mutch upping his pace in the final laps.
Championship leaders Christopher Wesemael and Richard Morris were unable to capitalise on their P3 in race one and only completed 17 laps before a mechanical problem forced them out of the race. This allowed Wells and Kapadia in the #111 to close the gap between first and second in the championship standings down to just 5 points.
It almost wasn’t to be for Wells and Kapadia as following his late pit stop, Alex Kapadia re-joined the race in P13 but the experienced racer was not going to settle for that and began his charge through the field. By lap 29 and with a brace of fastest laps under his belt, he was in P3 and pulling away from Jack Fabby in the #91 Powerhouse Performance car that he shared with Charlie Martin, leaving them to claim their second P4 of the day.
Martin couldn’t hide her disappointment at the result.
“It could have been worse it could have been better I think it’s frustrating. No fault to Jack, Alex was flying in the last section but it’s frustrating to be up there and to see the podium slip from your grasp, she said after the race.
“We’ve had a few issues this weekend, we’ve been struggling with the pace of the car, so yeah it could have gone better it could have gone worse. We finished higher than we started in both races so that’s a positive, we’ve come away and the car is in one piece, some good points to come from that and I mean that’s going to move us a bit higher in the championship so yeah you’ve got to look at the positives.
“It’s just sometimes you feel like you’ve not been able to extract the performance that’s been there in the car so yeah, hay ho. We’ll figure out what we can do for the next race and we’ll be pushing hard at Silverstone.”
Personally, Martin was happy with her own performance but can still see areas to improve in.
“I was happy with my stint, I feel like I did everything I could really. In the first race I got stuck behind Jay for a bit and lost the pack, so I managed to get past the cars in front and I’m struggling with the pace to stay on the back of the front runners this weekend. But I got out into space and just got my head down and brought the car in in fourth after starting fifth.
“It’s frustrating when you’re pushing the car and you’re pushing it harder and harder and harder and I don’t know if I’m overdriving it or quite what but the lap times aren’t coming here and it’s confused me.”
Another to struggle with the weekend was Jimmy Broadbent who in front of a large contingent of fans had problems all day. A gear box failure in race one resulted in a DNF for the #87 Team J2 Praga he co-drives with Jem Hemsworth.
A further problem at the start of race 2 saw the pairing two laps down right from the start so for Broadbent it was just a matter of enjoying his time in the car including a short battle with Miles Lacey in the #7 VR Motorsport car he shares with James Walker.
“We had a problem at the start so we were a couple of laps down before we even started,” said Broadbent. “But once we went going the car was fine really, it was nice, just sort of getting through traffic. I got to overtake Miles, I won’t tell him yet. It was fun, I think I was un-lapping myself but if he was holding me up I’ve got to get by so I had to get past him but it was fun I enjoyed it.”
He was also full of praise for the Cheshire circuit.
“Oulton Park is an awesome circuit. Really quick, really fun. When you get it right it feels like it’s one big flow. It was nice to get to drive it, I think generally it was good to test at Oulton and I mean really, points wise we didn’t really score anything which is a bit of a shame but it’s all practice and experience at the end of the day.”
Behind the Pragas it was a repeat of the first race in Class 1 with Will Powell and Dave Scaramanga taking their second win of the day ahead of the MacG Racing Taranis which was struggling on used tyres and the apparently minor issue of a loose front wheel.
“The car was very good,” explained McGregor. “We didn’t have new tyres on for that race so that’s where we suffered a bit but otherwise the car was excellent. We did have a loose front right wheel coming into the pitstop and the team tightened that up and there was a bit of a vibration after that but apart from that all was good.
Class 3 was also a repeat with the #144 RNR Performance Ferrari 458 Challenge taking the win ahead of the #32 SG Racing Porsche.
Class 4 went to the EDF Motorsports Seat Cupra of Ashley Woodman and Martin Byford who led from the start and took the fastest lap. Their main competition came from the #68 Team Brit Aston and the #138 Simpson Motorsport Audi TCR of Hugo Cook and Sasha Kakad however both ended up in the barrier with only the Audi being able to continue and finishing in P20 overall.
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