Brands Hatch beckoned for round three of Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy, with the 1.2 mile Indy circuit in use for the first of two visits to the Kent venue this year.
It was a chilly and overcast start for Lotus Cup when the 30-minute qualifying session got underway early Saturday morning. A few drivers- including championship leader Adam Mackay had spent the previous day testing in what were far warmer conditions than that which greeted the drivers now.
Ryan Savage, who was also present at Friday’s test, was quick to set a benchmark which was going to be tough to beat. He was the first to break the 50s barrier - a 49.923s initially, before shortly afterwards an improvement to 49.699s raised eyebrows and kept him at the top for most of the session.
It was Jason Baker who had other ideas about that, the ex-Elise Trophy driver taking pole by just 0.049s with a 49.650s in his Peoplesource Elise S2. Despite his best efforts Savage couldn’t quite match that and settled for second, whilst Baker had another go on the last lap, not able to improve but ultimately that wasn’t a problem as he’d line up at the front for the 60-minute race later in the day.
Adam Knight, who had some time in P1 early in the session, ended up third and nearly four tenths down on the lead duo in his www.track-club.com Exige V6 – an exceptional time on a circuit that undoubtedly suited the lighter 2-Eleven and Open Class Elises.
Meanwhile championship leader Mackay, also in an Exige V6 Cup R, had a quiet session to fourth ahead of Adam Balon’s similar machine. The top five were covered by just half a second. Steve Train was sixth and third in the Open class - behind Baker and Savage- in his Lestung Auto 2-Eleven. Rob Myers was a few tenths further back in another Exige V6 ahead of the Poolcare Leisure S1 Exige of Ian Fenwick. Bob Drummond (Exige V6) rounded out the Exige/Open competitors ahead of the typically frantic scrap for Production honours.
It looked like Alex Ball had pole until a last-gasp effort from the shared Stuart Ratcliff / Anthony Dunn Elise Cup R took top spot away by just 0.115s (53.800s lap). Stuart claiming the glory and the valuable two points for pole position.
Ball held second but only just, a mere 0.006s separating the Applecado.co.uk S1 Elise and the John LaMaster/Luigi Mazza Datum Motorsport S2 Elise. The EMH Motorsport S1 Elise of Freddie Hetherington was third in class ahead of Axel van Nederveen’s 111R run by Matthew Bentley Racing.
Track temperature had increased slightly with a mid-afternoon start for the race. Running the split start format, with the Exige & Open competitors going before the Production grid, it was Baker who held on from pole to lead through Paddock Hill Bend for the first time ahead of Savage, whilst Mackay got the jump on the other Adam (Knight) for third.
The Production group got away in similar fashion, with polesitter Ratcliff holding off Ball and LaMaster as the field successfully negotiated Paddock. LaMaster quickly moved ahead of Ball before the overall leaders came round to start the second lap, with Baker beginning to gap Savage slightly as Mackay comfortably held third.
This became a trend for the next few laps - the top three close but nobody close enough to make a move- before the safety car was deployed on lap five. Running in the bottom half of Production, Mike Courts and Oakley- whose car had already tasted gravel from qualifying - found themselves in the gravel at the top of Paddock. Courts was able to drive away (and that wouldn’t be the only drama for the Mission Motorsport car…) whilst Oakley was once again comprehensively beached.
The action got underway four laps later and saw the first major move of the race, Mackay blasting ahead of Savage - who selected sixth instead of fifth at the restart - to grab second as they braked for the now-gravelly Paddock.
Ratcliff continued to lead Production ahead of LaMaster, who was caught out by that gravel at Paddock and came under pressure immediately from Ball, and the positions did finally change next time round as LaMaster ran wide at Druids.
Worse was yet to come for the American, with a big 360-degree rotation at Paddock a few laps later losing him multiple positions and nearly ending closely following Hetherington’s race, as he ran through the gravel in avoidance and lost places himself.
At that stage Ball had already moved into the Production lead, passing Ratcliff on the 12th lap and beginning to pull away from the orange www.track-club.com Elise Cup R.
As the halfway stage neared, with the pit window opening at the 25 minute mark, Baker had asserted his authority at the front of the field ahead of Mackay and Savage. The latter two wouldn’t stay there for long however, as an incident at Druids involving Mackay and a Production-class car also caught Savage out as he couldn’t avoid the rapidly slowing Exige of Mackay.
With damage on both the front and rear, Mackay slowly crawled into the pits at the end of the lap, with Savage doing the same a short while later too. The Perry’s 2-Eleven was sporting bodywork damage on the front which was quickly taped up, but the mechanical flag was a common sight for Savage so a few more stops were necessary…
Meanwhile Mackay only rejoined for a handful of laps later in the race, the championship leader now far enough behind to assure somebody else would win a Lotus Cup race in 2016! That honour comfortably went to Baker, as despite a quick stall at his stop he took the chequered flag with over ten seconds in hand ahead of the beneficiaries of Mackay and Savage’s issues, Knight and Steve Train.
Both Knight and Train had a relatively quiet race compared to their rivals, unusually never really having the pace to challenge the lead trio. Train was still disappointed with the race despite the surprise podium, which was also second in the Open category behind overall winner Baker. Knight’s second place was enough for Exige honours ahead of the bright green V6 Exige of Adam Balon (fourth overall) and Rob Myers, who rounded out the top five.
Ian Fenwick and Bob Drummond took sixth and seventh respectively and rounded out the Exige & Open segment of the grid.
Back in Production, late drama for Ball saw him lose a comfortable lead to the charging Anthony Dunn, now aboard the Elise he shares with Stuart Ratcliff. It was a surprise end to the race, Ball having no way of fending off Dunn with only a few laps remaining. The top two took the flag in that order whilst third went to Luigi Mazza (in for LaMaster) ahead of the final Production cars of Seth Walpole and the gravelly Mission Motorsport car, now in the hands of Matt Noakes, who had his own trip to the beach at Paddock in the closing stages.
It was a terrible race for Hetherington, who was recovering well after his early-race gravelly moment before a problem saw him retire into the pits near the end. Mackay still leads the way in the overall standings despite the non-score, thanks to main rival Savage not scoring either. Adam’s - Knight and Balon are only split by three points in third and fourth respectively ahead of Andrew Wright, a non-starter at Brands.
Ratliff and Dunn’s victory sees them extend their lead in the Production class even further, now being over 20 points clear of the luckless Hetherington. Simon Oakley is third but just one point ahead of Mazza/LaMaster.