The Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit played host to round six of Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy, one of the main racing highlights of the annual Lotus Festival at the Kent circuit.
After visiting here on the shorter Indy configuration in May, the full circuit is a whole different challenge and was new for many drivers over the weekend. Jason Baker won the race in May and would be looking for further Brands success, while Supersport championship leader Adam Mackay comes into the triple-header weekend without success ballast after his rare ABS issue and subsequent retirement at Oulton Park last time out. Main rival Ryan Savage- just two points behind- carries 15kgs.
A hot and humid Saturday greeted the drivers as they headed out for the 30-minute qualifying session. With a triple header format being used this weekend, qualifying would determine the grid for race one based on best times, and race three based on second best times. Race two retains the usual top-ten grid reversal.
Mackay once again led the way for the majority of the session and looked set for race one pole, but it was Baker who jumped to the top in the closing stages. Mackay’s best time of 1m36.470s was scrapped for track limits, but Baker’s 1m36.403s put him ahead regardless, set with three minutes to go in the Peoplesource Elise S2. A scant 0.114s was the margin between Baker and Mackay's www.track-club.com V6 Exige. Savage was just a further tenth behind in the Perry's 2-Eleven, making it a remarkably close top three.
Mackay did however do enough to claim race three pole- this time just 0.161s ahead of Savage, with Baker a remarkably small 0.038s further back.
Steve Train and Adam Balon were fourth and fifth in race one times, and swapped round for race three. Andrew Wright (in his Exige V6 Cup R for this event due to problems with his Honda Exige S1) took sixth for both races ahead of the AbleCare V6 Exige of David McInulty.
The shared V6 Exige of Phillip Britten and Marcus Miller took eighth trading positions with Bob Drummond's dark blue example. Elsewhere in Supersport, Scott Couper made his championship debut this weekend in the EMH Motorsport Honda-powered S1 Exige, and Douglas Campbell and Andrew Hamilton were further down the order in their www.track-club.com V6 Exige and Back on Track Exige S1 Motorsport respectively.
The lead Production/Elise Trophy runner was tenth overall, Alex Ball claiming two class poles with an ultimate best of 1m42.480s in his Applecado.co.uk S1 Elise. Luigi Mazza/John LaMaster (Datum Motorsport S2 Elise) were second both times ahead of Freddie Hetherington, who completed the session without a roof after it fell off right at the start. William Stacey was fourth for race one ahead of Jason McInulty, who will start ahead of Stacey for race three.
Axel van Nederveen/Adriano Meideiros were next up in their dark blue Elise ahead of championship leader Stuart Ratcliff, sharing the orange www.track-club.com Elise Cup R with Anthony Dunn. Simon Oakley was eighth ahead of debutant Mackenzie Walker, son of former Formula 3 racer Sean, in a track-club run FAI Automotive Elise 111R. Jon Bryant returns to Brands after racing on the Indy circuit in May (www.track-club.com / Snappyracers Elise 111R), taking ninth ahead of Simon Middleton’s Datum Motorsport Exige. The www.plant-tech.co.uk Elise 111R of Seth Walpole rounded out the top ten in class.
The only incident of note in the session was Mike Perkins going off at Surtees and beaching his Yabe Trading Co S2 Elise in the gravel, causing a brief safety car just before the halfway mark.
Saturday afternoon's opening race of the weekend was stopped seven minutes short of the full 30-minute duration, and robbed spectators of a battle between championship leaders Mackay and Savage...
Mackay made a fantastic getaway from the rolling start, launching ahead of polesitter Baker heading towards Paddock Hill Bend for the first time. Baker then lost out to Savage at Druids, but held on to third at the end of the first lap ahead of Balon and Train.
Oil dropped by another car at Graham Hill Bend then turned the race on its head as leader Mackay flew off onto the grass, rejoining way down in sixth in the Supersport field and handing Savage the lead. Baker was still second at the time, but that wasn't to last, as a mechanical gremlin on his Elise forced him into the pits at the end of the lap.
At the head of the field, a charging Mackay only took three laps to get back up to second and within three seconds of Savage, posting the fastest lap in the process. The gap ebbed and flowed but within the final ten minutes the pair were tied together, before traffic at Graham Hill Bend severely halted Mackay's progress. Just a few minutes later the red flag was thrown when Train- who was running third- went off into the gravel trap at Stirlings. With over 75% of the race complete, there was no restart and Savage took the win, classified as being just six tenths ahead of Mackay.
Another strong grid of Production/Elise Trophy competitors made it to Brands and put on a great show. Polesitter Ball made a good start and led the pack cleanly through the right-hander at Paddock. The yellow Elise stayed at the front for two laps before losing out to Luigi Mazza on the third tour- only to retake the lead again on the next lap!
It only took two more laps for the initiative to switch again, this time favouring Mazza as Ball ran wide at Paddock and let the Datum Elise through once more. That would be the last change of the race as Mazza managed to hold on until the red flag. Ball retained second ahead of Jason McInulty's purple AbleCare Elise. William Stacey was fourth with the Matthew Bentley Racing Elise 111R of Axel van Nederveen/Adriano Medeiros rounding out the top five. David Alexander was next up in his Densy Developments Ltd S1 Elise, having missed the entirety of qualifying with a problem. Jon Bryant finished seventh ahead of Russ Anderson in the Mission Motorsport Elise.
Simon Oakley, Paul Baker and Simon Middleton rounded out the top ten, with only four other finishers in an attrition-filled race; Mads Petersen, Mark Richardsson and Mike and Jackie Perkins.
Championship leader Ratcliff retired early in the race with a rare problem on the Elise Cup R, which carried over after issues in both qualifying and Friday testing. Freddie Hetherington retired on the same lap, whilst Mackenzie Walker collided with another car at Druids on the second lap and briefly went airborne, ending his race on the spot.
Sunday’s opening race, another 30 minute encounter before the 40-minute pit-stop finale later in the day, was hit with a quick but heavy shower just before the preceding race had finished. The competitors were given two green flag laps to acclimatise with the tricky conditions, with no further rain falling but the entirety of the circuit remaining very damp. This also featured the weekend’s reverse-grid, which saw Scott Couper on pole ahead of Douglas Campbell in Supersport, and Production/Elise Trophy being headed away by Paul Baker (Cakes By Appointment S1 Elise) and Simon Oakley’s SO Motorsport/Stratton Quickfit Elise Cup R.
The Supersport start was a step into the unknown, but most got through Paddock safely, unlike the Production runners who would head towards the right-hander a few moments later. This incident caused the weekend’s second red flag to retrieve a number of cars from the gravel trap. At that point it was Balon out front having taken the lead from Campbell at Paddock. Campbell then spun at Graham Hill Bend, dropping to the rear of the Supersport field. Race one winner Mackay had already made up ground and was in prime position to attack at the restart.
That’s exactly what the 18 year-old did, moving up past Bob Drummond and immediately stamping his authority at the head of the field. A brief safety car period for Production cars off at Clearways wasn’t a problem and Mackay controlled the entirety of the 11-minute restart, coming home a relatively comfortable 7.5s ahead of race one retiree Jason Baker, who stormed through from ninth on the grid.
Savage was a few seconds behind Baker in third, in turn just holding onto the final podium spot by seven tenths ahead of Balon’s Exige V6. Britten/Miller were fifth with Drummond sixth ahead of the Production/Elise Trophy winner.
The combination of a damp circuit and a top ten reversal made the Production/Elise Trophy start a frantic one, which unfortunately led to the race’s stoppage. A series of spins at the front of the pack caused a chain reaction in which at least five cars spun, with the unfortunate Seth Walpole hitting the stationary Mission Motorsport car of Webley in the gravel trap, causing significant damage to the front of Walpole’s machine. A bit further round, van Nederveen planted the #51 Elise in the barriers exiting Druids and was yet another car needing to be recovered under the red flag.
The chaos left original turn-one spinner Baker leading Simon Oakley at the front of the field for the restart, with the pair swapping positions at Surtees when racing resumed, whilst Jason McInulty spun and continued a bit further back at the exit of Druids.
It only took until the end of the lap for the safety car to appear as David Alexander found the gravel at Clearways in a synchronised spin with John LaMaster, who managed to continue. William Stacey was now up to second ahead of earlier podium finisher Alex Ball, who started ninth on the reverse grid.
It was Stacey who nailed the restart and managed to take the lead from Oakley at Paddock, with Ball and- with a little help from the safety car- the recovering McInulty also finding a way past Oakley on the same lap. Both Ball and McInulty were quick to gain on Stacey and a three-way battle for the lead was the story of the final 10 minutes.
McInulty passed Ball at Druids on lap six, but the positions swapped yet again next time round and then Ball was immediately challenging leader Stacey into Paddock. The EMH Motorsport S3 Elise ran slightly wide at Paddock and that’s the only mistake Ball needed to capitalise on as he swept into the lead heading towards Druids.
Stacey just missed out on retaining second when McInulty passed him around the outside at Graham Hill Bend on the final lap. LaMaster and Ratcliff had a great battle for fifth, the former coming home just ahead of the orange Elise. Early leader Oakley managed sixth at the flag ahead of Mark Richardsson (Hangar 111 Elise) and a gravelly Elise of Jon Bryant, whose moment came at Paddock earlier in the race.
Mackenzie Walker picked up a finish this time with ninth, just two tenths clear of polesitter Baker. Outside the top ten Mads Petersen (www.scangroup.co.uk S2 Elise) and Simon Middleton’s Exige were the only other finishers.
The final race of the weekend was also the longest, with 40 minutes and a pit-stop in prospect. The sun had returned and the track was now bone dry with no rain incoming…
Championship rivals Mackay and Savage arrived at Paddock exactly side-by-side from the rolling start, Mackay just holding on in the V6 Exige as they headed uphill towards Druids. A feisty Jason Baker was right up behind Savage’s 2-Eleven and the pair remained stuck together for the first few laps, allowing Mackay to just begin to pull away slightly at the front.
The order remained relatively static for the first half of the race, with the pit-stop window opening at the 10-minute mark and remaining open for the next 20 minutes. Savage was the first of the frontrunners to pit but only just stayed ahead of Baker as he exited the pit lane and arrived at Paddock nearly level with the Exige. It was crucial Savage remained ahead here and he began to pull away slightly as Mackay pitted from the lead on lap 18…
A slightly slow stop left Mackay down in third when he rejoined, Savage and Baker both having shot past as Mackay left the pits. The leaders were tied together though, and Mackay still had over ten minutes to try and reel them in.
It was a very close run thing as Baker looked for a while to have the measure of Savage, the challenge being increased as they negotiated slower Production/Elise Trophy class runners. Lap 21 was the key moment of the race as Baker pulled alongside Savage approaching Paddock and made a move around the outside, before Savage braked far later and dived up the inside to immediately retake the lead with a great move.
A few laps later Savage had a comfortable lead over Baker, the Exige never able to re-challenge after that one attempt. Meanwhile Mackay languished around ten seconds behind at the flag, having never been able to re-catch the leaders in the short amount of time he had to do so.
Britten/Miller’s Exige was fifth ahead of another two V8 Exiges of Drummond and Campbell. Andrew Hamilton’s Elise was further down the order whilst Scott Couper went off at Clearways on the final lap and beached his S1 Exige in the gravel trap.
After the chaos of race two, the Production/Elise Trophy contest was thankfully a much tamer affair this time around but still provided much entertainment.
Alex Ball led the early running ahead of John LaMaster, who deposited Jason McInulty for second at Druids on the third tour. It was a steady first few laps and the order remained fairly static until the pit window opened and Ball was the first to jump in and take his mandatory 120-second stop. Meanwhile on track, William Stacey passed McInulty at Druids for second, as LaMaster now led after Ball pitted.
Much like the Supersport race, there was an important change in the stops as Luigi Mazza- taking over the Datum Elise from LaMaster- got out ahead of erstwhile leader Ball. Unlike Supersport, however, Ball couldn’t quite catch Mazza and make it an on-track battle until the flag.
It was a fairly calm final half of the race for the top two with Mazza crossing the line after 23 laps with a lead of nearly six seconds over Ball. Stacey managed to stay ahead of McInulty for the final podium position while Adriano Meideiros- in for Axel van Nederveen- brought their Elise home in the top five.
Ratcliff and Dunn completed a tough weekend with sixth ahead of David Alexander, Jon Bryant, Simon Oakley and Simon Middleton. Paul Baker completed the top ten with Mads Petersen behind.
Next up, Silverstone GP
After Brands the Supersport title race is now led by double winner Ryan Savage by a solitary point over Adam Mackay, who led coming into the weekend. Adam Balon retains third ahead of Jason Baker and Adam Knight.
After a terrible and problematic weekend, Stuart Ratcliff's Lotus Cup Production class lead has been narrowed down to just 17 points between him and Luigi Mazza/John LaMaster.
Ratcliff has, however, lost the Elise Trophy championship lead as Alex Ball has taken to the top after a great Brands weekend, now with 295 points over Ratcliff's 273.
Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy's next stop is to the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in less than two weeks' time, with the shared grid in use once again but this time returning to the typical two-race format over one day.