Oulton Report – Lotus Cup Round Five
Some five weeks following the overseas round in Belgium, Lotus Cup & Elise Trophy returned to the UK at the picturesque Oulton Park circuit in Cheshire. In a complete contrast to the long, wide nature of Spa, Oulton represents a very different challenge and tricky weather conditions made it an even harder proposition for the competitors in both championships. The narrow nature of the track and little run-off makes it one of the most challenging events on the calendar.
Championship leader Adam Mackay put his www.track-club.com Exige V6 on pole in morning qualifying for the one-hour Lotus Cup race later in the day, his ultimate best of 1m51.073s putting him 2.3s clear of nearest rival and www.track-club.com team-mate Adam Balon, also behind the wheel of a V6 Exige. The tricky track conditions meant that the timing of the last qualifying lap was key and Mackay driving on a circuit that he had raced on previously for the first time this year hooked everything up at the right time.
Very tricky conditions made it a real test for the cars taking to the damp International configuration of Oulton. Whilst the two Adam's locked out the front row, Ryan Savage (Perry's 2-Eleven) was just a tenth shy of Balon in third, taking 'Open' class pole ahead of Steve Train in another 2-Eleven (Leistung Auto).
Andrew Wright's Exige S1 rounded out the top five, ahead of nearest challenger Phillip Britten (Exige V6). Freddie Hetherington, behind the wheel of an S1 Exige after previous outings in the Production class and Elise Trophy, was seventh in the car run by EMH Motorsport that he would share with pro driver brother Benji.
Bob Drummond (Exige V6) and Ian Fenwick (Exige S1) completed the top nine, just ahead of Production class polesitter Stuart Ratcliff / Anthony Dunn aboard their Elise Cup R. Having lost fourth gear on the Friday pre-event test day, a gearbox change was required and meant a late night for the team, so pole position was a good start to the morning.
Douglas Campbell was 11th in another www.track-club.com Exige V6, ahead of the final nine Production class runners, led by the SO Motorsport & Stratton Quickfit Elise Cup R of Simon Oakley.
The shared Axel van Nederveen / Adriano Medeiros Elise 111R run by Matthew Bentley Racing Elise was next up, ahead of Luigi Mazza and John LaMaster in a car borrowed from championship rivals track-club – this sort of paddock camaraderie being typical of the friendly Lotus paddock. American racer Lamaster’s own Elise S2 was benched following engine problems.
Jason McInulty (AbleCare Group Elise), Seth Walpole (www.plant-tech.co.uk Elise 111R), and the Densy Developments Ltd Elise S1 of David Alexander followed ahead of Neil Livesy who had former Porsche and Formula Ford driver Tom Bradshaw alongside him in the Alfred Fraser Bathrooms sponsored S2 Elise also being run for the first time this weekend by Matthew Bentley Racing.
Alex Ball had a tough session by his standards, the Applecado.co.uk Elise S1 languishing down in 19th ahead of the final classified qualifier, the Mission Motorsport S2 Elise of Matt Noakes and Danny Holland.
Jason Baker was a notable absentee from qualifying, suffering with alternator problems with his Peoplesource S2 Honda Elise and thus seeking permission from Clerk of the Course Nick Turner starting from the rear of the grid for the afternoon's 60-minute race.
Race – 60 minutes
Falling rain and a wet track greeted the drivers as they headed to the grid for Lotus Cup round five. Wet or dry Avon tyres was the question, and the decisions taken as the cars headed off on the green flag lap would prove crucial to the race. Pitting for wets at the end of the green flag lap- thus starting from the pit-lane- was a gamble, but one which paid off for those who were brave enough to risk it.
Some even made that decision in the assembly area prior to the start. Exclusions in qualifying for Balon and the shared Freddie & Benji Hetherington car (failed ride height) gave them a good chance to try it, seeing as they'd be starting from the back anyway.
This emphatically paid off for Balon in particular, who darted up to second by the start of lap three and was right behind leader Mackay, who had led from pole up until this point. By the fourth tour Balon was through and into the lead, and those out on dry tyres- the majority of the field- were eagerly anticipating the opening of the pit window to change to wets. These were very difficult conditions on wet tyres, let alone struggling around on a dry compound.
When the pit window did open, those on the dry tyres naturally came in immediately and it soon proved to be Balon's race to lose. Having pitted from second, championship leader Mackay rejoined with wets and it would have been interesting to see a straight fight between the two Adam's, now on the same tyre. However, an ABS failure for Mackay at Lodge sent him locking up and into the barrier, posting a second retirement of the season and giving points rival Savage an opportunity to gain on the Scot.
Savage was another who was struggling on dry tyres at the start, after the stops, however, Savage was able to hold third until the flag. This was helped in part by a big 120mph spin for Train, who was later excluded for noise issues which occurred as a result of the incident.
At the end it was Balon who took the win in what was one of the most challenging races of the season, and one which relied on good decision making even before the lights went out. Baker- who started at the back following his qualifying issues- gambled on wets on the green flag lap and came home second in his Elise S2, some 29 seconds behind the dominant winner.
The first of those to start on dry tyres was of course Savage in third, who in turn was around 16 seconds behind Baker at the flag. Fourth went to another pre-race gambler, the Exige S1 shared by the Hetherington brothers. Britten rounded out the top five ahead of Drummond both of whom took Class podium trophies for their efforts.
The Production class honours went the way of polesitter Stuart Ratcliff/ Anthony Dunn, the latter coming out on top in a fastest lap battle with Tom Bradshaw for two extra points awarded for fastest lap. Second went to LaMaster and Mazza in their hired Elise, ahead of Campbell and Fenwick, running in the Exige and Open categories respectively. McInulty was the next Production finisher- 11th overall- ahead of Andrew Wright (Open).