An earlier visit than usual to the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit this year, which now forms the third and fourth rounds of the championship. It’s a favourite with many drivers, and its technical nature has given the British drivers an advantage in the past, with Steve Williams completing a clean sweep last year. This time Lotus Cup Europe supported the Blancpain GT Series at the Kent speedbowl, an event that focuses on sports and supercars.
Williams headed to his home round hoping to convert his local knowledge into race wins after a podium appearance at Hockenheim, but Xavier Georges and Christophe Lisandre, both winners in Germany, hoped to carry on their fine form, as did Production class leader Jason McInulty, who lives just a few miles away from the former Grand Prix venue.
Practice and Qualifying
Williams did indeed hold the upper hand in the opening session, on a chilly but dry Saturday morning, but by lunchtime and qualifying, he was struggling with a malfunctioning dashboard and took several attempts to move up the leaderboard to second place. Holding provisional pole was the 2-Eleven of Lisandre, and he had over half a second in hand over the rest.
Georges grabbed second place from Williams in the final moments, and Rasse demoted him a further positiom, but all four were dropped by the fast Jean-Baptiste Loup on his final lap, with Andrew Wright in sixth leading the Swedish Exige of Tommie Eliasson and Jason McInulty, whilst the second-placed 2-Eleven of Chris Laroche headed reigning champion Tamas Vizin.
David Harvey’s 340R was just outside the top ten, but crucially three places ahead of Open class rival Sharon Scolari, whilst the Production grid was led by Jason McInulty in 25th place. Next up were James Knight and Thierry Hedoin.
Lisandre held off an aggressive pack into Paddock Hill off the rolling start, with Williams perhaps the keenest of all to take the lead. However, it was J-B Loup that held an early second, before dropping back. Within a couple of laps, Williams, Georges and Rasse ran as a group trying to wrest the lead from Lisandre as Loup fell behind.
Williams tried to attack and lost out to Georges temporarily, but grabbed the lead on the run from Paddock Hill into Druids on lap five. He still had Georges to contend with after the Frenchman demoted the erstwhile leader, and within a couple of laps the Exige was through into first place.
Behind the leaders, Eliasson was trying to make up ground, with Vizin, Loup, David McInulty and Wright behind. Further back, Harvey was maintaining the Open class lead, but coming under increasing pressure from Scolari, and there was a tussle between Jason McInulty, Knight, Hedoin and Donnelly for the Production class honours. Eventually it boiled down to a straight fight between McInulty and Knight, with Donnelly a clear third following Sven Petterson and Hedoin’s retirements.
Once away into the lead, Georges began to pull away and leave Williams under attack from Rasse. Sure enough, the Belgian was through and seemingly very comfortable with his new mount. However, he didn’t have enough time to catch the eventual winner, although he did pull clear of Williams’s Evora.
Further back, Scolari’s tenacity paid off and she took the Open class win from a faltering Harvey, with McInulty clearing Knight and Donnelly claiming third place in Production.
Loup made a poor getaway from the standing start and Lisandre surged into the lead, with Rasse taking up second place, whilst behind Loup, Georges was fourth and Vizin fifth. The reigning champion was soon under pressure from Williams’s Evora, however, and as he passed, the leading quartet had already broken away from the pack.
As Williams continued his climb, the leading four squabbled, and with a series of fast laps, it soon became five cars contesting the race win. With Loup’s mirrors now occupied by Williams’s Evora, there was a challenge for the lead, which Rasse won with a brave move around the outside at Paddock Hill, and both Georges and Loup made it past Lisandre.
Rasse’s race lead came under threat at half distance, when Georges had a go into Hawthorns, not a move for the meek. However, Rasse fought back, and kept his place at the front, aided when Geroges ran wide at Druids, dropping him into the clutches of Williams. The Frenchman regrouped, and was soon back in the lead battle. Loup was quickly despatched with, but the pair got out of shape at Graham Hill bend, and this gave Rasse a bit of breathing space.
The lead battle was rekindled as the race drew to a close, and Rasse had to work hard to keep Georges at bay. The pair were together on the final two tours, and Georges tried a move at Stirlings, but ran wide and lost valuable ground, assuring Rasse of the win.
Further back there was also a highly-entertaining five-way fight for the Production class lead. Donnelly initially headed the pack, but Knight took the place, and Jason McInulty and Petterson were also within sight. Soon McInulty made up for his tardy start and reclaimed the lead. This wasn’t for long, however, as Knight and Donnelly drew level again, with Knight retaking the head of the field. But then the pair contacted at Paddock Hill when McInulty thought he saw a glimmer of a gap, and Knight’s race ended in the gravel trap.
Taking advantage of the melee, Donnelly held a brief lead, but McInulty found his way back in front, and Petterson attacked Donnelly for second. Both Elise Cup Rs ran 1-2, but at the end of the final lap, both McInulty and Petterson mistook the white flags for Eric Libor’s slowing 2-Eleven for a yellow and backed off when they saw his car cruising on the exit of Stirlings. As much an opportunist as he is an experienced racer, Donnelly didn’t need a second invitation, and snatched the race win, whilst Petterson was quicker to get back on the throttle, finishing the race second in class ahead of McInulty, who was later penalised for his part in the incident involving Knight.
In the Open class, Harvey was unable to start, so Scolari had an unchallenged run to the class win, and an eventual 16th place finish.
A thoroughly entertaining second race confirmed Rasse’s position as a title contender, as well as a solid bet for overall race wins. Indeed so strong was his performance that he set the outright lap record on his way to the chequered flag. With three different victors in the opening four rounds, and potential
from others including Williams, Loup and Vizin, 2017 looks more promising by the race. The Open and Production classes look to be closely-fought affairs too, with Jason McInulty surely ruing his race two error, which has potentially put Lisandre on course for the championship if he can continue his class dominance and front-running form.
The next rounds of Lotus Cup Europe will take place at Paul Ricard in France on 3/4 June for a triple-header weekend.
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