The second race meeting for the new Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup saw a reduced entry of eight Ligier JS P3s after the 360 Racing squad and T-Sports saw proposed entries fall victim to commercial issues.
The paddock though was still a positive place with much chatter of other entries to come, and talk too of whether Silver/ Silver driver combinations might be permitted to provide a boost.
For now though the Brands Hatch octet would dole out the entertainment.
CJ Wilson made his Championship debut as part of the United Autosports effort and spent the weekend finding (and at times exceeding) the limits. He’ll be back for further races in the season and will surely find form.
Tony Wells and Matt Bell took a lights-to-flag victory in round three of the Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup Championship race at Brands Hatch, despite late race radio troubles. Andy Schulz was the only other driver to lead the race, taking over from Tony Wells when a strategic move saw him pit late to hand over to team-mate Paul Bailey.
Wells started in the #3 United Autosports Ligier having qualified on pole in the dying moments of the session, and built up an advantage as Richard Dean passed Alasdair McCaig for second at Paddock Hill Bend.
“Alasdair reacted quickly to the lights, so I braked later into Paddock, managed to tip the nose in and get away,” said Wells. “I babied the tyres a bit to bring them in, and when I saw Alasdair had got past Richard I needed to push a bit and at that point the car was in good shape”
Dean then fell down the order with a suspected slow puncture from the start, including two trips through the gravel, and had to make an early pit stop to replace the tyre.
As the pit stop window opened Wells handed over to Matt Bell who set the fastest lap at that point on his first flying lap to open the advantage up to 9.1s over Colin Noble in the #79 Nielsen Racing Ecurie Ecosse Ligier, replacing McCaig.
“It was great,” said McCaig. “Tony and Matt drove well, so we were happy with second after a good run at Donington and will try to go one better tomorrow.”
“The pace was strong at the end,” agreed Noble. “I couldn’t quite get the car to come on after the safety car which lost us the gap. It’s the first loss of the year, but we want to go one better tomorrow.”
The field were then closed together as a safety car was called when Sarah Moore went into the gravel at Clearways, eventually re-joining nine laps down. Bell built up an advantage again at the re-start and managed the gap back to Noble who had to also hold off Jamie Spence, who’d taken over for Jason Rishover.
“I started poorly but fought back,” said Rishover. “And I enjoyed it. The car was amazing.”
“I thought Christmas had come early!” added Spence regarding the safety car. “But the first four or five laps of my stint were difficult and I struggled to hold on to the first two. Towards the end the pace was unbelievable, we were matching the front guys’ times. We just need to balance the car to come on a bit earlier, because by the time it started to work it was too late.
Bell though would be untroubled out front to claim the pair’s first win of the season.
“Tony did a cracking job to put it on pole in tricky conditions, and the race was a dream,” he said. “He got a good getaway and handed over with a gap. The safety car was a potential hiccough, but I got a good jump and brought it home. I had no radio for the whole race, I had no idea when the safety car was going to come in, and I had to wait for the lights to go out. I seemed to switch the car on nicely at the start and got the jump on everybody.”
1st: Tony Wells / Matt Bell, #3 United Autosports
2nd: Alasdair McCaig / Colin Noble, #79 Nielsen Racing
3rd: Jason Rishover / Jamie Spence, #23 Nielsen Racing
Alasdair McCaig and Colin Noble extended their lead at the top of the Henderson Insurance Brokers LMP3 Cup Championship after a dramatic finish brought an early end to the fourth round at Brands Hatch.
Pole sitter Jamie Spence led at the start while Tony Wells reacted quickly to slip past McCaig into Paddock Hill Bend for second place. “The start was good, said Wells. “I reacted better than Alasdair and stuck it inside him.”
The field then ran in tight groups, with Wells and McCaig together ahead of Andy Schulz and Richard Dean, with Dean Gibbs, Mike Newbould and CJ Wilson behind.
“For the first few laps Dean and I were very close,” said Newbould. “I couldn’t find a way past as he was defending very well, then I finally got him going into Surtees, and kicked on to do as much as I could.”
A safety car was called to rescue Wilson from the gravel at Stirlings, bunching the field up before the mandatory pit stops began. Colin Noble, replacing McCaig, emerged from the pits ahead of Matt Bell, who switched with Wells.
“The race was between me and Tony Wells,” said McCaig. “Tony did a good job of keeping me behind him throughout my stint, so it was a case of keeping pace and jumping him in the pit stops.”
“Colin and I were trading lap times,” reflected Bell. “He would pull away slightly, and then I would reel him in. I was trying to get close enough to force him to make a mistake but I couldn’t do it.
“He had to check up into the incident that caused the red flag he had to check up a lot and I thought ‘I’m going to have my opportunity here’ but the car started to slide up the track and I had to check up and it cost me my opportunity. It was a good fight, those boys are going to keep us on our toes all year, so there could be a fair bit of ebbing and flowing, but I’m looking forward to the fight.”
Further back Thomas Randle began setting quick laps in the Douglas Motorsports #72, passing Sarah Moore and Jack Butel in one lap, before having to serve a one second stop-go penalty for a short pit stop.
“It was going to be tough to get on the podium,” said Randle. “The safety car definitely played into our hands. At the pit stop one of us accidentally turned the dash off so I thought we might have a penalty coming.”
The race was red flagged with six minutes left as race leader Jamie Spence, driving the race solo, went off into the gravel at Stirlings with a puncture, handing the win to McCaig and Noble.
“It’s never great to finish a race under red flag but that’s the way it goes some times,” said McCaig.
“I didn’t have to drive defensively,” added Noble. “I kept the buffer between us and extended it towards the end. The pace was great, the guys from Nielsen made a few alterations last night and it’s paid off today, the pace was good. It’s still early in the season to think about the Championship, at the moment we’re concentrating on race wins.”
The Douglas Motorsports duo of Newbold and Randle were also delighted with their third place: “It’s amazing, it’s my first podium so it’s extra special for me,” said Newbould. “Bring it on at Spa!”
“I’d like to thank Douglas Motorsport for their efforts, Mike for the opportunity and everyone back home in Australia for supporting me,” added Randle. “The car was fantastic and hopefully we can take that pace to Spa.”
1st: Alasdair McCaig / Colin Noble, #79 Nielsen Racing Ecurie Ecosse
2nd: Tony Wells / Matt Bell, #3 United Autosports
3rd: Mike Newbould / Thomas Randle, #72 Douglas Motorsports