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Pragas Dominate At Brands Hatch

Race 1

Jem Hepworth and Danny Harrison, driving the VR Motorsport Praga R1T “art car” took a convincing win in the 60-minute race, finishing nine seconds ahead of stablemates Jack Fabby and Garry Townsend.

The turbocharged Pragas had locked out the front row of the grid, and Jem Hepworth led the pack into Paddock as the red lights went out, with Garry Townsend behind, and some fast starts beIng made by Mark Cunningham’s Porsche and Martin Byford’s SEAT TCR. Hepworth eked out an early lead worth a couple of seconds, though Townsend was tenuously holding off Ben Dimmack’s Radical RXC and the Valluga Porsche 911 of Adam Hatfield.

The Radical was soon in the pits to retire though, a bearing in the gearbox having collapsed and thrown a shaft through the transmission casing. Mike Moss didn’t get the best of starts in his BMW 1M, but was carving through the pack, seizing the Class 2 lead from a no-heroics Paul Bailey in the SBR Ferrari 488, then interrupting a Class 4 battle between Byford’s SEAT and Sean Doyle in the CJJ/Valluga Porsche Cayman 718, as the black and green BMW moved up to fifth overall.

Dave Scaramanga had a quick spin at Graham Hill in his Motus One Ginetta G55, and rejoined, while an early pit stop was made by Adam Thompson’s Newbarn Racing Jaguar F-Type. The totally new race team with a unique car finally diagnosed nothing more than a blown fuse, but much time was lost, and, though taking the flag, they had done too little running to be classified.

So, a quarter of an hour into the race, and Hepworth had a lead over Townsend which fluctuated around three or four seconds, depending on traffic, while Hatfield led Mark Cunningham, third and fourth and disputing the Class 3 lead, with, and – here’s a surprise – fifth overall, Class 4 leader Luke Davenport in thew new-to-UK Ligier JS-2-R, what was up to now an unknown quantity now very firmly being known. Behind Moss’s BMW and the Doyle / Byford skirmish, Paul Bailey’s 488 led a close-coupled train of Jonathan Evans’ rapid BMW GTR, Marcus Fothergill’s Porsche and Warren McKinley’s Praga R1, which had made amazing progress from a pit-lane start after missing qualifying due to a small fire.

Once the pIt window opened, Jem Hepworth and Paul Bailey were the first in, followed a lap later by second-placed Townsend, and Will Casswell, who would hand over the Corton & Millar SEAT to Marc Kemp, followed on consecutive laps by a number of others. Staying out, though, were the faster drivers of their pairings – Mark Cunningham’s Porsche, Luke Davenport’s Ligier, Mike Moss, Sean Doyle, Marcus Fothergill, Martin Byford were now in the leading positions, followed by Bobby Trundley’s Team BRIT Aston Martin, Nathan Wells’ BMW GTR and lone-driver Tim Docker’s Golf TCR.

Moss and Trundley left it until the bitter end, sneaking in through a small gap as the pit window closed, and once the field settled, we had Danny Harrison re-establishing the lead that Jem Hepworth had built over the blue Praga, now driven by Jack Fabby, with Benji Hetherington, now in the Valluga 911 Porsche third, followed by the Class 2 battle between Andy Schulz’s Ferrari and Charles Lamb in the Moss BMW 1M, while cutting through the field now were Tom Bradshaw, in the BMW GTR started by Jonathan Evans, and Jonny MagGregor, who had relieved Ben Sharich in the MacG Racing Taranis.

Bradshaw made very short work of his task – Aaron Morgan’s Aston, Ash Woodman’s SEAT, and the Ligier now driven by Marcus Vivian were picked-off almost on a lap-by-lap basis, to attain the Class 4 lead, while Ollie Hancock, having taken over the Digiplat BMW from Nathan Wells, was also moving up the order.

There was drama for Andy Schulz, pitting the SBR Ferrari started by Paul Bailey from the Class 2 lead with a sheared front left track rod arm with just 20 minutes of the race to run. Stuart Bitmead’s team fixed the issue in around five minutes, and Schulz rejoined to salvage what he could of the race – third in Class 2 when the flag fell.

Tom Bradshaw, not content with class honours in the BMW, was now chasing overall positions and was on the tail of Peter Cunningham’s Porsche 997. They came up to lap Dave Benett’s 991 at Paddock, and there was a melee as Cunningham, alongside the BMW, and with little room to manoeuvre, tagged Benett’s Porsche, which spun onto the grass down the hill on the inside of the circuit, causing Colin Sowter, watching the confusion unfold in front of him, to take to the gravel in his Ferrari 458. All cars were on their way again, Benett slightly later than the others, and Bradshaw was now seventh overall.

So Danny Harrison took the win over Jack Fabby, the two Pragas finishing just over nine seconds apart, and two laps over the rest of the field, which was headed by Benji Hetherington, capitalising on Adam Hatfield’s excellent opening stint in the Valluga Porsche 911, claiming the Class 3 victory.

Fourth, and bagging Class 2 honours, was the VR Motorsport naturally-aspirated Praga after a storming final stint by Martyn Compton, taking over after Warren McKinlay’s equally stirring drive from a pit-lane start. This was a popular victory, particularly as Compton was celebrating what he termed his “bangaversary”, 14 years to the day that he sustained serious injuries whilst on active service in Afghanistan, and with the Praga liveried in a camouflage theme. Class 2 runner-up Charles Lamb was half a minute adrift in the Moss BMW 1M, with Jonny MacGregor claiming the final Class 1 podium place in the Taranis.

Jonathan Evans and Tom Bradshaw punched above their weight to secure the Class 4 win in the CRH Racing BMW GTR, ahead of the similar machine of Nathan Wells and Ollie Hancock, the pair sandwiching Class 3 runners-up Mark and Peter Cunningham, who claimed the class top points as the first registered runner home. Marcus Vivian, in the Ligier, was staving off a storming effort by Ash Woodman in the SEAT in the closing laps, just half a second separating them when the flag fell – one more lap and it may have been different for the last step on the Class 4 podium.

Aaron Morgan and Bobby Trundley did well in their debut in the Team BRIT Aston Martin, finishing fifth in Class 4 ahead of Tim Docker’s VW Golf, while Nicole Drought was getting to grips with tight UK circuits in the Cayman 718 shared with Sean Doyle, finishing seventh, in front of the 781 version of lone-driver Peter Erceg, the Ginetta G55 of Dave Scaramanga and Will Powell, and the Will Casswell/Marc Kemp SEAT. Colin Sowter, in his newly-acquired Ferrari 488, was third in Class 3, ahead of Nick Scott-Dickeson, a courageous effort whilst rehabilitating from surgery, in the Team Hard Porsche shared with Eric Boulton, while Marcus Fothergill and Dave Benett were denied a good result after the late-race punt in their Bespoke Cars Porsche 991.

Race 2

The MacG Racing Taranis was at first withdrawn from Race 2, then re-instated minutes before the start; Low oil pressure at the end of Race 1 caused Jonny MacGregor to close the door, but the team’s spannermen were having none of it, and were able to fix the concern and get the car to the grid, albeit on an old set of slicks. Additionally, Charles Lamb’s Moss Motorsport BMW 1M and Sean Doyle’s Cayman both started from the pitlane, and Nathan Wells’ BMW GTR joined the race six laps in after engine repairs.

The grid was decided by the result of Race 1, and this time it was Jack Fabby that led the pack away, followed by Jem Hepworth, and Martyn Compton, making it a Praga 1-2-3 up the hill to Druids. Fast starts – again – by Mark Cunningham’s Porsche and Martin Byford’s SEAT saw them well-placed, and there was a spin by Marcus Vivian’s Ligier that the pack managed to avoid. Mark Cunningham took the fight to the Valluga 911 this time, a few laps of harrying, and some side-by-side action, and he was free, relieving Compton’s Praga of third place too.

Adam Hatfield wasn’t giving up on the Class 3 fight though, he soon took the Valluga 911 past Compton too, and was back on the tail of Cunningham’s 997, and Paul Bailey had quickly worked the Ferrari 488 from the back of the grid, and passed Ben Sharich in the Taranis for ninth place, while in the midfield, Aaron Morgan’s Aston, Colin Sowter’s Ferrari, the Porsche’s of Eric Boulton and Marcus Fothergill, and Tim Docker’s Golf were all together.

There was a clash on lap 13, that saw Charles Lamb’s BMW 1M in the pit wall and the second-placed Praga of Jem Hepworth broadside across the track, causing the red flags to be thrown immediately, and, whilst multiple ambulances and rescue vehicles attended, there were thankfully no injuries to the drivers, and in the case of the Praga, very little damage.

The race was re-started with 30 minutes on the clock, reduced from what should have been 40 minutes due to curfew restrictions, with the laps counting-up as a new race, and as soon as the pack was let loose, the pit window was thrown open., with, amazingly the #85 Praga emerging from the pit lane to rejoin the race, with Danny Harrison now at the wheel.

There were a glut of pit stops straight away, but staying out were Mark Cunningham, Jack Fabby, Adam Hatfield, Martyn Compton, Martin Byford and Sean Doyle.

Fabby and Cunningham were late stoppers, but Byford was the very last, and once the field settled, Garry Townsend, who had taken over from Fabby, had a 10-second lead over Andy Schulz’s Ferrari, while Danny Harrison had sliced through the field to third place, eight seconds further back.

With 10 minutes to go, Harrison took his Praga “art car” past Andy Schulz’s Ferrari, and four minutes later took the lead from Townsend down the inside at Paddock, cruising to take the flag by a margin of nearly 16 seconds over Townsend, with Schulz a similar distance back in third, the only cars on the lead lap. A massive result for Harrison after what had happened, and seemingly plain sailing for the top three, but plenty of action behind them. Benji Hetherington, in the Valluga 911, clashed with Dave Benett’s 991 in a lapping incident which saw both cars pit, Benett terminally, though Hetherington rejoined to salvage a result.

Ollie Hancock was the man on the move towards the end – with the race re-starting after the red flag, the six-lap deficit that Nathan Wells had initially accrued was wiped out, so the Digiplat BMW GTR was on an even keel with the rest of the runners, and he picked-off the Class 4 opposition, and even the Class 1 third-placed Taranis of Jonny MacGregor, who’d probably seen the best of his tyres by that point, plus the Compton/McKinlay Praga R1, to claim fourth overall, and the Class 4 win.

Ash Woodman slipped down the order towards the end in the EDF-run SEAT; Luke Davenport took the Ligier to the class runner-up spot, and a sensational effort by Bobby Trundley in the Team BRIT Aston Martin Vantage started by Aaron Morgan earned a class podium in their GT-racing debut weekend, and the Driver of the Day award for Trundley, who races with autism.

In a packed Class 4, on a tight twisty circuit, you will find some unexpected results. Tim Docker, normally in the front-running pack, was sixth in his Golf, followed by Nicole Drought and Sean Doyle’s Cayman 718, which finished only half a second ahead of Marc Kemp’s SEAT TCR, that had been started by Will Caswell. Will Powell was next up in the Motus One Ginetta G55 started by Dave Scaramanga, then Peter Erceg’s Cayman 981, with newly-formed Newbarn Racing’s Jaguar F-type completing the race in the hands of Adam and Callum Thompson, fulfilling their initial ambition of getting the car past the flag.

Colin Sowter was a surprise winner of Class 3 in his Ferrari 458, usual class-toppers Mark and Peter Cunningham finishing 12th overall and the Class 3 runners-up, ahead of the Invitation entries, the recovering Hatfield / Hetherington Porsche 911 and the similar Team Hard machine of Nick Scott-Dickeson and Eric Boulton.

Summing up his race, winner Danny Harrison said: “The damage from the crash was cosmetic, just a few scrapes, and I drove every lap like a qualifying lap. I just don’t know how it happened really!”

Pictures Paul Cherry & Chris Valentine