Cottingham prevails in dramatic Masters Gentlemen Drivers race at Brands Hatch
With a well-timed late-race effort, James Cottingham came away with the win in a very dramatic Masters Gentlemen Drivers race at Brands Hatch, his AC Cobra surviving a heartstopping final ten minutes of the 90-minute enduro.
Cottingham, having run in fourth for most of the race, came to the fore in the final part of the race, passing the Alex Brundle/John Pearson E-type and the Andrew Jordan/Roy Alderslade Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé in quick succession, and then was the last one laughing when Olly Bryant was forced to retire his AC Cobra from the lead with ten minutes to go. Bryant had taken charge soon after the stops, after a opening half disputed by Brundle and Jordan.
Alderslade retired his Cobra Daytona Coupé just seconds after Bryant’s demise, but Pearson salvaged second place, having been put under immense pressure by the two CLP-class-leading Lotus Elans of Andrew Haddon and Jake Hill, the latter in the Elan started by Rob Fenn. However, the Elans collided on the final lap, allowing the John Spiers/Tiff Needell TVR Griffith up into third. Hill recovered to take fourth ahead of Mike Whitaker’s TVR Griffith but Haddon dropped down to sixth. But when Hill was handed a 5-second time penalty for avoidable contact, Whitaker and Haddon moved up into fourth and fifth respectively, with Fenn/Hill now classified sixth. This handed the CLP class win to Haddon after all.
The Mark Holme/Jeremy Welch Austin Healey 3000 dominated C2 proceedings, leading home fellow Big Healey competitors Mark Pangborn/Harvey Woods, while in C1, the Ogle SX1000 started by Mark Burnett came to fore with Nick Swift at the wheel, the Mini specialist swooping past Mark & James Bates’ Porsche 911 that in the hands of Mark Bates had led the class early on.
Four corners into the race, and Alex Brundle had jumped Whitaker and polesitter Bryant for the lead, with Jordan in fourth, ahead of the fast-starting trio of Jason Minshaw (E-type) and James Cottingham (Cobra) and Michael Cullen (Cobra Daytona Coupé). Two laps in, and Whitaker – a multiple winner of this race – had dropped places to the first two of those quick three, and now had Cullen breathing down his neck.
In ninth overall, Mike Wilds in the Ginetta led the CLP class, sandwiched by the TVRs of John Spiers and John Davison. Rob Fenn and Andrew Haddon were up next, the Elans in second and third in the CLP class and leading Gary Pearson’s Cobra and the Ferrari 250 GT ‘Breadvan’ of Lukas Halusa.
Further down, in 23rd overall, Mark Holme was already making his mark in the C2 class, his Austin Healey 3000 leading the similar car of Mark Pangborn, the two leading the Morgans of Billy Bellinger and Peter Horsman. In between the Healeys and the Morgans sat the leading C1 car, Mark Bates well ahead of Oli Webb, both in Porsche 911s.
At the front, Brundle wasn’t getting away, though. Now he was leading Andrew Jordan, the 2013 BTCC champion having flown past Bryant into second place on lap 6, and staying within two seconds of the lead. Moments later, Mike Wilds was seen pulling off with a collapsed front-left suspension on the Ginetta, which now meant that Haddon and Fenn were debating the CLP class lead. From the back, meanwhile, after a troubled qualifying session, Mark Donnor was making up places in the E-type.
17 minutes into the race, two TVRs dropped places almost simultaneously, Whitaker losing three positions to end behind Haddon in ninth, while Nathan Dod – racing on the verge of the top-ten – went six places in arrears. Brundle’s lead had extended to 2.8 seconds while Bryant wasn’t letting off and was all over Jordan’s Cobra Daytona Coupé, with Minshaw keeping a watching eye in fourth.
In the CLP class, Haddon had made a break from Fenn, with his former team mate Mark Martin now running third in class. In C2, Holme still led, but Bellinger had split the Healeys, while Mark Bates remained in charge in the C1 class, leading Oli Webb and Mark Burnett in the Ogle. Right at the back, Peter James in the Corvette was in front of Nick Gordon’s E-type in the battle among the older B-class cars.
One third of the 90 minutes gone, Brundle had completed 16 laps to lead Jordan by a mere eight tenths, as the top-three closed up ever more. Minshaw, the fastest lap of the race still in his bag, trailed by nine seconds, with Cottingham a further eight seconds down. Half a minute down on the leader, Spiers led Davison in a pair of TVRs, with the class-leading Elan of Haddon in eighth, ahead of Whitaker in the third TVR. Gary Pearson’s Cobra, meanwhile, had made it into the first ten at the cost of Cullen’s Cobra Daytona Coupé. Halusa’s Breadvan was 12th.
Then, at the start of lap 18, Jordan dove down the inside into Paddock Hill Bend to grab the lead once the leading pair had reached Druids. On the laps following, Brundle began suffering from lock-ups, but it wasn’t hurting his pace since Bryant was still stuck at a disadvantage of 1.5 seconds to Brundle. Were the leaders smoking up their cars too soon?
As the pit window approached, Haddon in eighth was still in a comfortable CLP-class lead, with Fenn in 14th overall and Martin (who had just done a spin) in 16th. In C2, Holme kept being chased by Bellinger but used Chris Atkinson’s Elan as a buffer, while Pangborn was just two seconds down on the Morgan. In 25th overall, Bates continued to dominate C1, some 30 seconds ahead of Webb in 29th overall and Burnett in 30th – whose team was asked to take care of a loose bonnet once the stops would begin.
However, right after the pit window opening, Halusa was off at Stirlings, the Breadvan beached in the gravel – and this meant the introduction of the safety car. From one moment to the other, the pitlane was overloaded with cars taking their mandatory pitstop, with only Whitaker avoiding the mayhem to take the lead. He was in on the next lap, though. So who was smartest? The question was answered on lap 26, when Whitaker reappeared in 13th place.
Roy Alderslade in the Cobra Daytona Coupé started by Jordan now led ahead of John Pearson having taken over from Brundle. Martin Melling in the E-type shared with Minshaw was third but soon usurped by Bryant. Cottingham was still fifth, with Haddon having moved up to sixth overall ahead of Tiff Needell who had taken over from Spiers. Behind Needell, though, Jake Hill was flying in the Elan started by Rob Fenn, and was now in eighth overall, having dealt with Oliver Reuben (in the TVR taken over from Davison) and Paddy Shovlin (in the Cobra Daytona Coupé shared with Cullen). In 11th overall, Mark Martin was still third in the CLP class but had Andrew Smith (in the Mark Donnor E-type) and Whitaker chasing him. Both were soon past.
At the front, Bryant had now also dispensed of John Pearson and was quickly closing on Alderslade, as Melling dropped places to Cottingham and Haddon. Going into lap 31, Bryant did it in the same way as Jordan had done to Brundle before the stops. So now, an hour into the race, Bryant led Alderslade, Pearson (J.), Cottingham and Haddon, but in sixth, having passed Needell and Melling, Hill was the fastest man out on track. The BTCC race winner needed to close a 21-second gap to Haddon but was lapping 1.5 seconds quicker.
Jeremy Welch, having taken over from Mark Holme, led C2 in 18th overall while Harvey Woods in the Austin Healey started by Pangborn had restored the Big Healey 1-2 order in class, leading Simon Orebi Gann in the Morgan that Bellinger had taken up to second in class during his opening stint. In C1, the order at the top had changed, as Nick Swift had taken control in the Ogle, leaving James Bates and Sebastian Perez to chase in the 911s.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Bryant looked well in charge, having opened up a commanding 14-second gap over Alderslade who now had Pearson all over the back of him, with Cottingham closing up as well. In fact, Cottingham was past Pearson sooner than the latter could make a lasting impression on Alderslade. Somehow the DK Engineering man had found additional pace in the Cobra, and swept past Alderslade to make it a AC Cobra 1-2. Behind them, Haddon and Hill were in a tense race of their own , 15 seconds now separating the Elan pair. Needell, Whitaker and Reuben made up a trio of TVRs in seventh, eighth and ninth respectively, with Andrew Smith now in the top-ten at Shovlin’s detriment.
Then, with ten minutes to go, the race took a dramatic turn as Bryant limped into the pits with a suspected gearbox or diff issue. If that wasn’t enough, one lap later Alderslade also ground to a halt, and so on lap 44, the top-three had transformed into Cottingham ahead of Pearson by 9 seconds, with Haddon having closed up to the Jag and looking to take second place overall. In fourth, Hill trailed the CLP-class leader by seven seconds, and kept closing up. We were poised for a fine finish.
As Cottingham streamed to a 14-second win, the final lap was all about Pearson keeping both Elans at bay – and then at Graham Hill Bend, the Elans touched and spun. This handed Needell third, in front of a recovering Hill, Whitaker in fifth, and a disgusted Haddon down in sixth. The Davison/Reuben TVR was seventh ahead of the Donnor/Smith E-type and the Cullen/Shovlin Daytona Coupé. Third in the CLP class, Mark Martin completed the top-ten. Half an hour after the race, however, a 5-second time penalty for Jake Hill dropped the Fenn/Hill down to sixth, reinstating Haddon as the CLP class winner.
Mark Holme and Jeremy Welch converted their class pole into a commanding C2 class win, leading home fellow Austin Healey 3000 pair Pangborn/Woods and Bellinger/Orebi Gann in the first of the Morgan. Mark Burnett and Nick Swift took C1 class honours in their Ogle SX1000 ahead of the Bates/Bates 911 and Malcolm Paul/Rick Bourne after a late charge in their TVR Grantura. In 29th overall, Peter James and Alan Letts in their Corvette Stingray proved fastest of the older B-class cars.
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