Porsches nil – Donington 2

It’s a bit of a challenge to take positives from a weekend where you start with two Porsche race cars and end up with none but it’s at such times you come to really appreciate what a good team you’re being run by. I’ve been with Newbridge Motorsport now for five seasons and Richard and the guys – including Marcus and Viktor – have never been ones to throw in the towel until all avenues have been explored (even if they lead to a garden centre – more later…).

Official testing for the Donington GP rounds of the Britcar Championships were set to be on the Thursday due to their arrangements regarding noise pollution but bookatrack were offering a track day on the Friday, albeit with noise limits. Newbridge took the Boxster along just in case the new Cayman GT4 proved too noisy – which in the event it didn’t.

Me overtaking a Porsche Club Championship 987 Boxster
Me overtaking a Porsche Club Championship 987 Boxster

My co-driver – and owner of both cars – Fareed wasn’t due to arrive until later in the day, so I got to take the Caymen out first and after a few laps to get the tyres up to temperature, I set off to do a longer stint – and my first on the Donington GP circuit since racing my own Boxster there in 750MC Roadsports a few seasons ago. I therefore had a lap record to beat and a target to aim for. I wanted to shave at least five seconds off in the morning and I managed six – not a bad start. Now admittedly this in a car with at least 100hp more than my old 986 but this was only the second time I’d ever driven it – so I was fairly pleased.

The Performance Friction brakes, brought over from the latest 991 version of the GT3 Cup, are phenomenal – even with the car an estimated 200kg heavier than it should be, it can out-brake pretty much anything on track – and until the Ferrari 458s joined us, I was by far the fastest car out there.

Porsche have copied the 991 Cup in another way, that being the use of a race version of their PDK double-clutch gearbox, which you can shift via either the stick or paddles on the steering wheels. Changes are lightning-fast and it rev-matches automatically, so in theory the car should be easy to drive in the wet too.

Fareed arrived from flying in from Toronto late morning and he took the next stint, with I’m sure an eye firmly on improving his pace. Unfortunately, going slightly wide on the approach to Old Hairpin he got the right rear on the grass and the car instantly flicked to the left to head across the grass, across the gravel and heavily into the tyres, pushing back the Armco in the process. Hitting the wall at over 60mph this incident was further testimony to the effectiveness of a HANS device since Fareed walked away with nothing more than an interesting bruise. The car suffered severe front-end damage but with luck and a good body shop will be out again soon, ready for its appearance in its first Creventic endurance race.

All credit to my co-driver, though, as the team now unloaded the spare car – the 987 Boxster we both raced last season – so we could continue testing and Fareed again took the second stint and was immediately pushing the car.

Me in the Boxster
Me in the 987 Boxster ‘spare car’

Saturday morning and in Britcar’s “free practice” session, with brand new Dunlop slicks on the car, it wasn’t long before problems started to appear. I expected the car to feel a bit squirmy on the new rubber but it was feeling very unsettled under braking and the appearance of steam in my rear view mirror betrayed a coolant leak – some of which was getting on the tyres.

The leak was coming from the feed back to the expansion tank which had snapped off. The team had attempted a repair but overnight it had failed and a new radiator was sourced. Fareed had missed the qualify session for the Endurance race – I’d only done one complete lap but having raced the circuit before, the Clerk was happy to accept that as sufficient – but Fareed had to go out on his own behind the safety car in the afternoon.

Sadly another problem surfaced during his brief outing – a low-pressure oil breather pipe at the top of the engine sprank a leak and sprayed oil over the engine. Fortuantely it didn’t catch fire but it meant that again the team would have to work fast to find a fix. Suitable hoses were located at a garden centre (yes, really) and combined with a short length of more conventional radiator hose and a reducer, the fix was applied, albeit too late for any racing on the Saturday.

Fareed was due to solo in all three 50-minute Production Championship races on the Sunday and the next test was for him to qualify for those – but it turned out that the engine had far more serious issues than just a leak. Metal filings in the oil filter were the final nail in the Boxster’s coffin after the hours the team had spent fixing the leaks and no racing was to be had for either of us. So the final score was Donington 2 – Porsche nil.

My team mate Fareed showed tremendous strength of character during the weekend – it’s an honour to share a seat with him (although if I can get in first it’s better!). Thanks also to double WTCC winner Rob Huff, who Fareed sponsors, for visiting us again at the circuit.

Thanks also to everyone, including Claire and Rob Hedley, for running such a good ship that is the new 2016 Britcar – a sentiment echoed by so many during the drivers’ awards presentations on both days.

Porsche 997 RSR

Finally, to explain this photo – this was the third Porsche I got to drive at the weekend. Another team had to leave the circuit early on the Saturday evening and left this 997 RSR for me to put into one of the garages. I’m hoping this isn’t the last Porsche GT3 Cup I get to drive…