Oulton Park :: :: March 24th……
The Dunlop Production Touring Car Trophy blasted into life for the 2012 season on a gloriously sunny day at Oulton Park. The Courtenay Sport Racing team took victories in each race courtesy of Joe Girling and Martin Johnson, but it was a day of mixed fortunes for the squad, because reigning champion Adrian Churchill was not able to give a competitive debut to his new Ford Focus.
After a test day shunt for John Robins (EJM Preparation Seat Leon), nine cars remained to take on the qualifying session and two 20-minute races. A feature of the day did prove to be a certain level of unreliability, with many competitors having teething difficulties with cars that had been built over the winter and were still in the development phase.
Yorkshire driver Girling put his Courtenay Sport Vauxhall Astra on pole position by almost eight tenths of a second, despite only putting in a handful of laps during the session. “It was good in testing yesterday, and the circuit suits the car,” he said. “I was hoping to be somewhere up there, and pole position is a bonus.”
2011 race winner Gary Duckman (Excelr8 Motorsport Seat Leon) did enough to join him on the front row of the grid. Churchill (Courtenay Sport Racing Ford Focus) circulated throughout the session, ending up 1.2s off the pole position time. “We’re having a few teething troubles, it’s a bit down on power and we have a brake issue,” he explained. “We have done an afternoon at Silverstone and one session yesterday morning, but we had a driveshaft problem.”
Ex-MINI racer Luke Caudle’s debut session was brought to an end by a poly bush failure on his Excelr8 Motorsport Seat Leon, but nevertheless he qualified fourth fastest. Martin Johnson was fifth in the second Courtenay Sport Racing Astra.
Excelr8 boss Antony Williams was next up in the Renault Megane, despite an indiscretion. “I’ve slightly reshaped the car – I just ran out of talent and caught the barrier on the inside at Cascades, but the damage is barely cosmetic,” he explained.
Stewart Calder, in the Outpace Racing Vauxhall Astra, was seventh, ahead of Steve Johnson’s version, which consumed all of its oil. The sole Class B runner, Sarah Franklin, rounded out the field in her Fiat Abarth.
RACE ONE ::
There was drama even before the start of the opening race, which was to be played out in front of a large and enthusiastic Oulton Park crowd. There were two notable absentees from the grid, in Adrian Churchill and Martin Johnson.
“We just decided that the car wasn’t good enough to go out and risk any damage, so we thought we would do a bit of testing and have another go at Donington,” said Churchill. “As a driver I’m competitive, so I won’t go out to do something that I know cannot be done.”
Johnson, meanwhile, was ruled out with the recurrence of a leaking brake calliper that dogged his Astra in qualifying. “About half an hour before the race we noticed it was leaking again, so we had a rush to change the calliper and we couldn’t do it in time,” he rued. Nevertheless, he was able to join the race several laps late to confirm the car was running well.
Girling and Duckman had an even start, with Caudle elevated into third position by Churchill’s absence. The top three quickly pulled away from the rest, with Steve Johnson up to fourth from eighth on the grid by the end of the opening lap. Alas, the story did not have a happy ending. “It was exactly the same as in qualifying. For two laps we managed to hold it together but then the same symptoms came along, and the team put the board out,” said the frustrated Derby man, who was having his first race at the circuit since 1995.
Williams was thus promoted into fourth position as the race petered out slightly. For a few moments only five cars were on track, as Calder headed back to the pit lane. “I had a problem with the brakes and had a big moment at Cascades and went onto the grass. I came into the pits, then went back out and just drove around for points,” explained the ex-Euro Saloons man. Franklin, therefore, finished in fifth position.
Girling held on to take the victory, but it was not all plain sailing. “Five laps before the end the clutch gave up and I was stuck in fourth gear and the times dropped right down, but I had managed to get enough of a lead to overcome that,” he said.
“I couldn’t do anything about Joe,” countered Duckman. “It looked like he was having brake problems, I could see him braking early for Island Hairpin, but the gap stayed about the same.”
“We pushed so hard on the first couple of laps we overheated everything, so it is just about learning,” said fellow podium finisher Caudle.
Result: 1 Joe Girling 13 laps in 20m 45.025s (83.67mph); 2 Gary Duckman (Seat Leon) +6.302s; 3 Luke Caudle (Seat Leon); 4 Antony Williams (Renault Megane); 5 Sarah Franklin (Fiat Abarth); 6 Stewart Calder (Vauxhall Astra). Fastest Lap: Girling 1m 34.293s (84.98mph).
RACE TWO ::
There was another blow to the field when two of the first race starters couldn’t make the second contest. Steve Johnson was understandably ruled out, but so was race one winner Girling after his earlier gearbox issues. “The spare gearbox we have got was not the correct one,” he revealed. Fortunately Martin Johnson did make it out, albeit at the back of the grid.
Duckman and Caudle led away, with Johnson quickly finding his way through to third position before pouncing when the second of the Seat drivers made a mistake at Island hairpin. “I left it too late into Island, it was a question of either going into the boot of Gary or onto the grass, so I decided to go on the grass,” said Caudle.
Johnson then set about pursuing Duckman for a victory that would herald a remarkable turnaround in fortunes. After Duckman was briefly delayed by the slower Franklin, Johnson passed him on the run down from Hill Top two laps later. The Leon remained in touching distance of the Astra until the end of the race, but Johnson remained unbeaten.
“I could tell his brakes were going off, mine were as well. I made a lunge and it worked,” said Johnson. “There’s been every emotion in the garage today, a great race for Joe in the first race and for me in the second.”
Duckman was thankful for the reliability that gave him the early championship lead. “My car ran well last year so it has come out of the box as it was, whereas a lot of people have been developing cars and they are having teething issues,” he explained.
Caudle, Williams, Calder and Class B winner Franklin completed the field.
Result: 1 Martin Johnson (Vauxhall Astra) 13 laps in 20m 54.531s (83.04mph); 2 Duckman +0.274s; 3 Caudle; 4 Williams; 5 Calder; 6 Franklin. Fastest Lap: Johnson 1m34.993s (84.35mph).
Published by Peter Scherer for BARC Dunlop Production Touring Car Trophy, March 26 2012. Report by Ian Sowman