The inaugural round of the new-for-2017 LMP3 Cup saw a hot contest between the United Autosport cars, before the #79 Neilsen Racing/Ecurie Ecosse car of Alasdiar McCaig and Colin Noble took the victory.
All 10 Ligier JS P3 entries made the start, in what was a hallmark first race for this new-for-2017 championship. Top quality entries were found all through the field; with former F1 driver Karun Chandhock alongside Steve Tandy in the #7 T-Sport car, a very late entry (in that it was only sorted on Thursday afternoon!)
The #28 G-Cat Racing car of Andy Schulz and Paul Bailey qualified on pole position, and as Paul took the start, the #3 United Autosport car of Matt Bell and Tony Wells (starting) leapt past coming into Redgate for the first time. The sister car of Christian England (starting) and Jamie Spence in the #2 repeated the feat a lap later. Paul’s woes then got worse as he headed onto Lap 3; the #23 Nielsen Racing car of Jason Rushover (starting) and Jamie Spence made contact with the rear right of the #28, forcing him to miss the apex, and the second Neilsen car of McCaig opportunistically grabs two places for the price of one.
Whilst they were scrapping, United Autosports were reaping. Wells was leading, but England was pushing hard to close back in, coming back from 1.1 seconds to 0.3 within the leader. Getting a wiggle on out of the chicane on Lap 7 meant he dropped a second, but by Lap 10 he dove up the inside at Redgate for the lead. #2 was now ahead of #3.
Unbeknown to the pair, the #79 was closing in too. McCaig had set numerous fastest laps in order to close the gap and make it a 3 way fight for the lead of the race. He got the gap down to 3.614 seconds before the Safety Car was called for; the #96 Speedworks Motorsport car of Jack Butel and Dean Gibbs (driving) had an off and stopped on circuit, requiring the marshals’ intervention. Also off was the #28, Bailey enjoying some of the gravel here at Donington Park. That took a further two laps to get going, bringing some gravel onto circuit, but on Lap 19 the green flags re-appeared and we commenced racing once more.
Once the pit stops were in full swing; the #2 dropped their game. The car went wide at Coppice, slightly damaging the undertray, but more critically, dropping a whole host of time and demoting them 4 places. A solid result was still on the cards, but this would be only the start for United Autosport’s woes. As the second last lap approached, the #3 car (with Matt Bell at the wheel) slowed and developed a right rear puncture. The car was brought in, wheel changed and took the flag, but 6th and 7th wasn’t what they were looking for when they ran at the very head of the field.
Woes for United Autosport were gains for others, however. The #79 ran the best race they could, and now with Colin Noble installed, they would finish just 8.007 seconds ahead of the #23 for a Neilsen Racing 1 and 2. Third place would go to the #7 car (Tandy’s handy, eh…), with the #72 ahead of the #26, the #2, the #3, the #28, the #6 and the #96 (13 laps down but running ‘competitively’).
Overall, a promising start to the new series, and in conversation with drivers and team owners, they’re loving it. 10 cars? Who mentioned there were only 10 cars…
Image c/o Nick Smith/theimageteam.com