Motorsport News - Sportscar
Birch takes Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge double at Thruxton
18th June 2012
James Birch made it five wins from six races in the 2012 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge GB at Thruxton on Sunday (17 June) with a peerless performance. In his wake, John Ferguson and Steven Liquorish battled hard for second and in the later race the place was only decided in Ferguson’s favour on a dramatic final lap.
Only Birch (IN2 Racing) and John Ferguson (ASK Racing) went into qualifying with any previous race experience of the sweeping Hampshire track and Ferguson’s only prior race at Thruxton had been in Formula Ford 20 years ago.
Sure enough, it was Birch who set the pace with an assured performance to take pole for round five with a best of 1m17.777s. “I’ve not been here for two years, but it is a circuit I like,” said Birch. “I love the fast, flowing tracks.” Birch also secured pole for round six with the fastest second-best qualifying time.
Running second to Birch was Steven Liquorish (Team Parker Racing), the best of those with no prior experience of Thruxton. “It certainly wakes you up a bit,” he said after 10 laps of qualifying. Ferguson was third fastest for both races and admitted that there was room for improvement. “My lines around the fast bits are ridiculous: I’ll try and chase them in the race and learn from that,” he said. Racing newcomer Guy Riall (Almara Racing) was fourth, with Mark Flaherty (Redline Racing) fifth despite not getting a really good lap in. Wrapping up the top six was Mark Cowne (Team Parker Racing) after learning the track on a very wet track day earlier in the week.
Birch didn’t get the start he wanted and was immediately bundled back to third place by Ferguson and Liquorish. The leading trio ran nose-to-tail over the opening laps but Birch was soon looking to re-assert his authority and he dived ahead of Ferguson on the exit of Noble on the second lap. “I haven’t quite got the hang of the starts yet,” admitted Birch. However, once ahead he drove an assured race to steadily build his lead and was later able to moderate his pace to preserve his tyres on a track where tyres are always under intense strain. “Thankfully I wasn’t under too much pressure,” said Birch after taking his fourth win from five races.
While Birch controlled the race, things were far from settled in the contest for second. Liquorish had his hands full of the charging Ferguson and a trip over the kerb at the chicane took the front splitter off Liquorish’s car. “I then had absolutely zero turn-in on the fast left-hander,” reported Liquorish as he battled on. Ferguson’s dogged attack was rewarded when he edged into second on lap eight and the Irishman duly moved clear as Liquorish struggled with his ill-handling car. “I had a great start but I was still learning the circuit over the first few laps,” said Ferguson after a strong drive. For Liquorish, third was a case of damage limitation. “That was really hard work and very frustrating,” he said.
Fourth place was in doubt until late in the race as Flaherty had to push on to defend from Cowne mid-race once Riall had dropped to the tail of the pack with a high-speed spin at Church. “I was hanging on to their coat tails,” said Riall after an impressive opening stint. Flaherty ran a solid fourth until his tyres started to fade and that helped Cowne close in. For several laps, Cowne defied his lack of racing experience to challenge for fourth, but then lost his splitter over the kerb at the chicane.
Despite that handicap, Cowne did hold fourth for a couple of corners. Flaherty spun at the complex, but two corners later Cowne had the first of two spins that dropped him back to sixth behind the recovering Riall. All three had raced hard on their Thruxton debuts.
“I went out on second hand tyres: they were shot early on,” said Flaherty. “I was playing catch up at the end,” said Riall. “I can’t believe the difference the splitter makes,” said Cowne. “That’s the best race I’ve had so far.”
Birch got a peach of a start for the second race of the afternoon and made the pace right from the start. He pulled clear of Liquorish on the opening lap and was then able to control the race from the front with another classy performance to extend his winning sequence to five races and extend his championship lead. “I just went for it with three or four quick laps and then tried to maintain the tyres after that,” said Birch after winning by over six seconds. “Brilliant: I couldn’t be happier,” he said after scoring 44 points in a perfect day’s work.
Behind Birch, a fierce battle raged for second as Ferguson recovered from a tardy start to chase after Liquorish. For lap after lap it was neck and neck as both drivers pushed to the limit. Finally, it all came down to the last lap as Ferguson made his move with a bold attack at Church Corner. The cars touched and Ferguson was through. “I knew it was the last lap and he was struggling coming out of the Complex,” said Ferguson, who had a lucky escape mid-race when he hit a pheasant that was walking across the track. Liquorish was a disappointed third after fending off his rival until two corners from the flag.
Flaherty slotted into fourth place, but had Riall and Crowne close behind and Riall challenged for several laps before a spin at the Complex dropped him to sixth. Instead, Cowne moved in to take up the challenge on Flaherty and the racing novice mounted a relentless attack on Flaherty. The places never changed, but there was still little more than a second between them after 25 minutes of racing.
“The easier option is to follow someone,” said Flaherty, who had battled all day by using second hand tyres. “It was absolutely riveting,” said Cowne. “I was on his tail the whole time.”
Race One: 1 James Birch; 2 John Ferguson +8.610s; 3 Steven Liquorish; 4 Mark Flaherty; 5 Guy Riall; 6 Mark Cowne. Fastest lap: Birch 1m18.376s (108.21mph).
Race Two: 1 Birch; 2 Ferguson +6.606s; 3 Liquorish; 4 Flaherty; 5 Cowne; 6 Riall. Fastest lap: Birch 1m18.205s (108.45mph).
Provisional overall points after round six:
1 James Birch 110; 2 Steven Liquorish 93; 3 John Ferguson 69; 4 Neil Houston and Mark Cowne 60; 6 Peter Smallwood 57; 7 Mark Flaherty 48; 8 Justin Sherwood 42; 9 Guy Riall 39; 10 Tom Hallissey 8.
Next rounds: Croft, 21/22 July.
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