Two wins for Yorkshire-based Mark McAleer at his local circuit as the 2017 Petro-Canada Lubricants Porsche Club Championship with Pirelli visited Croft on Saturday 19th August have boosted the class one pace-setters hopes of a second championship, though a first and a second for class two leader Steve Cheetham keeps him in the hunt.
Mark McAleer set the quickest time in qualifying early in the morning, fractions quicker than fellow 996 C2 racer Mark Sumpter and with Craig Wilkins third. First non-996 was the Cayman S of Chris Dyer in fourth, the session having been red-flagged early on after a car went off and then restarted for another 15-minutes
“That wasn’t easy, it was scarily close,” said Mark McAleer, “and I can’t do 25-minutes at that pace! We will have to see what the weather does, it could be anything, but it is a great start to the day.”
In class two Steve Cheetham set the pace with the similar Boxster of Ross Morris just fractions slower. Jake McAleer next up, with Hugo Holmes fourth just ahead of circuit specialist David Botterill.
Mark McAleer led the field away but drama amongst the class two runners left Ross Morris off at the first corner in his Boxster and after time behind the safety car the red flags were out and the race was stopped.
At the second time of asking Mark McAleer made a good start again, with Sumpter right with him and Dyer, who had out-dragged Wilkins at the start into third in the Cayman. Into lap two and Dyer had a look inside Sumpter into Tower, the top four taking turns setting fast race lap.
Sumpter was pressuring Mark McAleer, looking for a way past at the hairpin on lap six, the front two just starting to ease away from the battling Dyer and Wilkins. Lap 11 saw the lead group amongst back markers, Mark McAleer suddenly two seconds clear of Sumpter who had lost time with a lurid moment at the back of the circuit on spilt fluid.
As Sumpter set about chasing down the leader, Wilkins got alongside Dyer into Tower corner but was on the outside and had to concede and Dyer continued to hold third. The lead duo were together again by lap 15, going side-by-side into the Hairpin at the end of the lap as they encountered a backmarker but Mark McAleer held on to lead out the corner.
At the finish two laps later it was still Mark McAleer just ahead, Dyer holding off a last corner challenge from Wilkins for third, with Pete Morris a lonely fifth.
“That was a long race, Mark Sumpter was on me the whole time,” said Mark McAleer. “There were places where I was quicker and others where he was, then he had a big moment and that dropped him away and I thought I could back off a bit, but next thing I knew he was back with me again.”
“There was some oil or something down at the exit of Sunny,” said Sumpter, “and I caught it, had a big moment and lost time, but was able to catch him again towards the end. I am pleased we have the pace back in the car, but it’s tight round here and Mark knows his way round this circuit.”
“That was a fair, close battle with Craig Wilkins,” said Dyer, “then he had a real go on the last lap, last corner. I was on the dregs of fuel and had to defend but it was a good strong race for us – I am more used to the car now and having the chance to set it up really well on the test days.”
Hugo Holmes was the early leader in class two, which was already without Ross Morris who did not restart. Botterill was right with the class leader and had a look inside Holmes at Clervoux, before taking the lead on lap four.
The class then spread out, Botterill leading Holmes and Jake McAleer, before Holmes tumbled down the order and ultimately retired with power-steering failure. Jake McAleer then started to close in on Botterill, Trevor Lewis running in third, while Cheetham, who had started from the pit-lane after pitting when the original race was stopped, now up to fourth in class.
Jake McAleer was right with Botterill by lap 11, and two laps later the pair were side-by-side through the sequence of corners at the end of the lap, Botterill holding on to lead onto the pit straight. Into the last lap the pair where still together, Jake McAleer going down the inside of the of Botterill under braking into Tower, the two touching which saw McAleer retire and Botterill going on to take his first class win of the season.
“Once I was ahead I pulled out a gap,” said Botterill. “Then there was some fluid down and I wasn’t sure if it was or oil or not so I kept off it and Jake was able to catch up. I had to push harder again and some circuit experience came into play and I knew where to put the car.”
Behind, Lewis retired with a fuel issue, raising Cheetham to second and more valuable championship points.
Mark McAleer led the field away in race two later on Saturday afternoon, but as they reached the first corner the lead group all closed up and it was Sumpter who lost out, ending up going wide and raising the dust as he went through the gravel trap at Clervoux, retiring at the end of the lap. That left Mark McAleer ahead, with Wilkins second, having held off Dyer at the start this time round, Michael Price in fourth behind Dyer with Pete Morris right there too.
Mark McAleer began to open a gap at the front as the next four ran close, Wilkins and Dyer battling, Dyer looking outside the second-place car into Tower on lap three then the pair were side-by-side over the finish line at the end of lap four, Wilkins holding onto second. A lap later and Morris got inside Price at the Hairpin, the two touching and sending Price into a spin, and ultimately into retirement.
A car off at Clervoux on lap seven saw the safety car out two laps later, closing up the field and losing Mark McAleer the lead of over two seconds he had built up. The field was set free to race again at the start of lap 13 for three more laps, Mark McAleer getting the restart just right and opening a gap once more, Wilkins second but Dyer now with Morris right behind and looking to take third.
With the chequer flag coming out at the end of lap 15 it was Mark McAleer who took the win ahead of Wilkins, Dyer holding onto third despite the best efforts of Morris.
“It feels like I am having to win these the hard way,” said Mark McAleer. “I had a nice gap, even though Mark Sumpter and I touched on the way down to the first corner and it knocked the tracking out and I was nursing that. I was happy the cars behind were squabbling and I didn’t have to push too hard, then the safety car came out. When it went in I knew we only had a couple of laps to go, a great day’s racing!”
“There wasn’t a quiet moment all race,” said Wilkins. “It was very busy at the start, then hard work but whatever I do I just can’t win one of these! The safety car put me back with Mark McAleer, but also put Chris Dyer right back with me, but second is good.”
“I got too much wheelspin at the start and Michael Price got really close going into Clervoux,” said Dyer. “I held him off and stuck with Craig, then saw Mark Sumpter shoot past the both of us and off. Safety car really helped me, my tyres were gone after the first race but it really helped me bring the tyres back enough to come home third.”
Cheetham led class two early on, but had Ross Morris right with him, Botterill in third ahead of Lewis and Jake McAleer. The lead pair were alongside each other down the pit straight on lap seven and into the first corner, Cheetham holding on. Next lap they were close again through there, Morris ending up off and in the gravel, bringing out the safety car.
Leader Cheetham now had rear bodywork loose, and also Jake McAleer, now past Botterill, right behind him in the safety car queue. On the restart Cheetham gauged it just right and opened enough of a gap to stay clear and take the class win, a fortunate one as a rear tyre punctured in the very last stages of the final laps. Jake McAleer took second while Botterill claimed third.
“I was struggling with the steering, it was fine in the quick corners but tricky in the slow corners,” said Cheetham. “I was having to be defensive through the first part of the lap as Ross Morris was right with me, and he pulled a move and I got spun round, and managed to get going again. I had a lead but knew I would lose it when the safety car came out, but I made a good restart and just got away – after I crossed the line the car felt funny and I had a puncture.”
Petro-Canada Lubricants Porsche Club Championship with Pirelli, Race One, Croft: 1 Mark McAleer (996 C2) 17 Laps; 2 Mark Sumpter (996 C2) +0.178s; 3 Chris Dyer (Cayman S); 4 Craig Wilkins (996 C2); 5 Pete Morris (996 C2); 6 Peter Erceg (Cayman S); 7 Andy Toon (996 C2); 8 Michael Price (996 C2); 9 David Botterill (964 C2); 10 Steve Cheetham (Boxster S). Class Winners: Mark McAleer; Botterill. Fastest Lap: Sumpter, 1m30.941s (83.15mph).
Race Two: 1 Mark McAleer 15 Laps; 2 Wilkins +1.239s; 3 Dyer; 4 Morris; 5 Richard Higgins (996 C2); 6 Erceg; 7 Toon; 8 Cheetham; 9 Jake McAleer; 10 Botterill. Class Winners: McAleer; Cheetham. Fastest Lap: Morris, 1m31.570s (82.58mph).
Next Races: Oulton Park, Cheshire, Saturday 2nd September.