THE SPIRIT OF LE MANS IN NORFOLK
Bute Motorsport are no strangers to endurance racing, running the successful GT Cup in the United Kingdom for almost a decade. Identifying a gap in the market for increasingly popular LMP3 machinery it plans a six-event/twelve-race domestic championship in 2017 including a trip to the world-famous Spa Francorchamps.
Ahead of this, the series ran a taster event at Snetterton on the ‘300’ circuit during the MSVR ‘Weekend of Champions’. Eight cars were entered; four from United Autosports, two from Team West-Tec and solitary entries from Tockwith Motorsports and Douglas Motorsport respectively.
As with the GT Cup, the series will run as Pro/Am, with amateur or bronze drivers being accompanied by a professional or driver of any grading. However while the cars offer better than GTE level performance, they are far less technical than GT3 machines, for example. Without a host of driver aids, such as traction control, the LMP3 class requires a greater level of skill and understanding to obtain the very best from the car.
With new sales capped at €206,000 the philosophy of The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) is to provide a step on the ladder for those who wish to progress in prototype racing. Cars are currently run in the European Le Mans Series (ELMS), Asian Le Mans Series (AsLMS) and VdeV, with the Prototype Cup aiming to offer further opportunities for teams and drivers to compete in Europe.
In addition to these series, LMP3 cars competing in ELMS are also eligible to take part in the Road to Le Mans support race on the Circuit de la Sarthe on Saturday morning, ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Back at Snetterton however the aim for some of the grid was to emerge unscathed through the weekend, Mike Newbold explaining that Douglas Motorsport had only taken ownership of its Ligier JSP3 earlier in the week. Unfortunately the Team West-Tec Ligier of Colin Noble & Christian England was absent on Sunday with gearbox bellhousing problems.
Changeable weather conditions weren’t helpful either, a stiff and chilly breeze sending showers in between pleasant sunshine. A pre-race sprinkling of rain meant a five minute delay and a cooler track for the competitors to try and build up tyre temperatures.
In the hour-long event, the Tockwith Motorsports #26 of Philip Hanson and Nigel Moore romped to victory with Hanson opening up a large lead in the early stages, while England, who had moved to the sister #4 Ligier to partner Bradley Smith, pegged the gap at around 20 seconds. “I got a pretty big lead at the start,” said Hanson after the race. “It was a little bit greasy and that caught everyone out not being able to get much heat into the tyres.”
There was a tremendous battle for third, with close racing before the start of the pit-stop window after 20 minutes. This shook the field up, with Thomas Randle in the #72 and Wayne Boyd in the #2 setting rapid lap times, though Randle would be forced to serve a 10-second stop/go penalty as the Douglas Motorsport crew left the engine running during the driver change.
Boyd laid down fastest lap after fastest lap, getting down to a best of 1m 43.887s, some 1.2s quicker than anyone else. “We tested here Monday and Tuesday so we knew we were going to have a good run the last half an hour,” he told The Motorsport Report. “Unfortunately we were just a wee bit too far back to challenge for the win but at least we had really good pace and a podium to start us off.”
Out front Moore quietly brought the #26 home to a commanding win ahead of Smith, with the rapid Boyd in third. “Every weekend the team does an excellent job. Pole and a win for the first race? You can’t get much better than that!” enthused Hanson.
In the paddock the cars attracted attention non-stop and the action on track bodes well for the future. “There’s a lot of people talking about the Prototype Cup for next year and you can’t help but love driving the LMP3 cars,” Boyd said. “They’re nice to drive, not a handful, predictable and it makes for really good racing.”
Prototype Cup – Snetterton 300 – October 9th – Sunny spells
1st: Nigel Moore / Phil Hanson – #26 – Ligier JS P3 – 1hr 00m 18.253s – 91.57 mph
2nd: Bradley Smith / Christian England – #4 – Ligier JS P3 – +22.293s
3rd: Jay Palmer / Wayne Boyd – #2 – Ligier JS P3 – +44.051s
4th: Jacques Duyver / Charlie Hollings – #3 – Ligier JS P3 – +1m 20.532s
5th: Patrick Byrne / Guy Cosmo – #32 – Ligier JS P3 – + 1m 40.907s
6th: Mike Newbould / Thomas Randle – #72 – Ligier JS P3 – +1m41.146s
7th: Shaun Lynn – #23 – Ligier JS P3 – 1 lap behind
Fastest lap: Wayne Boyd – #2 – Ligier JS P3 – 1m 43.887s – 102.88 mph on lap 27