The perfect storm
With thunderstorms predicted overnight and into the morning, Sunday’s Classic Sports Car Club “Thruxton Thriller” at the fastest circuit in the UK was destined to be a challenge for all, with the many flowing but unsighted and off-camber corners mixing with constantly changing conditions to generate the ultimate test for drivers.
With our Golf TCR taking a well-earned rest after Castle Combe, this week it was at last the turn of the trusty Seat Eurocup car to fly the Ramair flag, and Jamie and the Team joined up in the tiny Thruxton garages with our colleagues and friends from Racetruck UK. Their MD Ian Knight had brought along not only the rapid R56 Mini, but also a certain Mr Jake Hill, their Brand Ambassador, fresh from his first BTCC win at Knockhill. Most importantly Racetruck brought the sausages for breakfast too – now that’s teamwork!
Both cars were in the first qualifying session for the Open Race: two races in one where all the saloon cars which normally race in their decade series (there are races across the weekend for 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and noughties cars) get to join in and race with the rapid Caterhams from the Magnificent 7s Series for separate prizes. The session started wet, so a soft suspension set up all round was the order of the day. Jake went from the gun and set the early pace in the Mini, whereas Jamie, having foregone wet tyres and starting on a scrubbed set of Yokohama’s incredible A052s, dialled the car in a little slower at first and then built heat and speed, coming out with Pole position for the saloon cars and 4th on the grid behind the leading Caterhams.
Final qually of the day was the New Millennium race and the track was now beginning to dry a little in places. The pace for everyone had improved and with another damper and roll bar change to stiffen the car Jamie was able to exploit the available grip available, putting the car on pole for a second time that day by over 2 seconds, despite the presence of some incredibly fast cars, many of which had won New Millennium rounds before.
A quick turnaround was required before the start of the Open Race, and now with a drying but patchy track the Team committed to another last minute increase in roll bar stiffness. Predictably the damp start in a front-wheel drive car was a challenge and the run around Allard to the Complex for the first time was manic, particularly with Jake launching from directly behind us on the grid to hound the Seat up to the Complex, before becoming engaged within the next flurry of Caterhams behind.
The race settled quickly with Jamie shadowing the leading trio of Caterhams and gapping the field behind. When the pit window opened we were in early and the team set one of our fastest ever times to maximise the pit lane advantage. The pit window was open for 15 minutes and by the time all pit stops were complete we were in a commanding lead. With the gap being managed from the pit wall Jamie brought the car home for the overall victory ahead of all the Caterhams, the first by a saloon car in Open Race history.
Despite praying for rain to maintain our advantage, as the afternoon wore on, the sun came out, the track dried and so we made our final suspension change of the day. Now one step away from a full dry setup due to the green track and colder temperatures we went to the front of the grid but with little confidence of a win. The Lotus V6 Cup, Porsche 997 Cup and the gaggle of tricked up E36, E46 and E92 BMWs all having designs on the win. Pole position became 4th into the complex as the Porsche, a BMW and the Lotus (adjudged to have false started!) shot through, and this became 6th a couple of laps later before the rear tyres came in. Then the pace started to come and as the pit stop window opened we were back up to 4th and closing in again on the leaders.
After coming in to the front of an empty lane it was another stellar stop by the guys but comedy hour had begun: the up-shift paddle had become detached from the steering wheel and Jamie was forced to drive the next 25 minutes holding it between three fingers in his right hand, pressing it onto the steering wheel to shift! Whether it was the increased adrenaline, the number of apexes missed as a result of struggling to turn left, the cramp or a combination of them all, but over the rest of the race the Seat recorded the five fastest laps, a full 1.2 seconds faster than the best of the rest.
The race was always billed as the “Thruxton Thriller” and it didn’t disappoint: with the pit board showing P2 and a decreasing gap to the leading Porsche 997 Cup car of Peter Challis, our driver smelt blood. With two laps to go Jamie used the backmarkers to his advantage and closed up to the rear bumper of the 997 up to the chicane. Past the finish line with a lap to go and he carried immense speed over the curb at Allard to set up a “do or die” move. As they swept left the 997 was already committed to its wide braking line into the complex when the Seat arrived at a rate of knots over the apex curb of Cambell, wriggled round the left hander Cobb, and then passed the final backmarker off-line exiting Seagrave. This compromised Jamie’s drive out of the corner and left Peter with one chance, but the attempt to repass up the hill into Noble was blocked, and Jamie used the car’s composure through the fast right hander at Church to open a small gap on the run up Woodham Hill to the chicane, crossing the line just 0.7s ahead.
Watch the video of those two tense last laps HERE
A maiden New Millennium victory topped off an incredible weekend and completed the hat-trick of Poles and Wins that started last week at Combe. We can’t thank the crew enough for their hard work and support in preparing and maintaining the car, plus Racetruck for getting us there in comfort and style – and of course, supplying the sausages.