Brands Hatch (Indy) 2003

Preview & News

Media release: 24 August 2003

The Porsche Michelin Carrera Cup would return to Brands Hatch in Kent for the eighth meeting of the season; races 15 and 16 of the championship, and once again it would be a Bank Holiday weekend, with big crowds and, unusually perhaps, fine weather.

With the halfway point behind them the leading title contenders were finely balanced for an end-of-season showdown. After a string of successes early in the year the Scotsman Barry Horne held a tentative advantage over his rivals, but his form had faded as the championship progressed, allowing both Richard Westbrook and Jason Templeman to close up. The gap was down to just 33 points, having previously stood at 60, and with 44 points on offer at Brands there was every chance that matters could change.

When the Porsches raced at Brands in May victory in both races had gone to Westbrook, with Templeman second and Horne trailing. "We came away from Brands disappointed with two third places," said Barry. "After that we did a lot of work to the car and we got right up to speed."

After that meeting in May Westbrook went through a succession of mechanical woes that sapped his challenge, but mid-season his form strengthened enough for him to restore his position as a title hopeful. Split by just three points from Templeman, these two can both see the title as a realistic possibility. "We're hitting some form at the right time," said Westbrook. "Hopefully we can carry this on to the end of the season." Although Templeman had yet to win a race, he too has reason to feel optimistic. Consistent running throughout the year has seen him on the podium nearly every weekend, and he enjoys Brands.

Jonathon Cocker had a different reason for looking forward to Brands Hatch. Sunday 24th would be his 17th birthday, and the teenager could finally look forward to being able to drive legally – on the roads, that is, albeit with 'L' plates. If borrowing father’s car for a trip out with the lads had been denied him before, Cocker had demonstrated undeniable skill on the racetrack, showing every sign of being a real star for the future. Few other drivers can have had such an impressive debut season at such a tender age.

* Driver’s Tiff *

Once again Porsche GB had come up trumps with a pair of crowd-pleasing guest drivers for the two Parr Motorsport-run Cup cars – even if one can sometimes be the joker in the pack. In the blue car would be Vicki Butler-Henderson, while Tiff Needell would pilot the red car.

With a long pedigree as a top flight racing driver and many years as a television presenter, Tiff Needell needs no lengthy introduction. What few realise, perhaps, is that Tiff hasn’t only been around for what seems like ever as a driver, but he’s also pretty good at it. Although his Formula 1 career was brief he did at least reach that top rung, and precious few can claim that achievement. Since those heady days in the early 1980s Tiff has made a name for himself, not only as a sportscar racer with fourteen Le Mans starts to his credit, but also as a Top Gear presenter for the BBC. His best result at Le Mans was third in 1990, but he has also been a familiar face at Daytona and Sebring as well as in the British and FIA GT Championships. There isn’t much he hasn’t tried, from Formula Ford to British Touring Cars, and his lengthy CV even lists appearances in the RAC Rally.

* Set for a bit of VB-H *

Fellow TV presenter Vicki Butler-Henderson would be making her Porsche racing debut at Brands. Vicki is a regular at the BTCC meetings, however, since she fronts ITV’s coverage of the British Touring Car Championship, and would be combining both roles during the Brands weekend.

Although she has a strong racing background, Vicki had not competed at all this season before testing the Porsche just a fortnight before the race. "Having the test settled my nerves," she said. "It is such an awesome car to drive. It is lovely, but definitely a challenge. That's my excuse already!” she joked. “I know I'll enjoy racing the Porsche and I am quite a competitive person," she added. "The team is brilliant and the car is so nice to drive." VB-H has been racing since she started in karts as a teenager, progressing through Formula First, sports cars and saloons. She comes from a motorsport family; her father Guy was a member of the British kart team, her late grandfather, Lionel, raced at Brooklands, while brother Charlie contests one of the other BTCC support races.

The head-to-head duel between the TV personalities would certainly be an additional attraction for the spectators. While the regulars would be competing for points, Tiff and Vicki would have pride at stake. On experience alone Tiff clearly has the edge. He has even raced Porsches before — his third at Le Mans came in a Group C 962 — but Vicki has age and, perhaps, vivacity and enthusiasm on her side. It would be an interesting contest.

Westbrook tops qualifying times

Media release: 24 August 2003

Westbrook was spot-on in qualifying. A good driver will set his best time on his third or fourth lap, when the tyres are at their best, and that’s exactly what Westbrook did at Brands. With an impressive 48.423 posted at the top of the timing screen he was then able to sit out the rest of the session, saving his tyres for the race. "We've carried the pace forward from Snetterton and pole is good," said Westbrook.

Towards the end of the session Barry Horne did his best to equal Westbrook’s time, coming within a tenth, but he couldn’t improve beyond that and had to settle for a front-row slot ahead of Pinkney and Templeman. Vicki Butler-Henderson found two seconds over her early pace by the time the flag ended the session, but her best of 50.465 was still only good enough for the back row, but by just five one-thousands of a second from Cup regular Jason Young. Tiff Needell would start in the mid-field after a best of 49.411, less than a second off Westbrook’s pole. A mere 1.6 seconds separated first and last. It was going to be close.

Westbrook sprints to race one

Media release: 25 August 2003

Westbrook made the best of the standing start to head the field into Paddock Hill Bend, followed closely by Barry Horne. Templeman nosed just clear of Pinkney as they swept down the hill for the first time, which was just as well. As the pack rounded Druids Pinkney’s tail end got the better of him and his Porsche swung wide on the exit. Tiff Needell, making a good start from eighth, was in precisely the wrong place as he rounded the corner. Unable to avoid the spinning Pinkney the Porsche GB driver caught the back of the errant 911 a glancing blow. It was enough to put the Top Gear presenter out of the race with a damaged front left, although Pinkney recovered to trail the field.

Westbrook and Horne, of course, were well clear by this time, and were never threatened again. Cuff had damaged his front splitter on the kerbs as he swerved round Pinkney’s pirouette, and that left him battling against understeer, losing ground to Templeman as they headed away through Graham Hill Bend.

Vicki made a good enough start, coming through Druids in time to pass the recovering Pinkney. She completed the first lap in eleventh place.

Paul Mace, in his first race of 2003, held fifth for many laps until Jonathon Cocker managed to battle ahead at Druids on the final lap. Gary and Andy Britnell had run sixth and seventh in the early laps, but Andy became the second retirement when he was sent into the barriers by a nudge from Jonathan Rowland on lap four. Rowland dropped to the back of the field, taking Gary with him, and found themselves behind Vicki and Pinkney.

VB-H kept the two at bay for more than half the race, but they were steadily gaining on her. On lap 18 Rowland got ahead, with Britnell just three-tenths behind. It was all a bit frantic, and on the next lap Rowland got into trouble once again, allowing Vicki back through. It was all a bit of a scramble, and Britnell saw the gap he needed to take both places. While he pulled away over the final laps Vicki, despite being lapped by the leaders, was now comfortably clear of Rowland and took ninth at the flag by nearly ten seconds.

"That was easier than it’s been all season,” exclaimed a delighted Westbrook. “It was a stress-free race. The car felt perfect, it was that simple." Horne had tried hard to catch Westbrook but had to settle for second. "The car was good in qualifying, but was just not handling right in the race," he explained. He later discovered a failed front damper.

Westbrook edges closer to Horne with win

Media release: 25 August 2003

Grid order for the rolling start is determined by the results from the previous day’s race, so Westbrook was able to lead from the off in the Feature. He never truly looked under threat, although Horne did chase hard in the early stages to come within three-tenths of the lead. His challenge steadily fell away, however, and Westbrook looked relaxed as he swept smoothly to the flag.

Behind Westbrook things were far less straightforward. Templeman and Cuff were running hard, and keeping Horne on his toes — and probably accounting for his lack of challenge in the process. With his mirrors full of these two, he had less time to concentrate on the leader. Templeman closed on Horne and, just before half distance, grabbed his chance to claim second when Horne swung a little wide at Druids. Once in front Templeman was able to ease out enough of a margin that he could concentrate on Westbrook. He did narrow the gap, but Westbrook had enough in hand to stave off the attack with apparent ease.

It was a gratifying result for Templeman, who reckoned that second was “a good race” for his title chances. He was certainly pleased with the fact he’d pulled well clear of Horne, who had been forced to defend hard in the later stages as David Cuff reeled him in. Lapping Vicki just five tours from the flag upset his rhythm, however, and Cuff ended the day a satisfied fourth.

Although she’d not actually started last, VB-H soon found herself there. Of those behind her on the grid, Tiff Needell and David Pinkney swept through right at the beginning. The unfortunate Jonathan Rowland then slumped to the back to ensure she wasn’t tail-end Charlie as the pack completed the opening lap, although he promptly sliced back through again on the next. That left Vicki holding her own with Andy Britnell for a couple of laps, until he also found a way through and left her facing the next five tours a very lonely last.

Paul Mace joined Vicki on lap seven after he’d suffered from a coming-together with Vicki’s team-mate Tiff. The Top Gear man had recovered well enough, but Mace slithered to the back of the field. This left Needell on his own for a short while, but he was rapidly closing on Gary Britnell in the #22 Porsche. Over the next six laps an advantage of nearly two seconds shrunk to just a car’s length, but on lap thirteen Tiff would end his weekend with a second retirement. Gary held on to sixth for much of the rest of the race, before he too succumbed at Graham Hill bend on lap 25, leaving the place to Jonathan Rowland. Paul Mace recovered to eighth, ahead of Jason Young, with Cocker celebrating his birthday with another highly respectable fifth.

Another brace of wins for Westbrook drew to him within 27 points of Horne. "It seemed to be the same problem again," Horne had said after finding his car’s handling going away in the second half of the race. Westbrook made no such complaints. "I love it here," he said, four wins at Brands under his belt in one season. "This track is brilliant for me. "