Croft 2003

Preview & News

Media release: 12 July 2003

Talk of the paddock ahead of Round Six at Croft near Darlington was the impending participation of two major European racing stars, invited by Porsche Cars GB to drive the two VIP cars. Mike Rockenfeller, who became the youngest ever winner of a Porsche Supercup race earlier this year, would be joined by World Superbike rider Jurgen van den Goorbergh. They would lend a distinctly international flavour to the occasion, and both had reputations to uphold and expectations to match.

Rockenfeller (www.mike-rockenfeller.de) normally races for the UPS Porsche Junior Team in the Carrera Cup in Germany, although he has also been taking part in selected rounds of the F1-supporting Porsche Michelin Supercup. The 19 year-old hit the headlines by winning the Supercup race supporting the 2003 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring, and would return to the Supercup at the British Grand Prix, the weekend after the Croft race. At the time he was also lying second in the German Carrera Cup. "It should be a nice experience,” he said with understatement. “It will be my first time in England and so everything is new. I am excited to see how motorsport is in England. The German Grand Prix Supercup race was my first overall win in a Porsche and it was very important. I had so much pressure from myself!"

Dutch motorcycle ace van den Goorbergh (www.vdgoorbergh.com) has competed on four wheels before, having raced a Marcos Mantis in a three-hour GT race at Spa in 2001 and a Renault Clio at Zandvoort last year. "I am very excited, of course,” he admitted. “Aaron Slight is a good friend of mine and he had a great time in the Porsche (at Thruxton). He is getting good in cars, so I wanted to try more car racing and see if I enjoy it too. When Tubbs (Aaron Slight’s manager) invited me, it was definitely 'yes'. Now I can start counting the days!" Tubbs Wanigasekera had approached the Dutchman during a visit to Silverstone. “I invited Jurgen at the Superbike round at Silverstone, where he finished second, and he jumped at the chance!" Hardly surprising really!

As the championship moved into the second half of the season Barry Horne was already looking very strong at the head of the table, his twin wins at Rockingham having established a 61-point lead over Jason Templeman. "Croft is the start of the second half of the season, so it’s a bit of a turning point," said Horne, who might have been bearing in mind the fact that Templeman has an excellent record at Croft. Jason was a race winner there last season.

David Pinkney would be aiming to get his title bid back on track after a couple of mixed weekends, but it was Richard Westbrook who appeared to be making up the best ground, possibly representing a greater threat. After missing the opening round Westbrook was already up to fourth in the points, although he had never previously raced at Croft.

Someone else making headway up the tally was 16-year old Jonathon Cocker, and Croft would give him the advantage of home ground. Jonathon lives in Guisborough, just 20 miles from Croft, while his team, Red Line Racing, is based even closer. “I've tested the Porsche at Croft, but I've never raced there before. A lot of friends will be coming to the track, so it will be nice to have a load of support. Most of the lap at Croft really flows and the quick stuff is really good," said Jonathon, who has made a fabulous impression this season. He had finished on the podium three times in the previous five races and would be delighted to add to that success on his home track.

Westbrook fights back

Media release:13 July 2003

Upsetting the qualifying barrow was VIP guest driver Mike Rockenfeller, who maintained his strong form by taking pole for Porsche Cars GB and Parr Motorsport. His red-striped car broke through the 1m24s barrier for the first time, setting a standard that the British regulars simply couldn’t match. Barry Horne bravely led the chase, with Jason Templeman and Richard Westbrook not too far behind. Dutch biker ace van den Goorbergh demonstrated some adaptive skills to good effect, clocking 1:26.041 to start the Sprint from seventh place. Once again, just twelve cars would take to the track.

Sadly, Rockenfeller’s excellent efforts were to go unrewarded when an electrical problem struck the pole setter as the cars headed to the grid and, despite frantic efforts from the Parr mechanics, was unable to take the start. “These things happen,” he said stoically. There was further drama within seconds of the start when Barry Horne, effectively promoted to pole by Rockenfeller’s absence, ran over the kerbs at Clervaux, the very first corner. The Porsche’s only weakness revealed itself once again when the impact damaged a radiator, spraying coolant onto the tyres. Horne slithered uncontrollably across the track and into the gravel trap. He managed to struggle clear, but then pulled over a few turns later rather than risk engine damage.

This left Richard Westbrook to exploit a storming start, snatching an early lead that left Templeman and Pinkney trailing by more than a second. It was an advantage he would never relinquish, although the three cars were seldom more than a few yards apart. "I'm over the moon," said Westbrook afterwards. "After the second lap I had a brake problem and I thought it was going to be hell. It was just a question of hanging on," said the jubilant winner, who seems to overcome adversity with alacrity in almost every race.

Templeman, a justifiably relieved second, always had Pinkney in his mirrors, but was able to defend cleanly throughout the race. "I'm pretty pleased," he reported. "Barry didn't finish, so that's a bonus," referring to the effect this result would have on the championship position. Jurgen van den Goorbergh ran home a strong fourth from Jonathon Cocker, while Jonathan Rowland moved up to sixth when Andy Britnell pitted with a puncture.

However, the last word went to Rockenfeller, who would start the Feature race from the back of the grid. "Tomorrow will be interesting; it will not be easy to win from the back of the grid!" Such comments can sometimes tempt fate or even disdain, but somehow there was an edge of credibility to such a prediction when spoken by a young man who has already achieved so much.

Horne's misfortune is Westbrook's joy

Media release: 13 July 2003

With the two quickest drivers starting from the very back of the grid, the stage was set at Croft for a thrilling Feature, and so it proved. Westbrook, with Jason Templeman and David Pinkney in hot pursuit, led the field away, but all attention was gripped by Horne and Rockenfeller as they began the task of carving their way through the order.

Initially it was Horne set the pace, setting a new lap record as he scythed between the backmarkers, but Rockenfeller was always there at his heels. The two cars made rapid progress, diving through the gaps and slotting neatly between the other competitors as if they were lapping the field, not fighting through it. By the end of the third lap they were through to fifth and sixth respectively, and then fourth and fifth by lap five.

By the time Westbrook had completed eight laps Horne was up to third, with Rockenfeller just one second behind, and the pair of them within ten seconds of the lead. Consistently a second or more faster than anyone else on the track, these two continued their relentless assault. It would only be a matter of time. Then, on lap ten, things started to go wrong for Horne. The first sign came when Rockenfeller, who had never been far adrift anyway, suddenly saw an opening and dived through to snatch third. Horne had lost three seconds in a single lap, and then it became clear why. At the end of lap twelve Horne tucked back into the pits to retire with clutch failure. It was a devastating blow for the Scot, who saw his points collection for the weekend dwindle to just two.

Unrestricted, Rockenfeller now had a clear track to Templeman and quickly closed in on second place. It didn’t take long, and on lap sixteen he swept through. "I knew Rockenfeller was a lot faster, so there was no point in racing with someone who wasn't scoring points," said Templeman in acknowledgement of the situation. Rockenfeller then began to encroach on Westbrook. With two laps to go they were nose to tail. Westbrook, however, had other ideas and wasn’t about to give up as easily as Templeman. Determined to retain his lead he countered Rockenfeller's every move, fending off the German’s repeated attacks all the way to the flag. "I had it all covered at the end, so I didn't feel too much under threat," said a jubilant Westbrook. “I didn’t really expect much coming here and I’ve ended up with two wins!” Rockenfeller was pleased to have made such inroads. "It was a very hard race and very hot in the car, but second was great" he said after his thrilling drive. Meanwhile, Templeman was pleased to have finished third and close the gap on Horne in the championship table. Pinkney fended off Jurgen van den Goorbergh to the flag as Jonathon Cocker completed the top six.