Mondello Park 2003

Preview

Media release: 20 April 2003

The Mondello Park would play host to one of the first major motor racing events of the 2003 season, when the BTCC and Porsche Carrera Cup would be staged over the Easter weekend, 20th-21st April. It would be the first time that the latest 390bhp 911 GT3 Cup cars would be seen on these shores, and the debut for the new-look championship.

The Carrera Cup is a major part of Porsche's current motorsport programme, with national series in many countries across the world. In previous years the headline UK championship for Porsche enthusiasts has been the Michelin Porsche Cup, but that is replaced in 2003 by the factory-managed Carrera Cup. Run along the same lines as its international counterparts, the Carrera Cup becomes the leading support series to the prestigious British Touring Car Championship.

Although a step up from the previous incarnation, the Carrera Cup has attracted interest from a variety of leading drivers and teams, with established Porsche teams being joined by several newcomers, including some entries from leading BTCC squads.

Based on pre-season testing much was expected from Barry Horne, who had made a one-off appearance in the 2002 series as a guest driver in the Porsche GB Autosport Mobil 1-backed entry managed by Parr Motorsport. On that occasion, at Knockhill (see archived report), Horne romped to victory. The Scot is a gritty competitor and must rank amongst the title favourites, while his being one of only three drivers to have enjoyed pre-season testing at the Irish track strengthened his prospects for Mondello.

Another driver to have tried his hand at that earlier test was former Parr Motorsport driver Nigel Rice, widely expected to be a championship pacesetter. In the end he wouldn’t even start the season after breaking his leg in a motorcycle accident just days before the opening race. We wish him a speedy recovery.

The Cup regulars knew they’d have their work cut out when the announcement came through that Porsche Cars GB had invited the hugely experienced Damien Faulkner to make a special appearance at Mondello.

As one of Ireland’s top international racing driver’s Damien Faulkner took top billing when it was confirmed that he would drive the “Guest” car for Rounds 1 and 2. Faulkner’s return to Mondello for the Easter weekend would be his first appearance at the Kildare track for almost two seasons. The former Indy Lights race-winner was no newcomer to Porsche racing, having previously driven in the Porsche Supercup race at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2002. On that occasion Faulkner finished just outside the top ten following a race-long battle with Champ Car driver Darren Manning – since better known in the UK for his 2002 Ascar exploits. For this first race of 2003, however, Faulkner would not only enjoy ‘home track’ advantage but also the benefits of having competed at the Mondello circuit in 2001, when he was a class winner in the FIA Sportscar series.

"I am delighted to get another chance to drive for Porsche," said Faulkner. "The cars are fantastic and it is great to be working with Porsche. My first experience of the GT3 car was on the very fast and wide Silverstone GP circuit and I am now looking forward to the totally different challenge of the very technical Mondello track. The teams and drivers in the championship are all top class and most have previous experience of the 911 GT3, but I hope that my local knowledge will be enough to get me up to the front of the grid."

Joining Faulkner in the second of the two Porsche VIP cars would be seasoned campaigner Ian Flux. ‘Fluxie’, as he is generally known, has been a regular in GT and sportscars for almost as long as anyone can remember. For much of the nineties he was a frequent competitor in both the British GT Championship and the TVR Tuscan series, while recent seasons have seen him as a front-runner in the highly entertaining Radicals. His ticket to drive at Mondello came as a result of his second-hat job as a contributor to Motorsport News.

Both drivers would have very limited time to get to grips with his Porsche 911 GT3 prior to qualifying, with only one two-hour test scheduled for the Saturday before the race. Qualifying would be on Sunday morning, followed by a 20-minute Sprint race later that day, and then the grid for Monday’s Feature race decided by the finishing order from the Sprint.

Faulkner’s Wins

Media release: 21 April 2003

In the end Damien Faulkner proved to be the master of Mondello when he showed all the full-time Cup competitors a clean pair of heels as he powered to a brace of victories in the first two rounds of the 2003 Porsche Carrera Cup.

The County Donegal racer headed pre-season championship favourite Barry Horne to the flag on both occasions, much to the delight of the somewhat partisan home crowd. He started as he meant to go on, scoring a faultless win in the Sunday Sprint, despite some hard chasing by Horne and Jason Templeman. At the end of twenty minutes of close-fought racing less than two seconds covered these top three.

"I knew I had the measure of him, but it wasn’t easy to pull away," said Faulkner, who had taken the lead right from the start. Although the margin to Horne was never more than two seconds, Faulkner looked as though he had the situation well under control throughout. "I can’t do much more than that. Barry was right there, but he was never in a position to challenge."

Horne was undoubtedly aware that shadowing Faulkner to the flag would be enough to secure maximum championship points, since the VIP cars are not eligible to score points. "I’m not really here to fight with Damien," admitted Horne. "I just sat bided my time and sat behind him." He certainly appeared to have no real intent to attack, aware that a pass would be difficult on the twisty Irish circuit and that a wrong move could scupper his championship chances for no purpose.

However, as the race entered its closing stages Faulkner began to relax, and the margin between the top two cars reduced to less than a second. Although closing, Horne was coming under increasing pressure from Templeman. From the start Templeman had run fourth behind the fast-starting David Pinkney, but when Pinkney spun on the second lap, Templeman had a clear run at the two leaders.

Relentlessly Templeman closed the gap, setting the fastest race lap along the way. With three laps to go Templeman had drawn to within a second of Horne. "I caught him,” he said, “but it wasn’t enough at the end." Nevertheless, it was an impressive Porsche debut, although being so close to Pinkney’s spin had given him an anxious moment. "I was about a foot off his back bumper, and I thought he was going to hit me," admitted Templeman with obvious relief.

Ian Flux brought the second VIP car home in a highly creditable fifth place, just a second behind Jeremy Smith, while Pinkney salvaged sixth, passing brothers Andy and Gary Britnell when they inadvertently touched mid-race.

Faulkner’s Double Take

Media release: 21 April 2003

In the weekend’s second race, it was more of the same. Faulkner coped with a wet but drying track and continued pressure from Horne to add Feature race victory to his earlier triumph in the Sprint.

The rain had eased by the time the cars formed up on the grid, although the track was still damp. With the clouds thinning there was a real prospect of the track drying considerably during the 30-minute feature race, so tyre condition would become increasingly important as the race developed. With standing water still apparent on some sections of the circuit the choice at the start was simple – everyone would have to opt for grooved tyres.

Faulkner made an imposing start, heading Horne into Honda, the first corner. David Pinkney also made another of his storming start, but spun out once again, this time a lap earlier on his very first tour. He would spend the rest of the race playing catch-up, eventually finishing fifth. As had happened in the sprint race, Jason Templeman quickly established himself in third, his first time driving a 911 GT3 in the wet.

In fourth, Jeremy Smith had his mirrors full of Ian Flux - and Fluxie knew that he had a chance of forcing an error if he kept the pressure up. Sure enough, Smith spun on lap six, leaving Flux to race home fourth. "I thoroughly enjoyed that," he said, grinning broadly.

Up front, Templeman steadily narrowed the gap to Faulkner and Horne, setting fastest race lap for the second time. However, Faulkner was not about to let victory slip from his grasp and had almost two seconds advantage at the flag, although conditions made the final minutes more demanding. “The last three laps were so dry that it was very difficult,” said Faulkner, who had worked well to preserve his rubber through the closing stages. "It was just a matter of doing enough," he said. Having scored maximum championship points Barry Horne was equally delighted. “Damien was here to prove a point – I was here to score them!” he said. Templeman also seemed satisfied with his weekend’s work, ending the day just four points behind Horne.