Thruxton 2004


The 2004 Porsche Carrera Cup GB kicked off at Thruxton over the Easter weekend with two races on the afternoon of Sunday 11th April. It was an encouraging opening to the new season, with a full grid of sixteen 911 GT3 Cup cars to entertain the BTCC crowds.

This curtain-raiser would pit drivers against the singular challenge of Thruxton, a circuit famous for its tyre-punishing high-speed right-handers and testing corner complexes.

Three drivers stood out as the most likely pacesetters for the opening two races, with former BTCC champion and one-time Parr driver Tim Harvey the most likely front-runner. After a handful of guest appearances over the last couple of seasons, with Porsche’s Parr Motorsport VIP cars, this will be the first full campaign by Harvey in the Cup. He has been a popular figure in British motorsport for many years, and raced with Parr in 2000 in the British GT Championship.

Other strong contenders include several names from last year, including Richard Westbrook, who was 2003 championship runner-up, Jason Templeman, who finished third, and Jonathan Cocker, now a regular in the British GT Championship. It will also be good to see Nigel Rice back in the series. The affable Yorkshireman has had an unlucky few years with personal injury, most recently as a result of a motorbike accident, but was a powerful force in the Cup in 2002, when he and Mark Hazell (also back on the grid this year) raced with Parr.

This “old guard” will face stiff competition from some new names to the Carrera Cup, although none without experience. One of those is Jonathan Fildes, the reigning Renault Clio champion. The Irishman is new to Porsches, and knows that he is on a steep learning curve, but will surely develop into a strong contender.

TV Package Confirmed

Just ahead of the opening round at Thruxton it was announced that the 2004 Porsche Carrera Cup GB would benefit from an extensive television package, with the action appearing on both terrestrial and satellite programmes.

The entire 20-race season will be screened live on Motors TV, the increasingly pro-active satellite channel, while six dedicated half-hour ‘highlight’ programmes will also be run on Channel 4 later in the year. The Motors TV coverage will give the Cup up to seven hours of live TV broadcast across Europe and represents a significant increase over the live coverage enjoyed last season.

The stand-alone Channel 4 shows will focus exclusively on the Carrera Cup GB, featuring driver interviews and special insights into the race action. "This is a very comprehensive TV package and represents a significant increase over 2003," said Andy Goss, managing director of Porsche Cars GB. "The live coverage of BTCC race days will give millions of viewers across Europe the chance to see all the action from the Carrera Cup as it happens. Then, all of the highlights will be featured on Channel 4 in programmes dedicated to Carrera Cup GB."

Practice Report

Media release: 9 April 2004

Jason Templeman headed the official pre-weekend test at Thruxton on Wednesday 7th April, just a few days before the first race. He made good use of a drying track to get the better of newcomer Jonathan Fildes, with just 0.015s splitting the two come the end of the day.

A mere eight-tenths covered the top four drivers. The performance from Fildes, at one of his favourite tracks, underlined his status as a strong challenger, while Tim Harvey was third fastest ahead of Chris Cooper, David Pinkney, Nigel Rice and Jonathon Cocker. It proved a troubled day for title-favourite Richard Westbrook, who broke a driveshaft, while Martin Rich spun backwards into the tyre wall at Goodwood and damaged his car.

Matthew Marsh was a disappointed tenth, three seconds off Templeman’s best of 1m18.438s, but with everyone so close it probably mattered little. “My only visit to Thruxton was back in 1986. I was appalling then and I wasn’t much better today,” admitted Marsh. “The team have been very patient and they’ve helped me get over the jet-lag and onto the pace.”

Harvey secures pole

Media release: 10 April 2004

Harvey topped the charts in Saturday qualifying (10th April). He snatched pole by a tenth from Westbrook, with only half a second covering the top four drivers. Behind the front-row starters, Templeman and Fildes were tight on the pace, pointing to a tremendously competitive start the season. “A perfect lap would have been in the 16s,” reckoned Harvey after lapping in 1m17.102s, “but I’m very pleased; it’s a good start for the team and the sponsors,” he added.

Matthew Marsh could only manage a disappointing thirteenth after a series of problems. “I got everything wrong!” he admitted later.

Westbrook take season opener

Media release: 11 April 2004

Richard Westbrook claimed the first victory of the year in Round 1, fending off a late challenge from Jason Templeman to score a resounding win. Jonathan Fildes completed the podium.

While Westbrook got the jump on the opening lap, powering off the line to show the chasing pack a clean set of heels into the first corner, things were far from right for Tim Harvey. He was clearly struggling right from the moment the lights went out. Templeman had him under pressure immediately, and eased through into second before the end of the first lap. Battling against a broken damper, possibly damaged in qualifying he later admitted, Harvey was powerless to hold third and soon had a gaggle of cars snapping at his heels.

Back on the startline, however, there was carnage and chaos as a series of incidents led to both David Pinkney and Des Winks being eliminated even before they’d reached the first corner. Marsh, starting so far down the field, was caught in the middle and delayed by a cross-country excursion, but managed to escape without serious damage, although the task ahead of him was now even more daunting.

By the time the leaders came through to complete the opening lap the marshals had completed their chore of clearing the track, leaving Fildes with a clear run on Harvey, and opening up the veteran to a swamping assault from Cooper.

Marsh crossed the line a distant twelfth, lucky to be ahead of Marcus Thomas in the #20. The VLR driver was having a merry old time, spinning like a dervish at almost every opportunity, and finally coming to grief with a bizarre vault over the kerbs at the chicane that appeared to rip the sump out of the engine, spewing fluid across the track and sending the unfortunate Thomas into instant retirement. He’d managed just three laps.

Out at the front things had settled down somewhat. Westbrook was enjoying a lead of almost two seconds over Templeman, with Fildes a relatively distant third and under steady pressure from Cooper. Harvey, ever the pro, was coming to terms with his car’s intransigent handling, and like the blind man who hears better, was managing to compensate for any shortfall with some determined, if defensive, lines. Suffering the results, in terms of frustration at least, was Nigel Rice, who was doing all he could to get on terms with Harvey, but ever mindful of Jonathan Cocker in seventh.

Mark Hazell, another former Parr driver, suffered a spin on lap 7 at the complex and dropped to twelfth, just behind Marsh, who had been making steady progress after his less than promising start. He now had Gary Britnell in his sights and was closing fast, while Britnell himself had eyes only for Jason Young in ninth.

With Templeman chasing hard from second, Westbrook’s advantage seemed to reduce mid-race, but this offered false hopes to his pursuers. Despite flapping rear bodywork, Westbrook had merely relaxed, saying later that he’d “slowed down to see who was in second place,” and when Templeman began to loom large in his mirrors, he merely upped his pace once again, comfortably extending his lead again. “Yeah, he’s a cocky man!” commented Templeman.

To all intents and purposes, the podium was agreed, so attention moved down through the field, past the tussle between Harvey and Rice, to settled upon the more entertaining battle between Young, Britnell and Marsh. Starting lap 11 (of 14) Marsh went for a rather optimistic move down the inside of Britnell into the first element of the complex, braking a little late, perhaps. The two touched, tipping Britnell into a half spin. It was enough to open the door, and Marsh was through into tenth.

Once ahead of Britnell, who was probably fuming, Marsh was able to ease away and take his charge to Jason Young, another Cup stalwart. He caught him round the back of the circuit, and the two cars came up the rise towards the chicane side by side. There was a scuffle through the narrows and a bit of door banging, but nothing unduly physical, and Marsh had the inside line on the exit. As they passed the pits to start lap 12, Marsh had the advantage by a hair. Heavy-handed it may have been, but it was textbook stuff, and Marsh was into ninth place.

With all the earlier kafuffle there was no more Marsh could do with just two laps remaining, but he’d made up four places and would start Race 2 from a far more promising fifth row. Westbrook, victorious, would start from pole. “I can’t quite believe it,” he said. “I just disappeared off into the distance! I hope it’s like that all the way through the season, but I doubt it.” Templeman accepted that second was a strong foundation for his season. “It was a pretty simple race, I couldn’t quite pull him in,” he admitted. Fildes, too, was pleased to get his season away to a strong start having fended off the ever-present Cooper in a race-long battle for third. “The main thing was to get a good finish,” said Fildes.

Harvey managed to salvage fifth, but had Nigel Rice and Jonathon Cocker always in his mirrors, while Andy Britnell was never far behind. Race two would be the opportunity for revenge, perhaps.

Harvey wins

Media release: 11 April 2004

Tim Harvey settled the score with a strong run to victory in the day’s second race. In a thrilling contest, Harvey fended off Cooper and Rice during a race full of action and close racing.

Templeman made a storming start off the line, leaving Westbrook standing. Worse than that, for the race one winner slipped back to fourth initially, and then fifth as they came out of the complex for the first time. Harvey, on the other hand, made an excellent charge away from the lights, straight through into second from fifth as Fildes fluffed it totally, slumping through the field to end the first lap ninth. Rice too had done well, finding third from sixth.

Templeman’s lead looked impressive as they completed lap one, but it was short-lived. He had a clutch problem and was unable to change gear, retiring moments later and allowing Harvey through into first place, with Cooper, Rice and Westbrook in his tail. “I had a mega start and there was no way they were going to beat me once I was in front!” bragged Harvey later. The leading quartet made a superb spectacle, running virtually nose-to-tail, while Fildes was left to battle midfield.

While all this excitement unfolded at the front, Marsh was also making excellent progress. Following an equally determined Andy Britnell, he’d snatched two places at the start, rounding off the first lap in seventh. That became sixth with Templeman’s demise, but only briefly, as a recovering Fildes denied him that premature honour on lap five. Undaunted, he tagged along as Fildes began to make inroads on Britnell, and when Fildes moved ahead on lap seven, Marsh was able to get on terms with Britnell for sixth, despite attention from the young Jonathan Cocker on his tail.

Cooper, on his Porsche debut, was driving superbly and kept the pressure on Harvey as the recovering Westbrook tried to find a way through Rice’s defences. Into the chicane for the seventh time, Cooper made a huge effort and ran side by side with Harvey into the corner. Harvey held the inside line, just managing to retain a grip on his wing mirrors, before easing away again when Cooper lost the front splitter over the kerbs. “There was a bit of door banging,” admitted Cooper, “but not that much. Tim was very fair, and very fast. After I lost the splitter it was getting a bit lary, but I was just able to hang on.”

A little further back there was an equally titanic struggle between Rice and Westbrook. Several times they came close to blows, Westbrook attempting a run round the outside into the Club Chicane, only for Rice to brake late and cut him off. Crossing the line to start lap 12, Westbrook too appeared to lose his front splitter, and his attack faded from that moment, drawing him down within reach of the charging Fildes. Suffering from increasing understeer and, it transpired a loss of second gear, Westbrook could do little when the assault came between Campbell and Cobb on the following lap, and Fildes was through to fourth.

Rice, meanwhile, had been able to forget Westbrook and concentrate on catching Cooper. When the latter made an error into the complex at the start of lap thirteen, sliding sideways into the first right-hander, Rice looked to have the opening he needed, but Cooper recovered skillfully, closing the door, recovering his composure, and starting the final lap firmly in control.

Harvey took the chequered flag a comfortable winner, with second a just reward for Cooper’s fastest lap. “I just love driving these cars,” said Harvey from the top step, while Cooper was equally delighted. “Fantastic!” he said. Rice took third after an impressive run (“All good stuff!” his comment), leaving Fildes a gallant fourth after his disastrous start. Westbrook held on to fifth, half a second clear of an elated Marsh, who drove a fighting race to take sixth and had been quickest of anyone over the second half of the track. "It was a big task to expect Matthew to come to terms with Britain's fastest race track so quickly," conceded Porsche's Marion Barnaby. "He did a good job." Marsh himself was happier with his second race performance. “Being invited to drive by Porsche was a dream come true,” he admitted. “The car was liveried with Martini stripes, just like the ones I watched as a kid in the 1970s.”

Post Race

Marsh left the UK soon after his Thruxton experience to make his way back to Hong Kong and preparation for the following weekend’s 1000 kilometre race at Zhuhai. Within days, however, he’d announced his desire to continue in Carrera Cup GB. "I'd love to do the full season," he said, confirming that he is trying hard to secure the necessary backing. If successful, he would then combine the British series with his Carrera Cup Asia programme. "I could do all the remaining UK weekends bar two and I'm keen to do more racing in the UK. I love racing Porsches." His Asian programme comprises 11 races over seven weekends, leaving time to commute back to the UK for Cup races in Britain.

The chance to race at Thruxton had come as he was at Bahrain airport following the F1 Grand Prix. Marsh had just taken fifth place in the Porsche support race, filed his Formula 1 report for the South China Morning Post, and was checking-in for the flight home when he received a telephone call from Alan Gow, organiser of the TOCA Tour package. “Alan knew how keen I was to race again in the UK and put me forward to Porsche,” explained Marsh, a Hong Kong resident for the last 14 years. “Matthew has been in touch quite often since taking pole position in the Carrera Cup race at Macau last year,” acknowledged Porsche’s Marion Barnaby. “He knows the cars and was an obvious choice.” So the 35-year old flew eight hours east to Hong Kong from Bahrain, packed his racing gear, rushed to a photo shoot with A-Ha coffee, the sponsor of his Porsche in Asia, then grabbed Cathay Pacific’s last flight to London – flying 12 hours westwards. “I was only in my house for about three hours!" he exclaimed.