Mark McAleer and Ben Demetriou won a thrilling race apiece in their evenly-matched 968 Club Sports as the 2009 Porsche Club Championship roared into life in combative style at Donington Park on Saturday, April 4. With honours even in Class One - in which the influx of rear-engined 964 C2s and newly eligible 993 models couldn’t quite match the poise of the well sorted front-engined cars - and Class Three, where 911SC duo Mark Taylor and Anthony Oliver shared the wins, only defending champion Jeremy Clark emerged with a perfect score in the newly-prepared County Classics 944S2.
A strong field of 26 competitors arrived at the circuit, and despite a no overtaking zone imposed between McLeans and Coppice corners due to restricted run-off areas around tunnel works, the permanent yellow flag scenario did not detract from the quality of the racing.
Despite the influx of new 964 and 993 models to the series, it was pair of front-engined 968s that claimed the front row for the opening race. Ben Demetriou once more showed his qualifying pace to take the first pole position of the season, the Cheshire racer just clear of the similar 968 CS of 2007 champion Mark McAleer.
Rod Carmen was the best of the 964s with third, just ahead of the similar cars of Marcus Carniel, on his home circuit, and Kevin Harrison. A superb sixth quickest was the Class Two pace setter, 2008 champion Jeremy Clark.
The grid for the second race, set from driver’s second quickest times, saw the same top three, but the driver to shine was Clark, whose second best time was good enough for fourth overall. Drivers with problems included Richard Lambert, a suspension issue seeing him down the field, and Scott Kavanagh, his 993 only being finished at 2.00am on race morning.
Demetriou and McAleer ran away from the rear-engined opposition at the front of the field and benefited from the clear track in both rounds – though neither time did the driver who made the running take the chequered flag. They circulated as one throughout the gruelling half hour opener, but their order was decided when a spinning 911 at Coppice delayed Demetriou to McAleer’s advantage.
After Rod Carman spun away third place into Redgate Lodge corner early on, Kevin Harrison overcame Marcus Carniel to complete the podium in the beautifully turned out ASTS 964 C2. Richard Higgins grafted for fourth in his 968 CS, ahead of the recovering Carman, who had Lambert’s red car in tow at the finish. Clark was a solid seventh, ahead of Duckman who demonstrated the 993’s potential by setting fastest lap in the blue BBS IT Support/Portico Ltd car.
While Clark finished six places in front of Class Two rival Chris Dyer (944 S2), Class Three was much closer fought, Mark Taylor overcoming Anthony Oliver by 2.4 seconds.
“I was chasing Ben over the brow into Coppice corner when I saw a 911 facing me,” said McAleer. “Luckily, I went to the inside and was able to snatch the lead. It was a scary moment. I’d not sat in the car since Spa last year, so I’m delighted with the win after a really tough race.”
“One of the backmarkers spun,” explained Demetriou, “and I made the wrong choice. I went outside him, Mark went the other way and it cost me the race.”
“It was a hard race,” said Harrison, “and after Rod Carman out-braked himself into Redgate, I passed Marcus Carniel to be first of the rear-engined Porsches. My car felt good, but the 968s are so well balanced at Donington that they are hard to beat.”
Roles were reversed in the second race, which was shortened to 25 minutes due to delays in the earlier programme. Demetriou led the first 10 laps, with McAleer on his bootlid, seeking a chink in his armour. He did find a way through, in traffic, only to be baulked by a slower car at the Old Hairpin. McAleer got ahead again, but Demetriou calmly out braked him into Redgate to regain the advantage.
Only when running neck-and-neck through Holly Wood and plunging down the Craner Curves was the winner decided when McAleer was impeded as they went past slower cars. Far from having it easy thereafter, Demetriou held on for victory by a car’s length.
Behind them it was war - albeit a clean one – with nine cars disputing third place at the race’s height. Carman drove the train initially, but Lambert rocketed through from row eight of the grid, picking rivals off with precision until he reached the final podium place. Duckman finished fourth, his 993 short of brakes at the close.
Clark, who was out-dragged by several rear-engined rivals at the start, but showed his competitive streak as he jinked the 944 S2 back to fourth within six laps. He was then happy eventually to cede places to Carniel, Higgins and Carman, stay out of trouble and pocket his points, with Dyer again second.
Oliver beat Taylor in Class Three, but only after the latter had a big moment out of the chicane a couple of laps from home.
“It’s all a bit of a blur, really,” said Demetriou. “We were both on it so hard from start to finish that I can’t recall exactly what happened when, or even where I got ahead of Mark! I had a soft brake pedal and the throttle was sticking a bit, but we’ve won one each. Bring on the next race…”
“Ben and I were side-by-side down the Craner Curves,” said McAleer, “when a backmarker inadvertently got in the way. I lost all momentum and Ben got the break he needed, but it was great fun. Quality racing!”
“It was my first time at Donington with this car,” explained Lambert. “I chose the wrong springs in testing on Friday and its handling was terrible. We changed the rears between qualifying and the first race, which transformed it. Other than getting smacked in the back at the first corner, the second race was great fun, but the 968s were long gone by the time I reached third.”
“I had a brilliant day with the [new] 944 S2,” said champion Clark after his first races in the 944 S2. “Two class poles, two wins and two fastest laps. As the only person with a full set, I’m leading the championship going into Anglesey in a fortnight’s time. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Porsche Club Championship, Round One (22 LAPS): 1 Mark McAleer (968 CS) 30m01.988s (86.02mph); 2 Ben Demetriou (968 CS) + 1.012s; 3 Kevin Harrison (964 C2); 4 Richard Higgins (968 CS); 5 Rod Carman (964 Carrera 2); 6 Richard Lambert (964 Carrera 2); 7 Jeremy Clark (944 S2); 8 Gary Duckman (993 Carrera 2); 9 Marcus Carniel (964 C2); 10 David Botterill (964 C2). Class Winners: McAleer; Clark; Mark Taylor (911SC). Fastest Lap: Duckman 1m19.512s (88.61mph).
Round Two (19 LAPS): 1 Demetriou 26m08.686s (85.34mph); 2 McAleer +0.301s; 3 Lambert; 4 Duckman; 5 Carniel; 6 Higgins; 7 Carman; 8 Clark; 9 Adrian Grieves (968 CS); 10 Botterill. Class Winners: Demetriou; Clark; Anthony Oliver (911SC). Fastest Lap: Demetriou 1m20.954s (87.04mph).
Next Rounds: Anglesey, Wales, April 18th and 19th.