Liquorish and Birch win in Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge

 Steven Liquorish and James Birch were the race winners as the 2012 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge GB got off to a flying start at Snetterton over the Easter Weekend (7/8 April).

After some great battling across two 25-minute races, Liquorish and Birch took a win apiece as Justin Sherwood, Neil Houston and Peter Smallwood all claimed overall podium finishes.QualifyingWith qualifying starting on a wet but drying track, the closing minutes proved to be crucial as all drivers switched from wets to slick tyres mid-session. The times tumbled in the closing moments with four drivers in contention for pole in a dramatic last five minutes and it was Birch (IN2 Racing) who judged it best to take pole with a best lap of 1m14.718s. Liquorish (Team Parker Racing) and Sherwood (Team Parker Racing) were within a second of the pole time, with John Ferguson (ASK Racing) slipping back to fourth after taking pole at one point.“I made the decision to come in early for slicks and it was drying all the time,” said Birch after an impressive run in challenging conditions. “It was still damp in places,” confirmed Liquorish who claimed pole for race two from Sherwood and Birch based on their second best laps in qualifying.Race OneThe opening race of the season, run on a dry track, delivered an absorbing contest, a first Porsche win for Liquorish and a clean sweep of the overall podium for Team Parker Racing. Liquorish set the seal on his landmark victory with a rocket start to shoot straight into a handy lead while Birch didn’t get away so well and had to fend off Ferguson and Houston (Team Parker Racing) in the early laps. Then, just as he started to chase after Liquorish, Birch spun at Nelson and clipped the barriers. With damage to a radiator, he was forced into the pits and retirement.Up front, Liquorish was driving superbly to set the pace, but now Ferguson set about hunting the leader down. Little by little the gap came down, but then came a safety car period while marshals dealt with some debris. Liquorish had never led a re-start before, but handled it well to retain his lead with less than four minutes to run.Ferguson, Houston and Sherwood went after Liquorish over the closing three laps and into the final lap Ferguson sensed his chance. Pushing hard through Riches, Ferguson spun and couldn’t re-start, bringing to an end a very strong Porsche debut. Meanwhile, a missed downshift from Houston gave Sherwood the chance he needed and the former F3 racer dived through to grab second. Smallwood (Parr Motorsport) bagged fourth behind Houston having battled with Sherwood in the opening laps, while Mark Cowne (Fearn Sport) claimed Class One for the 996-model cars in only his third ever race.“I had one of the best starts I’ve ever made,” said a jubilant Liquorish. “I really got my head down in the early laps. I must admit I was relieved to see John spin on the last lap.”“I was definitely race rusty,” said Sherwood after only his third race in nine years. “It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a race car and I was learning with every lap.” Houston, meanwhile, was very pleased with a podium on his first Porsche race. “I couldn’t ask for any more,” he said. “I went in a fraction too fast and it got away from me,” said Ferguson after his attacking drive went un-rewarded.Race TwoSunday’s race was full of incident and drama as light rain at the start made conditions truly challenging for the slick-shod field. Sherwood got away best to lead under intense pressure from Liquorish as Birch made a slow start and dropped to fifth behind Houston and Ferguson.Into Riches for the third time, Liquorish fell foul of the conditions and had a high-speed spin, which delayed Houston and allowed Ferguson briefly up to second ahead of the charging Smallwood. But it was Birch who was now on the move and he jumped Houston for fourth before Ferguson launched a big attack at Murrays and briefly re-took second from Smallwood before running wide and being bundled back to fifth as four cars ran neck and neck for second.Houston snatched second in the confusion and set a cracking pace as he led the chase of Sherwood, but Birch went with Houston and finally battled ahead as they braked for Riches on lap 13. Lap by lap the lead reduced and by the end of lap 17, Birch was right on Sherwood’s tail. Into Riches for the 18th time, Birch attacked and the cars touched. They both went off and while Sherwood bumped the barriers and retire, Birch managed to rejoin still in the lead, but without the car’s front splitter.Houston still chased but Birch held on to take the flag as Smallwood claimed a fine podium finish in third while Liquorish recovered to fourth after Ferguson retired to the pits with an engine problem. Cowne again took Class One spoils as he learnt about driving on a greasy track for the first time.“I went back to P5 off the start, but then just got into a rhythm and picked people off one at a time,” said Birch. “I’m really pleased with that after the disappointment of not finishing yesterday.”“It was so slippery out there, but great fun,” said Houston after a fine run, while Smallwood was elated to complete the podium after his strongest race to date. “The grip at some corners was changing by the lap,” said Smallwood. “I just hung in there and I’m really, really pleased with the result.”ResultsRace One: 1 Steven Liquorish; 2 Justin Sherwood; 3 Neil Houston. Class One: Mark Cowne. Fastest lap: John Ferguson 1m13.939s (96.60mph).Race Two: 1 James Birch; 2 Neil Houston; 3 Peter Smallwood. Class One: Mark Cowne. Fastest lap: Birch 1m13.824s (96.75mph).Provisional overall points after round two: 1 Liquorish 35; 2 Houston 34; 3 Smallwood 30; 4 Cowne 24; 5 Birch 22; 6 Sherwood 18. Class One: 1 Cowne 28.Next rounds: Rockingham, 19/20 May.

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