James Birch won both races at Rockingham as the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge GBvisited Northamptonshire for rounds three and four. There were also podiumfinishes for Peter Smallwood, John Ferguson and Justin Sherwood as theseries once again produced some thrilling racing.
With rain having fallen a few hours before qualifying started, the sessionwas run on a drying track but the greasiness of the circuit meant that thedrivers were forced to contest the whole session on wet tyres. Birch(In2Racing) eased to pole position lapping the circuit in an impressive besttime of 1m35.490s. "I went out there to get pole so very happy to be leadingfrom the front, I enjoy driving the car in the wet to be honest,"he said. John Ferguson (Ask Racing) recorded his best qualifying result sofar with second position, just under half a second shy of Birch's best time.Championship leader Stephen Liquorish (Team Parker Racing) was third fastestas the top three were separated by less than seven tenths of a second, andconsiderably faster than the rest of the field in challenging conditions.They would line up in the same order for the second race.
The first race of the weekend was an action packed affair with drama rightuntil the final corner of the final lap. The circuit was much drier than ithad been in qualifying so the whole field opted to run on slicks. Birchmanaged to hook up a near perfect start to lead the pack into Deene Hairpinwith fellow front row starter Ferguson holding second and Justin Sherwood(Team Parker Racing) up to third after managing to get away better thanLiquorish who ran fourth. Whilst Birch streaked clear by 3.6 seconds overthe first two laps, Sherwood began to exert pressure on Ferguson for secondwhich allowed Liquorish to close up on the pair but before a three waybattle for second was allowed to develop, Sherwood slowed with a right rearpuncture and was forced to pit to replace it, dropping him to the back ofthe field. This left Ferguson and Liquorish to dispute second place for therest of the race. Liquorish looked the quicker of the two but he could notfind a way through as Ferguson robustly defended and countered every move.As they went onto the final lap Ferguson looked to have done just enough tohold on to second but Liquorish got alongside at Tarzan which put him on theoutside for the final chicane, with neither driver wanting to concedeposition they both braked too late and ran onto the grass. Liquorish was soeager to get back on track first and claim second place that he spun. NeilHouston (Team Parker Racing) and Peter Smallwood (Parr Motorsport) who hadbeen running fourth and fifth for most of the race arrived at the chicanejust as Liquorish and Ferguson were scrambling back on to the circuit. Thisdelayed Houston but Smallwood threaded his way through cleanly to takesecond place, his best result of the season to date, this was made all themore remarkable considering he had started from ninth. Ferguson recoveredthe quickest of the three drivers caught up in the mayhem of the finalchicane to finish third with Houston fourth and Liquorish fifth. There wasclose racing all the way down the field including between two of thedebutants of the series, Mark Flaherty (Redline Racing) and Guy Riall(Almara Racing) who were separated by half a second at the line for sixthand seventh, with Flaherty ahead. In class two, Tom Hallissey (Ask Racing)claimed victory.
The last corner drama not only shuffled the finishing order but also gaveBirch an emphatic winning margin of 19 seconds. "I'm really really happy. Igot a good start, managed to get a bit of a gap and then just tried to holdit from there," he said.
"The car was fantastic," said Smallwood of his charge through the field.While Ferguson admitted he was "delighted," to secure his first podium ofthe season.
The second race of the weekend saw Birch complete his clean sweep ofvictories but not by quite as convincing a margin as in the first race. Hemade another good start from pole to lead into Deene Hairpin despite theefforts of Neil Houston who having made a rocket start from sixth on thegrid had momentarily run side by side with Birch. The majority of Houston'sgood work was undone at Deene as Ferguson and Sherwood dived throughdemoting him to fourth just ahead of Liquorish who had not made a greatgetaway. There were more changes of position further round the opening lapas Sherwood swept past Ferguson at Tarzan to take second position. Theeventful start to the race was swiftly neutralised as the safety car wasdeployed to remove Tom Hallissey's car from the side of the track after hehad connected with the barriers. At the restart Birch timed his bolt towardsthe line perfectly, catching Sherwood off guard and allowing him to make acrucial break away. Sherwood ran at a solid pace though and kept Birchhonest by making sure that for the first few laps after the restart the gapwas no more than two seconds, before in the later stages of the race Birchedged a little further clear to win by just over four seconds.Sherwood took a comfortable second position finish as behind him battleraged once again between Ferguson and Liquorish. The latter passed Houstonfor fourth at mid race distance and then closed the gap to Ferguson rapidlyand spent the final eight laps shadowing his every move. However, Fergusondefended well for the second time during the weekend and held Liquorish offuntil the chequered flag to claim the final podium position.
"It's fantastic to make it two wins out of two and come out with fullpoints, I'm very happy," said Birch. "I came here to win both races andwe've managed to achieve the dream," he added.
"I'm satisfied with that today, James ran a good pace and I did my best tokeep up with him," said Sherwood of his first podium of the weekend.
Race One: 1. James Birch; 2. Peter Smallwood; 3. John Ferguson. Class One:1. Tom Hallissey. Fastest Lap: Birch 1m23.738s (83.40mph).
Race Two: 1. James Birch; 2. Justin Sherwood; 3. John Ferguson. FastestLap: Birch 1m22.216s (84.94mph).
Provisional overall points after round four: 1.Birch 66; 2.Liquorish 61; 3.Houston 60; 4.Smallwood 57; 5. Sherwood 42. Class Two: 1.Cowne 28;2.Hallissey 11.
Next rounds: Thruxton, 17th Ju