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AxiaMetrics/GRD Racing and Fuelled Up Racing shared the front row of the 18-car grid as the 2023 Fun Cup Endurance Championship was ready to roll at Brands Hatch.

From lights out there was immediate break, with AxiaMetrics/GRD Racing Simon Rudd, PLR’s Ben Pitch and UVio Hofmann’s Fabio Randaccio leading the way.

Randaccio was into second on lap two, while in fourth Mark Holme led the pursuit for Viking/Ursus Capital, after ousting EDF’s Simon Coles.

UVio/Hofmann’s were keen to hit the front as soon as possible and as Randaccio started to threaten Rudd, Pitch started to lose ground, as he came under attack from Holme.

Randaccio made his move and went through on the inside at Clearways, but Holme had taken Pitch along  too and they both started to gain on the lead duo.

Pitch sat in a challenging and patient fourth as the lead trio began to swap and change, with Rudd and Holme both sharing spells out front, before Randaccio took charge again.

Coles was still a comfortable fifth, from GT Radial’s Martin Gibson, Greenheath’s Gary Bate, Vapeclub’s Vlad Vassiliev, Olympian’s Chris Dovell and Team Ratters Peter Ratcliff, when the safety car was called on with Matt Hogg’s JPR 99 car in the gravel at Paddock.

“I had a bit of a gear selection problem and went off at Druids, but didn’t lose a place,” Bate admitted.

The green flag was out after four laps, but Gibson tried to make a move on Coles through Surtees for fifth, but the EDF driver defended and held his place, but it was now a top eight running line astern, with Ratcliff on Dovell’s tail for ninth.

“I briefly lost fifth gear chasing Chris, so dropped back and had to close again, before eventually getting by and I could see the rest but not catch them,” said Ratcliff.

Rudd had sat behind Holme during the safety car period, but retook second on lap 29, before taking Randaccio’s lead six laps later.

“I thought we had great pace and it helped drafting in a line of cars, but UVio did give me one or two little taps,” said Rudd.

UVio/Hofmann’s were the first to pit, 40 laps in, with Gibson the only other stopper from the top 10, but as the others soon followed PLR hit the front, retaining their advantage when Pitch handed to Neil Plimmer 10 laps later. “All good for us so far,” Gibson reckoned.

Hadley then briefly moved ahead for GT Radial, before Farquini took UVio/Hofmann’s to the fore on the hour. He had 0.558 secs lead, before another three seconds gap to Chris Weatherill for AxiaMetrics/GRD Racing, who had Greenheath’s Paul Turner just behind.

Sam Smeeth had taken over the Shire GB car from brother Ted, while Olympian’s Kristian Rose was doing his best to close in sixth. “Having started then it rained, I settled in and got some wet practice. I don’t want any more though,” Ted admitted.

While PLR had slipped to seventh, Viking/Ursus Capital were out of the running having a clutch replaced. “I got hit by EDF and was on the grass at Druids so lost a lot of ground,” said Pitch.

The rain had arrived too and during the next hour Olympian and UVio/Hofmann’s vied for the lead, after we lost AxiaMetrics, just after Neil Burroughs had taken over from Weatherill.

100 laps down and Randaccio led for UVio from Greenheath’s Bate, with Olympian’s Riley Phillips closing in. Pitch, Gibson and Ted Smeeth were the rest of the top six, with David Ratcliff in the Ratters car seventh, from Vassiliev, Fuelled Up’s Jamie Price and Signature RV’s John Whitehouse.

“We had to change our strategy as we hadn’t been able to fuel at out  stop, when we had to change a front corner after contact,” Farquini explained.

EDF had also dropped down the order, “I think I had the pace but not the racecraft, then Campbell had contact with PLR and I had to serve a drive through penalty,” Coles.

There had been a 14 lap safety car intervention, going green from lap 107, with Phillips launching an attack for the lead, before going ahead a lap later as both Olympian and UVio/Hofmann’s started to get away again.

“I got Fabio as he went off at Surtees after the safety car, but glad I wasn’t closer as I would probably have followed him,” said Phillips.

“It was just so slippery, I couldn’t take Riley’s line on the new tarmac and had to take to the scenery,” Randaccio admitted.

As we reached half distance Philips had extended his lead over Randaccio to 3.7 secs, with Bate, Pitch and Gibson still on the lead lap, before Smeeth, Ratcliff and Vassiliev a lap down.

It was still six cars on the lead lap when the final hour began, but GT Radial’s Gibson was back in front from PLR’s Pitch, Bate, Smeeth, Randaccio and Olympian’s Rose,

As the strategies unfolded there were a number of changes for the lead. Shire GB, PLR and a lengthy spell for GT Radial followed, before Phillips stepped in to the Olympian car and drove away, as Farquini and Plimmer did battle for UVio and PLR.

Victory for the Olympian trio of Dovell, Rose and Phillips was over 53 seconds, huge in particular by Fun Cup standards. “I was pushing hard to right to the end, no mercy this year” Phillips reckoned. “We have been here before, so nothing is taken for granted,” Dovell added as he viewed from the pitlane.

The duel for second went right to the flag though. “I only had two studs on a rear wheel and it was vibrating, so I couldn’t push and it was a bit of a compromise,” said Farquini.

He had Plimmer all over him at every corner in the closing laps, but was keeping the door shut.  Time was running out for Plimmer but with four laps to go he got down the inside at Druids, only to lose the place again exiting Graham Hill Bend.

Farquini was then on the kerbs as he lapped EDF, but Plimmer was almost down the inside again at Clearways with two laps left. He tried again at the same place a lap later and then headed into Paddock side by side to start the last lap, only for Farquini to reclaim the advantage.

Finally Plimmer clinched it exiting Graham Hill Bend for the final time, and successfully defended the last half lap to take second with just 0.176 secs in hand.

“That’s Fun Cup Racing at it’s best, that’s what it’s all about. I had a radio message telling me how long to go and I had to leave it late, so he couldn’t come back,” Plimmer concluded.

The GT Radial duo of Gibson and Hadley finally came home fourth, after a strong performance saw them lead for a number of laps. They were a lap down, as were Greenheath’s Bate and Turner and Shire GB ‘s Smeeth Brothers.

Peter Ratcliff and sons David and John had a “brilliant” Fun Cup debut in seventh, with Vapeclub’s Vassiliev/Dorkings, Signature’s Whitehouse/Ruston and JPR 99’s Hogg/Ramsay rounding off the top 10.

Time to draw breath now before we head to Snetterton on May 27th.

Published by Peter Scherer for Fun Cup Endurance, April 18th 2023