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Britcar 24 Hours - Friday Qualifying. Issued September 8th 2006

Wagging the Tail

The Britcar 24 Hours is a unique event in the British motorsport calendar, and it is already proving to be a unique experience for the RML trio of Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos and Adam Wiseberg. They have been joined for the weekend by Frenchman Philippe Hesnault, and while that is perhaps a change from the norm, it is the unusual qualifying situation they find themselves in that makes this a truly extraordinary event. Familiar with a front-row start when racing their MG Lola EX264 in the Le Mans Series, the Erdos-Newton combination will instead set out at the beginning of this weekend's Silverstone Twenty-Four Hours from the back of the grid.

Photo by Peter May

The Britcar 24 is the only genuine twenty-four hour race in the UK for serious (and semi-serious) sports, GT and saloon cars. Last year’s inaugural event was an unqualified success, despite appalling weather, and the 2006 staging already looks set to improve on that reputation – not merely because the forecast is very good. Some 55 cars are expected to take the start, ranging from out-and-out racecars, like the Mosler GT3 RS of last year’s victors, Rollcentre Racing, through to a string of Honda Civic Type Rs and a diesel-engined Volkswagen Golf. Some are taking part for the glory of winning an endurance marathon, but a large number are also present simply because it’s great fun.

One of those entrants is Team Vision View; comprising the driving quartet of Mike Newton, Thomas Erdos, Adam Wiseberg and Philippe Hesnault under the management of Dave Beecroft of Xero Competition. Nobody in the team is quite sure where the Vision View name came from, although consensus has it that the organisers probably invented it. Having missed Thursday’s free practice sessions, Friday Qualifying was the first opportunity for the team to roll out the Ford V8 Falcon GT in anger following its total rebuild. (See previous news item.) It proved to be a highly entertaining day, and with a fairground set up in the rear of the paddock, the sun shining, and barbecues being cooked behind the pits, the whole atmosphere was light-hearted and convivial.

One face evident during qualifying that, perhaps, should not have been there, was that of Adam Wiseberg. Although Adam is set to drive the Falcon this weekend, the Britcar 24 overlaps with one of his regular motorsport commitments; the Tour Britannia round-Britain race for historic sports and rally cars. Co-driving with Robin Eure-Maunsell, Adam’s classic Porsche 911 had risen as high as third overall in the competition after the first two days, including finishing an impressive second in circuit races at Oulton and Donington Parks.

With a car that was in almost standard trim, sporting normal road-wheels and tyres and none of the bells and whistles being employed by some of their competitors, Adam and Robin’s performance had been impressive, and certainly raised a few eyebrows. The pair and their Gulf-liveried 911 were looking set for an excellent result before transmission problems ended the charge. With the Tour Britannia event not due to finish until close of play on Friday, Adam should have been at Mallory Park. Instead he was able to be present to witness the Falcon’s first run in qualifying.

(Photos from

That began hesitantly. Thomas Erdos was sent out at the start of the session, but was soon back in the garage complaining of a misfire. “You put a Brazilian into the car, and instantly, he breaks it!” quipped Mike Newton. It was not, however, the Brazilian’s fault. After the car’s first test following the rebuild – at Croft last week – it became evident that the Australian musclecar was not going to be able to meet Britcar’s stringent noise emission regulations. In the days since then a new exhaust and silencer system has had to be fitted to reduce the rorty bellow of the V8, and while it has been successful in ensuring that the beast now purrs more quietly, the gas-flow through the engine had been disrupted. Not until the car was actually on track again was it possible for the team to address the engine mapping changes required to match this fundamental change in combustion. “All the plugs were fouling up,” explained Erdos.

For the first hour Erdos was forced to pursue a taxing regime of out-laps-and-return as changes were made to the settings. Finally, with perhaps less than half an hour remaining, the car was deemed fit to complete a few flying laps. Although running far more sweetly, the engine was still not pulling as it should, but the progress was sufficient to allow Thomas Erdos, Mike Newton and Philippe Hesnault to complete three laps apiece.

Unfortunately, time ran out on Adam Wiseberg, although he did complete a simulated driver change right at the end of the session (below) before declaring the car’s stance to be “very neutral”, and the handling “stable, predictable, and very forgiving.”

Philippe, nephew of the one-time French Grand Prix driver François Hesnault, who raced for Ligier and Brabham in the mid-Eighties, seemed pleased by his brief hand at the wheel. “I enjoyed it,” he insisted. “I’m also delighted to be here at Silverstone. Everything is very new for me, and the car is very different.” Philippe came into the frame for this drive two weeks ago, when he raced in the Le Mans Series at Donington Park, and also made a guest appearance in the Radical support race. That car had been prepared by Dave Beecroft, and when Nigel Smith pulled out of the Britcar Falcon opportunity due to family commitments, his LMS co-driver Philippe was the obvious replacement. “It all happened just two days ago,” said Philippe. “It was very sudden, but I said ‘yes!’”

The net result of qualifying, however, did not look promising for the Falcon crew. Second-to-last is a strange prospect for Mike Newton and Thomas Erdos, twice Le Mans winners, and with an unbeaten record in qualifying for the Le Mans Series this season – five poles out of five races (including Le Mans 24 Hours) for Thomas Erdos. A best for the #25 car of 2:32.211 was half-a-minute away from pole, set on this occasion by last year’s winner, the Rollcentre Mosler. Strangely, nobody in the Falcon garage seemed in the least bit perturbed by the change of fortunes. “It is so pleasant to come to a race meeting and not feel under any great pressure,” said a very relaxed Thomas Erdos a little while later, easing back in a chair at the Paddock Bar and drinking coffee. “This is all about rediscovering our roots – the reason why we all became involved in motorsport to begin with. We all wanted to have fun, and that’s why we’re here this weekend.” The competitive spirit is still alive and well, however. “The car is not right yet,” conceded Erdos. “There’s still a lot more to come from the Falcon, and I’d be surprised if we can’t get down to a two-twelve, or perhaps even a little quicker than that. Perhaps we can shave twenty seconds off that qualifying time.”

Unfortunately, even if they were able to do that in the later Night Qualifying period, it wouldn’t alter the fact that the Falcon will start Saturday’s race from the back of the grid. The evening session was purely for experience, with each of the car’s drivers expected to complete at least three flying laps in the dark in order to meet the regulations. That two-hour period began at eight o’clock.

This time it was Adam Wiseberg who headed out first. In the hours since morning Qualifying, the final tweaks had been made to the car, and the five-litre V8 was sounding especially smooth, despite the flames spitting wildly out of the side exhausts. Wiseberg completed his required three laps before handing over to Hesnault, who in turn handed on to Newton. “I’m very disappointed in Adam’s performance,” said a frowning Thomas Erdos. “He didn’t spin the car once, and I suspect he’s not trying hard enough!” Slightly taken aback, Adam was quick to reply that he’d been too busy avoiding others, who’d kept spinning in front of him! “It’s just a bit of a challenge doing your first laps in the dark,” he continued, “although the Falcon copes very well with the kerbs. Perhaps that’s just as well. It’s a bit of a brute. Perhaps I’d have been better off in a Honda Civic!” The tone underlies the team’s whole attitude to the weekend, which is, in itself, delightful. “We’ve come here to have a bit of fun, and it’s a fun car,” explained Wiseberg. “It’s actually very forgiving, but it does have a surfeit of power over grip, and that can make driving very entertaining. You have to be a little circumspect with the right foot.”

Philippe, geting into the car above, had a broad grin across his face when he stepped out again ten minutes later. “It is good!” he declared. “The car is fun to drive, but it is hard – in the dark it is hard – because I don’t yet know the circuit very well, but the lighting is good, and I can see perfectly clearly, so it will be fine for the race.”

Last into the Falcon was Thomas Erdos, left. It proved to be a classic Erdos moment. His first flying lap was a 2:06, immediately setting the lie to his earlier insistence that “perhaps we can shave 20 seconds” off the qualifying time. “I told him he’d do a 2:12 or better,” grinned Wiseberg. Tommy’s next lap was a 2:05.698, followed by a 2:05.625. “Oh, that’s about it then,” declared Wiseberg. “He won’t improve much on that.” It was good enough for 13th overall and fifth in class, but the Brazilian hadn’t actually finished yet. The distinctive exhaust note of the Falcon echoed down the pit straight one more time, and 2:02.592 flicked up onto the screens – eighth overall, third in class.

There was a deep sense of satisfaction in the Vision View pit garage.

With his laps completed, Erdos brought the car back into the pitlane, and it was then wheeled backwards into the garage. Twenty minutes of the session remained, but there was little point in pressing on. The team had proved that the car was, despite earlier indications, quick, and they could look forward to a relatively early night. “The engine really strong,” nodded a very satisfied Erdos. “The car’s stable under braking, and the gearbox is superb. I’m just sorry we lost so much time earlier, but we’ve all had a good run in the car now, and it’s very encouraging.” Had he known there was the potential for a two-minute lap in the Falcon? “Until I drive a car on track, I can’t tell how quick I’m going to be able to go. After this morning, I just didn’t think that time was in the car, but now, well, perhaps in daylight even a fifty-nine is possible.”

Mike Newton likes a very hands-on approach to his motor racing, and even gets closely involved in the MG when he’s racing at Le Mans Series events. With the Falcon, that’s even more evident, and he was frequently to be seen head-down in discussions with Dave Beecroft or another member of the crew. “I’m very pleased that we’ve discovered the underlying pace of the car,” he beamed, “especially considering the zero testing time we’ve done. It’s clear we actually have a very capable pace now. We just need to finalise the set-up to ensure that she’ll run steady in the race. Even with a car that’s just been rebuilt, with no testing, I can’t see anything that’s obviously likely to give us too many concerns.” As for the evening performance from Erdos . . . “Well, as ever, Tommy, in a minimum number of laps, did a phenomenal time. That’s Tommy!” Packing up towards the back of the garage, the man in question still had a beaming grin across his face, his hair slightly on end having just pulled off his balaclava. “I really, really enjoyed that!” he said again. Let’s hope for more of the same in the race.