Postcard from Bucharest – FIA GT European Championship – Rounds 3 & 4

24th May 2007

As defending FIA GT3 Champions, Tech 9 Motorsport has a lot to live up to in 2007. The second round (races 3 and 4) of this season’s championship at Bucharest should have allowed the squad to show its true form. However, it was a weekend of frustration, plenty of damage, and some highlights – much as the rest of the FIA GT3 teams also found in varying degrees.

The team had made some changes to the set-up on the Porsche at Silverstone and as the weekend went on they had found that it was the wrong way to go. The problem was it was a major change to rectify, one that would have to wait until the team was back at base.

A return to the original plan meant that as soon as the cars left the pit-lane for free practice in Bucharest, the old Tech 9 was back in action. Johnny Lang and Phil Keen ended the track session fourth quickest, just behind one of the Trackspeed cars. The #1 car was only half a second further back. Meanwhile the #3 car was right in the middle of the pack, as new recruit Tom Haines got used to the car and the circuit.

In the second free practice session Phil Keen started to get fully up to speed and by the time the session ended he was in 8th place, as the rest of the grid also began to find pace around the concrete-lined track.

However, biggest boost for the team at this point of the weekend was the number three car pedaled by Peter Snowdon, as he set the second fastest time of all six Tech 9 drivers up to that point, only a second off Phil Keen.

“I loved the car and the track from the moment I got in it on Friday morning,” said Peter. “It was the first time I’ve raced on a street circuit and it was fabulous!”

“I think he woke up the younger guys in the team with that lap,” said Piers Masarati. “We were so pleased with Peter’s performance, he was outstanding.”

The #1 car was only a tenth of a second further back, so it was all looking good for the team to be at the sharp end of the grid as qualifying started the next day.

“We knew that getting a good grid position was going to be crucial for the races this weekend,” said Piers. “But the qualifying sessions were a complete nightmare, for everybody. There were just so many cars out there. It was a complete lottery, to be honest.”

Finding a gap in what would normally amount to rush hour traffic in downtown Bucharest proved difficult for the three car team. Johnny Lang did incredibly well to claim third place and Tom Ferrier managed to find enough space to take fourth. These two would eventually end up second and third after the S-Berg Lamborghini failed to make the start of the first race.

But, Tom Haines could only manage 26th place as he struggled on wet tyres, the team running out of time (and space in the cramped pit-lane) to change him onto slicks right at the end of the session.

The second qualifying session wasn’t quite so fortunate for the team. Phil Keen could only manage to set a time good enough for 15th on the grid, with Phil Quaife lining up four places further back. It was Peter Snowdon who had the worst luck, though.

A small mistake at the second chicane, just a handful of laps into the session, meant that the right rear of the Porsche 997 slapped the wall. The damage to the rear sub-frame would cause him and Haines to miss the first race of the weekend completely, owing to a lack of spares.

“If it had been at somewhere like Donington, for instance, I’d have caught it and carried on as if nothing had happened, it was that small,” said Peter. “It just shows how controlled you have to be on a street circuit. It was my mistake and it’s part of racing. My only real issue was the marshals pointing and waving at me, rather than waving yellow flags after I’d done it!”

Race One

For safety reasons the first race was started behind the safety car and as the race went properly green, Lang and Quaife immediately started to pressure Richard Williams in the first place Trackspeed car.

Lang’s race – and weekend – was about to end prematurely though. On lap four he clipped the wall on the way into the chicane and ended up embedded in the tyre wall on the entrance to the corner. Despite the impact being fairly low speed, the damage to the shell of the Porsche was too much for the team to repair, and it left Johnny and Phil Keen kicking their heels for the rest of the meeting.

“I’m really frustrated that such a small mistake caused so much damage for us and the team,” said Lang. “The car was really quick though, which is a good positive and we can take that with us to Monza. I think Peter [Snowdon] was the only happy person in the Tech 9 pit after I crashed, as I was wearing his overalls and his sponsors got loads of TV coverage as I walked back to the paddock!”

The driver change window opened just as the safety car was about to come in, so the team decided to call Phil Quaife in and hand the car over to Tom Ferrier, to minimize a loss of track position. Unfortunately, a broken air-fitting slowed the stop, causing Tom to lose out more time than expected.

A great drive back through the field was then also hampered when he tried to pass one of the back-marker Lamborghinis. A rogue line into one of the chicanes meant that Tom had to take to the escape road rather than be forced into the concrete, losing him more time as he had to make his way back onto the track.

“We could have had third if we hadn’t had the problem with the air-line and the back-marker,” he said.

Race Two

The upside to the Lang/Keen car being damaged was that the team was able to take the rear sub-frame off it to fix the Snowdon/Haines machine, putting two Tech 9 cars onto the grid on Sunday.

The weather was about to frustrate the Tech 9 crew during the second race, though. In the early stages of the race Phil Quaife managed to claw his way up to ninth place, before heading into the pits to hand over to Ferrier. An outstanding turnaround by the team meant that they leapfrogged the Trackspeed car of Williams and Pickford to move up a place.

However, then it rained. This meant that Phil had to make an immediate return to the pits for wet tyres, dropping them back behind their fellow British team.

A superb drive in what turned out to be treacherous conditions allowed Tom to cross the line in fourth place. This would later become third, after the #31 Berlanga Ascari was given a pit-lane penalty.

Behind the podium-bound pairing, Peter Snowdon and Tom Haines were having their own problems. Haines had started the race and it was deemed that he would do a short first stint, giving Peter a longer second part of the race.

The team had initially made the call to go with wet tyres at the driver change, but in an effort to make up time decided to stay with the slicks. In the confusion Peter charged out of his pit-box and came together with one of the exiting Corvettes. As he checked the car he missed the red light at the pit-exit.

Another stop, just a lap later for wets, as the heavens opened, was then followed by a drive through penalty for the pit-exit infringement. Worse was to come for Peter when the race organizers gave him another drive through penalty in error. Snowdon decided to take the penalty, as the team went to the race director’s office for a chat.

The call was later removed, but it was too late, as the team had lost more time with its fourth visit to the pit-lane by then.

“It was frustrating, but we had pace in the race once we got settled down,” said Snowdon. “I had a talk to the race director about the extra penalty and explained our dismay to him. He understood, but what can we do once it’s been given? Hopefully it won’t happen again. It was a shame as the boys had worked so hard to get the car out for us.”

“It was always going to be tough with the changes in the weather and the track being new to everyone,” said Phil Hindley. “There has been a lot of damage done to a lot of cars this weekend. I hope that it doesn’t cause too many of the teams problems over the rest of the season.”

“We’ve got to look forward to Monza now though. We will have the update kit on the cars for then and we’ll test with that before the event. We need to have a good run there for the team and drivers to have a last chance for the championship.”

Now watch Tech 9 bounce back at Monza.

Adam Proctor

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