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Howell & Quaife's Ligier leads the way

Sun 28th September 2008

IF Motorsport regular Gareth Howell took his first VdeV UK win partnered by series debutant Phil Quaife in a Ligier JS49 at Croft.On a dry & sunny weekend, qualifying produced the closest grid of the year – the top 5 covered by 15 hundredths of a second! Pole was claimed by Phil Quaife, the youngster claiming the top spot just 5 hundredths of a second ahead of Bryce Wilson (partnering Ally McKever) who try as he may couldn’t depose his protégé.

Anthony Dunn (partnering Barry Gates) took 3rd to round out a Ligier 1-2-3 but Charlie Hollings (partnering Lotus Cup Championship leader Chris Randell) proved the speed of the Pilbeam despite no Friday practice by slotting into 4th just ahead of Ivor McCullough (partnering Nick Adcock), who was disappointed to be in 5th.

A good effort was made by Graham Fennymore / Chris Bialan to take 6th despite a seizing diff on their Juno.

At the start of the 3 hour race, Howell seized the lead just ahead of McKever with Hollings getting the jump on Gates into Clervaux.

Adcock made a move on Gates at Tower but Gates defended & Adcock tagged the back of him & spun to the back of the field.This allowed Matt Manderson’s Chiron (making a welcome return to the series) through to 4th, having climbed from 8th on the grid.

The following lap, Gates outbraked himself at Tower giving Bialan a run past him into Jim Clark Esses and allowing Tony Freeman’s fellow Juno (partnering Duncan Williams) to also take Gates in the process.Shortly after, Gates stopped at the pitlane entrance – an intermittent electrical problem forcing the Chevron Racing Ligier to a halt. The problem was fixed and put back out, but 11 laps were lost – something the team were to rue later in the race.

McKever gradually dropped away from Howell and came under close attention of Hollings with the Pilbeam slipping by into the hairpin at the end of lap 7. From a 10 second deficit, Hollings then set about the task of closing down Howell. Slowly at a tenth at a time at first, the gap came down but Howell gradually started to lose pace and by the 24th lap the 2 were together. Hollings made his move into Clervaux on lap 26 and started to pull clear. Howell faded from the lead pace, but kept his position – and his head.

Meanwhile Hollings got his down and with increasing momentum pulled a gap to nearly 40 seconds before the pitstops.Meanwhile on track, Gates – with the electrical problem solved - rejoining last and 11 laps down began to get into his stride and was soon the 2nd fastest man on the track, using Ally McKever as a carrot to chase.

Manderson’s efforts were to come to nothing as he was sent into the gravel and out of the race by a steering arm failure at Clervaux on lap 35, although a “live snatch” under local yellows was used to retrieve the Chiron, preventing the need for a Safety Car.

McKever was the first into the pits, handing the 3rd place Ligier over to Wilson. He was followed shortly by Bialan, then Reader who was handing over to Ryan Hooker. Hollings & Howell made late stops, but Lanan Racing was forced to make temporary bodywork repairs to the Pilbeam & the Ligier, now in the hands of Quaife exited the pits ahead of Chris Randell. Randell put in respectable times considering his complete lack of prototype experience, but couldn’t keep pace with the Ligier.

Wilson meanwhile re-established himself in 3rd and began to push to close the gap to the Pilbeam. However, he gradually started to lose pace with a disintegrating front splitter causing him to eventually fall to the mercy of the Juno trio of Fennymore, Williams and Hooker.

Having taken over from local hero Amanda Whitaker, the number 5 Ligier of series returnee Paul O’Neil became stricken on the apex entering the Complex after a half spin and was unable to restart causing the safety car to be deployed on lap 96.

Quaife could afford to cruise around more at the front as Randle was required to pit in the Pilbeam for an extra-precautionary fuel stop & handed the car back to Hollings, loosing 2nd to Fennymore’s Juno in the process. Hollings chased as much as possible but the tyres were past their best and the gap remained static at around 20 seconds.

Dunn was left thinking what could have been – after taking over from Gates he soon started a charge that saw him lapping 1-2 seconds quicker than the entire field for much of the last hour of the race, overtaking all the front runners and unlapping himself twice but the lost time in the pits was too much to overcome and he & Gates eventually finished 9th – one spot behind Dunn’s girlfriend Whitaker!

So Quaife / Howell (Ligier) took the flag ahead of Fennymore / Bialan (Juno), Hollings / Randle (Pilbeam), Reader / Hooker (Juno) and Freeman / Williams (Juno).The result promotes Fennymore & Bialin into a slim series points lead ahead or Reader / Hooker with all to play for at the last round at Silverstone on October 19th.

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