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25 May 2009

GT Cup Brands GP - Mike Saunders.

Caused a few waves when he turned up, did Mike. No-one knew who he was, no-one had seen him around Racing or even the Trackday scene so we didn’t pay to much attention at first, just the normal “hello’s” and pleasantries. Mike kept himself to himself too. New boy in the Paddock…can’t just run up and introduce yourself to everyone; it’s quite intimidating you see…your first race weekend. Mike’s was Cadwell Park and everyone took notice when the Rookie put it on the front row for Race1; second to Dean Cook in a GpA Tuscan by less than ½ second. Mike was in his GpB Cerbera (its all yellow) that he and his Dad prepared at home in a lean too.

To cut a long story short, we all thought he had LOADS of power and was sandbagging us. These ideas persisted at Snetterton where he was strong again taking both GpB wins and getting in amongst the Tuscans, but it wasn’t so easy at a power track…could we be wrong about the oodles of power? Could it be talent? I waited for Brands. Brands Indy is all about talent and handling. Power isn’t really a major factor. When he drove round the outside of me at Clearways (he was starting from the back and I had a handling issue) I could see how he drove the corner and then on down the main straight. It certainly wasn’t power; it was definitely talent as the car didn’t even seem to be set up very well yet he still carried loads of speed. I was convinced and impressed. By then he had lightened up, knew everyone and was much more chatty. Brands was his local track…his favourite. Right, I said, that explains it. How many times have you done it? ‘Bout 5 he said. Doh!!!

Anyway, Mike has just competed in the GT Cup. I find this particularly interesting as it’s big budget racing with some very accomplished drivers including semi-pro’s. with some very expensive metal. The field consists of Lambo’s, Vipers, the obligatory Porker GT3RSs along with M3GTRs and Aston DB9Rs etc. Now if you don’t know, those cars cost Circa £130K new BEFORE your tyres, spares, equipment; and along with those will go the big rigs and trucks to carry everything. So Mike and his dad were wondering if they’d made a smart move as they parked up the “Rangey” that towed the “Cerb” on a trailer!

After a bit of giant killing in Practice (and that’s another big draw to GT Cup), Mike was told they were bumping him up to GpA for the weekend, so he would be up against the big boys at Brands GP. The first time he’d driven it. He’s got some balls, I’ll give him that. He Quallied 7th, which was a tremendous achievement, but Mike felt he could have done better and was a bit down. He told me. “We were running on Pirelli’s and they felt quite different to our normal Dunlop’s. It took longer to get heat into them and the bite was different. I reckon I could have done much better. He was still less than a second off the Pole Sitter in the Gallardo.

After a strong start, Mike found himself settling down in 4th. The Aston, Beamer, Viper and Lambo ahead. As his tyres came in he felt the Aston was holding him back but was equal in power. After a few laps, he passed the DB9R and went after the M3. Passing was very hard now. The racing was very close and the cars were strong in different areas. He bagged the M3 on the inside at “Stirlings Bend”; the 90 left onto the straight that brings you back to the Indy circuit. The Viper proved harder to pass not giving any room to stick the nose in, and with soooo much power it kept disappearing on the straights. Eventually it was dispatched at the same corner “Stirling’s”. The Viper is powerful, very wide and he wasn’t having any of it, Mike said, but I sold him a dummy coming down the hill which just wrong footed the car. That let me in. By this time the Gallardo was well away and Mike finished in 2nd. A massive achievement at the start of just his second year in racing..

Don’t worry if you are a regular “Challenge” attendee, Mike will be around the Series over 2009, it’s just that there is a possible sponsorship deal around, and the GT Cup fit the bill. Mike’s first love is the TVR Challenge, but as with all of us, he has one eye on Sponsorship and the Cup is a big Draw for his possible Sponsor.

They must have spent a fortune on that car and racing over the last 2 years. They have a couple of engines, several sets of very expensive carbon wheels (with tyres) general spares/tools etc etc plus a full Challenge season in 2008. That’s some proper money…I know. But reliability has helped. For a home-made car they have has remarkably few issues and had no DNFs (Did Not Finish) that I can recall. In fact Mike did his impressive first year on the cars standard 4.5 AJP road engine, which had 65K on the clock. Remarkable really.

I for one can’t wait to see what he gets up to next. The guy clearly has natural pace and since he’s spent all winter down at the Gym losing 3 stone, it seems he may also have the dedication. I have put Mike in touch with Mike Caine who will hopefully be giving him some instruction over the next few months. If he can do all of this with no experience and very limited technical knowledge, just imagine what he could do with “Cainey’s” help. Like I said, I can’t wait.

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