Prototype racing across the globe is extremely popular for fans and drivers alike, however in the United Kingdom; there wasn’t really a championship, until now! On the 8th and 9th October 2016, Snetterton and MSVR hosted the first ever race of the new for 2017 Prototype Cup, as the 300 circuit would play host to evenly matched LMP3 Le Mans Prototype machinery. Teams and drivers from across the globe would compete in what was really a demonstration event ahead of a full 2017 championship in Ligier JSP3 that produced 420 brake horsepower out of a 5–litre, normally-aspirated Nissan engine. Whilst Ligier would be the only manufacture represented at Snetterton, more cars are predicted for 2017 with models likely to be available from AVE-Riley, Ginetta, Norma and Adess, due to high demand, mostly as LMP3 was launched as a class within the European Le Mans Championship back in 2015.
With the championship focusing mainly on a Pro pairing with an Amateur driver, this has allowed the LMP3 category to attract a strong line up and for the debut of the Prototype Cup, this has allowed for United Autosport to join the series, entering four cars with Pro ELMS drivers Wayne Boyd and Guy Cosmo, joining Charlie Hollings to partner some lighting quick amateurs. The team entered their four cars as follows:
No.23 – Shaun Lynn
No.2 – Wayne Boyd and Jay Palmer
No.3 – Jacques Duyver and Charlie Hollings
No. 32 – Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne
With the United Autosport colours brightening the grid with their traditional Blue and Red liveries, alongside the Gulf backed car of Shaun Lynn, the Red stand out car of Tockwith Motorsport joined the grid, with another ELMS LMP3 looking to challenge the favourites. Tockwith entered Philip Hanson and Nigel Moore, who have experience of the LMP3 after joining the European Le Mans Series halfway through 2016 and narrowly missed out on victory in both of their appearances. In terms of newcomers to LMP3, Formula 3 outfit West-Tec were getting their first taste of Sportscars/Prototype Racing, with European LMP3 champion Christian England leading the team alongside Radical Works driver Colin Noble. The team confirmed a second car on Saturday morning with experienced GT and former Murphy Prototypes LMP2 driver Shaun Balfe taking over the car alongside another Radical driver, the three times champion Bradley Smith. Smith was also no stranger to Prototypes, after winning the Sunoco challenge in 2014 and drove at the Rolex Daytona 24 hours. Another team from the world of Formula 3 to join the field was Irish team Douglas Motorsport, with their BRDC/British F3 driver Thomas Randle experiencing Prototypes for the first time, alongside the team’s Ginetta GT4 Supercup driver Mike Newbould. With experienced drivers and teams on the grid, mixed in with some newcomers this was going to make for an interesting opener to the Prototype Cup and Saturday’s qualifying would set the grid for Sunday’s 1hr endurance encounter.
Tockwith Motorsport secure first Prototype Cup Pole Position.
The opening qualifying session of the Prototype Cup threw up some questions from the teams and drivers, after the morning practice session had to be completed on a wet track. With the track drying out, it was the Tockwith Motorsport pairing who got the hammer down, as Philip Hanson set the quickest time (1:45.659s) to go over three seconds than the field and looked comfortable in the twenty-minute session. With time running out and the track a lot more gripper, late laps put Tockwith on the back foot, but the team would hold out and take the first ever Prototype Cup pole. In terms of their nearest challengers, it was European LMP3 champion Christian England in the West-Tec Ligier, as the pairing got to within a second of the Tockwith Ligier, even though Christian ended up spinning the LMP3 during one of his quick laps. Driving the Gulf livered United Autosport Ligier to third on the grid was single driver Shaun Lynn with a time of 1:47.888s whilst the number 3 and 2 United Autosport Ligier would surround it, with Jacques Duyver and Charlie Hollings ending the session fourth and Jay Palmer and Wayne Boyd in fifth. The second West-Tec Ligier of Bradley Smith and Shaun Balfe was next, splitting the four United Autosport cars, as Guy Cosmo and Patrick Byrne were outside the 1:49 mark in seventh, with the Douglas Motorsport pairing of Randle and Newbould ending in eighth with a time of 1:51.636s, 5.977s down on the pole sitters time.
Prototype Cup, Snetterton – Qualifying Top 5:
- Moore & Hanson (No.26 – Tockwith Motorsport) = 1:45.659s
- England & Noble (No.15 – West-Tec) = +0.870s
- Shaun Lynn (No.23 – United Autosport) = +2.229s
- Duyver & Hollings (No.3 – United Autosport) = +2.523s
- Palmer & Boyd (No.2 – United Autosport) = +2.846s
Lights to Flag Victory on Prototype Cup Debut
With morning warm up starting the day’s action for the Prototype Cup on Sunday, it came clear of some changes that would be happening ahead of the race and the unfortunately withdrawing of one of the teams. After securing second place on the grid and a front row start, the West-Tec Ligier of Christian England and Colin Noble had to be withdrawn, due to a mechanical failure. With the European LMP3 champion about to sit on the side-lines, a spot became available in the other West-Tec Ligier as Shaun Balfe withdrew and therefore Christian England jumped in alongside Bradley Smith.
So with all the changes and the loss of one Ligier JSP3, seven cars lined up for the inaugural Prototype Cup, but a brief shower over Snetterton during the race before, opened up a can of worms for a few of the teams. Luckily the shower did no damage to the track surface in terms of grip and the cars began their green flag, rolling start lap with Tockwith Motorsport on pole position. When the lights went green, Phillip Hanson got to work quickly on pulling out an advantage, as Christian England settled into second after avoiding a start-line incident, with dropped Jay Palmer towards the rear of the field. The incident behind was perfect for Hanson, as this allowed the Tockwith Motorsport Ligier to propel into a ten second lead in the early stages.
With pit stops containing a mandatory 70 seconds stop for all teams, the bigger the advantage for Hanson the less risk at losing the lead, however with Hanson putting in quicker laps, England was able to match in the West-Tec Ligier and before long, the race looked at a two horse tussle between Tockwith and West-Tec, with the gap a five seconds by the time both teams entered the pits for the driver change. When the teams exited the pits, the extra lap unfortunately hadn’t helped West-Tec, as Bradley Smith had a massive gap to make up in order to catch Nigel Moore. There had been a lead change though during the pit window, with Shaun Lynn making the most of the pit window time to remain on circuit in the Gulf United Autosport Ligier. When Lynn did make his stop, Moore and Smith regained 1st and 2nd, with Moore pulling the pin and pushing Tockwith towards their first LMP3 victory and the first of the brand new Prototype Cup.
Whilst the front two were in a league of their own, the battle was well and truly on for third between three of the four United Autosport pairings, as Jay Palmer recovered brilliantly from last to hand the car over to the experienced Wayne Boyd, who used his knowledge of the LMP3 machines to punch in a 1:43.887, recording the fastest LMP3 lap around the Snetterton 300 circuit. After taking over the car in fifth, Boyd overtook team mates to secure the final podium spot and round out a good weekend for the team. If the incident hadn’t of occurred on the opening lap, it would have been interesting to see whether this pairing could have challenged Tockwith for the win. Going on to finish fourth behind what would be the team’s leading car was Charlie Hollings and Jacques Duyver, after a strong drive from Charlie when he took over from Jacques at the half-way mark of the race.
Finishing 1:20.532s down on the leaders and 36 seconds behind their team mates, Hollings had broken clear of the third United Autosport Ligier of American’s Patrick Byrne and Guy Cosmo, who would end up in fifth, but both had to be cautious of the Douglas Motorsport Ligier. Throughout the race, the team had looked impressive with Mike Newbould and when they switched to Thomas Randle, the British F3 driver looked likely to break the United Autosport stronghold on the top five. With lap times improving, Randle suffered a penalty from the stewards, as the team was issued with a ten second stop and go penalty for leaving the engine running during their driver change, effectively stopping their challenge for fifth and leaving them in sixth. Randle would however put on a charge in the final stages, but came up short by 0.230 seconds after some fantastic defence driving from Guy Cosmo. Bringing up the rear was the Gulf Ligier of Shaun Lynn, one lap down on the rest of the field after leaving his pit stop as long as possible lost him time on his rivals.
Prototype Cup, Snetterton – Race Top 5:
- Moore & Hanson (No.26 – Tockwith Motorsport) = 31 Laps = 1:00:18.254s
- Smith & England & Nobile (No.4 – West-Tec) = +22.293s
- Palmer & Boyd (No.2 – United Autosport) = +44.051s
- Duyver & Hollings (No.3 – United Autosport) = +1:20.532s
- Byrne & Cosmo (No.32 – United Autosport) = +1:40.907s
The winter break now starts for the Prototype Cup but it definitely won’t be quiet, as it will be interesting to see what the final 2017 calendar will be, as well as how many entries come forward with the Ligier JSP3 or what other manufactures will appear on the grid.
To keep up to date with the Prototype Cup, please click here.
For more pictures of the championship’s debut at Snetterton, please click here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.