James Littlejohn and Tony Wells secure NGK Enduro victory at the Dubai Autodrome as Scott Balsden and Oliver Smith take category victory in round two of the Radical Middle East Cup.[Not a valid template]
Those who enjoyed the inaugural NGK 300 last season – in which touring cars, GT racers and Radical SR8/SR3s raced on-track together – had high hopes for this year’s running at the Dubai Autodrome. A strong entry list for the NGK Enduro (the majority of whom were there for round two of the Radical Middle East Cup) suggested the competition would be just as tight. There were a few issues, however.
Rain, for one. With free practice having already been washed out one day earlier, many questioned whether racing would take place at all, despite the selection of compounds available from tyre supplier Dunlop. A fast-drying Club Circuit suggested all was good to go as did a trouble-free – and late – qualifying session. Still, with most of the Radical SR8s and SR3s on the grid unable to run more than 50 minutes without a fuel stop, and given the safety considerations of nearly a dozen competitors diving for the Autodrome’s filling station at the same time, an unorthodox 20-minute refuelling window was added mid-race, leaving only three of the 11 runners circulating continuously throughout the two hour ‘endurance’ race. Few could argue the validity of the safety concerns nor even wished to, but it did make for an unusual spectacle: come the end of the NGK Enduro, race winners James Littlejohn and Tony Wells had completed 106 laps, whilst their nearest Radical competitors in third place had completed just 90. Tension during the remaining 45 minutes was far from knife-edge.
Happily competition during the opening salvo was tight. Keen to put a troublesome round one at Yas Marina behind them, the polesitting #2 machine of Littlejohn and Wells – the only SR8 in the field and thus competing in the Enduro category alongside the NGK runners – leapt away at the start, their lead already up to nine seconds after just three laps. Giving chase after a terrific start was the SR3 of Scott Balsden and Oliver Smith, who – having jumped Amro Al Hamad at the start – was busy keeping the Dragon Racing McLaren 12C GT Sprint of Rob Barff and Jordon Grogor at bay. Line astern the SR3, the 12C and the Salman Al Khater’s #6 SR3 went down the main straight during the opening stages, barely half a second covering them and second-place swapping seemingly each lap. An early Code 60 though, in which competitors abide by a 60kph speed limit whilst marshals clear the track, brought their scrap to a close, drivers making for the pits to get their mandatory stops out of the way. Even the leading Littlejohn/Wells entry – having served a drive-through penalty for passing under Code 60 conditions – fell back down the order, though it wouldn’t be long before they regained the top spot.
Despite running in the midfield during the opening stages, by lap 25 the 12C GT Sprint had made its way into second place, where it would remain until the chequered flag. Well, nearly. Easing off significantly in the closing stages, the Dragon Racing 12C was running on fumes, eventually running dry on the final lap. An assured second place overall disappeared without trace, the runners-up spot instead going to Alexandros Annivas and Costas Papantonis in the #1 Gulf Petrochem Mouhritsa Racing SEAT Leon Super Copa (prepared for the weekend by Brian McGinley’s Phoenix Motorsport group), the Grecian swapping Clio power for SEAT owing to the lack of Renault Clio Cups in the field. A solid race for the Barff/Grogor pairing and a well-deserved rostrum for the Annivas/Papantonis duo, but it was a cruel blow for Dragon Racing.
Behind, though the fight had once again calmed down after some destructively quick laps from the Balsdon/Smith #7 car (who briefly led outright following the Littlejohn/Wells penalty), the British pairing held the SR3 Supersports category lead to the stripe. Their near 50-second advantage over fifth placed Al Khater (the Nissan GT Academy Middle East winner returning for his second race in the Radical hot seat) proved helpful when the #7 SR3 was given a drive through penalty just 10 minutes before the end of the race for a pit stop window infringement. Losing 25 seconds didn’t hurt their result though, and Al Khater was overjoyed with his second place in-class in only his second Radical Middle East Cup outing.
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