Australian racing driver Neil Cunningham accepted a late call from the Speedworx team to contest last weekend's British GT round at Rockingham and drove an impressive second stint to retrieve fourth in class for the team's Stealth B6.
The call to join the squad came late on Thursday. "They just wanted me in the car," said Cunningham with candid directness. "I've had very limited time in the Stealth," he added, "and we had a problem with the rear suspension in qualifying. That put us out of a front-row slot, which I'm sure would have been a realistic possibility, so we had to start from eighth, fifth in GT."
Co-driver Mike Newton, whose only real experience of the car came in the morning warm-up, took the opening stint but dropped to twelfth on the first lap. Seven laps on and the car stood second to last, but Cunningham took over on the sixteenth and promptly began a spirited recovery. His first task was simply to make up ground, but once onto the tail of some of the faster GTO class runners he started to pick them off one by one. Consistently clocking times in the low 1:44s, and frequently dropping into the forty-threes, he had made up four places within the next ten laps. This brought him within sight of his nearest GT rivals - the two Ultimas of Steven Brady and Colin Blower. Amazingly, when Cunningham began racing after the driver change these two had been immediately behind him on the track, a full lap ahead!
With just two laps still to go Cunningham finally caught and passed Brady before snatching fourth in class from Blower on the penultimate tour. "I just had too much to do," admitted Cunningham after the race. "I ran as fast as I could in the traffic, and managed a few 43s, but it still wasn't fast enough. Perhaps the car's not ideally suited to this track, but if Mike had pitted two or three laps sooner we'd have been in the running for a podium. I might even have caught the TVR!" If the truth were told, the gap to the TVR was about thirty seconds. Cunningham's lap times were good, at an average of 44 dead compared with 50.7 from Newton, but even towards the end the Speed 12 was still managing 1:46s.
If that podium had been elusive then sixth overall might still have been well within his grasp. However, the team knew that they were pushing their luck if Neil had really gone all out for pace, since the Stealth is borderline for an hour's flat-out running on a single tank. "That was really well driven, though, "said the a team spokesman. "Neil drove a fantastic stint." Fellow Speedworx team driver Terry Pudwell agreed: "That was a great drive," he said, after playing the role of spectator for the weekend. "That was good to watch from the top of the grandstands and see Neil making up so much ground. It was exciting to see."
Cunningham certainly relished the opportunity. "It's a lovely car to drive, especially on full tanks" enthused Neil. "The weight is right in the middle of the car, so the balance is maintained all the time. I enjoyed it very much. It was good working with Speedworx as well, but I'll need to do some weight training before they ask me back," he joked, flexing his arms. "Either that or they'll have to fit power steering!" He reckons that PAS could be worth as much as two seconds on a circuit like Rockingham. "I'm still a Viper man at heart," he admits, "but with power assisted steering the Stealth would be a phenomenal car."
It's been a mixed-up season for Cunningham, who has been unable to secure a regular GT drive alongside his ASCAR duties. "It all comes down to money," he shrugs. "I could still finish high up in the points though, but I'd have achieved it by driving seven different cars." He's probably picked that figure out of thin air, but the sentiment is no less valid. On this showing, however, he could be back again for the next round at Oulton Park on August 18th.