Entering the Club Enduro invitational class for a one-off event at the final round, our main goals were to learn the characteristics of the TCR-spec car and maximise track time over the course of the weekend. Expectations were exceeded however, when Bruno Costa and teammate Paul Curran took a fantastic overall win in the two hour race; marking Bruno’s first race victory on UK soil since moving here from Brazil five years ago.
When entering a race meeting on a one-off or invitational basis, the overall goals become very different to if you were a regular competitor in a full season. While the aim is obviously to achieve the best result possible, there is always potential for mechanical or on track factors outside your control to reduce track time and derail the weekend before it even gets going. With that in mind, it’s important to go in with a mindset to use the overall experience as a learning opportunity, regardless of the end result.
When the possibility to run in the final round of the Tegiwa Club Enduro series with Capture Motorsport arose, we jumped at the chance to place Bruno in the car for his first experience of TCR-spec machinery and also longer format endurance racing. In their debut season, Capture Motorsport had run multiple cars in the rapidly growing TCR UK championship and also the 750 Motor Club-organised Enduro championship. TCR cars running in Club Enduro run in ‘class A’ on a treaded Yokohama spec tyre and regular road fuel to keep costs down, but otherwise the cars run in exactly the same standard specification as elsewhere around the globe. Races are 125 minutes in duration with a mandatory (minimum time) pit stop, meaning that on this occasion Bruno would share the drive with former bike racer and team principal at the Rich Energy OMG Yamaha British Superbike team, Paul Curran.
Ahead of the event, Bruno worked in every area he could to ensure his preparation and maximise the opportunity marking his return to front wheel drive/saloon car racing.
I’d been to Oulton Park earlier in the year with Monoposto, so had a good idea of the track layout. However, for the two weeks before the race I was on the sim at home every single night when I got home from work, just putting in lap after lap around the International layout in a TCR car. By the end of it I know that I could definitely have driven a lap with my eyes closed!
Another key difference of this weekend was that it represented Bruno’s first experience of being run by a professional race team, instead of having to manage both driving and performing the mechanical running on his own car. This created a very different race weekend environment, and one which allowed him to focus only on his driving rather than all the additional distracting elements involved in running the car. Of course, there were still times when we had to reign him in from wanting to get stuck in with the team! As Bruno had recently worked a season in TCR UK with Max Hart at JamSport in 2021, he was very familiar with the mechanical underpinnings of the VW Golf and keen to help out the team wherever possible. How much was his race engineering experience an advantage on his first time driving the car?
Once you have that knowledge, you are really just confirming your theories being in the car. You know how the car is supposed to behave in an optimal setup, so you think ‘oh I’m alright then… now I just need to be fast.’ You don’t need to start from the beginning and learn everything from scratch, which is a big help.
A Friday test day on the eve of the one-day event unfortunately became an exercise in simply getting comfortable in the car, with heavy rain and red flag interruptions all day making it impossible to put in any meaningful running. Even though the day had been a washout, Bruno still took away some first impressions from the Golf GTI, and instantly understood how his time spent racing a single seat car over the last two seasons will be advantageous for anything else he now goes on to race.
To start with, by the first lap I felt comfortable, I had already driven front wheel drive in Brazil (with less power) so it felt quite natural and enabled me to pick it up really quickly. When I first drove a single seater I really had to concentrate to fully understand and learn how things worked and how the car behaves. My experience in the single seater definitely made it easier to drive the TCR car though. The key differences are that in a saloon car you’re braking and turning in earlier because of the weight transfer, it’s a bit lazier. But it’s almost like you have more time to think (in the mid-corner) because of this.
With the following race day forecast to be dry and a long half hour qualifying session shared between the two drivers as a first taste of the car in dry conditions, Bruno left the circuit on Friday night optimistic for the event ahead.
Saturday came and a rapidly drying track in qualifying meant that it was advantageous to be on track as late in the session as possible as the circuit continued to improve. Bruno and Paul were able to qualify the VW Golf in an impressive P5, putting them right in the mix of the Class A machines and alongside their fellow Capture Motorsport teammates Colin Gillespie and Phil Dryburgh. An issue with the starter motor became apparent in the assembly area as the car was fired up to head out for the formation lap, and was now something the pair would have to continue to manage following their driver swap at the halfway point of the race. At the race start, Bruno made one of his now traditional lightning getaways (“I used to practise clutch control pulling away from traffic lights in my road car back in Brazil!”) and was immediately up to P4, sitting immediately behind the sister #15 Capture Motorsport Cupra.
After settling into a rhythm in the first phase of the race, Bruno executed a pass on the other Capture Motorsport car, whose drivers were in the running for the championship and simply looking to score points in the race to secure the title. Dealing with early safety car periods, he advanced to P2, where he was now sitting a few seconds behind the race leading Lotus Elise of William Stacey.
Given that this was Bruno’s first experience of a race longer than a 15-20 minute duration, we asked him how he found running a one hour stint before passing the car over to Paul at the mandatory driver change pit stop.
"Physically, I was fine. The main difference I found was with maintaining concentration, I was really focused when I was behind the Lotus and trying to overtake. Then once I was on my own, I found myself drifting away and had to remind myself to concentrate. Things had become so natural that it became automatic and I almost relaxed way too much."
Within 40 minutes I radioed the guys in the box and said if Paul is ready to drive I’m okay, because I thought I was close to an hour, and then they told me I still had another twenty minutes… which I remember specifically thinking was still a complete race distance I would normally run in the single seater. I had no concept of time, which was a new aspect to deal with. As we got longer into the stint though, there was plenty of traffic to deal with which was a refocusing point, it was just in the points when I was in clean air that I found it a bit different.
Following their driver change at the race halfway point, the issue with the starter motor occurred again, though fortunately the team were able to get the car fired up and back on track without any significant time lost. Paul took over the car and resumed in P2, very quickly matching Bruno’s fast and consistent lap times in an attempt to chase the leader down. While Bruno cooled down in the garage and watched the race unfold on the live timing and big screen, there was drama as the leading Lotus Elise pulled into the pit lane with smoke trailing from the rear engine cover. Paul had now taken the overall lead of the race, with a significant time gap to the cars behind.
As Bruno paced around the garage beginning to realise the strong position they were in with only 20 minutes remaining, the #177 BMW of Kevin Clarke was mounting a late race challenge after having to make a ten second stop-go penalty for an earlier infringement. There were now tense scenes in the garage as we monitored the closing gap, although it seemed like the BMW driver would run out of time to chase down Paul for the race lead before the chequered flag fell. In the end it was unfortunately irrelevant, as Clarke suffered a huge accident lapping a back marker along the pit straight with only four minutes to go. This ended the race under red flag conditions and ensured that celebrations were muted as we awaited confirmation that he had been successfully extracted from the car and was not seriously injured, despite requiring a precautionary hospital visit.
Following the race Bruno’s teammate Paul Curran echoed the comments of fellow two-wheeled racer Sylvain Guintoli, who drove the same Golf TCR at the end of October in the Birkett six-hour relay event. “To drive the car well… the driving style is more comparable than you would think with a bike, as you can really tip it in late, manage the weight shift and trail brake your way through the corner. It’s good fun.”
As the drivers met in parc ferme following scrutineering, the starter motor issue reared its head again and on this occasion the car wouldn’t fire up and had to be pushed back to the garage; reminding everyone that a certain element of luck is always involved in the successful running of a race car over an endurance format event. Bruno and Paul’s result marked the first time that a car in the invitation class had won a race overall in the Club Enduro championship, and the day for the team was made sweeter by both of the sister Capture Motorsport Cupra cars finishing in podium positions.
In the week following the event, we asked Bruno how significant it was to have taken his first race win since moving to the UK to live, work and race in motorsport five years ago.
"It was good for my confidence, I won races in Brazil but here everything had up until now been so hard, with getting on the grid in the first place and then some of the car troubles we had in Monoposto this season. It felt great, but it also felt different to when I won back in Brazil, but that’s because I am a different person now."
In Brazil I used to get overly excited and celebrate but here when I won it just felt like ‘mission accomplished.’ To put it another way, at home it almost felt like you’d won a lottery, and it felt good… but here it felt like it was more of a validation and confirmation of all the work I’ve done and sacrifices made to get to this point.
We wish to extend a huge thank you to Will, Mark and all of the team at Capture Motorsport, who ran the Golf GTI faultlessly all weekend and provided a fantastic environment for Bruno to quickly get up to speed in a new and unfamiliar car. Keep your eyes on the news page and our social media as we work over the winter and finalise plans for where he will be racing next season.