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Dunlop Britcar

Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship, Oulton Park - Race Report
Single-Minded Determination

All images © Mick Herring

The final result of this race ended up, not intentionally, but flexibly exploited, as a game of solitaire, as the first two cars home each had just a lone driver for the full three-hours duration. Martin Byford took a carefully-planned overall win in the Bullrun Lotus Evora, sealing the Class 3 victory and maximising the championship points tally, whilst Warren Gilbert, in only his second drive in a good few years, took the Topcats “big green” Marcos to second place and the Class 2 win.

This had been a race of attrition, close racing and much jostling for position. 

Qualifying

A red flag just five minutes into the 45-minute session did little to upset the equilibrium and once the teams were up to speed again, the visiting Aquila CR1, with Bob Berridge at the wheel, set the high bar, then Andy Schulz’s Ferrari 430 posted 1:40.472, before Anthony Reid, sharing the works Chevron GR8 GT3 with Jordan Witt, hit the top. The Chevron, though, developed an engine problem and was sidelined, leaving Javier Morcillo in the Azteca/Strata21 Mosler to punch in a series a fast ones, leaving his 1:37.716 seemingly unassailable with five minutes of the session to run. Andy Schulz, however, allegedly on a tyre-scrubbing run towards the end, sensed an opportunity and clinched pole just 0.156 quicker as the flag was unfurled.

Third was the Aquila, then the Jordan Witt/Anthony Reid GT3 Chevron, though the engine work took a while and its grid slot would be empty. The Bullrun Evora headed the third row, with Martin Byford taking the first stint and, with David Green away in California working on the actual Bullrun event, Richard Adams would take over later – or maybe not. Alongside the Lotus would be the Class 3 invitation–entry Team Parker Porsche 997 of Oulton experts John Loggie and Chris Jones. Disaster stories and atypical qualifying performances came from the Handkammer/Smith/Cuff BMW E92, a locked wheel nut, then an ABS issue preventing them from getting a decent run; the Motionsport Ferrari 458 with a recurring electronics/braking/ABS issue (“It happens at all the scary corners” commented Simon Phillips); the Glynn/Dawson Sagaris, which had crashed in Friday testing; and stablemates GTF racing, the revamped yellow Sagaris only completing five laps.

Not getting out at all was the David Witt/Ray Grimes Chevron – “It was OK when I switched it off last night, but it wouldn’t fire up this morning” shrugged David Witt. The team got it fixed and it would start from the back of the grid.

Race

It was a fast start and the top three pounded into Old Hall three abreast, Berridge locking up the Aquila  heavily as he abandoned a lunge down the inside of Morcillo’s Mosler.

The Spaniard, though, exercised discretion and the yellow machine got past and chased Schulz’s Ferrari down The Avenue towards Cascades. Berridge tried the same move, this time on the Ferrari, as they started the second lap, but Schulz was having none of it and once Morcillo had composed himself for the conflict; the top three circulating with just 0.8 seconds covering them.  John Loggie had got the jump on Martin Byford at the start, but the Lotus got back past the Porsche on lap three and Pete Storey was moving up in the Motionsport 458. With the three leading cars now having a 24-second cushion over the fourth-placed Bullrun Evora, and with barely 10 minutes on the clock, the Safety Car was deployed. Andy Holden’s Sagaris had come to rest at the far reaches of the circuit, needing recovery. That would be the end of their effort for this race, leaving Rod Barrett and Jay Shepherd driveless. Coincidentally, Jensen Lunn had parked his Chevron in the same vicinity, so a double recovery was effected. The Chevron made it back to the pits under its own power and would rejoin the race; and once the field was let loose again, five laps later, the Aquila slowed dramatically on the restart, before picking-up again into Old Hall. Morcillo and Byford had slipped by, but Berridge wasted no time in getting the Lotus back through Cascades, then the Mosler a little later round the lap. Making the most of the restart was Raphael Fiorentino, having his once-a-year drive in the “orange” Topcats Mantis, taking Loggie’s Porsche for fifth and the Class 2 lead.

The caution period had bunched the field up and, with all cars running still on the same lap, there was a lot of jostling and side-by-side action. Tommy Field got his Chevron inside Warren Gilbert’s Marcos at Old Hall, but the Topcats boss was unimpressed and the pair circulated side-by-side for more than a lap. Their battle had taken them onto Loggie’s tail - Richard Abra having already taken the Geoff Steel-run BMW GTR past the Team Parker Porsche - but Field dropped back in the melee.

Morcillo had by now re-taken second place from Bob Berridge and the #18 works GT3 Chevron joined the race at last, 32 minutes late, with Anthony Reid at the wheel...

...but it was a case of "one in, one out" for the team, as Ray Grimes' #78 machine, which had been working up the order, clashed with the similar Tracktorque car of Tommy Field. As Field's Gulf-liveried version was on its way again, the yellow works car pulled off with front-end damage.

Warren Gilbert had by now taken care of Loggie's Porsche and notched-up Abra's BMW GTR too, but further progress was halted by the intervention of the Safety Car once again, to clear up the Chevron incident. Now 35 minutes into the race, it was a good time for pit stops and, significantly, the Bullrun Lotus made an early call. "I saw the Chevron accident,  guessed that there'd be safety car, so came in straight away before the SC boards were shown, so we could take on the full 50 litres," revealed Martin Byford later.

With a whole raft pitting once the caution period had been established – the #35 Marcos, Phil Andrews' FF Corse Ferrari 430, Reid's Chevron, the Tracktorque Chevron, Loggie's Porsche – most drivers rejoined for a second stint; only David Cuff handing the GTS-run BMW E90 to Harry Handkammer at this point. Next time round it was both Neil Garner-run machines in simultaneously and both the Mosler and the Strata21 Porsche rejoined with their previous drivers, Javier Morcillo and David Pittard respectively. 

The Aquila came in, but Bob Berridge drove straight into the garage for attention. Warren Gilbert brought the Mantis in too, ahead of sparring partner Abra's BMW, and Andy Schulz handed the leading Ferrari to Paul Bailey, just a lap before the Safety Car let the field go once again after four laps of caution.

The leader board now had a completely different look. As virtually all of the field – those that had started the race and not had any issues, anyway – were on the same lap, it was a case of moving up or down the order; so now Pete Storey’s Motionsport Ferrari 458 led, followed by Tom Webb’s BMW GTR, the amazing Steve Guglielmi in Jeff Mileham’s Elise, Fred Tonge’s Sagaris, Mick Mercer’s Topcats Ginetta G50, Steve Glynn in his Sagaris and Gary Coulson’s Motionsport Elise. Byford was next up, seventh place and the first of the “stoppers”. The erstwhile frontrunners now had mixed fortunes, or differing strategies. Morcillo, Byford and Fiorentino began to make their way through the order, the Frenchman in the Marcos being particularly assertive, while others bided their time – Warren Gilbert settling in towards the back of the field and Paul Bailey 17th and moving progressively through the field in the black Ferrari.

So the first hour saw Morcillo back in the lead, 22 seconds to the good, with Storey’s Ferrari having a five-second cushion over Raphael Fiorentino’s Marcos; but it was Tommy Field that was setting the track on fire – he’d passed Byford’s Lotus, then Webb’s GTR, in the matter of a couple of corners and now held the Class 3 lead in fourth overall. David Pittard had also regained the Class 4 lead in the Strata21 Porsche 997 and had his sights on Webb, the tail-ender of the Class 3 leading trio.

Forsaking serendipitous opportunities, some were sticking solidly to plan – the 75-minute mark saw Tom Webb hand the GTR to brother James, while Gary Coulson handed the Motionsport Elise to Ben Gower. David Pittard brought the Strata21 Porsche in too, but this was unplanned – a gear cable had snapped and, after a lengthy investigation on the pit apron, the car was pushed into the garage for repairs. Also pitting was Fiorentino and it was a fairly lengthy stop for the Marcos too, with some fiddling under the hood before Owen O’Neill resumed.
 
The Aquila had made several somewhat smoky returns into the race, with Nigel Mustill driving, but now they were looking at retirement and it was getting a bit fraught out on track, too – Storey spun the Ferrari 458, losing places to Field and Byford and the experience of Phil Andrews (FF Corse Ferrari 430) and Chris Jones (Team Parker Porsche 997) couldn’t prevent the pair clashing at Hislops.

With the halfway mark of the three-hour race approaching, it was time for some planned pit stops once again. Tommy Field, in from second place, handed the Tracktorque Chevron over to Chris Hart; Steve Glynn entrusted his Sagaris to  Adam Dawson; and Paul Bailey, who just had a lap put on him by leader Morcillo, pitted the SB Ferrari for Andy Schulz to take a second stint. Storey pitted too, Simon Phillips taking the Motionsport Ferrari back out for the final 90 minutes. Only Steve Guglielmi’s Elise had still to break the pitlane timing beam now.

James Webb made another stop - he’d been off in the BMW and “Lugs” and the rest of the GTS crew set-to on a clean-up of the grass-filled air intakes and a check-over - and Martin Byford called in for fuel, getting back into the Evora for a further stint. Next time round it was Schulz, too soon for a planned stop. This was yet another drama for the Ferrari, which was showing left-rear body damage - the rear undertray was removed to ease tyre fouling and Schulz was back out after a lengthy stop. Warren Gilbert pitted too, but planned co-driver  Mick Mercer  had gone for a further stint in the Ginetta, so there was to be no respite for the Topcats boss and he resumed in the #34 Topcats Marcos. There’s a story attached to the Ginetta’s progress – like many, Mercer slipped off out on the circuit and lost much of the rear bodywork, with just the wing uprights protruding. Gary Smith took the car out, but found the handling awry. Father-in-law Mercer, however, who has a history steeped in the rough and tough short circuit world of banger racing, rejoined and wrestled the beast to the end.

This was now turning into a race of attrition and, with 75 minutes to go, it was the leader’s turn for trouble. Javier Morcillo pitted, ostensibly for a routine service and driver change, but the engine cover of the Mosler was removed - there was much fiddling and when a team member appeared from the garage brandishing a new drive shaft, you knew this was going to be a long one. Abra brought the Geoff Steel-run GTR in too, but this was routine and Mark Poole took over.

Next,  Guglielmi’s race turned sour – still yet to make its first pit stop, the little Elise had a coming together with the FF Corse Ferrari, which Richard Bramham had now taken over.

The Ferrari rejoined, but the Lotus exhibited what looked like considerable right rear wheel damage and was stranded; time for another Safety Car. With the final hour now clocking-in, this was a good point for more pit stops. Jensen Lunn’s Chevron and Chris Hart’s similar Tracktorque machine both stopped, with the latter maybe a bit too keen to get back out, causing the team to dash in front of the car to hold it for the mandatory duration. The Motionsport team took advantage too, exercising their much-vaunted multi-stop trick – three consecutive laps, three pit stops, and three 25-litre churns of Sunoco into the Ferrari 458, with minimal time lost. The secret’s out now, as seen on TV!

Guglielmi, meanwhile, had hitched a ride back to the pits in a course vehicle, ahead of the recovery truck carrying the Elise and was planning repairs with the team.  Once the Elise was unloaded from the flatbed, things were apparently not as bad as anticipated – fuel first, a check over, new rear wheels and Jeff Mileham was on his way into the race.

The Mosler rejoined during the caution, Paul White now driving but with seven laps lost. The Safety Car executed a wave-past and picked-up the leading Bullrun Lotus Evora, leaving 45 minutes of the race to be run once the field went green again. It was now Class 3 to the fore – Byford’s lead was supported by Hart’s Chevron and Poole’s BMW, separated by a whisker in second and third places, but coming up behind, showing no signs of flagging, was Gilbert in the Marcos.

The #34 Marcos did rise to second, ahead of the squabbling Hart/Poole duo who now had Owen O'Neill's #35 Marcos on their tail. O'Neill must have been keen to join his team boss ahead and dispensed with both the Chevron and the BMW. He made little impression on the Marcos in front of him, though, and his pursuers upped their game; the three cars continuing to circulate with barely a second and a half covering them. Byford now had a lap advantage over the following quartet, with Simon Phillips in sixth a further lap adrift. Phillips, fuelled-up and on a roll, soon got pulled his lap back, though; as did Schulz, passing Byford's Lotus to reduce the deficit from four laps to three.  

Hart now took the Chevron past Poole’s BMW and the both of them took O’Neill’s slowing Marcos; “I just can’t explain it,” said an out-of-sorts O’Neill later, adding “I was doing nothing differently, the lap times just weren’t there anymore.”

Twenty-five minutes to go and our two erstwhile leaders pitted on consecutive laps. Paul White handed the Mosler to Manuel Cintrano and Andy Schulz came in – new tyres all round and he was back out again, just before another Safety Car period. Adam Dawson had spun off in the Glynnsport Sagaris and the recovery took four laps. Mark Poole was the only front-runner pitting during the caution and jumped back in the BMW GTR after a splash of fuel.

There were just 10 minutes of the race left once the caution was lifted and Poole, who had lost little time pitting under yellows, was back on O’Neill’s tail once again, passing him on what would be the penultimate lap of the race. Schulz, too, was on a roll, unlapping the black Ferrari once again from leader Byford - and, on new rubber, punching in a set of fastest laps to seal that all-important single championship point.

So, the timing screens showed six seconds over the allotted three hours when Byford crossed the line for the 91st time, but there was no chequered flag and he motored on. He must have been half-way round the circuit when the flag was eventually waved, but the 91 laps were recorded as the finishing point.

It had been a famous victory for the Bullrun team in a race of considerable attrition, but the Lotus Evora had run trouble-free throughout the race and solo-driver Martin Byford had never let his guard down, keeping the pace flowing and responding where necessary, as he explained; “It was an ace strategy, a genius call pitting just seconds before that second safety car – it gave us the flexibility for later in the race”.

Warren Gilbert - quite apart from racing only three times in as many years - completed the whole race solo too, earning him Sunoco Driver of the Day and revealed afterwards that he’d lost the whole instrument panel in the Topcats Marcos about halfway through the race. “I’ve got to say that was the best ever drive of my racing career,” exclaimed the former Caterham protagonist, who, lest we forget, also clinched the AMOC Martini Trophy in the same car in 2010. “If you’re fat, you’re fast!” was the irreverent response from his loyal team members.

It was Classes 2 and 3 and it was close after three hours – second to sixth place all on 90 laps.

Once again, Clive Reay-Young’s Tracktorque Chevron GR8 took third overall, Tommy Field and Chris Hart providing some of the best racing of the afternoon, and the Mark Poole/Richard Abra BMW GTR completed the Class 3 podium, fourth overall. “It’s just a relief to get a good finish after all we’ve done to get that car sorted,” sighed a happy Geoff Steel.

Also relieved was Simon Phillips, after the electronics issues in the Motionsport Ferrari 458 he shared with Peter Storey. They finished behind the O’Neill/Fiorentino Marcos, completing the Class 2 podium, but Phillips had no qualms about their strategy; “Maybe we didn’t need that third churn of fuel during the Safety Car period, but we wanted to make sure.”

Andy Schulz was the first of the heavy hitters to finish, seventh overall, bagging top points for himself and Paul Bailey in the Ferrari 430, while the unlucky Azteca /Strata21 Mosler came home 13th.  The John Loggie/Chris Jones Porsche 997 had a fair few pit stops and saw some attrition, but nevertheless posted a decent finish in eighth place; and it was a great performance from  Fred Tonge, Tim Hood and Darren Dowling in the GTF Sagaris, which had run well throughout the race, though did have a minor niggle right in the closing minutes. “We were running seventh, then a wheel came loose – we lost two places at the end,” rued Dowling.

Another car with minimal issues was the Class 4 Motionsport Lotus Elise, a jubilant Gary Coulson and Ben Gower cutting through their classmates’ attrition to victory after knocking on the door for the last few races.

All the other cars in the class finished, but with major issues; Mick Mercer and Gary Smith dragging 75% of a Ginetta G50 to second place, and Tom Jones finishing third in the Strata21 Porsche 997 after David Pittard  brought the car in with a snapped gear cable, losing 10 laps whilst it was fixed.

Missing out on prizes, but grabbing class points after fraught races, were the Mileham/Guglielmi Elise and the Lunn/Steward Chevron.

It been eventful for Phil Andrews and Richard Bramham in the FF Corse Ferrari 430 too – their qualifying position identified the true status of the car, but several clashes during the race prevented them from finishing well – and the Webb family BMW was once again stymied by late-race issues after an impressive run, while new driver Adam Dawson acquitted himself well in Steve Glynn’s Sagaris.

Steve Wood