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Dunlop Britcar

Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship, Snetterton - Race Report
Ginetta Better At Snetterton

A storming second stint by Mike Simpson took the works development Team LNT Ginetta G55, started by marque boss Lawrence Tomlinson, to victory in the three-hour race, which was blighted by five safety-car periods, and in which the searing heat played a part. The Ferrari 430 of Paul Bailey and Andy Schulz came home second, but only after the customary late-race skirmish with Javier Morcillo’s Mosler, the Ferrari coming out best this time.

Qualifying

The two-day format of this meeting meant that Saturday was given over to testing for the BEC contingent, and while these sessions can never be really indicative of true performance, two non-regular teams loomed large during the three tests. Lawrence Tomlinson had brought along the latest development of the Ginetta G55, and works test driver Mike Simpson topped the second test at 1:52.644, just 0.018 faster than Javier Morcillo had managed in the Azteca/Strata21 Mosler in the opening session. The Team LNT boys sat the last session out, leaving Dave Shelton’s Kockney Koi Mosler, run by Moore Racing and driven by Phil Keen - who had exchanged his Olympic Closing Ceremony Lambretta and Union Jack-et for his usual race suit - to close Saturday’s proceedings at 1:52.525. Shelton had originally tested his BMW GTR, but, unhappy that the best times were in the 1:54s, had changed tack for the remainder of the day.

Sunday’s qualifying was more important, though, and the bar was raised higher by Simpson; the orange Ginetta, which was now registered in the championship, claiming pole at 1:50.161, just after an enforced restart of the 45-minute session. The early running was set by the Azteca/Strata21 Mosler, and ironically it was this car, by stalling out in the infield section, that caused the red flag midway through the session.  Once the Mosler was recovered and the session re-started, Javier Morcillo commenced an assault on pole, bringing his time down lap by lap, but he ran out of time - his last lap, his fastest, being 0.178 shy of the pole-sitting Ginetta.  The Bailey/Schulz Ferrari 430 had been lurking around the top three all session and headed row two of the grid, with Phil Keen, who had found another three-quarters of a second in the Kockney Koi Mosler, alongside. Row three was a happy revelation – the MacG Racing Ultima had returned, with virtually the whole powertrain and running gear revised, and a time in the high 1:54s was about where you’d expect Jonny MacGregor and Jamie Smyth to be at this point. Next to the Ultima was the Class 2 polesitter, the Team Tiger Marcos Mantis of Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore, and they were split on the timesheets from Class 2 compatriots Simon Phillips and Pete Storey (Motionsport Ferrari 458) by the championship-leading Bullrun Lotus Evora of Adams, Green and Byford, which annexed Class 3 pole; the next-best in that class being the Webb’s BMW GTR, over two seconds adrift.  Best in Class 4 was the Strata21 Porsche 996 of Sharpe/Pittard/Smith, ahead of Mark Poole and Richard Abra; who, with their BMW GTR lunching its engine in testing, had traded down in spec. and class, using their production-rated BMW M3 to secure the time.

There were also new cars and drivers to the championship, along with the usual stories of drama and heroism.  Just one Marcos Mantis from Topcats this time, but the #35 had an all-new line-up of occasional old hands Jon Harrison and Rob Wilson, joined by an erstwhile Britcar regular, international racing ace Jeff Wyatt. Strata21 had registered the newly-acquired ex-Hawthorns Porsche 997 for Adam Sharpe, Paul White and Spanish hotshoe Olivier Campos-Hull, and joining the fray from the Dutch Supercar Challenge were former Britsports racers Richard Fearns and David Krayem, sharing Fearn’s Ginetta G55. Working into Saturday night were the Topcats team responsible for Mick Mercer ‘s Ginetta G50, rebuilding a gearbox after a fifth gear lost some teeth; and the GTF squad, suffering a 4am finish after replacing the blown engine in the yellow Sagaris with a less powerful unit for Tim Hood, Fred Tonge and Steve Glynn.

With the three-hour race starting just after the lunch break on a searingly hot afternoon, driver fatigue would be an issue. Jensen Lunn faced the whole race alone after the unavailability of a co-driver, but the driving force of the Team Holden Sagaris was well-prepared with NASCAR-style cool suits.

Race

The grid looked dangerously close-packed as they approached the green lights, and it was Lawrence Tomlinson’s Team LNT Ginetta that nosed in front up to Riches, with an impatient Andy Schulz, starting Paul Bailey’s Ferrari, cutting in front as they rounded the first corner. 

The infield section of the opening lap created winners and losers – MacGregor’s Ultima pushed a cautiously-starting Paul White’s Mosler down to fifth, and David Green slipped down the order in the Bullrun Evora; but Jeff Wyatt showed that he lost nothing in his spell away from racing, taking the Topcats Mantis from 15th to ninth as the pack buzzed onto the Bentley Straight. Losing out too was Chris Beighton, the Team Tiger Marcos spinning at Hamilton amid frenetic place-changing.

Schulz had already pulled out two seconds over Tomlinson at the end of the first lap, but the orange Ginetta was passed by Phil Keen, who was taking no prisoners in Shelton’s Mosler. An early-race battle for the Class 3 lead, with Adam Sharpe’s Porsche 997 side-by-side with James Webb’s BMW GTR, provided excitement, as did Keen’s chipping away at Schulz’s lead and Beighton’s recovery drive in through the back markers in the Mantis. Early pit stops were taken by Duncan Pittaway’s Kit Kat branded Ginetta G40, and Tim Hood in the yellow Sagaris, while the few drops of rain that fell for a matter of moments evaporated on the track.

Andy Holden, having got past Jeff Wyatt, pulled his Sagaris into the Sharpe/Webb dispute; Webb took Sharpe, Holden took the both of them, then Webb got Holden back. Staying out of this mayhem was David Green in the Evora, keeping a watching brief in 11th position.  By Lap 8 the front-runners had started lapping the back markers and Lawrence Tomlinson suffered the first of several lairy moments that saw considerable dust kicked-up in the infield section. One, he later admitted, was of his own volition, as he missed a shift, but he was also caught-out when lapping Gary Coulson’s little Motionsport Elise, losing third place to Paul White’s  Mosler in the process. White, in fact, was now 21 seconds adrift of Keen’s second-placed Mosler, while Schulz was controlling the race with a four-second buffer; but behind the Azteca Mosler, it was close, with Tomlinson, MacGregor and Pete Storey’s Motionsport Ferrari 458 covered by seven seconds. And it didn’t end there – Holden re-took Webb, whose BMW looked to ease the pace a little, and Green lost 15 seconds on one lap, probably due to an unobserved spin.

Andy Holden then hit trouble, with the white Sagaris slowing markedly through the infield section before picking-up to normal speed once again; “We suffered some electronics issues – the ECU stopped communicating with the dash, leaving us without instruments – no rev counter, gear indicator or shift lights.  The distraction of lots of radio comms on the subject and various attempts at resetting caused a couple of ‘moments’ out on track which lost us some places, but despite flying blind the car was running well,” he explained later. This promoted the recovering Team Tiger Marcos, while, in front of this drama, Storey was pressuring the MacG Racing Ultima, seizing fifth position at the Montreal hairpin on Lap 13.

Mick Mercer’s Topcats Ginetta G50 expired in a smoky blue haze at Coram, coming to rest near the tyre wall, and stablemate Jeff Wyatt was the first to find the resultant oil slick on the track, fighting the Marcos out of a lurid slide. Storey’s 458 performed a similar move, but Richard Fearns was not so lucky, his Ginetta G55 sliding off and coming to a rest close to the parked G50. With Dunlop’s Mickey Butler remonstrating with the pit lane marshals to get something urgently sorted, the Safety Car was deployed; sadly just missing leader Schulz, who was free to tour round until he found the back of the crocodile.

The crocodile was a bit disjointed at that early stage of the caution, and many chose, with around 40 minutes of the race run, to take a pit stop. Schulz was running in free air and hit the oil at Coram, pitching the Ferrari onto the grass, narrowly missing the two parked Ginettas, and just giving the tyre wall a rear-end nerf. He pitted immediately, with thankfully little discernable damage, and by the time he arrived at his box, some had been and gone – Phil Keen, staying in Shelton’s Mosler; Richard Abra, handing the BMW to Mark Poole; Jensen Lunn (with no option but to resume in the Chevron); David Green, relieved by Martin Byford in the Evora; and the Ultima, with Jamie Smythe being pushed a fair way down the pit lane before the car bump-started. Schulz’s Ferrari was joined by the Azteca Mosler, the Team Tiger Marcos and the similar Topcats machine (new drivers being Manuel Cintrano, Jon Finnemore and Rob Wilson respectively), while Poole pitted his BMW for a second 25-litre churn of fuel. Just to seal a brief period of misery for the SB Race Engineering team, Paul Bailey, who had taken over from Schulz, reached the pit exit just as the Safety Car train was passing, losing the best part of a lap while held at the red light. Keen took a second fuel stop for the Mosler, Gary Coulson handed the Motionsport Elise to Ben Gower, and Peter Smith let son Matt take over duties in the Redgate/Virgo Ginetta G55.

Non-stopper Tomlinson now headed the field and, once the five-lap caution was lifted, Phil Keen began to carve through the field with renewed vigour. The Azteca/Strata21 Mosler had disturbed Colin King’s speed gun in the pitlane and Cintrano was hauled in for a drive-through, while a short burst of rain caught out Tomlinson; a considerable excursion on the grass for the Ginetta making it easy for Keen to steal the lead. Martin Byford was now also on a mission - the previously midfield-running Evora now surprisingly up to fourth place, behind Simon Phillips’ 458 and in front of the Webb’s BMW, and now, crucially, leading Class 3.

There was drama in the pit lane as the Team Holden Sagaris caught fire during its fuel stop; “The refuelling churn was not quite seated properly and allowed some fuel to escape down the bodywork of the car. We believe the rear brake disk caused the spill to ignite resulting in a flash fire that was quickly extinguished. The cloud of powder from the extinguishers was probably worse than the fire itself. Our two refuellers were taken to the medical centre to be checked over as a precaution, but fortunately suffered no ill effects – not even a singed eyebrow. We are hugely relieved that they are both okay and that the safety clothing did its job,” explained Andy Holden.

This drama meant that the Motionsport Ferrari 458 had to wait a couple of laps before taking its stop/go penalty, awarded for a short-timed pit stop, and further stops for the Ultima and the Smiths’ Ginetta didn’t bode well either.

Tomlinson pitted the works “muletta” just before the halfway point of the race and Mike Simpson jumped in for the duration, immediately getting on the pace and punching in a series of fastest laps. Even the experienced Byford had no answer to the power of Paul Bailey’s Ferrari and it wasn’t long before the black 430 was in the overall runner-up spot. Simon Phillips brought the Motionsport 458 in again, as did Cintrano, with 89 minutes of the race left, and from tenth place; Javier Morcillo being installed to run to the finish. There were, in fact, two Moslers in the pits, for Keen had stopped once more; but this was not planned, the erstwhile race leader grounded by a failed wheel bearing.

Simpson had been hunting down Bailey for the lead and made his move at Montreal on lap 41, quickly approaching a problem as he barrelled under the road bridge into what used to be known as The Esses. There was a plume of thick black smoke, as the Tracktorque Chevron GR8 of Chris Hart endured a considerable engine conflagration. Of course, this warranted another Safety Car deployment, with most of the runners taking advantage and making another pit stop.

The battle for the lead resumed immediately the green flag was waved again – Byford had got the Evora into the lead through the pit stops within the caution, but Schulz was now back in the Ferrari 430 and on his tail, seizing the top spot shortly after the restart. There were some issues identified too, though – Simpson was awarded a drive-through penalty for a pit-stop infringement, while Mark Poole had a ten-second stop/go penalty awarded for ignoring the red light at the pit exit.  Simpson carved back through though, passing Byford and then reclaiming the lead from Schulz on Lap 48.

Two hours ticked over and 50 laps elapsed – two nice round numbers, but of little significance and meaningless to Morcillo, who, despite being the fastest on the track, had only made up one place to seventh. The Ultima took another stop, as did the #89 Strata21 Porsche, going like a train as usual, and VLN regular Rob Smith now stepped aboard for the final stint.

Retiring at this point was the Redgate/Virgo Ginetta G55 of Peter and Matt Smith, as Virgo’s Chris Warne explained; “It was a fractured power steering pipe. Matt had reported that he was having trouble when the Chevron passed him, but when we brought him in there was no fluid left. When we refilled it, it just pumped it out. It was too dangerous to continue, as the engine was covered if fluid and it was coming out under pressure and getting on the right front tyre.”
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Lap 59 was one to forget for Tom Webb. In the early stages of the lap he had to yield to the advances of the Motionsport 458, then later on round he had Morcillo’s Mosler - which had been eight seconds adrift across the line – blast past him.  The Mosler passed the white and blue Ferrari too, just as the Team Tiger Marcos was first slowing, then pitbound; an alternator problem being the reason for the retirement this time.

The MacG Racing Ultima had been performing well in its new guise, but Jonny MacGregor was caught out in the infield section and the car stalled in the middle of the track after spinning, initiating yet another Safety Car period. Good news, though, from Team Holden, as the Sagaris was brought back out on track again with 36 minutes of the race left to run. It would eventually run to the flag, but was unclassified as a finisher. “The car was well and truly covered with (and full of) dry powder – highly corrosive and dangerous to inhale,” explained Andy Holden. “It looked like our race was over and we recovered the car to the rear of the garages to clear it up as best we could before packing away.  With a fantastic effort by the whole team, we managed to clean the car off inside and out and an inspection revealed no damage other than some scorched paintwork.  After an inspection by a scrutineer we were cleared to re-join the race. Our refuellers were now back from the medical centre and bravely re-donned their fire suits; they refuelled the car and we sent Andy back out for a couple of laps to check everything was okay.  The car was running fine – even the previous dash issues sorted – so we quickly pitted and put Rod in the car for the remaining 25 minutes, which unfortunately were run mainly under the safety car.”

You can splash but you can’t dash in Britcar pit stops and, with 30 minutes now left, the caution period allowed a 25-litre final top-up. Simpson took advantage, as did Campos-Hull in the #68 Porsche, but nothing for Morcillo, who had now relieved Byford of third place, nor Schulz. The Ultima had been recovered and, with merely a battery regulator issue identified, it was soon back out on track, just as the Safety Car released the pack. It was a pack, too, led by Jensen Lunn, who immediately slowed as the lights went green, causing the four cars right behind to brake, swerve, accelerate, hope.... It was a scary moment, and not too good for Jensen either; his Chevron parked on the inside of Riches, causing the immediate re-introduction of the Safety Car, and the deployment of the medical team.

Thankfully, it was fatigue for the lone driver, and nothing more life-threatening, though the ambulance crew took care to extricate him from the car and stretcher him back to the medical centre.  The Safety Car had picked-up the second-placed Schulz, with Morcillo and Byford behind him, and Simpson’s Ginetta midway in the crocodile, the best part of a lap to the good. Once Lunn’s Chevron was removed from the trackside, the Safety Car executed a wave through, releasing half a dozen cars and picking up Simpson’s orange Ginetta. Far from speeding safely to the rear of the crocodile, though, Schulz’s black Ferrari was touring, backing up the pack while Simpson and the tail-enders got away, causing the assembled press corps to stare and shout in wonderment – even Lawrence Tomlinson, watching the finish of the race from the commentary box, was dumbfounded; “What is he doing – c’mon, c’mon”

With two and half minutes to the finish, the officials decided they had seen enough and called in the Safety Car, leaving a two lap blast to the flag. With Simpson now safe in the lead – “I don’t want to put the curse on it, but I’d better do my overalls up for the podium photo,” said Tomlinson as he left the commentary box – it was the battle for second between Schulz and Morcillo that now commanded the attention. Byford, with nothing to prove, let the Ferrari and the Mosler go at the green lights. Every move that Morcillo made, Schulz had it covered – Riches, Montreal, Palmers – but on the exit to Agostini, there was contact. 

The Ferrari got away, but the Mosler slowed almost to a stop – A “Ctrl/Alt/Del moment” – before picking up again, but the Bullrun Evora and the Motionsport Ferrari were gone by then and the Azteca/Strata21 team were down to fifth overall and third in Class 1. Simon Phillips tried a demon move to wrest the final overall podium place from Martin Byford on the final lap, but came to grief, leaving the results as:

1 1 Lawrence Tomlinson/Mike Simpson  Ginetta G55  76 laps
2 1 Paul Bailey / Andy Schulz   Ferrari 430  76 laps
3 3 David Green/Martin Byford   Lotus Evora  76 laps
4 2 Simon Phillips/Peter Storey   Ferrari 458  76 laps
5 1 Paul White/Manuel Cintrano/Javier Morcillo Mosler MT900R 76 laps
6 2 Tom Webb/James Webb   BMW GTR  76 laps

Yes, the top six finishing on the same lap, after three hot hours of racing, and with emotions running high in parc ferme, protests were lodged, but the result finally upheld.

So, a fine win for the works Ginetta – a 100% strike rate after the early-season victory at Donington, and a satisfied Lawrence Tomlinson; “We like Britcar – the nature of the regs allow us to try developments on this car. We’ll be back for the 24hrs in this car, but we’ve still got to sort some more drivers out.”

And what was the malarkey with the wave-past and the Schulz Ferrari all about? “I just didn’t want to do too many more laps,” was Andy Schulz’s simple confession.

A lap down on the top six, Richard Abra and Mark Poole took Class 4 honours in the Geoff Steel-run BMW E46 M3, a late change to the ex-Production machine proving successful; and the Coulson/Gower Motionsport Elise bagged the class runner-up spot, two laps adrift. Adam Sharpe paid two visits to the podium – he was third in both Class 3 (the Strata21 Porsche 997 shared with Olivier Campos-Hull), and third in Class 4 (the same team’s 996, co-driven by David Pittard and Rob Smith), while the Topcats #35 Mantis topped-up it’s Class 2 points tally; Rob Wilson and Jon Harrison capitalising on returnee Jeff Wyatt’s earlier storming drive. The MacG Racing Ultima enjoyed a renaissance, the battery issue after that spin being the only concern for the re-vamped machine; and 13th overall, after a late, late pit stop was the Kit Kat sponsored Ginetta G50 of Tim Dutton and Duncan Pittaway. Last classified finisher was Jensen Lunn; his heroic lone drive having seen him expire 14 laps from the flag.

The re-engined GTF Sagaris got to the flag, but not without problems, and with a 17 lap deficit, was not classified.

Steve Wood