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Britcar – Brands Hatch Race Report
Topcats; Best-in-Show with New Breed

This is a story of rags to riches, famine to feast, and of zero to hero. Missing qualifying altogether, due to having a complete transmission system refit,  and starting from the pitlane, the Topcats Mosler of Henry Taylor and car owner Andrew Beaumont took a magnificent win after a fraught three-hour race on the tight Brands Hatch Indy circuit.

This was another classic Britcar endurance race, with seldom a moment when there wasn’t an intense battle for important class position.

The morning’s 30-minute qualifying session saw Sean and Michael McInerney, in the Eclipse Mosler, celebrate the birth of Sean’s new son Connor, by setting pole at 46.450; nearly half a second faster than the similar KRM machine of Kevin Riley and Ian Flux. Third was the Trackpower Sagaris, Howard Spooner joining regulars Richard Hay and Richard Stanton, and local man Andy Britnell, who would be starting the race. The returning Topcats Marcos Mantis Evo, in the hands of Mick Mercer and Richard Fores, bagged fourth - the best of the “old guard”, 1.388 shy of pole - followed by James Pickford and Paul Hogarth, running in the In2 Racing Porsche 997, whilst the Lamborghini undergoes repair after its dramatic Spa accident.

The Kinfaun Porsche 997 of John Gaw and Phil Dryburgh was sixth, followed by Witt Gamski and Keith Robinson in the MJC Ferrari 360. Phil Quaife joined Stuart Scott and Chris Ryan in the Apex Jaguar XKR, but their participation in the race was uncertain; for a clash with the Topcats Class 2 Marcos saw both cars sustain rear end damage, and left the Apex team awaiting the urgent delivery of a new boot lid, with integral spoiler, from the team’s base in Buckingham.  Xero Competition boss Dave Beecroft was buoyed by the performance of Mitch Millett and Alan Bonner in the Chevrolet Corvette, ninth on the grid; and, rounding-out the top ten was the Moore Racing Viper, though the car would not be taking its position on the grid, as boss Richard Moore explained: “We came here to test yesterday, but never completed the task, so we stayed over for qualifying today. Mike didn’t even get into the car this morning, and the race was never in our plan – we’re bedding new components in”.

Class 2 pole, and 14th overall, was claimed by the Jaz Motorsport Porsche 911 of Henry Firman and Steve Bell at 49.720; with the ebullient Dom Evans and rapid new co-driver Mark Coleing just 0.067 shy in Dom’s Porsche 997. Despite their clash with the Jaguar, the Topcats pairing of Jon Harrison and Rob Wilson (the erstwhile raceday assistant having his second race for the team), bagged  third in class; though spannerman Brian Howard and his squad had some tightening-up to do and a judicious application of gaffer tape on the Mantis.

Lone Class 3 runners Adrian Watt and Chris Wilson had no option but to claim class pole in the Duke Video BMW M3; but Class 4 saw the Ian Lawson/Anthony Wilds BMW 320i beat our old friends Frick’n Flatt, in the MGA Honda Civic, by just half a second.

So it was just 20 cars on the grid for the start, with the Eurotech Porsche of the Jones cousins absent, the Topcats Mosler starting from the pitlane, and the Apex Jaguar still having its newly-delivered boot lid fitted.

It was the two Moslers that took the lead as the lights went green, Flux taking a slender advantage over Sean McInerney; with Britnell in the Sagaris slotting into third. Pickford was off like a robber’s dog, squeezing in behind the TVR, and the pack was already scrambling down the hill from Druids as Taylor came out of the pitlane. Starting the race two laps in was Chris Ryan in the Jaguar, by which time Taylor was still feeding the Mosler through the gaps between the three saloon cars at the rear of the field. By lap six, the Runnymede Homes sponsored machine was 11th, and six laps later, with the race barely ten minutes old, teammate Mercer, running fifth, was caught and passed at Surtees.

Newcomer Mark Coleing, a first-timer in Dom Evans’ Porsche, headed the Class 2 contingent; with Harrison’s Topcats Marcos second, Jan Persson in the Hawthorns Porsche third, and Firman biding his time behind them. A quick, unscheduled pit stop for the Masarati family Porsche saw Chris Wright drop to the rear of the group.

With Fluxie building a lead at the front – just under six seconds by lap 20 – Taylor’s mission continued, grabbing fourth from Pickford’s In2 Racing Porsche, and now mounting an assault on Britnell in the Sagaris.  A spin for John Gaw at Druids saw the Kinfaun Porsche drop down to 13th place; an unlucky 13th it would  transpire, for, 10 minutes later, as a tightly-bunched trio of cars scythed through Paddock Hill Bend, there was contact, which saw the luckless Gaw, Pickford, and Alan Bonner’s Corvette all end up in the gravel trap.  With the safety car deployed to enable the safe recovery of the stricken machines, the field was stabilised; but with Taylor’s Mosler, having taken the TVR, at the head of the crocodile, he was now losing the best part of a lap on the leaders somewhere in the middle of the pack. This, though, had allowed Sean McInerney to grab back some precious seconds forfeited earlier when he lost time lapping an uncompromising Almo Coppelli in the Kessel Ferrari 430. Jan Persson, obviously refreshed after an intense business trip to Sweden, had by now claimed second place in Class 2.

All three cars in the gravel were recovered on their own wheels, Gaw getting straight back to work in a dusty, cosmetically-damaged but seemingly mechanically-sound Porsche; while Bonner took the Corvette into the pits for a lengthy inspection. Pickford did a few exploratory laps in the In2 Porsche before sadly retiring the car.

It was lap 57 when the course went green again, and Taylor set about making up the deficit; while Flux and McInerney were side by side and nose to tail as they cut through the intense traffic. The safety car period had perhaps added a lap or two more fuel to the strategies, and, with 65 minutes chalked-up, Persson, Gaw, Mercer, and Duncan Cameron in the M-Tech Ferrari 430 were all pit-bound for their mandatory stops. Taylor came in next time round, as did Class 2 leader Coleing; leaving Harrison the class leader, with Firman very rapidly closing in on him.  For eight laps, the silver Marcos and the gunmetal Porsche were nose to tail past the pits and into Paddock; side by side up the hill; round Druids; and back down again; with the Marcos just holding the advantage around single-file Graham Hill Bend.  It came to an end when Harrison pitted, but the overall leaders, still just half a second apart, stayed out; even as less thirsty machines, such as Anthony Wilds’ Class 4 BMW and Terry Flatt’s Honda Civic, came in.

The Sagaris was the next of the heavy-hitters to pit, Richard Hay relieving Britnell in the cockpit; leaving the running order as Flux, McInerney (just 0.200 apart), young Glynn Geddie, (who was doing a sterling job in the Apex Tubulars Porsche 997) Witt Gamski and Andrew Beaumont in the Topcats Mosler.

Paddock Hill Bend claimed another casualty as Dominic Evans’ Porsche went straight on across the gravel and into the tyre wall. Another safety car period ensued, with Flux, Sean McInerney, Glynn Geddie and Gamski taking advantage of the caution and making their mandatory stops.  Firman, though, now the Class 2 front-man, toughed it out just a little longer; eking out an 80-minute stint and being the last to stop.  The Eclipse team got the jump on KRM during the pit stop; Michael McInerney in the red and white car emerging two seconds ahead of Kevin Riley, newly installed in the red and silver machine.  A tactical revision saw the Kinfaun Porsche pit again for fuel –“We fuelled till the end, John put me back in the car, and told me to go for it” said Phil Dryburgh later, but their race was sadly to end with gearbox problems in the final hour.

With another lengthy safety car period over, the field had bunched up, producing some very close racing for position; not least at the front, with McInerney senior less than half a second in front of Riley; while Jim Geddie and Keith Robinson in the MJC Ferrari 360 were squabbling closely over eighth.  Steve Bell, Class 2 leader, had taken over the Jaz Motorsport Porsche from Firman, but was less than a second in front of “Racing Rod” Barrett in the Hawthorns car.  The Apex Motorsport Jaguar had being plugging away after its late start, and the number 11 car was now, fittingly, in 11th place, with Stuart Scott at the wheel. Peer Slipsager was capitalising on Almo Coppelli’s opening stint in the Kessel Ferrari 430 and was an impressive seventh.

Riley was flying, snatching the lead from McInerney by a classic move down the inside of paddock, then lapping Beaumont a few laps later; but even faster was Hay in the Sagaris - 48.8 being an inspirational lap time at this point of the race. Jon Dhillon had a spin in the M-Tech Ferrari at Druids. This team trounced the opposition in the Castle Combe championship last season, and are impressively getting to grips with the wider aspect of a national championship.

Scott brought the Jaguar in for its second stop with around 75 minutes to go, but the car began to sound rough – a broken exhaust, perhaps – shortly after Phil Quaife took over.  More cars began to pit, too; but with over an hour left, surely a further stop would be needed for the thirstier machines? First Beaumont, then Riley stopped, with 120 laps on the board; leaving Michael McInerney in the lead. Though sadly, not for very long; for just one lap later he was sideways across the grass coming down the hill from Druids, allegedly after a clash with the Xero Corvette. Too damaged to continue – the brake disc was shattered, the bell-housing broken - the Eclipse Mosler was loaded onto a flat-bed truck under another safety-car period, causing a flurry of activity in the pits; significantly, Hay bringing in the Sagaris for Spooner to take over.  The Corvette now appeared to be missing its driver’s door; but closer inspection by the technical officials revealed that the door frame was intact and just the outer skin was gone, so it was allowed to race on. No sooner had the safety car let the field loose again, than The KRM Mosler was back in the pits with a broken driveshaft. The lengthy repair had cost them the win; and though they did rejoin, they finished 15th overall, 20 laps down.

So, with the race having developed a different complexion in the final 45 minutes, TVR new-boy Spooner now led; but with the Topcats Mosler 20 seconds adrift and closing gradually. Topcats’ #2 Marcos was third, but under threat from a rapidly closing Keith Robinson; who was double-stinting in the MJH Ferrari 360. The Jaguar was towed-in, a broken fuel valve causing it to stop out on the circuit. It was repaired and the elegant machine rejoined to complete the race as the last classified finisher. “All that effort for nothing” rued Chris Ryan after the race, jabbing a finger at the 25-lap deficit on the results sheet.

Class 2 featured a pursuit, too; for Steve Bell was resisting the advances of Hawthorn’s Jay Shepherd. Rob Wilson had made a lengthy pit stop in the #26 Topcats Mantis and the Miles Masarati/Chris Wright Porsche now held third in class.

The MJC Ferrari, now coming into its own as the race progressed, passed the Topcats #2Marcos for third and, in a strange twist of fate, the two silver Topcats cars - a class and many laps apart - tripped over each other at Surtees; the Class 2 machine pitting to retire. With just 20 minutes to run, Spooner’s TVR was 11 seconds down the road from the only Mosler in contention, and Shepherd was five seconds shy of Bell for Class 2 honours. It was doubtful, though, that the Class 1 cars could go the distance without a top-up of fuel; so perhaps this race might be won on strategy and slick teamwork.

The gap was just under nine seconds when Spooner brought the Sagaris in for a splash and not-so-much-dash; a minimum 60-second stop needing to be observed. So, with the Mosler almost certainly needing to do the same, we were in for a potential photo-finish.

But no; for 185 laps in, and with 11 minutes left to run, Mercer’s Marcos expired with a broken drive flange, on the grass at the entrance to Paddock Hill Bend. With the safety car drivers now stood-down, the officials had no option but to bring proceedings to a premature halt, red flagging the race, and declaring the results at 184 laps.

Topcats, staunch supporters of Britcar from the get-go in 2002, therefore returned to their winning ways; and Henry Taylor, in  particular, had put in a stunning first stint to haul the car - untried and untested after a major repair - back into contention. Both he and owner Beaumont, stressed that it was a team effort; “It was a tough decision, to miss qualifying and change the clutch and gearbox; but the team did a fantastic job and turned it round in four hours.” Dennis Leech’s Trackpower squad, too, performed magnificently; the TVR drivers mounting the podium once again with yet another new face - though team stalwart Richard Stanton barely got a racing lap in before the red flag was shown. It was a good finish for Witt Gamski, Keith Robinson and the MJC team; on the overall podium after the bitter disappointment of a squandered joker at Spa. “We’re the top Ferrari again” said a strangely subdued Robinson after his marathon stint, adding; “I wrung its neck, but there was a lot of pick-up on the tyres. It was like driving on pebbles and the front left was down to the canvas at the end”.

The Class 2 battle raged to the bitter end; Shepherd having passed Bell a few laps from the premature finish and holding sway to the tune of 0.666 seconds on the timing screen.  “It was a case of digging in and getting my head down; then I could see him in front of me. I got the inside line at Paddock, and a better run up the hill to Druids.......” summarised Shepherd. However, with the result only provisional, it was time for clerk Tony Watts to put on his killjoy trousers and examine pit stop timing records. The evidence revealed a short stop by the Hawthorns team, which meant a substantial penalty; gifting the win to the Jaz Motorsport/911virgin.com squad and causing the normally reserved Henry Firman to let out a football-crowd roar.  Third place, once again, went to the small family-run Masarati team; with another subdued but impressive performance from youngest son Miles and Chris Wright.

Alone in Class 3, the economy of the Duke Video BMW M3, well driven by endurance specialists Adrian Watt and Chris Wilson, ensured that  it was frequently in the overall top ten, and finished a creditable ninth overall.

Class 4 was led from the start by Alex Frick and Terry Flatt in the MGA Motorsport Honda Civic; with the Anthony Wilds/Ian Lawson BMW never far behind. But an early power steering failure, combined with a clash with the Coppelli/Slipsager Ferrari, caused a problem for the Honda and the Anglo-American duo finished two laps down on the class-winning BMW. “It was undriveable after the Ferrari pushed me out – I was holding the steering wheel like that,” said Flatt, crossing his arms to demonstrate the dilemma.

Six races in and we’ve had five different winners; but only two makes of car. Roll on Silverstone.

STEVE WOOD