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Britcar MSA BEC/Dunlop Production GTN Championship, Thruxton – Race Report
An Early Bath
 
Calum Lockie, in the Strata 21 Mosler, took the BEC win in a race that ran for little over half of the intended two hours due to incessant rain that made conditions unraceable.

The invitation-entry Ginetta G50 of Lee Atkins and Sam Alpass led the Production runners home.

The weekend hadn’t started well for the Strata 21 squad – the team’s BMW M3 had developed a problem at the workshop, and, with both the saloon and the Mosler confined to the same truck, the drivers had to sit-out Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions while the issue (eventually turning out to be a sensor problem) was fixed. Luckily, a 30-minute warm-up session on Sunday morning allowed the pilots to check out their machines, and post the mandatory three familiarisation laps.

Saturday’s qualifying session was held in warm and breezy conditions, and it was Javier Morcillo – whose last visit to Thruxton was in his Formula Ford days 15 years ago – that made the early running in the Azteca Mosler. It wasn’t long, though, before Bob Berridge took Nigel Mustill’s Aquilla CR1 to the top, the time of 1:14.653 staying unbeaten for much of the session before Aaron Scott went half a second quicker in the GT3 Racing Dodge Viper;  then Morcillo closed the session with an unassailable 1:13.354.  In Production, just 0.315 of a second covered the top three – the Mick Mercer/Gary Smith Ginetta G50 ahead of the similar Atkins/Alpass invitation entry and the BMW E46 of Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson.

Besides the Strata 21 cars, two others missed qualifying – the Lotus Exige of Dan Norris-Jones and Fulvio Mussi was halted by what turned out to be a fifteen-quid inlet camshaft sensor problem, and the APO Sport Seat Leon threw a rod through the block during free practice. A replacement vehicle was brought from the team’s workshop and the grunter exchanged overnight. Four cars, then, were starting from the back of the grid, with little or no running prior to the Sunday warm-up.

Not that it mattered; Saturday’s sunshine gave way to rain that only intensified as Sunday progressed. The rain-soaked warm-up saw Alex Osborne push the little re-engined APO Sport Seat to the top of the Production contingent, whilst there was drama for Intersport when the BMW E46 put a leg out of bed, the ensuing conflagration causing the session to be red-flagged and the deployment of the fire truck. Undaunted, Kevin Clarke was on the phone to team members in West Bromwich, and the squad’s BMW E92 was fork-lifted onto a Transit flatbed and despatched to Hampshire. With less than three hours to go to the race, it would be a close call.

With many significant regulars missing – no MJC, no Flat-six, no Bullrun, no Backdraft, no Eurotech, no Hawthorns, no Cunninghams, no BPM, no Smiths nor Hogarths, no Ing Sport – this would be a chance for others to rise to the occasion, with the wet conditions adding to some levelling-out of performances.

The Safety Car held the field for two pace laps before letting them go, and Manuel Cintrano, starting the Azteca Mosler, took the lead from pole before spinning out as the pack filtered through Allard. Unlucky Alyn James, in the Synchro Civic, got caught in the melee and was the first casualty; the Safety Car being deployed almost immediately to recover the Honda and also Jonny MacGregor’s Ultima, which had expired with an electrical issue half-way round the first lap.  Nigel Mustill’s yellow Aquilla headed the crocodile, in front of Aaron Scott’s Viper, Michael McInerney’s Eclipse Ferrari 430, Andy Schulz’s Horsepower 430, Atkins’ Production-leading Ginetta, and Calum Lockie – up to sixth place already from the back row.

The Azteca Mosler, meanwhile, was scrambling round on its own, to pick-up the rear of the group. 

Pitting early was Peter Storey, with windscreen wiper woes on the Motionsport Elise, and then the Viper, with a puncture. “It was a pop rivet in the tyre – we could have picked it up on the way through the paddock, anywhere,” rued Aaron Scott later.

The Safety Car let the field loose on Lap six, and Lockie latched on to the top three (the four leading cars covered by just two seconds in the blinding spray), while Mark Ticehurst, now on a mission in the Mazda MX5 GT, was challenging Atkins’ Ginetta for the Production lead and fifth overall. Equally taking no prisoners was Lockie – three abreast through the chicane is unheard of, even in Touring Cars, but McInerney, Schulz and Lockie carried it through with consummate ease, with no trace of trading paint, and the white Mosler was released to challenge for the lead.

Lockie grabbed the lead from Mustill’s Aquilla on Lap eight, and Schulz pushed the narrow-tyred Ferrari through to second past the pits. The Mosler didn’t pull away, though; if anything, Schulz pulled the leader in by a few tenths, before Lockie used the traffic to his advantage and began to consolidate a lead that would stretch to around eight seconds.

Wayne Gibson brought the Intersport BMW E92 into the race seven laps down, and there were woes for the #45 Mazda – stopped out on the circuit after Ticehurst’s storming drive – and once again for the recalcitrant Ultima.  No Safety Car this time, which was good for Alex Osborne in the APO Sport Seat Leon. He had served notice of intent in the morning’s warm-up and was now challenging Dave Cox’s BMW CSL for the Production runner-up spot; and was anyway now in the Class 2 lead and the top points-paying position. Lee Atkins’ Ginetta held a convincing Production lead in amongst the GT cars, one of which – Jon Harrison in the Class 3 Topcats Marcos – was storming through the spray, and fifth overall would soon be his..

Wayne Gibson stopped to have the windscreen demisted in the BMW E92 – “We brought it down on a flatbed truck, and put it straight into the race, so it was full of water, and even our excellent de-misting system couldn’t handle it,” explained Kevin Clarke later – and Mick Mercer was the first to make a scheduled stop, handing the Topcats Ginetta G50 to son-in-law Gary Smith just 37 minutes into the race. Manuel Cintrano was next to stop, and Javier Morcillo boarded the Azteca Mosler to salvage something from the race.

Jon Harrison was making the conditions look easy, harrying Michael McInerney for a few laps before taking the faithful #36 Marcos into fourth, just before another Safety Car period. The Ultima required recovering again, and this time, with around 45 minutes gone, it was time for mandatory stops. Mike Wilds brought the #75 road-spec Mazda MX5 in for journalist Jess Crosse to take over, followed by Mustill’s  Aquilla (for Bob Berridge) and Aaron Scott, though this was just for de-misting - Scott would re-take the wheel for a further stint. Next time round it was Gibson, handing the Intersport BMW to Kevin Clarke, and Kyle Tilley; for Sam Head to take over the #26 Topcats Marcos Mantis. The conditions hadn’t suited Tilley (it was his first ever race in the wet) and his stint had been cautious; “I just couldn’t do anything with it,” he said.  Michael McInerney was next in  - on the last lap of the Safety Car period – but it wasn’t long, just after the track went green again, before Sean McInerney brought the Ferrari back in, with considerable left rear body damage; “It was horrible out there – I hit a puddle on the back straight and the car just swopped ends,” he explained. 

Time for another Safety Car – Barry Ashman led as many laps as Lockie – this time for who knows what and who knows where, but this one would be for seven laps; and, at 55 minutes in, it was a good time for lone driver Tim Saunders to pit. Steve Glynn followed in the Sagaris, then Dan Norris-Jones in the Priocept Lotus Exige and Alex Osborne, for a long stop that was, sadly, a little more than routine.

Staying out on the track, though, were the top three – Lockie, Schulz and Harrison –  covered by just three seconds under the safety car, all clearly relishing the conditions and none wanting to squander their position by making a pit stop at this point.

Lap 35, just after the half-way mark, and the Safety Car returned to the pits, with Gary Smith’s spin at the Complex being the precursor to a more permanent expression at Church a lap later; and, with a Mazda off in the infield at the same place, senior clerk Dave Pierre decided he’d seen enough and the chequered flag was shown. 36 laps had been completed and 66 minutes had elapsed.

A triumph, then, for Strata 21 – Lockie had held off Schulz to take the win after starting from the back of the pack, and the team’s BMW M3 had bagged third in Production; sixth overall, but claiming top points as the first non-invitation entry home. A good result at last for Jensen Lunn, who never got the opportunity to hand over to Sarah Bennett-Baggs; ”Both our Strata21 cars had many problems leading up to this weekend and the support offered by Britcar in accommodating our situation was fantastic, and it was completely the right call to finish the race early due to conditions,” said Lunn later.

Lone drives from the top three, then, in conditions that concerned but didn’t deter them.

Calum Lockie; “You know me, I do love racing in these conditions – every race should be like this!”

Andy Schulz: “We have never raced in the wet, and I changed the set up a fair bit for the rain and luckily it worked. Paul didn't get a chance to drive at all in the race or even in the warm up due to a small fuel leak which was fixed by Stuart & the team at SB Race Engineering who did a great job in difficult circumstances all weekend. Conditions, especially after the last safety car, were truly appalling and there was no surprise there were so many cars off everywhere. You just didn't know if there was grip in the same places from lap to lap, as there was so much rainfall, and the visibility if you were behind anyone was really bad; so a lot of the track had to be driven from memory rather than by sight and I had a couple of very ‘interesting’ moments!

“I managed quite early on to get past the leaders, but was trying to be reasonably cautious and had no real answer for Calum in the Mosler. I did manage to just about keep with him for the remainder of the race and would have liked to see how the full distance race would have panned out with pit stops and driver changes”.

Jon Harrison; “There’s life in the old dog yet – I might permanently come out of retirement. The car was brilliant, though”

Fourth and fifth overall, heading Production Classes 1 and 2 respectively, were invitees Atkins/Alpass (Ginetta) and the BMW CSL of Dave and Michael Cox.

Bob Berridge brought the Aquilla home fourth in the GT field, any hopes of recovery dashed by the shortened race, with the Norris-Jones/Mussi Exige next up.

Dave Allan was ninth and the top Production Class 2 runner, in the ever-improving Synchro Honda Jazz, with Aaron Scott tenth, but claiming GT Class 2 honours. He had pitted the Viper for Craig Wilkins stint just as the chequered flag fell; “It was terrible – the car was full of water and misted-up. I was looking out of the side window to pick up reference points.”

Javier Morcillo could have done with a few more laps to make his mark in the Azteca Mosler – he finished just a second after the Viper and only two seconds ahead of Tim Saunders’ Civic. Sam Head had barely a few aquaplaning laps in the #26 Marcos before the premature finish, but was about to call it a day anyway; “I don’t fancy hospital food,” was his radio message to the Topcats team.  The Glynn/Hood TVR Sagaris kept it steady in the conditions, as did Mike Wilds and Jess Crosse in the little Mazda. Quite how many of the Mitson/Pascall/Kite trio got to drive the JTECH Seat remains to be confirmed, but it was a bitter disappointment for the APO Sport team – a coil problem robbed them of the Production Class 2 win and potentially the status of top registered Production runner.

Steve Wood