There should be a flash banner here. There are 2 main reasons why you may not be able to see it:
  • You do not have the required version of Flash MX installed (v8.0+) in your browser
  • JavaScript is disabled in your browser

Britcar, Croft – Race Report
100 Laps, 100% For MJC

Witt Gamski and Keith Robinson, in the MJC Ferrari 430, made it 100% win record for the season at Croft, in a sparse mixed- class field of just a dozen cars. Exciting – yes, at times – but more ‘intriguing’ would be the best description of this race. With many significant entrants absent, through personal, professional and mechanical reasons, it could have been an easy race to sit back and let happen, but that wasn’t the case. It was, though, a race of strange numerical symmetry – as you will read; it wasn’t just that nice, round 100 laps.

The reigning GT champs suffered a fraught Saturday qualifying, Witt managing just a handful of laps, which the timekeepers didn’t record. The Ferrari was suffering a massive rear-end vibration, later found to be due to some sheared teeth on the crown wheel of the recently-replaced differential. The old unit was summoned from MJC’s Surrey workshop, but the car would be starting the race from the back row of the grid.

It was a chance for the Ultima to shine, and Steve Brady duly secured pole, posting 1:23.705, nearly two and a quarter seconds faster than Steve Clark, in Keith Gent’s BMW M3, which had transferred from Class 3 of GT to the top tier of the Production category. “I surprised myself, I didn’t think we could run this quickly, but I hope they fix the Ferrari – we want to race” said Brady.

This was like the old days of Britcar – a GT car and a well-driven rapid saloon sharing the front row. Behind them, the Class 2 Topcats Marcos Mantis of Raphael Fiorentino and Neil Huggins shared the second row with the TVR Sagaris of Steve Glynn and Sam Head – a great performance from the hard-working team to secure their best starting position yet.

With regular pilots O’Neill and Fletcher absent, Warren Gilbert qualified the Class 3 Topcats Mantis fifth, despite three spins and a short lap, winding through the barriers into the hairpin, but he elected not to race - “I just wanted to see how it handled – it’s  really fun to drive” – so the third row was headed by the pro-am Spanish pairing of Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano, in the Azteca Motorsport Porsche 996, with Production lone-driver Gino Ussi lining up alongside in the Geoff Steel BMW M3. 

Tim Hood was next up, sharing his yellow Sagaris with Fred Tonge, with former Britcar regulars Dave Bennett and Marcus Fothergill completing the fourth row, making it a three-hander with Mark McAleer in their Porsche 997. Dave Cox, heading the fifth row, would be going it alone in his Escort Turbo, with Ian Lawson’s BMW 320i alongside. With regular co-drivers Mike and Anthony Wilds handling a close family bereavement, it was a sense of déjà vu for Ian, as he shared the car with Dave Walton, his partner in his very first taste of Britcar, at Croft seven years ago.  Last of the timed runners was the Seat Cupra of David Green and Richard Adams. A broken steering arm nearly put paid to their weekend, but kindly Northern Saloons racer Andrew Morrison loaned them a component taken from his own race car for qualifying, until a replacement arm was couriered in from the team’s Essex base.

Lining up alongside the Seat was Witt’s 430, but the big man would be taking no chances at the start; “I’m just going to take it easy for the first few laps, let the field sort themselves out. It won’t take long to get to the front with just 11 cars” he said confidently.

Brady and Clark dragged it out to the first corner as the red lights went out, but the Ultima pitched into a spin, onto the gravel, and the pack was gone as the blue car rejoined. Over- exuberance or mechanical problem?  Steve Clark later theorised; “The Ultima was spewing liquid all round the formation lap. I thought they had overfilled the tank, and he spun on his own fluid”. It was probably water though – the Ultima was pitbound immediately, and the team set about fixing a water pump that already been replaced earlier.

Clark headed the pack in the BMW, with Fiorentino’s Marcos trading second place round the circuit with Morcillo’s Porsche.  Dave Cox was an early pit visitor, the Escort having clashed with Dave Bennett’s Porsche, and picked up a puncture.

Witt decided he’d seen enough as early as lap two, and powered past a bunch of cars on the straight leading up to Tower Bend, settling behind Steve Glynn’s sixth-placed Sagaris. Still Fiorentino was battling with Morcillo – both cars set their best times in those early laps, but the Porsche had no answer to the power of the Marcos, and the Topcats machine began to pull ahead.

Steve Clark was maintaining a steady seven-second advantage out front, and Gamski was systematically picking-off the front runners; the Sagaris pair, Gino Ussi’s BMW, then Morcillo for third. 

Tim Hood was having a great race in the yellow TVR, having got ahead of stablemate Glynn, and he was now pursuing Ussi, blasting past the BMW on the run-up Tower on the 22nd lap. It wasn’t to last, though – Ussi  was soon back in front, and the Sagaris was sounding rough, clearly struggling with gears, and by lap 25, the car pitted, and retired. Steve Brady, however, was now back on track, some 15 laps adrift, but faster than anybody, and carving through field to make up the deficit. Sadly, further woes were on their way, and a sticking throttle, plus a cooked gasket (due to the consequences of the failed water pump) saw the blue car retired after 45 laps. Also out of the race was Dave Cox, the Escort Turbo succumbing to gearbox problems.

The mandatory stops started early – before the first hour elapsed. Dave Bennett handed the invitation-entry Porsche to Mark McAleer, and Steve Glynn was relieved by Sam Head in the purple Sagaris; then, surprisingly, Richard Adams’ Seat, and Gino Ussi. It would be a long stop for the BMW, though, stationary with the bonnet up; “It’s used a seasons-worth of oil in one hour” revealed team boss Geoff Steel.

Gamski brought the 430 dead-on the hour, handing over to Keith Robinson, and concerned over fuel efficiency; “The replacement diff has compromised the gearing – I was red-lining three-quarters of the way along the straight. I think we’re using a lot more fuel”

Time for the number thing now – 60 minutes gone, 40 laps done by leader Clark – a nice 2/3 ratio. More on this later.

Clark, indeed, had stayed out of the pits, and, with Keith Gent being overheard that the E46 drank a litre a minute from its 100-litre tank, a pit stop around 90 minutes in was likely. Local hero Ian Lawson had hauled his BMW 320i up to fifth overall, but was the first of the second flurry of pit stops, as 75 minutes approached, handing over to David Walton. Raphael Fiorentino was next, handing the Mantis to Neil Huggins, then Javier Morcillo brought the Azteca Porsche in for Manuel Cintrano to take over. Mark McAleer’s stop, though, was unscheduled, and the Porsche was to spend the best part of the rest of the race having the gearbox fixed.

Keith Robinson had taken back one of the two laps that leader Clark held sway with, then, as expected, with 90 minutes gone, Clark was pitbound , to hand the BMW to Keith Gent for the final hour.

Numbers time again; 60 laps on the board, 60 minutes to go. Nice and tidy (and 90minutes gone – that 2/3 thing again).

Not so tidy, though, was the Clark/Gent handover, taking a frustrating four and a half minutes, seemingly due to a compressor problem, as Steve Clark explained. “They plugged the lance in, but there was no pressure, and the air jacks wouldn’t work. Then the wheel guns didn’t have the power, so we had to do that manually too”

The loss of the lead to the Ferrari at this point was inevitable for the BMW, but now Huggins had bagged second place, with a lap in-hand over Gent. Cintrano was fourth, but struggling without a clutch in the Porsche. Gino Ussi made a second lube stop in the BMW with 45-minutes left to run, and there was a semblance of a fight for the third step of the Production podium, for David Green, in the Bullrun Seat, was chipping away at the advantage held by Walton’s BMW ahead. The arithmetic said it was do-able before the race ended, but fate dictated otherwise – the Seat suddenly made a last-minute jink into the pit lane, and stalled before reaching its pit box, Green later revealing that the car suddenly cut-out as it exited the hairpin. He was on his way after adjustments, but that podium place was now gone.

Out front, the three leading cars were together on the track, in 1-2-3 order, though a lap adrift apiece, and the question now was, with Gent’s BMW fuelled to the end, would the Ferrari and the Marcos need to make another stop?

Robinson had pulled clear of Huggins, who  still had  Gent right behind him, and as the race drew to close, and the 15-minute fuel stop curfew came and went, it was clear the leading pair were going to gamble. This was made all too clear when the pace dropped dramatically, Robinson a full six-seconds slower than he had been, allowing Ussi’s BMW, and even the little Seat, to claim a lap back.

Not for long though, for Keith had a second wind, reclaiming his laps over the Production cars, and upping the pace to a more normal 1:29. Perhaps the fuel issue was not so crucial, or was it something else?  “I nearly threw it off several times on cold tyres – the car was a death trap at that pace” Keith revealed later.

Meanwhile, that Green/Walton podium poaching was on again, with the Seat taking four seconds a lap out of the BMW in front, but once again, dramas struck the Bullrun machine with just a few minutes left, and it was pitbound, and left stationery on the pit apron, David Green’s post-race demeanour indicating that perhaps another fuel stop may have been necessary. The Azteca team, though, had taken no such chances, Javier Morcillo climbing back into the clutchless Porsche 996 before the pit curfew.

So, Robinson took the flag with 100 laps on the board, in 150 minutes – there’s the nice 2/3 ratio again. That’s a 100% win rate for the MJC team. 

Neil Huggins brought the Topcats Marcos home second, heading Class 2, but had reluctantly let Keith Gent take his lap back in the closing minutes; “I was clinging on, flat out, with massive vibration, but I thought the BMW was on the same lap” he explained.

Keith Gent salvaged the Production overall win after the pit stop debacle – a winning start for the new KGM/Anglo Motorsport association - and the Morcillo/Cintrano Porsche claimed the GT Class 3 victory, though the Spanish amigos now faced a much tougher task trying to get home. 

Gino Ussi boosted Castrol’s share price on his way to the Production runner-up spot, and it was the best race yet for Steve Glynn and Sam Head, in the purple Sagaris. The team have worked hard to make a very special car last an endurance distance, and hopefully Tim Hood’s machine will be in the same state soon. The locally-crewed Lawson/Walton BMW 320i won Production Class 2, a fitting tribute to bereaved regular drivers Mike and Anthony Wilds, and the Bullrun Seat of Green and Adams was the last classified finisher.

Steve Wood