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Dunlop Britcar

Britcar MSA BEC, Donington - Full Report
Friends Reunited, But Title Goes To Bullrun

The old firm of Witt Gamski, Keith Robinson and John Gaw took the MJC Ferrari 430 to a popular win in the darkness on Saturday night, accompanied by a myriad impromptu firework displays that lit the Leicestershire skyline.

They had battled hard in the opening and closing hours of the race with outgoing BEC Champions Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins, in the GT3 Racing Dodge Viper. Equal on pace, the thirst of the Viper’s 8.3 litre mill necessitated a further fuel stop, which stymied their chances of victory. 

Ironically, the Bullrun Lotus Evora suffered its first mechanical issue of the season, but recovered to finish the race with enough done for Richard Adams, David Green and Martin Byford to claim the overall title.

Qualifying

Friday’s night qualifying session had identified the Barwell Aston Martin Vantage as being blisteringly quick and this was borne out in Saturday morning’s 45-minute grid-setting session, held in damp conditions; though the regular championship runners hogged the top of the timing screen initially – Andy Schulz in Paul Bailey’s Ferrari 430, then  Javier Morcillo in the Azteca/Strata21 Mosler – before Richard Abra would bring the carbon-hued Aston up, setting pole at 1:16.025, just 0.406 ahead of the Mosler.  The times reflected the conditions – the Aston was posting 1:05s on Friday – and the next two were in the 1:17s. It was an all-Maranello/Michelotto second row, regular competitors Bailey/Schulz lining up the black Ferrari 430 next to the returning former double champions MJC, with old friend John Gaw joining the title-claiming Gamski/Robinson pairing. Gaw has been keeping his hand in, but Gamski and Robinson had not raced for 13 months. The next row on the grid was filled by two cars in the 1:18s –  the MacG Racing Ultima, with Kyle Tilley assisting Jonny MacGregor this time and the Optimum Ginetta G55, in the hands of team boss Lee Mowle  and hotshoe Jake Rattenbury.

The fourth row had the two fastest of the three Class 3 runners – champions-elect Bullrun and the Team Parker Porsche 997 of invitees Ian Loggie and Chris Jones. Splitting the Class 3 contingent was the Dodge Viper of outgoing champions Craig Wilkins and Aaron Scott, proudly bearing the #1 race number for the only time, but out of place in the ninth slot on the grid and sharing the row with the Hart/Field Tracktorque Chevron GR8.

From there back it was the preserve of Class 4, the one exception being the lone Class 2 Topcats Marcos in an atypical (unlucky?) 13th position. But the Invitation-entry Fauldsport Ginetta G55 Challenge had laid down a marker, young marque expert Ryan Ratcliffe and Caterham starlet Flick Haigh lining-up with a time half a second quicker than the Adam Sharpe/David Pittard Porsche 997.

Creditable times were set by the GT Academy graduates in the RJN Nissan 370Zsand it was steady-as-you go for the Redgate/Virgo Ginetta G55 of Peter Smith/Matt Smith/Dan Eagling and Jensen Lunn/Sarah Bennett-Baggs in the Jensen Motorsport Chevron GR8.

Race

There were two pace laps, the clock beginning to tick down after the first was completed, and the field filed into Redgate more or less in grid order at the green lights (less the Strata21 Porsche, which started from the pit lane).

Still under daylight conditions at this point, Lee Mowle in the Optimum Ginetta had already picked up a place from Gamski’s Ferrari on the first lap and, as expected, the MJC machine slipped down the order as Witt attempted to control the beast on cold tyres and with a full tank; Loggie’s Porsche, Byford’s Lotus, then Wilkins’ Viper all getting past in the opening laps. Wilkins, in fact, was on a charge from being ninth on the grid,  disposing of Loggie and Byford, who were wrapped-up in their own squabble, but by now adrift of the top four. Abra’s Aston was by now, less than 15 minutes onto the race, around 11 seconds clear of Morcillo’s Mosler, with Paul Bailey’s Ferrari third, ahead of Lee Mowle.

By now the tyres on the MJC Ferrari had cut in and Gamski was moving forwards once more, passing Byford and Loggie, but being shadowed by Henry Fletcher in the Topcats Marcos, who was scything through the field from the low-down grid slot. The charge was short-lived though, for the Mantis made an early pit stop with diff issues. Also pitting was Wolfgang Reip in the #23 Nissan, to clear oil from the screen.

Gamski now had the MJC Ferrari back into contention and a daring, last-minute move down the inside of the Viper gained him fifth place. Clearly on the ragged edge and taking no prisoners, a lurid slide and fraught correction signalled notice of intent by the big Pole.

At around the same time, Lee Mowle’s Ginetta got by Bailey’s Ferrari for third and Chris Hart overtook Flick Haigh’s Fauldsport Ginetta G55 for ninth place. The first of the scheduled stops came as early as 25 minutes in, when Peter Smith handed over the Redgate/Virgo Ginetta G55 to son Matt.

Craig Wilkins was now coming back at Gamski’s Ferrari, the reigning and former champions slogging it out for fifth place, with the Viper gaining the advantage just after the half-hour mark.

The Topcats Marcos was back out on track, a leaking diff now rectified, but Bailey pitted the black Ferrari and it wasn’t scheduled. A power steering issues was identified and the SB Race Engineering team set about fixing the problem. Wilkins brought in the thirsty Viper for its first fuel stop with 46 minutes of the race run and Kyle Tilley brought the MacG Ultima in a lap later.

The on-track focus now, though, was on a close-fought scrap between Adam Sharpe’s Porsche and Jensen Lunn’s Chevron; both well down the order and a lap apart; the pair were disputing track space, passing and re-passing lap after lap.

Ian Loggie had dropped back in the Team Parker Porsche 997 and had given up ninth place to the impressive Dan Mitchell in the #24 RJN Nissan. Pitting after 54 minutes, the Scot reported that he had no grip at all towards the end of his stint and tyres as well as fuel were taken before Chris Jones rejoined in the Porsche. Mitchell had himself stopped just a few minutes earlier, handing the Nissan to fellow GT Academy graduate Peter Pyzera and, significantly, Gamski had brought the MJC Ferrari in too, Keith Robinson resuming in control.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Safety Car, as well as a flurry of pit stops. Jonny MacGregor’s Ultima had lost a wheel out on the circuit and, while recovery only took a couple of laps, just about every runner took the opportunity for a driver change and a top-up of 25 litres, including Aaron Scott, who had taken over the Viper just 15 minutes earlier. The Aston and the Mosler (now with Mark Poole and Manuel Cintrano respectively in charge) had been far enough ahead to retain their positions at the front.

Non-stopper Flick Haigh, in her first GT race, was third in the Fauldsport Class 4 Ginetta. The Ultima three-wheeled back to the pits under its own power and into retirement, but it wasn’t long before the Safety Car was deployed yet again, this time to recover Jake Rattenbury’s Optimum Ginetta, which had come to a halt at the pit exit, having lost a wheel and all drive.

This signalled another round of pit stops – the Topcats Mantis, Byford’s Lotus (yes, he was still on board) and Tommy Field’s Chevron – and Andy Schulz rejoined in the SB Ferrari. This short caution period was followed just five laps later by yet another, this time caused by significant circumstances. A short, sharp shower of freezing rain had made conditions suddenly treacherous and, as Poole’s Aston came to put a lap on Cintrano’s Mosler, the pair simultaneously, but separately, spun off into the Redgate gravel. The severity of the situation was not lost on Keith Robinson, who was the next upon the scene; “I saw the first car spin, then another, so I backed off straight away. I’m very sorry to see the Aston and the Mosler out, but just glad they’re both OK. It could have happened to anybody - wrong place, wrong time,” he said later.

Both cars were recovered back to the pits and the Barwell team turned the Aston round in short order, though the Mosler took a little longer to be brought back in. Neil Garner’s crew also had to deal with the results of an errant fire extinguisher before the car was fit to race again.

The resultant Safety Car period had brought in most of the field for another round of pit stops, including the Viper and the MJC Ferrari, from the lead. Electrical problems were plaguing some cars too – the course was already green again when Schulz pitted the SB Ferrari with alternator problems, while Sarah Bennett-Baggs brought the #99 Chevron in with a battery issue.

New tyres on Tommy Field’s Chevron gave him the confidence to post some times to shame the Class 1 runners, and the Strata 21 Porsche was in again; this time straight into the garage with gear selection problems. For once there was now a settled period up to the half-way mark of the four-hour race, with the positions as the clock ticked over being; Robinson, Scott, Chris Jones, Field, Byford (several stops but still installed in the Lotus), Ryan Ratcliffe, then the two RJN Nissans running in tandem - the Reip/Schulzhitskiy car now ahead of the Mitchell/Pyzera machine. 

Byford was showing no signs of fatigue, bagging fourth place off Field’s Chevron. Then, at 99 laps and with an hour and three-quarters to go, Robinson brought the MJC Ferrari in from the lead and John Gaw took over. Craig Wilkins inherited the lead in the Viper, but also stopped next time around, leaving the Team Parker Porsche in the top spot, with Byford just 17 seconds adrift and catching up at the rate of four seconds a lap. Catching was not to be an option though, for several reasons; the Safety Car made yet another appearance, this time to aid recovery of the Strata21 Porsche, which had lost a wheel at the Old Hairpin; plus, the Evora’s stop under the caution was less than a planned one, Byford driving straight into the garage and the team dragging the roller shutter down.  Aaron Scott quenched the Viper’s thirst, not once but twice on consecutive laps during the caution, as did the Tracktorque Chevron. Gaw had regained the lead, but was pitbound on what was to be the last of the Safety Car laps. Unfortunately he came in behind the recovery truck, which had parked in the running lane of the pit lane to unload the Strata21 Porsche and, with cars being serviced on the apron, the Ferrari had nowhere to go. It was a moment of sheer panic, but the truck driver responded to the hysteria of the MJC crew and shuttled up a few yards for Gaw to proceed. 

Going into the final hour, it was the Viper in front of the MJC Ferrari to the tune of 32 seconds, with Abra cutting through the field in the Barwell Aston – he disposed of both RJN Nissans in one lap – and the Bullrun Evora still in the garage. Any thoughts that they had done enough to claim the title and were biding their time were dispelled by the sight of the combined force of Bullrun and Lotus engineers swamping the machine, replacing a cracked throttle body. David Green rejoined having lost 25 laps, with the title assured but the race win lost.

Paul White had taken just a short stint in the Mosler before handing over to Javier Morcillo, who was now flying; as was Gaw in the Ferrari, showing no respect for economy and allegedly fuelled to the end. But despite the leading Viper running a controlled race, with a full fill lasting around 35 minutes, another pitstop was inevitable.

The Team Parker Porsche was now touring – “We lost the front splitter, had a sticking throttle and brake issues,” admitted Ian Loggie later – and the Aston had front splitter issues too, showering sparks as it progressed down the pit lane to its box. Poole rejoined once repairs had been effected and resumed the pursuit of Chris Hart’s Tracktorque Chevron.

Scott brought the Viper in with 25 minutes to go and Craig Wilkins jumped in after the final 50 litres were dumped in. 

Green pitted the Evora, too, allowing Richard Adams to take the car to the flag, which fell just a little before the full four hours, leaving winner Gaw to put in another lap at race speed for good measure.

So, it was former and outgoing champions in the top spots.  “I’ve got to admit I was actually nervous before the start - me and Keith were both nervous – the cars in this series are getting better and better and we haven’t done anything with ours in the 13 months since we last raced. But it was a great team effort, we’re all back together again – what a comeback!” exclaimed a jubilant Witt Gamski.

Indeed, both the MJC team and knowledgeable observers agreed that Witt’s opening stint had been his best ever, crowned by that daring move on the Viper into Redgate.  The GT3 Racing Viper finished the best part of a lap adrift at the finish, Craig Wilkins admitting that he had been nursing the brakes in the closing stages and with Aaron Scott pointing out that eight fuel stops had been taken.

Tracktorque finished the season on a high, Tommy Field and Chris Hart third overall in the replacement lime green Chevron and claiming Class 3 honours, ahead of the Barwell Aston Martin;  Poole and Abra proving that this will be the car to beat in 2013. “We would have finished six laps ahead if we hadn’t gone off,” observed team boss Mark Lemmer.

Chris Jones and Ian Loggie showed moments of brilliance in the Team Parker Porsche, but were delayed by issues towards the end and were sandwiched by the two leading Class 4 contenders. Claiming class honours was the Fauldsport Ginetta G55 Challenge of Ryan Ratcliffe, who had already posted a Production Cup class win in the Piranha G40 earlier in the day, and former Caterham racer Flick Haigh, who had shown  terrific intuition and skill in her first endurance race. For runners-up Redgate/Virgo, with regulars Peter and Matt Smith boosted by Dan Eagling in a similar machine, this was the high-spot of their season, bagging the top class-points as the first registered contender home.

The two RJN Nissans had run in consecutive positions throughout the race and, after a shaky start to the weekend,  the GT  Academy graduates had shown skill and maturity that belied their relative inexperience. American Dan Mitchell had been particularly impressive and, with Peter Pyzera, graced the bottom step of the Class 4 podium, finishing a lap ahead of colleagues Wolfgang Reip and Mark Schulzhitskiy.

Lone Class 2 runners Owen O’Neill, Henry Fletcher and Warren Gilbert lost time early on with a leaky diff in the Topcats Marcos and finished tenth overall, narrowly missing the Class title but claiming third in the overall championship stakes; “We did the best we could with what we had and I couldn’t ask for a better team around me,” said Gilbert.

Jensen Lunn and Sarah Bennett-Baggs suffered from electrical issues but came home 11th, while electrical gremlins affected the Bailey/Schulz Ferrari 430 too, the pair posting an atypical DNF; “We borrowed an alternator from MJC, but still had problems,” rued team boss Stuart Bitmead.

Last classified finishers were, ironically, the two overall title contenders. The Bullrun team only had to complete 50% of the race to claim the championship and their problems came late enough to ensure that it wasn’t in jeopardy.

The team played the game to the letter throughout the season and can now boast both Britcar GT and Production titles.  The Azteca /Strata21 Mosler was 13th at the flag, after the mid-race disaster, but again had done enough to seal the overall runner-up prize.

Full results - here

Steve Wood