After Warren Gilberts recent return to racing, it was deemed time for wife Charlotte to return to the racing seat after a 4 year sabbatical to have 2 children. With the Mosler remaining at the workshop in preparation for the 24hr race at Zolder, it was left to the 2 Marcos Mantis race cars to uphold the teams honour.
The weekend also saw the return of Richard Fores after missing the previous races of 2009. He would be partnering Mick Mercer in the GT2 Marcos and Charlotte in the GT3 Marcos with regular driver Jon Harrison.
With limited testing on the Friday, only Jon Harrison and Charlotte Gilbert made the most of the 3 fifteen minute sessions a piece. Charlotte settled into the car more quickly than expected and was able to better her team mate’s best lap by the end of the session.
The final 2 sessions were academic as they were both red flagged early and never restarted.
Neither Mercer or Fores opted to test on the Friday and would instead make the most of the half hour practice session the following morning. Richard Fores, however, was unable to make the Saturday practice or qualifying and would have to put in his mandatory 3 laps on the Sunday morning before the race.
With the opportunity to put in more laps, Charlotte was able to lap 2 seconds faster after a swap to a harder compound tyre and driver and team were very satisfied with progress.
In qualifying, Mick would have the full half hour to himself to put in the qualifying lap. It was decided that with brand new tyres, Charlotte would go out first to put in the qualifying lap and make the most of the tyres when they would be at their best on around lap 4.
With slower cars in the qualifying session, the best tactic was to pass the slower cars and wait for a gap in the traffic to emerge, which it did, just as the team indicated that this was the lap to start pushing for a qualifying time, on lap 4 Charlotte had managed to put in a faster time than predicted with a 1 min.9.05seconds, nearly 2 seconds faster than their nearest class rival, the 997 Porsche GT3 Cup car of Sheperd, Barrett and Persson, This was enough to put the Gilbert/Harrison Mantis in 8th place, only 4 tenths behind the Ginetta G50 of Touring Car duo, Jordan snr and jnr.
Charlotte pitted and Jon took over to put in laps that also bettered that of the rival car. Mick, meanwhile, didn’t disappoint and posted and impressive 3rd on the grid, with the class equivalent Porsches and Ferraris behind him.
Mercer took his usual place as starter for the race, well known for his opportunistic style, Mick took the lead into the first corner, surprising the leading two cars and wrong footing them for most of the first lap, until the polesitting car was able to compose itself and retake the lead.
Jon, meanwhile, wasn’t going to sit and wait for an opportunity either, he was up to 6th within the opening laps and was setting his best laps of the whole weekend, consistently within the 1min 10-11sec. lap times.
With 45 minutes gone, the pitstop window was open and Mick Mercer was first to stop and hand over to Richard Fores.
They were comfortably able to hold third until a puncture forced Fores into an unscheduled pitstop and some very fast laps were required of the driver to make up for lost time. Remarkably, 3rd place was reclaimed as Fores crossed the finish line.
Gilbert took over from Harrison and was able to lap without pressure, lapping its main rival, the Sheperd/Barrett/Persson Porsche in the process, Perhaps, getting too comfortable proved costly as Charlotte kept her hand on the sequential gearlever, which did not allow it to return to position. When, Charlotte approached Tower Corner and tried to downchange the gearbox did not reciprocate and wouldn’t engage. After a redepress of the clutch, the gears had shifted two gears too many and the rears locked, forcibly spinning the car backwards and brushing the tyrewall. Charlotte was forced to vacate the car and the car was extracted and returned to the pits where it was checked and some repairs where made allowing Charlotte to get back into the car to finish the race with a few laps remaining, albeit without wing mirrors at this point and relying on the pitcrew to inform her of any impending cars closing in.
Charlotte crossed the line, 6th in class. A very disappointing end to a very promising start.