Topcats Racing were pleased to introduce two new drivers who are set to campaign a full season in the Britcar Endurance Championship for title honours. Owen O’Neill, who has signed to drive the GT3 Marcos Mantis and partnering regular team driver Henry Fletcher for the Brands Hatch race, had been competing in the TVR Challenge Championship and has also had a very successful outing in the same Marcos in the Britcar 24hr race at Silverstone in 2008.
Raphael Fiorentino, Autosport’s rated top 5 club racer, who raced with the team in the season finale last year, will partner Neil Huggins who has graduated from the GT3 into the GT2 Marcos Mantis.
Fiorento makes flying start from back of the grid at Brands Hatch in Britcar GT race:
O’Neill and Huggins started the proceedings for qualifying with Fletcher and Fiorentino utilising their laps in the second half of the session to position the cars in 7th and 5th on the grid respectively. A tactical move by the team to finish the session early to preserve the tyres prohibited any further advance up the grid. The move was designed to benefit the drivers later in the 2 ½ hour long race when tyre wear would become an issue for other cars.
A yellow flag infringement by Fiorentino, however, resulted in a hefty punishment and was relegated to the back of the grid for the start of the race.
Both Marcos’s would need to pit twice for refuelling, putting the team at a disadvantage to some of the cars who would only have to stop once.
Undeterred by his qualifying misdemeanour, Fiorentino set about making good his position up the leader board and was already up to 7th place by lap 9 and tailing the sister car driven Fletcher in 6th place. It wasn’t long before Fletcher conceded postion but managed to up keep with the gruntier GT2 Mantis as they calved they way through the slower cars. Both cars were closing in on the Gamski/Robinson 430 Ferrari and the gap was closed to just 3 seconds when the Ferrari had a spin on lap 30.
By lap 42, Fiorentino was running in a podium position in 3rd with Fletcher close behind him in 4th as the Ferrari 430 of Cameron/Edmonds had to make an unscheduled pit stop to remove the rear splitter which had come loose.
On lap 61, Fiorentino came in for his scheduled pit stop and driver change, however, the teams fortunes were about to change when a rear brake problem was spotted. Track debris had bent one of the pins and knocked another out, leaving the brake pad loose. A quick repair by the team wasn’t enough to prevent the GT2 Marcos from dropping down the leader board into 10th position.
Fletcher in the GT3 Marcos pitted on lap 73 for refuel and driver change, handing the car over to O’Neill without incident.
The thirstier Marcos’s were losing some ground to a few of their more fuel efficient rivals as their one pit stop advantage began to take effect. O’Neill was still able to hold onto 5th position as the pit stops played out.
The promise of podium finishes were blighted when Huggins suffered a puncture on lap 118, closely followed by O’Neill who suffered a tyre blow out on lap 136. Both Fletcher and Fiorentino had some work to do in their final stint, trailing in 10th and 11th position respectively with some 30 laps remaining. A spirited drive by both gave them some reward as they crossed the line in with Fletcher in 7th place (3rd in class) and extra points for class fastest lap and Fiorentino in 8th (2nd in class).
Both cars and drivers were deserving of a better finish but valuable points were won.
Next round is at Snetterton on April 16th-17th.