Topcats Racing could taste victory in the closing stages of the race at Snetterton on Saturday in the 150 minute Britcar Endurance Championship, but bad luck put an end to the team’s expectations of an outright win.
Despite viagra tabs opposition from the class 1 contenders of McInerney/McInerney in the Mosler MT900GT3 and the Gamski/Robinson Ferrari 430 GT2, the flying Topcats Racing Class 2 Marcos Mantis, driven by Huggins and Fiorentino, were odds on to win the race as the final pit stops played out.
Dynamic duo, Huggins and Fiorentino did a fantastic job to put their Class 2 Marcos Mantis GT2 car in third position behind the class 1 rivals of Gamski/Robinson in their Ferrari 430GT2 and the McInerney Sr/Jr pairing in their Mosler MT900GT3.
Although disappointed to have qualified 9th overall, they were only one place behind the class 2 Porsche GT3 of the Jones trio.
After a clean rolling start, the race began in earnest. The cars emerged as they rounded Corum for the first time albeit in slightly different order. The Mosler held the lead but the P2 Ferrari of Gamski and Robinson had dropped back to 6th with the Brady/Millard Prosport up to 2nd and Huggins looking comfortable and unchallenged in 3rd place.
The O’Neill/Fletcher Marcos was to suffer it’s second bout of bad luck with engine cut out. Fletcher had to complete almost another whole lap whilst the car limped back. Once in the pits, it was a simple matter of an ECU trip switch failure and was remedied in seconds, however the setback cost them 2 laps and although Fletcher was more than capable of getting back on terms with his class rivals at the top end of the running order, an outright victory for them now looked slim.
Meanwhile, Huggins was very much in control behind the wheel of the class 2 Mantis as he began to edge closer to the Prosport, only a couple of car lengths separated them and Huggins was looking menacingly quick round Corum, bearing down on the ultra powerful Prosport as they came into the braking area for Russell Chicane.
Fletcher, meanwhile, was lapping in the 1m11s, a time that would have seen him running inside the top 5. He had caught up with the Class 3 TVR Sagaris of Sam Head and Class 2 Jones Porsche 997 GT3 albeit 2 laps behind who were locked in a battle of their own. Fletcher had caused enough of a distraction for the Porsche driver and he managed to overtake and was now in pursuit of Head in the Sagaris who was doing a good job to defend. Fletcher picked his moment to take Head into Russell Chicane but had left his breaking just a little too late, forcing him to go wide and onto the grass, immediately Fletcher’s advantage was lost and he now needed to make up a lot of ground again to catch back up with Head as well as the Jones Porsche which had made it’s way back through in the commotion.
Huggins was still on a charge and lapping a second quicker than the car he was targeting, the Brady/Millard Prosport. Pressure, it seemed, had got the better of the Prosport driver and he spun in Russell chicane handing the P2 baton to a grateful Huggins.
The McInerney Mosler had made use of a so far uninhibited lead and was a lap ahead of Huggins, who was now free to pursue the Mosler with better pace setting & strategy formula from the team.
Huggins and the team needn’t have given any more thought to the Mosler though, as it came in for the first of its scheduled pit stops. A problem with the air jacks kept the Mosler grounded and the team were unable to make a tyre change. They could only refuel and make the driver change and the car was sent back out on its original rubber. Only a handful of laps later, the car was back in the pits, this time with a blown rear tyre, it couldn’t have been worse for them as the car had to be man handled to raise the car enough to change the tyre.
The Brady/Millard Prosport was to pit shortly after with engine problems and retired.
This handed the lead to Huggins for several laps while the Gamski/Robinson Ferrari were pushing like crazy to catch up with the Marcos. The Ferrari drivers knowing that their only chance was to go all out to overtake Huggins in the Marcos and try to establish a big enough gap to accommodate a second pit stop.
Topcats Racing had other ideas though, to allow the Ferrari through to avoid unnecessary defence from Huggins but to hang to the back of the Ferrari until the next set of pit stops played out. Huggins played his role beautifully.
Huggins handed over to Raphael Fiorentino on lap 68. There was enough time in hand now to make a tyre change too and a perfectly co-ordinated refuel, driver change and tyre change had the Marcos back out, perfectly positioned to take the lead from the Ferrari on its last pit stop.
Fletcher pitted to hand over to O’Neill. Another slick pit stop with refuel and tyre change had O’Neill despatched without delay. By now the duo were up to 11th and O’Neill was in a position to demote a number of cars in front of him as they were pitting.
The final nail in the coffin for the Eclipse Racing team came when McInerney spun, stalling the car and unable to start it again on lap 86.
Huggins was still on the tail of the race leading Ferrari when the safety car was deployed to retrieve the stranded Mosler. Topcats Racing took advantage of the safety car period and pitted the Fiorentino Marcos for a splash and dash, as did the O’Neill Marcos. The Ferrari however, did not stop during the safety car period, the timing for refuel would not have got them to the end.
By now, the Head/Glynn Sagaris was out of the race with gearbox failure moving Fletcher/O’Neill up and in position to take points for 3rd in class.
Race conditions resumed on lap 90 once the Mosler was returned to the pits and Fiorentino wasted no time in cutting through the field to draw closer the to the leading Ferrari which was still expected to make one final stop.
Fiorentino was only a few car lengths behind the Ferrari now and it was only a matter of time before the Ferrari would have to pit and Fiorentino could take the lead.
On lap 94, hopes for victory were dashed. A smoky plume emitted from the back of the Marcos as Fiorentino exited Russell Chicane, then there was no question that the problem was serious, the single puff turned into a steady stream as it accelerated up the pit straight with just 25 minutes of the race remaining. Fiorentino pitted and had to accept that the Marcos would go no further in the race.
The team predictions were confirmed as shortly afterwards, the Ferrari pitted for the last time and now with victory unexpectedly in their grasp.
O’Neill, meanwhile had driven his heart out too and brought his Marcos home 6th overall and 3rd in class, which was some consolation for the team.
Huggins/Fiorentino still managed to classify 10th overall on the number of laps completed and remarkably were still able to take home points for 2nd in class after only 9 cars made it to the chequered flag.
The next Britcar Championship race will be at Croft on 8th/9th May.