Topcats-the Racing Team synonymous with Endurance Racing was faced with a new challenge this weekend, competing for honours in the launch of the very first GT Trophy Endurance Race….read team correspondent Jon Harrison’s thrilling account of the race.
The Topcats Mosler (80) of Andrew Beaumont sharing with Richard Fores and the Topcats Marcos Mantis (38) driven by Raphael Fiorentino sharing with Henry Fletcher were both entered and shared a Class 1 designation so it was no surprise to see both cars in the top 4 in qualifying and sharing the outside of the track on the first and second rows of the grid.
With the sun shining down on the track and the varied grid of the GT Cup regulars the Topcats cars were the new boys but pleased to see some old adversaries on the grid with the presence of the Britcar 24 hour race winning and pole sitting Porsche 997 (26) of RSR of Mark Sumpter and Adrian Slater as well as Mitch Millett and Michael Vergers in the very rapid Corvette (51).
Topcats were going to have to get used to new rules and regulations-2 mandatory pit stops with varied pit stop lengths designated for each car on the grid so the Topcats strategy for both cars (despite their varying fuel consumption) was that Raphael would start the less thirsty Marcos for an approx 30 minute stint followed by Henry doing a full one hour and then Raphael would drive to the flag. A similar arrangement for the Mosler would see Richard starting and Andrew doing the middle stint. Perhaps interesting to note pit stop time variations for the Sumpter Porsche (163 seconds), the Vergers Corvette (188 seconds) Topcats Mosler (140 seconds) and the Topcats Marcos (120 seconds).
So, as the safety car pulled into the pit lane the full grid of cars made a clean and swift entry into Paddock with pole sitter Sumpter leading the pack in straightforward grid order through Druids and Surtees and so we waited for the train of cars to emerge from the ‘ country’ section of this beautiful circuit but before they arrived at Clearways the Safety Car was pulling out onto Cooper straight-so who had come off?? As it turned out the Fenn Honda NSX (66) had simply set fire to itself but would need to be extinguished before it could be moved out of harm’s way so a lengthy safety car period seemed likely.
A master stroke of strategy by Team boss Warren Gilbert brought the Marcos in for an immediate pit stop at the end of Lap 1 as all it would need is one pit stop for fuel – he wasn’t alone in his thinking as both the (35) Porsche of Bentley and Gemignani and the (81) Porsche of Britcar regulars Gaw and Dryburgh also dived into the pits. The next lap also saw the Sumpter Porsche come in as well as the (28) Draper Ginetta G50 and the (10) Ussi/Webster BMW.
The big question though was would this change in strategy work for the thirstier Mosler? However, as the safety car stayed out for the next 3 laps and showed no signs of coming in –it was time to gamble- so in it was called and whilst not much fuel would go in-fingers were crossed that one more fuel stop was all that would be needed.
The safety car train had been kind to the Marcos as Raphael slotted back in (albeit one lap down) in 7th place but the Mosler re-emerged in a more lowly 14th place-such is the luck of the Safety Car. Then- just as both Topcats cars had got back on track the Safety Car came in and the opportunity to pit early was gone and all 6 runners in front of the Marcos were in that state – including the Vergers Corvette which was currently leading the field-this would be a costly mistake they would surely regret.
It took the next 30 minutes for the current top six cars to take their first pit stops and when it all settled down to a normal pattern at around Lap 24 we had Sumpter leading, the fast charging fores in the Topcats Mosler back up to second and a fearsome Raphael in the Topcats Marcos up to 3rd.
A change of strategy was inevitable so Raphael would now do a full one hour and Henry would finish- a similar revised strategy would apply to the Mosler.
Despite a spirited drive by Richard (whose friends, family and copious children filled the garage to bursting point) he couldn’t catch the Sumpter Porsche which was now pulling ever so slowly further and further away so that when Richard made his pit stop on the one hour signal he was some 10 seconds adrift but he had driven his heart out and given his all for the cause!. A sticking front wheel nut on the Mosler cost an additional 10 seconds of pit stop time so that when Raphael came into to hand over to Henry there was a closing gap between the two Topcats cars – still in 2nd overall for the Mosler and 3rd overall for the Marcos that was starting to get a bit of inter-garage Topcats rivalry going-could the impossible happen and the Marcos catch the Mosler? With Henry having the Mosler in sight the gap was getting smaller and smaller but Andrew was also fighting hard-posting quicker and quicker personal best laps and so it went on lap after lap but as the gap steadily decreased the two Topcats drivers started to slow each other up and in doing so allowed the twice lapped (23) Ferrari of Khandan-Nia and Cameron to get between them-this was not in Henry’s plan! It wasn’t long though before the Ferrari was dispatched and battle re-commenced…..
Consternation on the pit wall. Henry went past. No Mosler. Oh Henry!- you haven’t have you?! As it happens -no -he hadn’t but he had given the Mosler a little ‘love tap’ and whilst this didn’t affect the defending Andrew just a lap later the Mosler lost it’s footing for just long enough for Henry to squeeze past and now it was Sumpter 1st, Henry 2nd and Andrew 3rd. Andrew would need to nurse the car home as that early fuel stop was meaning warning lights were starting to appear!!
But, as the last few minutes dragged by and the clock got closer to the 2 hour duration that is how the race finished- Topcats had done it!- a fantastic result having 2nd and 3rd Overall- not bad for a team on it’s first visit.
A remarkable achievement and one to be proud of-well done to the drivers, engineers and mechanics-a real team effort!
Will Topcats be at the next GT Trophy race? – you can count on it!