The Topcats Racing team were ecstatic yesterday when all three of their cars crossed the line after a gruelling 24hr race dominated by heavy rain which started in the first half an hour of the race and remained relentless to the chequered flag.
Credit must be given to all the drivers who, despite a number of safety cars, finished the race without major incident.
The conditions must have come as quite a shock for one driving squad in particular, Topcats Racing’s Japanese entry with the Class 3 Marcos Mantis; Ryu Seya, Yosuke Shimojima, Masashi Kakiuchi and Toru Nakano. Not only did they have to contend with the best that British weather can throw at them, three of the drivers have never been to the UK and one of the drivers was only in his first year of racing in a Mazda MX5 having never turned a wheel on a wet track!
Nakano, however, as a UK resident and instructor at Silverstone, was well aware of the challenge that lay
ahead of them. To add complication, the three drivers who flew in to the UK on Wednesday, were accompanied by their translator, Hedeki Seto, who would be their radio man for the race weekend as, save for a few words, did not speak English!
Most teams would feel that a challenge of this scale would have them at full capacity. Topcats Racing, however, had more ambitions plans. Not one, but a further two cars completed the teams entries for the race.
Initial investigations indicate that this has never been done before in any 24hr race. Only one other team in the race , Brunswick Racing, ran 3 cars.
Our other two entries included last years Britcar 500 winning Mosler owned and driven by Andrew Beamount with his chosen squad, Ben Clucas and Pat Gormley (Britcar 500 Champions) and another of the team’s regular drivers, Henry Fletcher.
Three more of the team’s regular drivers, Jon Harrison, Raphael Fiorentino and Owen O’Neill were joined by former Le Mans and British GT driver, Steve Hyde to make up the squad for the Class 2 Marcos.
The team had to complete a staggering 54 pit stops in 24hrs. In total the cars consumed 96 tyres (that’s 96 tyre changes) and 4,320 litres of fuel!
Topcats Racing consisted of a 25 strong team of engineers, technical engineers, radio men, PR, caterers, translator and a therapist.
The team were working on a ‘long strategy’ for the race and although it would have been a bonus to claim pole for the second year running, the emphasis was to set a steady pace for the first 2/3rds of the race to keep the cars in good condition, with the plan to determine whether a sprint was required to claim the win towards the end.
The Mosler drivers were happy with 5th on the grid, despite an unsuccessful final run for Ben Clucas following an oil spill on the track in
the closing moments of qualifying.
The Class 2 Marcos drivers would have liked to have been a little further up the grid but settled with 16th. The all Japanese squad put in fine performance too to qualify 31st, over halfway up the grid.
Andrew Beamount, Yosuke Shimojima and Steve Hyde would start the race in their respective cars and it was a relief to see all 60+ cars make the opening laps without incident, luckily within the few laps that they had before the heavens opened for the duration of the race.
It was on the first lap that the Japanese driver squad would give the team and spectators a taster of what would be quite a remarkable race for them. Shimojima, having started 31st, made up an astonishing 12 places on the first lap. Before the first hour of the race was over, Shimojima was running in 16th place.
Hyde meanwhile was showing good form too running in 8th in the first hour of the race. Beamount was adopting a more cautious approach, avoiding the opening lap tussles.
Track conditions at times were so bad that it was the opinion of many drivers the race should be stopped and while many cars fell victim to standing water, the Japanese squad were undaunted and demonstrated incredible control.
The Mosler and Class 2 Marcos were enjoying similar progress. The Mosler was back on everyone’s radar as they climbed back up the leader board and were up to 3rd after 4 hours of racing.
By now, Ben Clucas was the 4th and final driver to take over and drive his first session. Clucas was making easy work of catching the leading Gamski/Robinson GT2 Ferrari and Rich/Litchner-Hoyer Porsche, such is his dominance at his home circuit. Clucas was close enough now that as another wave of pit stops played out, the Mosler was now leading the race.
Things were about to turn for the worse, however, as Clucas approached a slower car he moved out to get clear of the spray only to aquaplane off the track and bounce across the gravel trap. The risk not to bring the car in for a check was too great and the decision was justified as gravel had to be removed from inside the flat floor and brake discs. The setback was costly as 25 minutes were lost and now eight laps down on the leader.
Shimojima, who had been putting in some stunning laps on his second run could not avoid a coming together with the
Morcillo/Cintrano Porsche as they both hit standing water. Shimojima faired worse though sustaining front left suspension damage and the souvenir of a Porsche light lens wedged into the cracked bonnet.
Shimojimo was able to limp back to the pits where the team worked frenziedly to replace the steering and trailing arm,although crucial to their standing in the race, only five laps later Shimojima was rolled back out of the garage to rejoin the race.
The GT2 Marcos drivers were looking strong now too as they had began to push harder. Their efforts were paying off and were comfortably lying in 5th place. The only mechanical failure of the whole weekend was about to spoil their plans though. In the early hours of the morning the diff broke, caused by a failed 50 pence circlip. All four drivers had proved that not even the atrocious weather conditions could force them to put a foot wrong.
The Harrison/O’Neill/Fiorentino/Hyde driver combination was match for any title hopeful but despite another valiant display from the team to repair the car, the deficit would certainly cost them the chance of a top three finish.
The all-Japanese driver squad were matching the times set by the Class 2 sister car and really seemed to be relishing the whole experience. Having dropped to 21st they were back up to 16th.
The Mosler squad were handed a couple penalties, one of which was for overtaking in the pit lane, although this was arguable since the car in front was at crawling speed. They were down to 7th 8 hours in to the race and it was going to be a tall order to get a podium. A recovery was in progress and by the time Ben Clucas was handed the car for his stint they were back up to 4th. A very determined drive by Clucas would have been highly effectual had they not be so many laps down.
The Japanese squad really proved what an incredibly powerful combination they were and it would have been fantastic to see just what they could have achieved had they had the chance to compete in a dry race. They finished the race in 15th
The GT Marcos of Harrison/Fiorentino/Hyde/O’Neill finished just behind them in 16th place.
The Mosler finished in 4th place, just one lap from a podium finish.
There was a whole lot celebrate though as all cars finished and all within the top 16 places. As a final act of celebration a formation finish was co-ordinated between the drivers and pit crew, Providing a fantastic photo finish and a wonderful memory for team and spectators.
Topcats Racing would like thank each and every one of the team for their tireless dedication and commitment. They are a true credit to the team.