There was a great deal of speculation too, over the classing of a number of cars that were registered in a lower class than their horsepower suggested. Having completed the half hour qualifying session, the Topcats Racing Ginetta G50 of Mick Mercer and Gary Smith were left with a dilemma and power shortfall compared to some others in the class and had little choice but to opt out of Class 3 in GT and into Class 1 of the Production GTN Championship which they were able to do an hour before the race. The bonus of this was instant pole in Production GTN for the start of the race.
Of the 41 race starters, Owen O’Neill and Henry Fletcher in the Class 3 Marcos qualified 15th overall. Kyle Tilley and Sam Head, who were both driving the Class 2 Marcos for the first time this weekend qualified just behind the O’Neill/Fletcher car in 16th.An incident-free race start saw Head slip ahead of Fletcher as the pack jossled for position and the field began to spread out in the opening laps. The disputable class 2 Viper of Wilkins/Scott was swathing a lead from the rest of the pack but was not being lost by the class 1 Morcillo/Cintrano Mosler.
20 minutes in and experienced Marcos racer, Fletcher, got a run on Head as they came through first corner, Copse, stealing the line and with it a better exit out to take the place from Head. This was just the start for Henry who had found the groove, clearly undistracted and now on the tail of the Class 1 Ferrari 430 of reigning champions Gamski/Robinson. They were dispensed with in little time. Fletcher who by now was up to 5th place handed over to O’Neill to fulfil his middle portion of the race.
Head and Tilley were running a slightly different strategy with Head doing only a half hour first stint and handing over to Tilley to do a long middle stint, with Head then returning to complete the final run to the chequered flag.
Head, too, had made an impressive ascent up the leader board and pitted to hand over to Tilley from 9th place.Mercer, meanwhile, was fending off any challenges to his place on the top spot in the Production GTN class and was minding his own business until a spin-recovering Nissan GTR pulled out in front of him, hitting broadside and into the wall, launching the Ginetta’s bonnet clear off its body. Mercer was forced to pit and have a new bonnet installed before he could hope to salvage his position in the race, albeit now 3 laps down.
Tilley was doing a superb job on his first ever GT Endurance race and in only his second full year of racing. So far Tilley had not put a foot wrong and the team were impressed with his driver feedback, considering he has only ever raced a classic Formula Ford.
Both O’Neill and Tilley were caught out though by oil dumped on the track by an ailing car, both believing a puncture was at fault, but on inspection in the pits, no punctures were visible and both were given the all clear.
Tilley was to pit again to hand over to Head for the final run but had expressed some concern to the team towards the end that the car wasn’t handling.
It was only when Head took to the circuit that the problem really became evident and Head had to limp back to the pits with what the team quickly discovered to be a broken front damper.
A swift damper change had Head back out to resume the fight. He clearly had not given up despite losing 2 laps to the opposition. Head was only a handful of seconds behind his Class 2 rival, the Ferrari of Green/Adams/Byford at the finish line and set his fastest lap of the race on the penultimate lap.O’Neill had put in one of his best performances to date. A faultless middle stint meant that he could hand over to Fletcher in 8th place for his run to the flag.
Fletcher put in some scintillating laps and had the race run the full three hours (race had to finish 10 minutes early due to curfew) would have caught and passed the leading class 3 Porsche of Barrett/Persson/Shepherd in convincing style to claim the class win for himself. Fletcher/O’Neill had to be content with 2nd in class 3 and a fantastic 6th overall as they crossed the finish line.
Mercer, meanwhile, had handed over to son in law, Gary Smith who drove a truly valiant race, doing the majority of his half of the race without power steering, barely making a dent on his lap times. It was later discovered that a metal pipe had fractured probably due to the earlier collision. Smith, despite the adversity, crossed the line to take the win for Production GTN.
Despite the efforts of the duo, it was discovered immediately after the race that the notification of change of class to Production GTN from the the Britcar officials had failed to reach the MSA stewards and at this time, Mercer/Smith have been denied the winners points for the championship.
Head/Tilley, despite some bad luck of their own still managed to take points for 3rd in Class 2 which will set them in good stead for the championship.
Fletcher/O’Neill take a bigger advantage to the next race with 2nd in Class 3.
The next round of the championship is at Rockingham Motor Speedway on Saturday 16th April.