Neil Huggins, team driver and sometime roving reporter, gives us the lowdown at Rockingham Motor speedway….
Testing had brought issues to the Ginetta of Mercer & Smith, and the team spent most of the day attempting to resolve why the engine would cut out with no warning at various parts of the track .
The 2 Marcos however proved as reliable as always and good testing mileage was covered by all the drivers.
Saturday dawned dry and bright. Ideas discussed the night before were put into practice on the Ginetta and all 3 cars headed out for qualifying.
Sam Head took out the class 2 Marcos posting 1:24.623 as his best time to secure 11th overall and 3rd in class before handing over to his young team make Kyle Tilley who had never raced at Rockingham before. Harrison, who was making a welcome but unexpected return to the championship, meanwhile, warmed the seat in the class 3 Marcos and then handed over to the ever improving O’Neill to set a time. Best time set for the pairing put them 20th overall and 6th in class.
Mercer took the Ginetta out first and it appeared that the situation was improving. After a handful of laps, Mercer returned to the pits and asked for some changes to be made to the electronics which manage the rev. limiter. Back out on track again and it was obvious that the pace was coming back. Mercer pitted and handed over to Gary Smith . It seemed the Topcats boys had indeed resolved the issues of the day before as Smith took class pole by .7 of a second and only one place behind the Head/Tilly Marcos in 12th. The Mercer/Smith side of the garage happy again – the Marcos lads contented, but felt there was more time to be found, but now it would have to wait until to race.
As the team prepared for the race – again it was the Ginetta that suffered problems. A leaking differential case was cured before a failed front wheel hub was discovered and a big push from the team had the car race ready again just in time for the race start. Final preparations had to be made as Mercer was being strapped in. Always at their best when pushed, the Topcats mechanics never let anything beat them, and so it was that with the entire left hand wheel hub assembly swapped in record time, Mick joined the grid for the race.
Sam was to start alongside Mercer on the grid in Big Green, while a couple of rows back, O’Neill was to take charge of the start.
A good clean start saw everyone away safely. O’Neill however, was about to get the first taste of how his race was going to pan out as a grassy moment in the first lap saw him drop to the tail of the field, and true to form, destroy another Marcos Splitter !! Head was not having an easy time, now full of fuel and with cold tyres, his class 2 car was proving a handful. Two safety car periods within the first 45 minutes caused a flurry of activity in the pits – and some worried faces as it became clear that the second safety car was for Owen and the Orange Marcos. Attacked by a BMW, O’Neill was deep in the gravel and it was nearly 15 minutes before he was extracted and limped the sorry looking car back to the pits. With repairs carried out in rapid time, checks made, a new wheel bolted on to replace a very bent original one, Jon was strapped in and sent on his was to continue the race, all be it a fair few laps down from the cars in front.
Mercer, however, in the Ginetta had stayed out of trouble and out on track as those around pitted during the safety car periods and as the race reached the halfway point, he was leading his class by a healthy margin and running a remarkable 5th overall.
As he pitted for a driver change, so did the lead Lamborghini that had done a very impressive 90 minutes on it original fuel from the start, leaving the Jones brothers Porsche to head the Morcillo/Cintrano Mosler out front. The Viper was again proving fast, but thirsty, having stopped 4 times within the first 90 minutes.
It was clear that Head was not finding it easy to negotiate the mighty Marcos around the tight and twisty Rockingham infield and just before the halfway point, pitted for fuel and to hand over to Tilley for his first racing taste of Rockingham. Slick pit work and the safety car had helped them get into the top 10 and it was looking as though a good result was on the cards.
But fate has a nasty way of changing the order of things, and with 50 minutes left to run, the engine in the Ginetta suddenly declared that it had worked hard enough and expired comprehensively. The Mercer/Smith pair had the class win in the bag, and was going to achieve an impressive overall result, but alas it was not to be and retirement was no reward for the team’s hard work on the car since it rolled out of the trailer on Friday morning. Mick remained buoyant though as he was delighted that the car had performed the best it has ever done since having been rebuilt over the Winter and fine tuning the set up over the last two races.
With 10 mins to run, out front it was the battle of the Ferraris as the McInerny car was chased down by Keith Robinson in the Gamski Ferrari. With only a few laps to go, it seemed all was over as Robinson swept past into the banked first turn and was preparing to seal another victory. However, a rare mistake from the normally sure footed Ferrari driver two laps later gifted the McInerney Ferrari the lead once more and held it to the finish.
Harrison had discovered his old form in the class 3 Marcos he was sharing with O’Neill and was lapping bang on the pace of the class leaders in front of him, however, with the long pit stop for repairs earlier, the gap remained too large but 4th in class at the finish still keeps them in contention for the title.
Meanwhile, communication problems with Tilley had not helped their race, and unable to communicate properly with the crew, Tilley pitted with 15 minutes to go complaining of a puncture. However, with no problems found in the unscheduled stop, Head resumed control of the car to finish 3rd in class and 12th overall.
With both Marcos’ home in one piece, both cars could claim points towards the championship, the team remained upbeat knowing that there is still a lot of racing ahead, and that championships are not won or lost in one race, and so look forward to the next round and a track that better suits the Marcos performance .