An impressive performance from Mick Mercer and Gary Smith in the Production class 1 category assured them another victory at the newly configured Snetterton 300 race circuit. The race was dominated by several safety car periods but the excitement could not be marred as the 2 tiers of the race, British Endurance and Production GTN combined, drew to a close.
Combined for the start, the British Endurance Championship cars had to complete a 3hr slog to the finish line, whilst the Production GTN contingent had a 2 hour race to battle for victory.
Sam Head and long time returnee, Jeff Wyatt headed the squad in the Class 2 Marcos to take 11th overall and 2nd in class in qualifying. Henry Fletcher and Owen O’Neill were only 1.3 seconds off that time and 12th overall, but a heavy class 3 entry list saw them 5th in class for the start. Mick Mercer and Gary Smith topped the leaderboard again for Production GTN, 16th overall.
Fletcher made the best use of his torquey engine at the rolling start so that Head was left to follow Fletcher into turn one, albeit, they had jumped two places each into 9th and 10th.
Head soon made use of the extra power he had over Fletcher and took position back on lap 2. Fletcher was willing to concede and stay in Head’s slip stream for the time being.
Mercer, meanwhile, had gained a position and was looking comfortable, unthreatened by his Production Class 1 counterparts.
An early incident warranted the safety car, delaying further progress until the race was restarted on lap 9.
Head was on a flyer, deposing a car per lap until he was up to 7th by lap 10 having just passed the Jones Porsche 997.
A sideways moment from Head would have gone unpunished had he not been carrying a heavy fuel load and still slightly cold tyres after the safety car. His misadventure had him spin on to the grass with little harm except a demotion from 7th to 13th as he recovered.
Fletcher was to fair worse though, the usually bullet proof LS7 engine snapped a valve which in turn made scrap of the whole engine. Fletcher was forced to pull off the track and abandon the car for the recovery truck to return to the pits. The safety car was again deployed.
Head meanwhile was back up to 7th as some of the leaders took advantage of the safety car period to do pit stops. Mercer found himself leapfrogging a few cars in 10th place for the same factors.
The Millard/Hewland Rapier handed both Topcats cars another place up the grid after they were handed a 2 lap penalty for overtaking under the safety car.
The race was underway again on lap 15 and a radio message from the team to Head to try and catch other cars ‘napping’ at the restart didn’t go unheeded and Head was up to 6th by turn one.
Mercer had been fending off a challenge for the lead from the heavily modified Lotus Exige of Rand/Phillips for some time but eventually had to succumb. However, a more subtle strategy was already in place, Mercer just had to keep the Exige no more than a few car lengths ahead of him so that the team and drivers could, with luck, watch their strategy unfold once the both cars had completed their pitstops and driver changes.
Head was in 4th place as some of the thirstier leading cars had to stop for fuel. By lap 17 the Wilkins/Scott Viper was leading followed by the Bryant/Goff Porsche 997, the Jones Porsche 997 and closely followed by Head, only 8 seconds separated the top four.
Mercer came in for his scheduled stop on lap 25 with 59 minutes of the Production GTN race remaining. Mercer’s efforts saw him set the duo’s fastest lap of the race. Smith took over to see the car to the flag.
Head had to concede a place to the Class 1 Ferrari 458 of Gaw/Dryburgh, concentrating his efforts on taking points for the Class 2 race.
Having dropped down the leaderboard after the pitstop, Smith was back up to 11th overall. He made short work of his class adversaries. The only car left to challenge was the leading Rand/Phillips Exige was in 6th overall but had yet to do it’s pitstop and hand over to the second driver.
Head made his pitstop on lap 41, exactly half distance in the longer Endurance GT race to hand over to Jeff Wyatt who was keen to prove himself having spent a couple of years out of motor racing.
There was yet another, but not the last, safety car period on lap 44 until the restart on lap 48. The Rand/Phillips car did not take the opportunity to pit, which could have upset the team plans. Instead, they pitted shortly afterwards and by the time they rejoined, Smith was a pit straight length behind him. The team had predicted that the second driver was not quite as quick as the first and if Smith could put in some ‘qualifying’ laps he would eventually tail him.
Wyatt was proving that driving a race car is like riding a bike, you never forget how to do it and his lap times were impressive and consistent. Wyatt’s only threat came from the Bryant Porsche, but since they were only an invitation entry and not eligible for points, Wyatt was radioed by the team to allow him through, although it was clear that he was enjoying the fight.
Smith and the team had lost radio contact with each other and the team were unsure if Smith knew that the Exige he was edging closer to was for position and the race lead. A white board and red marker which simply read ‘PUSH!’ hung over the side of the pit wall did the trick and Smith was gaining 1 second a lap. With the time remaining of the Production GTN race, Smith would just have enough to catch him, but the question was how hard would the leading car defend it’s position.
On the penultimate lap, Smith was nose to tail with the Exige as he rounded Corum. A defensive line from the Exige and an attacking one from Smith allowed Smith a better run out of the esses and on to the critical pit straight, the passing manoeuvre down the inside was just visible from the pitwall as they both turned in to the first corner for the last time. It was a long wait before they came into view again with Smith having made the move stick and leading as they came round Corum , through the esses and to the flag to take another superb and nail biting win.
Wyatt was enjoying his return to endurance racing and 90 minutes of flat out driving and intense concentration on a hot day had not taken it out of him. Only 30 seconds stood between him and the vastly experienced Olly Bryant in the Porsche 997 as the 3 hour race drew to a close. Wyatt crossed the line, yielding only to the Class 2 Scott/Wilkins Viper to take 2nd in class and 6th overall.
The next race is the spectacular Britcar Silverstone 24hr race on 1st and 2nd October.