Will Topcats ever better the amazing result from the teams two Marcos Mantis GT cars at this year’s Britcar 24Hr Race driven by a truly formidable all-Japanese driver squad in the Class 3 car and the Class 2 sister car that was all set for podium? A heartbreaking turn of events though for the Runnymede Topcats Mosler as they lead into the 20th hour…….
For the Class 1 Mosler driven by Andrew Beaumont, Henry Fletcher, Julien Draper and Freddie Hetherington, qualifying would provide the opportunity for each of the drivers to have a go at setting the bench mark as Beaumont’s chosen squad this year were very evenly matched and accomplished GT front runners.
Under the directorship of Beaumont, the Mosler ‘satellite’ team were happy with 6th overall, positioned comfortably behind the Class 1 cars of Mustill/Berridge in the Aquila C1, Gamski Ferrari, McInerney Ferrari 430, White/Lockie Mosler and Bratislava Porsche GT3.
Yosuke Shimojima set the pace in the No .53 Topcats Class 3 Marcos Mantis, just pipping his team mates, Ryu Seya, Yasushi Kikuchi and Masashi Kakiuchi in his final run. They secured 12th overall from a 55 car grid.
The No 27 Topcats Class 2 Marcos drivers would have to be patient though. Drivers, Emily Fletcher, Jamie Orton, Neil Huggins and David Upton could only do their qualifying laps to run in a new engine, having blown an engine in testing the previous day. They had to start 30th on the grid. The biggest drawbacks would be avoiding any potential carnage in the midfield at the start of the race as well as navigating a clear path through the back markers to claim their rightful position somewhere near the front.
A careful start from all the cars ensured a safe opening to the race. Fletcher was mindful to stay out of trouble and completed his first stint of the 24hrs to hand over to Draper without incident.
Huggins had to exercise a different agenda and was demonstrating it very well. He was positively scrolling up the leader board. One hour into the race and Huggins was already up to 7th place.
Whilst things were going well for the Class 1 and 2 cars, the team were shocked to hear Shimojima radio in to say he had lost drive and was parked up and waiting for a recovery truck to bring him back. Only a few laps into the race and already they would have a mountain to climb to stand any chance of a podium finish. The time deficit would have been minimal had it not taken 30 minutes to recover the car to the pits. A drive shaft had snapped and it took the team just ten minutes to replace it and send Shimojima on his way. They were now languishing in 53rd place but this was to be the start of a remarkable recovery.
Huggins, familiar with every facet of the characterful Marcos detected a less than familiar whirring sound from the rear of the car and although very subtle at this point was enough to suggest bringing the car in for a check. It proved a wise move as the drive shaft gator had split causing the bearings to dry out which would ultimately have broken and very likely have left Huggins stranded somewhere on the circuit. It was a good preventative decision and despite the unscheduled stop, the Huggins/Fletcher/Upton/Orton squad were proving that they and the Marcos were more than a match for even the class 1 cars. They were in 2nd overall, 6 hours into the race!
The Japanese squad were inspirational, their cool-headedness and co-operation with the team strategists to set lap times and zero in on their rivals had them back up into 12th place. It was an astonishing feat as they not only had to pass many of their rivals, they had to unlap themselves several times over to do so.
The Mosler had run perfectly except for a fuel feed issue dropping them from 2nd place overall which they had held for some time, handing position to their team mates in the Class 2 Marcos on a temporary basis whilst the glitch was dealt with.
By the early hours of the morning a number of the lead cars had thrown in the towel including the leading Aquila CR1, the Gamski Ferrari and White/Lockie Mosler, paving the way for the McInerney Ferrari 430 to lead. The Topcats Mosler remained 3 laps behind matching their pace, ready to take advantage if they made a slip up.
Meanwhile, Emily Fletcher, in the Class 2 Marcos was reporting an intermittent loss of power which was proving dangerous when being followed closely by other cars. Some surmising as to the source of the fault lead to a quick change of plugs and leads as this would be the quickest fix in eliminating the possible causes and whilst it did provide some improvement it didn’t solve it and the problem worsened again. The second of the quick fixes was to replace the ignition switch which took little time to fix, problem solved.
Kikuchi/Kakiuchi/Shimojima/Seya were giving the team no work to do other than the scheduled stops to refuel and change tyres and drivers. Consistent lap times, only varying by a few 10ths between all drivers ,showed they were making no mistakes. By this time, other teams in front of them would surely have been aware by now that they were unstoppable and could offer no resistance to their formidable charge up the leader board.
With just four hours remaining, it was beginning to look like Topcats Racing would be claiming 3 of the first 4 positions in the race. The Topcats Mosler and Class 2 Marcos looked unbeatable in 2nd and 3rd and the Class 3 Marcos was doing all it could to catch up with them.
Huggins was back at the wheel for his last stint of the race Making an overtake on a slower car, the two made contact and Huggins was forced to make an emergency stop to the pits to change a drive shaft having collided wheel to wheel with the other car. All seemed OK and Neil continued but further mechanical injuries had been sustained and Huggins was forced to stop on track with a broken diff. Another slow recovery lost the team multiple laps, relegating them down the leader board to 12th .
An uncharacteristic error from the McInerney Ferrari driver left him beached in the gravel trap and unable to get out without a tow. There was a buzz of excitement in the Topcats camp now. Only a few minutes were needed for the Mosler drivers to put three laps on the Ferrari that would dramatically draw them level. Even this timescale was exceeded and by the time the McInerney Ferrari was back in the running, the Topcats Mosler was leading by 4 laps. There was a flurry of fast laps from the Ferrari to try and make up the lost ground but the Mosler squad teasingly upped their lap times just a bit, knowing that this strategy would be more than enough to keep them ahead to the end. The Ferrari driver soon realised that this wouldn’t work and settled into a gentler pace maintaining the gap and playing the waiting game as the Topcats Mosler had done. They didn’t have to wait too long. The 20th hour of the race ticked by and disaster struck. A brake fluid pipe had ruptured rendering the brakes useless while the design of the car meant that once the now fluidless brake pedal went beyond the limit of its travel it hit the throttle cable located behind it. Hetherington, was the unlucky driver sent hurtling into the tyre wall and to a devastating end to the race. It was an undeserving end for the whole team.
As the team regained their composure all efforts were concentrated on the Topcats Marcos cars that were still running strongly, particularly the Japanese squad who were up to 7th and still pushing on for more.
It was still possible for them to move up another two places and that would mean catching the Paul Winter 996 Porsche running in fifth and 1 lap ahead. Having set a best lap 6 seconds faster than the Winter Porsche, a change of position was inevitable and within 20 minutes the Japanese squad had moved into 6th overall. They would shortly inherit 5th as the Topcats Mosler plummeted down the leader board.
Eventually, Shimojima/Kikuchi/Kakiuchi/Seya exceeded the number of laps over the Mosler and were in 5th. The lap deficit to the 4th placed car of the Clarke BMW M3 E46 may have appeared to be insurmountable considering that the two cars were not miles apart on their average lap times. The team knew, however, that the Japanese squad could put in a much faster ‘qualifying’ lap and could up the pace. Now the race was on. It was a careful balance of car preservation over speed and controlled set lap time was communicated to the driver that should in theory allow them to catch the Clarke BMW before the end of the race. Before long the rival team must have made a similar calculation and decided under the circumstances to make sure they finished the race and not fight for position. Had they tried, the Topcats Marcos would have responded anyway.
By the 22nd hour of the race and in less than an hour, the Japanese squad had unwound an incredible 6 laps from the Clarke BMW to take 4th overall.
The Fletcher/Upton/Orton/Huggins squad in the sister Class Marcos were still fighting back and had moved from 12th to 8th, eating into an incredible 15 lap deficit which took them less than 2 hours to achieve and were now only an hour from the chequered flag.
The positions were set, neither car could make up more places in the time remaining. Careful nurturing was the last remaining job to get the cars to the finish line both cars crossed the finish line with Seya/Kakiuchi/Kikuchi/Shimojima in a superb 4th overall and just shy of a podium. The best result in the 6 years that the Topcats Marcos’s have competed in the 24hr race. They were followed home by Huggins/Fletcher/Upton/Orton in 8th place, marking an incredible recovery late on in the race.
There was some relief for the Topcats Mosler squad as they had completed enough laps to take 20th overall and still hang on to the 3rd in the Class 1 stakes.
The Class 2 Marcos squad, despite the earlier incident had still fared better than their class 2 rivals and were the only survivors in their class to take the win!
The Class 3 Marcos squad really proved that the aging Marcos is still a formidable match for any endurance car regardless of class or technology. The team are very proud that the driver squad, all the way from Japan, proved too that they are a serious force to be reckoned with. With Class 3 cars dominating the field, the squad took the 3rd step on the podium for Class 3.
We would like to congratulate all our drivers. Their performance was simply outstanding.
Thanks to all the team who worked so very hard.