Last weekend’s 2 hour endurance race was set to be a real thriller after Winstanley astonishingly qualified 3rd in the Topcats Racing Class 2 Marcos Mantis No. 35 car overall behind the GT2 Ferrari of Bailey/Schultz and the Morcillo/Cintrano Mosler. The crowd would have undoubtedly been treated to a three way battle for the win; Schultz and Morcillo still put on quite a show in the remaining 20 minutes of the race.
Had Winstanley been able to complete the final third sector of his qualifying lap without traffic could potentially have split the leading Class 1 cars. Winstanley could not have given a better demonstration that despite its age the Topcats Marcos Mantis is a superb development from its original build.
Winstanley was ably assisting Owen O’Neill’s championship campaign, whilst Rob Wilson and Raphael Fiorentino shared the sister No.34 car.
Mick Mercer and Gary Smith were enjoying their second outing of the year in their Ginetta G50 after a turbulent return at Oulton Park in June. They qualified 20th and 6th in a well subscribed class 4.
The very competent but less experienced driver, Wilson, did the opening laps for qualifying in the sister Class 2 Marcos but the rain came down as Fiorentino took over and by then the fastest qualifying laps had been set with no chance of bettering. They qualified 15th overall and 4th in class.
O’Neill and Wilson started the race in their respective cars. O’Neill handled the pressure well as he was flanked by Class 1 cars, in a position where higher powered and more technically advanced cars should have been. O’Neill was savvy enough not to be intimidated by the Class 1 Le Mans Audi R8 which hassled him for a few laps before dropping away.
Wilson too was staying out of trouble and had not given any places away considering it was his first visit to the GP circuit.
Mercer was keeping Wilson honest though as he had made significant progress and was now sitting behind Wilson albeit at arm’s length, respectful of his team mate.
Mercer wasn’t allowed to enjoy Wilson’s slip stream for long after Mercer reported a misfire forcing him to pit early for a mechanical check, the quickest possible solutions were administered by the team and Smith, now behind the wheel, would have to find out if the problem was solved.
O’Neill was ready to relinquish his driving duties to Winstanley just before the end of the first hour. The team would have to wait with eager anticipation to see if the 19 year old driver could get the Marcos back on terms with the leading cars. After pitting, the duo were down to P10 with a number of top 10 cars still to make a pit stop.
Wilson pitted shortly afterwards and Fiorentino, in fervent mood, was keen to pit him himself against the young Winstanley in the same machinery as well as his usual rivals.
The safety car was about to play a contradictory hand for both the teams Marcos Mantis cars. The fate of the Mercer/Smith Ginetta G50 was already decided as it coasted to a halt at the end of the pit straight whilst tailing the safety car. They had to be recovered but a faulty fuel pump, irreparably located in the fuel tank, ended their efforts for the weekend.
The technicalities of picking up the race leader by the safety car was such that the safety car split the leading class 2 458 Ferrari of Phillips/Storey from Winstanley who had driven like a man possessed to catch the Ferrari, having closed the gap from a whole lap down to a mere 13 seconds behind. The safety car allowed the Ferrari to go ahead and rejoin onto the back of the train of cars behind, gaining a whole lap on Winstanley and effectively ending his chances of challenging the Ferrari for the class lead.
Winstanley had succeeded in making his mark though by setting class fastest lap of 1.30.302; a full 1.5 seconds faster than rivals Phillips/Storey in the Ferrari 458 and 2 seconds faster than last rounds race winner Byford in the works Lotus Evora.
Fiorentino was escalating rapidly up the leader board too until he found himself a lap down on the leading cars at the end of the safety car period. It was frustrating for both team and drivers, that the outcome of the race would be decided by circumstances outside of their control.
Fiorentino suffered a puncture shortly afterwards dropping him down in the overall standing but still clinging to 3rd in class.
More misfortune as Winstanley’s problems were compounded by a left front AND rear puncture at the start of a new lap forcing Winstanley to drive the full 2.6 mile track with both tyres now pulled from the rims.
Blistering pace from the drivers and good strategy were negated by a run of bad luck but O’Neill/Winstanley finished the race 2nd in class with the vital extra point for fastest lap. Wilson/Fiorentino had also done enough to limit the damage, taking the final podium spot for class 2.
The next round is at Snetterton on 18th & 19th August.