It was a promising start for Topcats Racing to end the season with a chance of securing a top 3 spot in the overall championship standings when Henry Fletcher and Owen O’Neill returned to the team to join the crusade with Warren Gilbert, who was stepping out of his team principal’s role in favour of the driver’s seat. The championship would be decided as drivers raced into the night time hours of the four hour endurance race at Donington Park.
It was wet for the qualifying session; conditions less favourable to a car that lacks the gadgets of the Ferrari’s, Vipers, Astons, Moslers and the likes. The trio, in their Marcos Mantis GT, had to be content with 13th overall but still 1st in class.
The 4 hour endurance would give them the chance to move up the grid and with that in mind, Fletcher, who took the start, was careful to avoid incident and maintain position until the dangers of a first lap shunt were nullified.
Fletcher was on the move by lap 4 and had just passed the Chevron G8 of Hart/Field to take 11th position when faint puffs of smoke could be seen coming out from underneath the back of the car as it went through the corners. Early fears were for the engine but a pit stop revealed a small oil leak from the diff so a quick fix and the car was back out but now down in 17th position.
An hour into the race and the safety car was deployed for the first time to recover a stranded car from the track, by now Fletcher had elbowed his way back up into 12th place.
Another safety car period on lap 66 with 2 ½ hours of the race still to run, it was the opportune time for Fletcher to pit and hand over to O’Neill who was just receiving the car as a passing rain shower wet the track and a quick decision to change to wets was made; it was almost dark and impossible to determine whether the showers would continue.
It was an unlucky call, the rain stopped not long after O’Neill took over and the team were forced to make another stop to return the car to slicks.
Other teams had had their hand forced too and suffered the same consequences, so little time to the rival cars was lost and not long into his stint, O’Neill was already back up to 11th place.
With overall championship standings to fight for, there was a glimmer of hope that the Topcats Marcos Mantis could steal 2nd overall from the Mosler of Cintrano/White/Morcillo when they had to make an unscheduled stop after the driver inadvertently activated the fire extinguisher which in turn shorted the electrics and meant a lengthy stop in the pit garage. If they failed to finish within 50% of the class leading cars final number of laps at the end of the race then 2nd place would be handed to Topcats.
Hopes were soon quashed as the Mosler made it back into the race with more than enough laps in hand to stay well within the parameters.
O’Neill was now in 8th place, and relishing the night conditions. A third safety car period of the evening had all the cars bunched up again, losing O’Neill the 23 second advantage he had over the Smith/Smith/Eagling Ginetta G55. They took a less cautious approach to the restart, relegating O’Neill back to 9th and then the recovering Class 1 Aston Martin GT3 of Abra/Poole pushed O’Neill back to 10th.
Gilbert had the honour of completing the final stint of the evening and proved to his younger’s that he hasn’t lost his touch by setting the fastest ‘after dark’ lap time of the trio with a time of 1min.11.1sec.
Gilbert crossed the line in 10th position overall taking full points for class 2 win. The championship now decided with the ‘works’ Bullrun Lotus Evora of Adams/Green/Byford as Britcar Champions, the Neil Garner run Mosler of Cintrano/White/Morcillo in 2nd and the Topcats Marcos Mantis GT in 3rd place.
Topcats Racing would like to thank all the drivers and team for all their help and hard work in 2012.
Here’s hoping that some exciting prospects come to fruition for 2013!
There will be one more Britcar race on 24th November at Brands Hatch (non championship race).