The pair of Ginetta G55 finished one-two at the end of typically eventful Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship (BEC) encounter at Donington Park, with rain in the second half of the race helping decide the outcome as several contenders lost time.
The rain that came down in the second half of the race followed the pattern of the day, wetting the track just enough to make it greasy and to send team's scattering onto different strategies – and some all over the track – but the frantic exchanges saw the lead change for what would be the final time.
The rain made its entrance with just under 90 minutes left until the checkered flag – a crucial time, coming soon after pitstops for the leaders. Shortly before that Javier Morcillo, pitted the Neil Garner Motorsport Mosler from the lead, handing the car to fellow Spaniard Manuel Cintrano. As the raindrops started to fall gentleman driver Cintrano was rapidly caught by Ian Heward in the rapid Rapier SR2 and Mike Simpson in the Team LNT Ginetta, Heward taking the lead as the three were split by less than a second at the end of 73 laps of Donington Park.
Then in the space of two corners, three became one.
Almost as soon as the trio had crossed the line Heward's Rapier cut out – the same electrical gremlin as ruined their race in the Silverstone season opener to blame. Cintrano and Simpson raced on through Redgate and Hollywood and down the Craner Curves, where Cintrano spun the Mosler in the increasingly tricky conditions, briefly stationary at 90 degrees to those coming down the hill.
The Mosler, losing over a minute as Cintrano struggled to get the car running again prompted the race's second safety car period – the first since lap three, when the Jenson Motorsport Chevron GR8 was in the chicane gravel trap – but not before new leader Simpson had pitted.
Team LNT's strategy call gave the lead to the Optimum Motorsport G55 of Lee Mowle and George Murrells for a handful of laps before Mowle brought the car in for new tyres, giving Simpson back the lead.
Mowle's stop, and that of Cintrano in the Mosler dropped them to very end of the lead lap, only just exiting the pits as Simpson passed the green flag to restart the race. Within a lap Cintrano had slipped off the lead lap, though Murrells in the white Optimum Ginetta was able to remain on the lead lap.
In the space of five laps the race had found a new order, with the two Ginettas out on their own on the lead lap.
Simpson described the conditions at the crucial time; “when you were driving down the straight you could the rain, then a bit of sunshine, so you were think 'should we pit for wets?' and it was all about who could brave it out. But the car was absolutely superb.”
“It was pretty bad at one point and then towards the end the first half of the lap and the Craners stayed wet but up at the top it started to dry, so at least you could get some heat in the tyres up there. But because we had a commanding lead we could ease off and break off and bring the car home.”
The Optimum entry – started by Murrells – had been part of the lead group during the opening stint of the race, taking full advantage of the new spec G55 after running an older G50 at Silverstone in March.
He was the fourth of a four car lead group. Ferrari driver Andy Schulz had taken the lead from polesitter Morcillo into Redgate at the start of the race, with Millard's Rapier and Murrells close behind. The four, Millard eventually working his way into the lead past Morcillo for the lead at the chicane on lap twelve as the Spaniard eased off for a handful of laps, believing he had a left/rear puncture.
The quartet worked their way ten seconds clear of Ginetta boss Lawrence Tomlinson starting the Team LNT car, who lost places to slower class cars – Pete Storey's Motionsport Ferrari 458 and Henry Fletcher's Topcats Racing Marcos – in the opening laps before working his way back up to fifth.
Fletcher's machine would soon bow out of the battle for Class Two honours with Storey's blue and white 458 only to be replaced by Neil Huggins in the sister Topcats Marcos. Huggins took the class lead on lap 30 as the battle of the overall race between Millard and Morcillo raged around them, Huggins following Millard through as the leader went by Storey at Coppice.
Storey – the Ferrari now adored with the aero parts promised at Silverstone – retook the lead, teammate Simon Phillips maintaining the lead after both cars had made their first pitstops. Like in the race for the overall lead the crucial swing happened in the five laps around when the rain started to fall. Phillips pitted after completing 67 laps – just before the safety car for Cintrano's spin – Owen O'Neill bringing the Topcats charge in from behind the safety car after 87 laps, under the safety car caused when Millard spun the already delayed Rapier into retirement at Schwantz Curve.
The Topcats' stop lost them only a single lap, putting them one tour ahead of Storey and Phillips who kept second in class, the second Topcats car of Fletcher and Marcus Weller completing the class podium.
Millard's spin brought out the fourth safety car of the race in a rather fragmented end to the race as several drivers fell off on the damp track. The Motionsport Lotus Elise caused the third neutral period, spinning into the gravel on the outside of the Old Hairpin. The final caution period caused by the FF Corse Ferrari spinning at Redgate, leaving just a 13 minute blast to the checkered flag shortly before 8pm.
That short time was enough to swing the victory of Class Three from the BMW of Tim and James Webb to the Bullrun Lotus Evora of Martin Byford, David Green and Richard Adams. The Team Webb BMW was handed a drive through, the extra half minute or so pushing it down to second place, finishing a lap behind the Lotus, which picked up sixth overall.
“It was a very tactical one,” said Adams after the podium celebrations. “We changed strategy half way through when the rain came. Other competitors, especially the Webb BMW were very quick and that forced us to rethink a little bit so Martin went out and did the second stint and stayed out. The safety cars made it very interesting, particularly under the first two we lost out quite badly and found ourselves two laps down. They had a couple of driver through penalties which helped up as little and then we decided to go for a splash and dash under the third safety car and that put us about eight seconds behind then with about ten minutes to go we past them and ran to the end.”
One place further up was the Class Four winner – Steve Guglielmi and Michael Caine's Lotus Elise. The duo – Caine subbing for regular co-driver Jeff Mileham as he recovers from a hip operation – made only a single stop, remaining on slicks for the entire race. That was enough to give them advantage over the three handed effort of Adam Sharpe, Tom Jones and Dave Pittard in the yellow Strata 21 Porsche, though only 48 seconds split them at the end of the race.
“It was changeable conditions when I was in the car and we made good progress leading the class for the first few laps,” Guglielmi told The Checkered Flag. “Our car I think is slightly softer so on cold tyres I was able to get a bit of a gap but once everyone else got into their pace I was caught up by the BMW that was class pole and the other Lotus. We can go longer on fuel we just needed to decide what to do and play it by ear with the conditions.”
At the front of the race the staccato period through the later laps helped the gap come down between the two Ginetta's, falling to just a few seconds before the Optimum crew made a final pitstop. Team LNT made their own final stop(s) – stopping under the final safety car, the last act in the strategy of ”splashing” fuel into the car during the frequent yellow flag periods - but remaining half a lap ahead. Paul White brought the Neil Garner Mosler home in third overall, a lap in arrears.