Despite the treacherous and changing conditions through the three hour duration of the event Andy Schulz and Paul Bailey completed a near perfect performance at Silverstone to take their first overall British Endurance Championship (BEC) win together.
The tone for the race – the second BEC event of the season – was set by a sudden downpour just before the race that soaked the new 1.9 mile Silverstone International circuit based around The Wing paddock. The rain left standing water on track, leaving no option other than for the race to start behind the safety car, but as the rain stopped and the track quickly began to dry the field was unleashed with John Martin leading from the front in the Wessex Vehicles run Riley.
However, while Martin and the rest of the pack avoided – somehow – serious accident splashing through the standing water that remained the weather found other ways of making its mark on the race.
Martin was the first to fall. Rapid in qualifying the rain proved to be the Achilles Heel for the car with water getting into the compressor for the paddle-shift gearbox bringing their race to an end after less than half an hour. Martin’s exit left the lead to Javier Morcillo in the opening round winning Neil Garner Motorsport run Mosler. His lead, however was brief before Schulz took the lead just after the 30-minute mark. Morcillo’s race then went further awry – the water finding its way into the Mosler’s electrics manifesting in a misfire that forced Morcillo to curtail his race opening stint to just 45 minutes, with Manuel Cintrano taking over the car.
The misfire persisted, Cintrano limping back to the pits after a slow first lap. With the electric cleaned out the car returned to the race, Morcillo’s late race final stint proving that the problem had been solved. However, between the time lost to the issue and the back-to-back pit stops and Cintrano’s pace compared to Bailey during the middle portion of the race the duo were not to be a factor, eventually finishing fourth in class trailing the winners by seven laps.
There were no such issues for Schulz and Bailey who executed their pitstops on schedule – the Horsepower Racing pairing pitting their GT3 Aston Martin Vantage almost exactly on the hour marks for Bailey to take over, the to strap Schulz back in for the final stint to the checkered flag.
The teams second stop gave them a realistic choice. With the rain having held off since the end of the end of the safety car period areas of the track were now dry enough for the team to consider slick tyres.
“Literally one minute it was raining on one side of the circuit and you were glad you had wets on but then it would be drying out on the other side but five laps later it was wet again,” explained Bailey after the race. “I think in some ways that’s always the worst because when it’s changeable you’re never sure what the grip levels are going to be. It it’s chucking it down all the time or it’s bone dry you know how it’s going to be.”
The changing track conditions were a driving force behind strategies up and down the pitlane. After Schulz, then Class One rival Marcus Clutton in the GT3 Chevron GR8 had pitted the race lead was left to Tom Webb in the GTS Motorsport BMW M3 he shares with his brother James. Trying to wait out the weather the team kept Tom in the car for just before two-thirds distance, though only a fraction of that was in the lead as he lost out to Bailey in the unfair fight between the Class One Aston and the Class Three BMW.
While the strategy set the Webbs up for a strong result it was not the plan, the team on choosing minutes before the start to put Tom in for the start instead of James.
Tom explained; “the original plan was that James was going to go out but at the last minute we had a slight change in strategy. I just thought I was doing a normal stint but they just told me to keep going and keep going but the conditions allowed us to.”
James said of the decision that led to the long opening stint. “We were conscious that the track could dry up and there was no point of coming in to change driver then coming in to change tyres so we just wanted to push it and extend the stint as long as possible in case the track dried out and then if there was a point where we could change driver and tyres then it would work out quite well.”
Like Schulz and Bailey they too decided to stay on wet tyres for the final stint. However, there was one man brave enough to try slick tyres.
After qualifying second concerns over the reliability of the ECU – even before the rain – led Mike Millard to drop back down the order in his Rapier SR2. However, as the fears proved unfounded – and after the view through his visor had cleared – he pushed back up the order, staying on the lead lap until both pitted at the end of the first hour.
The Rapier lost time in the pits at each of their stops, however when it came time for Nigel Greensall to take over from Dutchman Karsten le Blanc Greensall took on the gamble of slick tyres.
“When I decided that I wanted slicks it looked logical,” Greensall told theCheckeredFlag.co.uk. “It was dry and there was blue sky in the distance and it was the only way we could win the race so you had to gamble at that point. For a few laps it was working – we got fastest lap and it was brilliant. But then it started raining again and the track was so cold that I lost the temperature in the tyres.”
Greensall added that the car was “exciting” on the slick tyres once the rain – and hail – made a return to the track, prompting him to backtrack onto wet tyres, an additional pitstop losing further time. They would round out the Class One podium, with Clutton and Jordan Witt second in class, yet fourth overall.
The overall podium was made of the three class winners, with James Webb taking second place in the closing minutes away from Ian Loggie and Chris Jones’ Team Parker Porsche. That was despite the Webb’s one-stop strategy forcing James into fuel saving.
“We went into fuel save mode for about 40 minutes of my stint so I was short-shifting and lifting and coasting and using a higher gear than we normally would just trying to get the car round expending as little fuel as possible,” James said after the race.
“It was tight. I think we’ll pull about three of four litres out of the car when we’ve finished so we could have done maybe two more laps. I think we still would have won our class even if we’d stopped. It was frustrating. We were behind the Porsche for second but they were saying ‘save fuel, save fuel’ and I could see he was pulling away but then we’d catch him up and I was glad to get by in the end because it would have been frustrating.”
The second and third placed teams would still end more than two laps behind the overall victors.
“It’s going to sink in tomorrow,” said Bailey. “You also have to imagine that we’ve got a car here that we’ve only ever raced in the rain. A brand new car and what it’s like to race on slicks yet! We’re really hoping that at Rockingham which is the next round it’ll be dry day and we can see what it’s like on slicks!”