The return of the Britcar Dunlop Endurance Championship in 2016 marked the dawn of a new era for club endurance racing in the UK. 2015 was a disaster with the new Endurance Racing Series starting with a fanfare and dying in obscurity all hope was on James Tucker’s Britcar. Falling grid numbers and controversial rules decisions all but handed that title to the reigning champions FF Corse.
Roll on a new year and roll on new owners. The relaunched series, run now by Claire Hedley and her husband Rob under the Britcar-Endurance brand, there was promise of closer racing, bigger grids and two returning favourite events.
Early Season Shows Young Hopes.
Battle lines were drawn at the start of the season, in fact they were hinted at rather strongly at the close of 2015. It was simple: Young blood in an old car vs old chargers in a new one.
The young blood in question came in the form of Nigel Moore and Phil Hanson for Tockwith Motorsport. The team arrived quietly to the final round of 2015 with their GT3 machine, an older Audi R8 LMS for a shakedown, claiming victory at their first attempt. The old chargers were the defending champions David Mason and Calum Lockie whose FF Corse run Ferrari 458 Challenge of 2014 and 2015 championship glory was retired in favour of a 2015 spec Ferrari 458 GT3 which had never turned a wheel.
Anyone who has ever followed Britcar knows that it is never as simple as it seems and it was the same with the championship battle. Tockwith opened their account with a win at Silverstone, before an engine fire on a sun-drenched visit to Norfolk’s Snetterton 300 circuit put the car in the paddock inside the first hour of the race. Remarkable work from the team got the car back out and claiming points for third.
FF Corse’s class 1 effort on the other hand had to wait until round 3 at Donington Park to complete their 300th yard of the season.
The reason for the defending champion’s problems is simple. With standing water on the front straight at Silverstone the Audi of Moore held pole while the #1 Ferrari was on the outside of the front row with Calum Lockie at the wheel. The lights went green, the accelerators where mashed into the firewall and 25 cars turned right at Copse corner. 25 cars of the 26 entered.
Lockie lost the back end when it hit standing water at the turn-in point. The car snapped right, rotated through 180 degrees and slammed hard into the concrete wall. It was a mess and the team were not able to get it repaired in time to go to Snetterton. Really the title defence was over before it began.
Class 1 would be dealt another blow half a lap later when the Ferrari 458 Challenge of Bonamy Grimes and Jonny Mowlem. The former Carrera Cup and ELMS champion was at the wheel when another spin put the Italian machine broadside on at Stowe. The brand new Renault RS01 of Nick Holden and Andrew McKenna couldn’t miss it, starting another tale of woe which would last for most of the season.
Class 2 was shocked at Silverstone by the early loss of one of the favourites, the Grimes and Mowlem Ferrari. But the class was well stocked with Prancing Horses at the opening rounds which meant that FF Corse still netted points thanks to the 458 Challenge of Anthony Wilds and father Mike Wilds. At Snetterton that pairing came good again claiming the win after the round 1 victors, Century Motorsport’s Ollie Hancock and Ruben Anakhasyan dropped down to class 3 for the second round.
The real Britcar Champions of 2016 were hobbled from the off. In class 5 there were never more than three entries and for most of the season it was just the super-experienced part-time crew of Synchro Motorsport and the so new they squeeked Woodard Racing Organisation. Synchro fielded their Honda Civic Type-R for full season campaigner Alyn James and a combination of Dan Wheeler and Martin Byford, sometimes all three would race. Woodard Racing Organisation came to bat with a Mk.I BMW MINI from the early years of the MINI Challenge. The JCW spec machine started slow and built up to a reasonable pace as new drivers Daniel Woodard and double amputee army veteran David Birrell slowly got to grips with the car, the rules and the tracks.
That left the early championship challenge to come from class 3 and the ex-GT Cup pairing of Steve Fresle and Jacob Mathiassen. Despite being two classes down from the Audi and despite being in a hotly contested class the Ginetta G55 GT4 hauled in the points. In Britcar you only earn points based on your finishing position in class, so the early points leader overall was Century Motorsport after back to Back wins.
Mid-Season Slog at New Destinations.
After the two season opening events there was one more regular venue before a trip into the unknown. Round three came from Donington Park where we finally welcomed back the Ferrari 458 GT3, repaired from its first corner shunt at Silverstone and ready to fight for its title. Unfortunately for Lockie and Mason electrical gremlins had set up shop in the engine bay and a long race of intermittent limp home mode put a further dent in their hopes of championship glory.
Class 1 was an Audi love-fest. Practice was topped by Nigel Moore, qualifying was topped by Nigel Moore, the race was won outright by the duo with fastest lap going to Phil Hanson. The victory was dominant with the Mosler MT900R of Neil Garner Motorsport driven by Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano only able to pull out a distant second place. The Renault of McKenna and Holden grabbed third, bringing two sets of trophies back to the Neil Garner garage but gearbox problems left them bouncing around the bottom of the gearbox for the last 30 minutes of the race.
Class 2 was a second victory for the Ferrari 458 of the family Wilds which put them in a strong championship position but again, the real challengers for the title, even at this early stage were Century Motorsport’s Fresle and Mathiassen who took their second win of the season, added to a second place at Snetterton to lead the points standings from class 3.
Moss Motorsport took class 4, again for half points while Synchro Motorsport when three for three in class 5.
Thruxton Motorsport Centre near Andover is about as quick a race track as you will find, except of course for stop 5 on the Britcar tour of England. Britcar Endurance racing hasn’t been to Thruxton for several years and the return was hotly anticipated.
A newcomer initially set the pace, the Lamborghini Gallardo Super-Trofeo of Craig Dolby and Nigel Mustill topping the timesheets but the Audi of Hanson and Moore regained the top spot by the end of practice.
Come qualifying and the Lamborghini did it again, besting the Audi at the flag. Mason and Lockie also counter attacked against the Audi domination of the season so far nabbing the outside of the first row of the grid. All Moore and Hanson could manage was third.
After the first hour of the race the picture at the top of the timesheets was surprising. #1 Ferrari led the field by a lap from Dolby and Mustill in the Lamborghini. The #43 Ginetta of Fresle and Mathiassen were actually leading their championship rivals by 7 seconds though the class 3 Ginetta would soon be swallowed up by the GT3 spec Audi. The class 2 leader was in sixth place, split from the Audi not only by two laps but also by an Aston Martin GT4 car and Synchro Motorsport’s Honda held three laps of advantage over the very fast but notoriously fragile MacG Racing Taranis of Jonny MacGreggor.
An hour later it was all change again and normal service had been resumed. Tockwith Motorsport stood atop the podium, winners by fifteen seconds from the Lamborghini while the #1 car languished six laps down in sixth place. Father and son team Mike and Anthony Wilds took class 2, Fresle and Mathiassen class 3 and the Snows BMW entered M3 took an uncontested victory in class 4, their first since Silverstone. Class 5 winners were of course, Synchro Motorsport.
Croft circuit has a reputation for being massively fast, incredibly hard on tyres and in the middle of nowhere, all of which it lived up to. The Neil Garner Mosler chalked up their first DNF of the season, as did the new BMW 1-Series M Coupe of Moss Motorsport which made its debut in the championship and its first retirement within 13 laps. Problems also hit the FF Corse class 1 effort after a grassy moment for David Mason and the Synchro Motorsport Civic which found the wall and lost time replacing the suspension.
It was all about the Audi however which dominated totally, claiming pole by seven seconds and the win by over a lap from the ING Sport BMW Z4 GT3 of Ian Lawson and Kevin Clarke. David Mason finished a monster 70 minute stint at the wheel a very distant third in class 1 clocking up points but by now, almost certainly without hope of defending his title in 2016.
Class 3 was where the big changes happened. Whitebridge Motorsport finally clocked up a victory in their Aston Martin. Chris Murphy and Jody Fannin had been clocking points up all season but the runaway class leaders were the Century duo of Fresle and Mathiassen. They had a weekend to forget after T-boning the wall at the hairpin. Still the pairing recovered to 3rd in class, keeping hope alive of capturing the overall title at the end of the year.
Class 4 was a consolation prize for Moss Motorsport after the early demise of their newest toy. The 1-Series might have proven unreliable but the tried and tested war-horse of class 4, the E46 M3, romped home to an unopposed victory for pro racer Rob Gilham and a brace of Formula Jedi graduates, Jason Dixon and David Cooper, all making their series debut. Class 5 was again Synchro Motorsport’s victory, saved from their accident damage by the fact that their only class rival, the WRO MINI had not made the journey to Yorkshire. They were still five for five.
Tockwith Aim Cement Title in Final Rounds.
Silverstone International Circuit started the homeward leg of the championship and FF Corse came out fighting. Calum Lockie put in a monster lap to claim pole by over a second from Nigel Moore’s Audi. In class 2 the local team were well in evidence too with three 458 Challenge machines entered and a front row lockout in class.
Come the race there was a battle at the head. Moore blitzed Lockie on lap one to take the lead then built a 5 second advantage before the seasoned campaigner found a burst of speed and closed him down. The pass was made on lap fifteen and once again the #1 car held top spot. A combination of a well balanced Audi crew vs a slower but determined Mason in the Ferrari cemented the final result of the race, Audi on top from two class 2 Ferrari’s, the #9 machine of the Wilds family taking top honors in the second category. Second in class 1 went to the 458 GT3 while for the first time all season, championship rivals Century Motorsport failed to make the podium in class 3. Once again it was the Moss Motorsport BMW that claimed class 4 and the Synchro Honda in class 5 but with few cars in either class, they had no hope of title glory.
For the penultimate round of the championship Britcar returned to Oulton Park for the first time in several years. It was hotly anticipated to be a fantastic race due to the venue and the return for a single round outing of Rollcentre Racing’s Mosler MT900R at the hands of Martin Short and Richard Neary. Biblical rain at the start of the race made conditions very difficult and a clash between Moore in the Audi and Kevin Clarke in the ING Sport BMW put the Z4 to the back of the pack.
A later clash with the Lotus Europa of Hoffmans of Henley at the hands of Fabio Randaccio sent the championship leaders to the pits for repairs and a two-lap loss to the leading Ferrari 458 of Calum Lockie. Three strikes and you’re out was the result for Tockwith Motorsport after Phil Hanson made the car’s second contact with the ING BMW and put it out of the race. Tockwith Motorsport recorded their first DNF of the season.
Rubbing further salt into the wounds of their retirement, championship rivals Century Motorsport claimed class victory. The title was wide open going to the final round of the championship.
For Oulton Park though there was only one result possible. Mason, good though he is, would never match the pace of the British GT Championship Protagonists Short and Neary. The Mosler blasted past the 458 and on to a resounding victory, carrying a patriotic Union Flag livery for the first time in two years, the LS7 V8 had been started. Remarkable.
Superb Finale in Darkness Awards Tockwith Title Glory.
The title went down to the wire, in fact past the wire as Steve Wood and Chris Valentine from Britcar sat figuring out the points standings 20 minutes after the race podium ceremony had concluded.
For Century Motorsport the equation was simple. Win and you stand a chance. For Tockwith there was a little more wiggle room, second place would make it happen. Roll on the three hour race into darkness.
Qualifying was a dogfight with the returning Neil Garner Motorsport Mosler battling Tockwith’s Audi and FF Corse’s 458 GT3 for the pole. Century did all they could too, securing fifth overall and pole in class to start alongside class 2 pole sitters Mike Moss, Tom Howard and visiting British GT regular Anna Walewska.
Disaster and controversy marred the start of the race with an error on the first of two formation laps from the pole sitting Audi. Nigel Moore lost control of the GT3 car behind the safety car and put it into the gravel at Clearways, seemingly nailing shut the coffin on the hopes of overall championship glory, though the class 1 title was already in the bag.
Cue controversy as instead of going for a safety car start, the race director opted to run three additional formation laps to give time for the Audi to be recovered. That allowed the Tockwith machine to effectively start from pit lane, on the lead lap rather than three laps down.
It was on this flip of the coin the championship turned.
The race was fast paced, getting hotter as the sun went down and full darkness overtook Brands Hatch Indy. A packed field of 23 cars made for a busy 1.2 miles of race track and incident played its part. Mainly incident caused by the GT and Production field who shared the first 50 minutes of the Endurance championships season decider.
Just as that 50 minutes was elapsing the Tockwith Motorsport Ginetta G50 decimated itself on the Brabham Straight. Ed Moore at the wheel of the car was unharmed, as was Dan Stringfellow in the BMW E92 M3 which joined the scene of the accident shortly after but a long safety car put the endurance race into unpredictable disarray.
Come the dying minutes of the race it was a battle between Javier Morcillo in the Mosler, which held the top spot through most of the final hour and a hard charging Nigel Moore in the Audi, desperate to claim the win and assure the team of the title. For ten minutes the two cars circulated, carving their way through traffic and separated by hundredths of a second. Moore tried every trick in the book to get past the already wide Mosler, being made even wider by a vastly experienced and determined Spaniard.
The chequered flag was readied and a mass of white light exited Clearways for the final time. Headlights merged into one, engine noise joined in an 18-cylinder roar. Mosler took the win.
Celebrations of a race win on the podium, not to mention the end of a close fought and thrilling season were enjoyed but no-one knew who had taken the title. Of course, the classes were almost set in stone at the start of the race but the overall title was a mystery. Dropped scores no doubt helped the Audi as their worst result of the season as a DNF while Century Motorsport could only drop points not a failed race.
At the end of the day the points were announced. Tockwith Motorsport would be crowned 2016 Britcar Dunlop Endurance Championship overall Champions on a win tally of 4-3. Both cars scored 170 points during the season.