Having been absent for much of last season – making only fleeting appearances with a Mosler the McInerney family – Michael and Sean – returned to the Britcar fold at Rockingham with a Ferrari F430 GT3 and ended the race standing on the top step of the podium.
Both their Eclipse Motorsport entered Ferrari and the similar (though different specification) F430 of champion MJC struggled in qualifying around the 1.94 International Sportscar course – logging the sixth and seventh fastest times – but the two prancing horse emblazoned cars were left to fight out the final 40 minutes of the 150 minute encounter.
The McInerney's car, however, was unable to take its place on the grid as starter motor gremlins struck as the field left the pitlane to form the dummy grid.
“Starting from the pitlane forced our hand strategy wise so we had to really push the car – on fuel and tyres and everything – so we could try and make an advantage from that,” assessed Sean after the race. “So Dad [Michael] kept us in the top five after an hour and fifteen minutes which set us up really for challenging in the last hour and a bit.”
The lowly Ferrari's – despite Witt Gamski starting the MJC car appearing to suffer little of the typical cold tyre problems that hound him at nearly every race – allowed the occupants of the front two row of the grid to lead the opening laps.
Manuel Cintrano – starting for Azteca Motorsport for the first time – was the driver to slip back, falling from pole position to seventh at the end of the opening lap after running wide at the Deene hairpin. Instead it was Callum Lockie in the Strata 21 Mosler who led the opening lap, holding off Aaron Scott in the GT3 Racing Dodge Viper, though he was soon to be given a drive through penalty for being out of position as the field took the green flag – the British GT regular was alongside the front row across the line, despite starting third.
Lockie led the first six laps before Mike Millard moved to the point in the red Rapier SR2 with a move at the Deene hairpin.
Millard and the Rapier were the class of the field in the early running. He pulled away from Lockie in the Mosler at two seconds a lap, enjoying a 31 second lead before the safety car came out for a incident involving a Production class car.
“We had a new compound on the tyres we'd never used before,” Millard said after his stint in the car. “We were using the tyres from Silverstone and thought it was a little bit iffy but we wanted to do it in one stint on the tyres so we put some new ones on. They were just absolutely amazing – that much grip everywhere and once we got into the lead and caught up the slower traffic it was a little bit like Mallory Park test day and you just have to be a little bit careful and a little bit observant with people – realising that they can't see you in places.”
Millard's pace, coupled to the trials and tribulations of fighting through the Production runners, had put Michael McInerney a lap down, which became two laps as the Eclipse team pitted once more while first Lockie, then Glen McMeniman, then the Eurotech entered Class 3 Porsche stretched the length of their stints to take turns in the overall lead.
The Eurotech team pitting handed the lead to the Azteca Mosler for the first time in the race but the real battle was emerging for fourth and fifth. Now both back on the lead lap after spending much of the race a tour behind Sean McInerney was catching Keith Robinson, the pass completed on lap 69.
The stage was now set for one of the finest duels the Britcar paddock has ever seen – to paraphrase series boss James Tucker's post-race address.
Slowly the pair made their way to the front. The Rapier, now with Ian Heward at the wheel, retired with a hole blown in the sump, leaving a frustrated Mike Millard to bemoan another failure of the AER engine after motor problems had ended their day in the season opener at Silverstone too.
When the Azteca Mosler pitted from the lead – and emerged in fourth – the two Ferrari's were left to lead the final twenty laps of the race almost always nose to tail. For thirteen laps the track's timing showed them not more than a second apart, the nose of Robinson red and white Ferrari sniffing under rear wing of his prospective quarry, occasionally pulling out from behind under braking for the track's hairpins and chicane. It looked another charge through the field by Keith Robinson would be rewarded with another win.
Then, Robinson made a mistake.
Following McInerney through the left hander at Gracelands, he went straight on, only just slowing the car enough to avoid a, probably terminal, trip into the gravel. The resulting 15 second gap was sweet relief for Sean McInerney in the lead car.
“I was just running too close,” said Robinson. “Just lost the front end going into the left hander, right close and just lost the aero and went straight on. Little schoolboy error but I had to stick with it. Sean's car was very fast. His car was very good on the brakes. If you look we're running the ACO spec, we've got virtually no splitter, they've got a lot more so he could slow the thing down and the last thing I want to do it take him out.”
After contact with the wall in turn one after getting into the marbles, McInerney was suffering a vibration – a fact that makes his holding off of Robinson that bit more impressive. Robinson's misjudgement allowed McInerney to ease off, nursing the wounded Eclipse car to the flag as Robinson bounded back towards the leader.
The Azteca Mosler beat the Strata 21 entry for the final step of the podium. Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins finished fifth overall to win Class Two, the last of the leap lap cars to complete a neat century of laps.
Simon Atkinson and Glen McMeniman's Lamborghini GT4 finished second in the class, with the Porsches at the top of class split by a lap, the Jones family Eurotech Porsche beating the Hawthorns Motorsport trio for the honours, conserving a lap advantage for most of the race.