After coming out on top in a fantastic battle at Rockingham, The Eclipse Motorsport team added a second victory of the Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship season, easing home by the better part of a lap of Donington Park after nursing a wounded car through the entire race.
The team – father and son Michael and Sean McInerney joined by Phil Keen for the four hour race – were not alone in their troubles. The race was the longest of the season so far at the end of the first two day event for the championship, the race following Saturday's qualifying session.
Before the race the gruelling weekend had already knocked one potential winner out of contention, Brinkman Motorsport opting to withdraw their Audi R8 to preserve it for the Dutch Supercar Challenge season ahead.
The Dutch championship, however, had also returned one front runner to the grid. The engine in MJC's Ferrari had expired in qualifying but a deal was done to use a spare engine from a Dutch team, allowing the reigning Britcar GT champions to take their place on the grid.
The race got off to an eventful start, as Eclipse's starting driver Michael McInerney explains.
“[At the first corner] there's a Mosler in front of me from pole position so I'm braking to keep a yard behind him and got shunted up in the air. I don't know who it was but they put the back end of the car up in the air. Ridiculous driving – he was full on the accelerator when he should have been on the brakes.”
The car behind was Calum Lockie in the Strata 21 Mosler. He said the MJC Ferrari had hit him, sending him “squirly” at the braking point leaving him unable to avoid McInerney.
The collision pushed the Ferrari up the wedge-shaped nose of the Mosler – reportedly all the way up to the MT900R's windscreen – and left the Ferrari's diffuser scraping the track. The Mosler, meanwhile, emerged with only minor gouges in the nose, and ahead of the Ferrari at the end of the opening lap.
From the start the race was led by the Azteca Motorsport Mosler – Javier Morcillo taking command for the opening stint after less-experienced teammate Manuel Cintrano had started at Rockingham. The pace of the Mosler, and Morcillo, has been a constant so far this season, and his an opening stint included a time of 1:07.726 on lap four that would survive the entire four hours as fastest lap. In fact the no.3 car was the only car to lap under 68 seconds during the race.
Early opposition came from the Race4Slovakia team's Praga R4S – an astonishing work of engineering built by the team – the Strata 21 Mosler and the Aquila CR1. The yellow Aquila had shown little of the terrifying pace of last year in qualifying but in the hands of Bob Berridge climbed briefly to second before an intermittent gear selection problem knocked it back to sixth. While the problem initially solved itself it soon brought the car in for the first of several lengthy stops that would drop the Wessex Vehicle Services backed car into the realms of the unclassified.
Azteca's lead peaked at just over 50 seconds before Morcillo brought the car in for its first pitstop shortly after the hour mark. While Morcillo exited the cockpit the team took the rear bodywork off the car, where the driver joined them. Bodywork replaced the team sent Cintrano on his way, however, the car stopped in the pitlane, and was pushed back into the garage where the rear bodywork was again removed, exposing the engine and gearbox. The problem was the latter, Morcillo relating a deteriorating situation which started with the loss of fifth gear, then sixth, then the paddle shift system.
Though he was initially pessimistic about returning to the race, the Neil Garner Motorsport run team did return the car to the race, but all too briefly – just one lap after rejoining it was stopped at the exit of the pitlane bringing their race to an end.
The Azteca stop – and Lockie's the following lap – put John Gaw and the MJC Ferrari in the lead. Gaw – back in the Ferrari for the first time since winning the Britcar 24 Hours last October – led until his own first stop.
“Well, I was a little bit rusty wasn't I like,” said Gaw after his stint. “It was terrific, great team to be with, great car to drive. It's easy to do consistent times in and great fun as well. Brilliant to be back.”
“We didn't get must time yesterday to get the car set up so it's not perfect but it's an endurance race and it's about consistency and we're exactly where we want to be.”
With Witt Gamski at the wheel troubles soon returned to the MJC squad. First they were slapped with a two lap penalty, Gaw caught speeding on his way down the pitlane. Then 20 laps into Gamski's stint contact with Neil Huggins in the Backdraft Motorsport Lamborghini span the Ferrari to the inside of Redgate, losing over a minute and necessitating a pitstop to assess the damage to the left-rear corner, though this proved almost entirely cosmetic.
The same was not true for the McInerney's Ferrari. Michael's opening stint had been brought to an early end when stewards ordered the damaged splitter be removed entirely.
The loss of the splitter dramatically affected the handling said Michael, as well as forcing the team to adopt a new strategy.
Sean later added detail to the problems; “we've had to back off quite considerably due to fact we had to take the rear section off the car after getting hit and it looks like it's cracked one of the manifolds so we're just having to make sure we don't have too much heat build up in the back of the car. We don't know until we stop how hot it's getting but we just need to keep where we are and not push too hard.”
Despite the protestations the car remained among the fastest on track. Once Gaw had pitted on lap 73 the remainder of the race became a duel between the same two cars that had clashed at the first corner.
Mosler and Ferrari exchanged the lead through a series of stops straddling the race's halfway point, but a lap 111 stop from Strata 21 and a handful of slow laps put them two laps down. The advantage allowed the Eclipse team to make their final pitstop and hold onto the lead. The Mosler's final stop – on lap 149 – dropped it back to two laps off the lead, allowing Sean McInerney to nurse the car home, limiting the heat in the cracked exhaust, and letting the Mosler back onto the lead lap minutes from the end of the race.
“I just don't think we're quick enough,” lamented Lockie fater the race. “The problem for the Mosler is fuel consumption, the Ferraris are so fuel efficient they do one stop less than us . Without [Eclipse's] problem they'd have been a full two laps ahead of us and that's a pitstop isn't it.”
In third place overall Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins kept up their 100% record of Class 2 wins despite six pitstops, including a early delay for a front-right puncture. Their Viper – which was scarely able to manage stints of thirty laps – still finished a lap ahead of the best of the Backdraft Lamborghinis, the second battle-scarred example a further seven laps down.
Fourth overall was the Race4Slovakia crew. The car had lost time with an alternator problem, but picked up fourth in the closing laps as Keith Robinson was forced to slow in the MJC Ferrari to ensure the car reached the end of the race on fuel. Fourth was a fantastic result for the duo of Dick Kventnansky and Martin Sedlak – both on their first trip to Donington.
“It's tricky for a novice – for someone who's never been here,” said Kventnansky after his final stint. “First of all I'm missing the braking limits. Usually you have three, two, one or metre boards and also I'm missing kerbs a little bit and it's full of horizons and hill and obviously the apex but it's a lovely track at the end of the day.”
In Class 3 victory went to the Jones' – Morgan, Philip and Gareth – in the Eurotech Porsche.
“We've struggled all weekend with half-shafts going in testing but we got there in the end,” said Philip. “We had a good steady start and we're all about of the same pace which helps a lot in a race like this where as some of the other teams have got strong drivers and weak drivers. And we've all just driven well and consistently and not had any mistakes.”
The trio won by ten laps over the Topcats Marcos of Owen O'Neill and Raphael Fiorentino. Paul Bailey and Andy Schulz had led the class early in the Ferrari 430 Challenge before the first of a number of problems. Afer running well the Hawthorns Motorsport Porsche of Rob Barrett, Jan Persson and Jay Shepherd made it a day of double disappointment for the Neil Garner run crews, retiring with fuel pick-up problems according to Persson.