After a season characterised by mechanical problems Michael Millard and Ian Heward got their Flat-Six.co.uk entered Rapier 6 SR2 to last the full race distance to spectacular effect as they trounced the rest of the British Endurance Championship field at Spa-Francorchamps.
The build-up to Sunday afternoon's 100 minute race was typically troubled for the team, bringing back the to the grid after opting for a Prosport at Donington Park and sitting out Thruxton altogether.
Though fine work by engine builders AER – praised by Millard post-race as the company had considerable commitments around the Le Mans 24 Hours weekend – looked to have cured the engine problem that ended the Rapier's previous run at Rockingham – electrical problems hampered their running and the rain that soaked the 7km track on Saturday delayed the first run on a brand new set of harder compound tyres until race day.
Happily race day was dry, and the new tyres proved to be a trump card. Despite being unable to scrub the rubber in in either practice of qualifying the two laps – out lap from the pits and formation lap ahead of the rolling start – allowed Millard to warm the tyres for the start of the race with a combination of brakes and weaving.
Millard explained the situation with the tyres; “we only started with these tyre this year and we found they heavily grained, the fronts, so the brought us a harder set of tyres but because of the rain [in qualifying] we hadn't used them so we started on brand new tyres.”
Millard took just four laps to move from his starting spot of fourth to the lead, passing Javier Morcillo in the Azteca Motorsport Mosler – who had taken the lead at the Fagnes chicane on lap one – before galloping away at the rate of several seconds a lap. The Rapier ran faultlessly, the only blip in the team's race an error by Millard – reading the wrong pitboard – which brought him in ten minutes earlier than planned – giving Spa-Francorchamps debutant Heward an hour to keep the car, and lead, together.
“Congratulations to Ian, he's never raced here before,” added Millard. “The problem in the little testing we had meant he never had a lap in the car, so he learnt the circuit in qualifying.”
Heward, who had only learnt the track in qualifying the day before, followed Millard's lead, and retook the comfortable advantage in the lead once the rest of the front-runners had taken their trips down the Spa pitlane for their own mandatory stop.
The pressure upon Heward's first racing laps at Spa-Francorchamps was eased slightly by the problems afflicting the Azteca Mosler. The car had been withough power steering for much of the weekend, making Morcillo's opening stint in second place even more remarkable. However, co-driver Manuel Cintrano struggling with an ever growing list of problems with the car, including gearbox issues, slipped back down the order, eventually finishing sixth overall.
With the Rapier's formidable pace making any contest for the overall lead impossible, it was the battle behind that drew much of the attention.
Aaron Scott in the GT3 Racing Dodge Viper – a constant presence at the front of the field this season – had run in third during the first half of the race, but fell back to fourth when Scott handed the car over to Craig Wilkins. That moved the pair's class two rivals Raphael Fiorentino and Henry Fletcher up to third in the green accented Topcats Racing Marcos Mantis, Fletcher taking second in the first few laps of his stint, the first man to take advantage of Cintrano in the wounded Mosler.
Wilkins wound chase Fletcher until the checkered flag, the two drivers exchanging time as they filtered in and out of traffic. The gap at the end of the 39 lap distance seventeen seconds, both cars beating the supposedly faster class one cars, just as the Viper had done in qualifying. The pair finished the race second and third, the Wilkins and Scott Viper beaten for class honours for the first time this season.
“Raph had a cracking a start, we certainlu weren't expecting second,” Fletcher told www.thecheckeredflag.co.uk after the race. “He pushed really hard at the start. The pace was amazing, they were running amazing lap times. When I went out it took me a few laps, the tyres were a bit dead when I went out, but after that it was pretty uneventful, I just ran my own race and kept going.”
Fletcher and Fiorentino's Class Two victory was just one of a trio of triumphs for Topcats Racing on team principal Warren Gilbert's birthday. Owen O'Neill and Neil Huggins, beat the Hawthorns Motorsport Porsche by ten seconds for Class Three honours and Mick Mercer and Gary Smith won the Production race in their Ginetta G50.
Paul White and Calum Lockie finished fourth overall – and second in Class One after a charge up the order from Lockie – racing at Spa as well as in the Nurburgring 24 Hours over the border in Germany. Fifth overall, and the final step of the Class One podium went to the Wessex Vehicles entered Aquilla CR1.
Nigel Mustill had started the car from pole, but fell down the order, complaining of a vibration. The problem eventually became so severe it necessitated the first of three stops. The first stop put Bob Berridge in the car, who brought the car straight back into the pits for the tyres to be cleaned off. Now free of the vibration – a product of tyre pick-up in the final race of the Spa Euro race weekend – Berridge returned to the pace he had shown in qualifying, and that the Aquilla has become known for in the Britcar paddock, stealing fastest lap from Millard.
A final pitstop for fuel, left even Berridge unable to catch back up to the leaders, and though he made up one lap of the deficit he faced he was never able to join the top three finishers on the lead lap.