After being dogged by poor luck and reliability issues throughout their 2011 debut season in the Mosler MT900R the Neil Garner Motorsport squad conquered the British Endurance Championship (BEC) field at Silverstone.
For two thirds of the Anglo-Spanish driver line it was their first overall Britcar victory, Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano clinching a maiden victory in their first race since merging with Paul White's Strata 21 outfit over the off-season.
“We've been on the podium a few times but never a straight win so and we couldn’t be happier,” said Morcillo after stepping down from the top step of the podium. “You can't imagine how much time we've spent with Manuel in the simulator, spent with Neil trying to put this car together properly. I think we've been lucky today, we've been unlucky some other time and this is great, I'm just enjoying it.”
“It’s excellent – couldn't be better, having Paul and winning the first race it could be a better start for the relationship. Paul is a fantastic guy, we met him at the 24 Hours and we though he would be a great guy to share a car with and share a laugh, so we couldn't be any happier.”
By the end of the three hour race on the Northamptonshire GP track their Mosler was only one of three leading cars that had survived relatively unscathed – only a drive through penalty for pit lane speeding blemishing an otherwise apparently faultless showing.
Had the flat–six.co.uk Rapier SR2 of Mike Millard and Ian Heward been similarly without delay that drive through, incurred on the Mosler squad's second penalty when Cintrano handed the car onto White, may well have cost the win. The moustachioed Cintrano came into the pits only a minute after a tired Heward had handed the car back to Millard and when White served the penalty in Mosler Heward took the lead, taking an eight second lead.
Whether either team would have had to make a final pit stop in the last hour is subject for a debate that was rendered moot when the Rapier cut out under Millard at the start of the Wellington Straight due to a glitch in the car's electrics. The car – starting 2012 in pseudo-Martini colours – was brought back to the pits and the when the mysterious glitch resolved itself Millard was sent back out, but the duo had already lost 12 laps to the Mosler, dropping to third in Class One.
Millard's problems gave the Owen O'Neill and Neil Huggins second place for Topcats Racing, the Britcar stalwarts starting 2012 in the same form that gave them victory in the 2011 finale. The pairing – both regulars in Topcats' pair of Marcos Mantis, ended the race as Class Two winners in second overall, two laps shy of the Mosler. Topcats' day could have been even better, though. Kyle Tilley started the team's other Marcos and, after conserving fuel in the opening stint, handed the no.34 car to co-driver Dan Jones in the Class Two lead only for Jones to have to abandon the car on the far side of the track after mechanical problems.
Running as a non-points scoring invitation entry in Class Three Charlie Hollings and Toby Tarrant–Willis completed the overall podium in an FF Corse run Ferrari, the pair running well in likely their sole BEC appearance of the season. Likewise by running quietly and consistently as attrition mounted in the final hour In 2 Racing's Mike Donovan and Nick Dudfield – another invitation entry not expected to reappear this campaign – left Silverstone fourth overall.
Top of the points scoring teams in Class Three were David Adams, Richard Green and Martin Byford, making their first start in the new Lotus Evora for the Bullrun team. After achieving little endurance running in their new car in pre-season testing the three hour race was a step into new territory, but the Evora ran quietly and faultlessly toward the front for much of the race, assuming third overall when Millard pulled off the track and almost simultaneously the class rivals in the Webb family driver BMW retired with what the team described as a differential or driveshaft failure.
However, a late race puncture, Byford to The Checkered Flag, forced a pitstop with only a handful of laps left, dropping the car down to sixth, behind the two invitees and the Team Tiger Marcos which finished second in Class Two.
In their new Ferrari 458 Simon Phillips and Pete Storey completed the Class Two podium for Motionsport in seventh overall, with Lee Mowle and George Murrells, Class Four winners Jeff Mileham and Steve Gugliami and the Smith family Ginetta completing the top ten.
Phillips started the blue and white Ferrari and climbed as high as fifth during his stint, passing both Topcats Marcos on track on his charge. However, a slow first stop where they lost more than a minute to some of their rivals dropped the team back to the bottom extreme of the top ten and despite lap times comparable, or even faster than those ahead in class they never regained the ground lost after their strong early showing.
The Lotus Elise pairing of Mileham and Gugliami started their season with a win, taking the lead from the BMW M3 of Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson which, after leading much of the race developed a mechanical issue late in the race leading to a pitstop and succession of slow laps that let the Lotus by. Clarke and Gibson's Intersport team retired the car inside the final half hour, but still claimed the final step on the class podium.
The race ran without a safety car period, allowing the initial front three – Morcillo, Millard and Andy Schulz in the black SB Race Engineering Ferrari – to pull away. The three exchanged the lead during the opening hour. After starting second Schulz led into Copse, retaining the lead for the opening six tours, though he would later admit to holding up the chasing Morcillo and Millard.
Millard would take a further five laps to overhaul the Ferrari for second before setting after Morcillo, gradually reeling him in before taking the lead in a wheel to wheel move at Village shortly before the end of the first hour and the first stops for Millard and Schulz.
Millard told The Checkered Flag shortly after exiting the car; “it was very close by they weren't going to give. In the end you've just got to hope that the guys know how to drive and slap it in. I thought they were quite fair about it. It was very enjoyable because it reminded me of the old one make championships, everyone's very evenly matched and the guys drove very well.”
Morcillo eked out fuel mileage to last further 15 minutes before having to stop, the longer stint allowing Cintrano to keep the lead when he emerged back out on track.
That first stop would be the end of Schulz's challenge for the lead. Once stationary the car he shares with Paul Bailey began leaking water out of a cracked right front radiator, though they later returned to the track once the problem had been rectified.
The British Endurance Championship continues at Donington Park with another three hour race on April 21.