Spectators at Snetterton were robbed of a grandstand finish to a turbulent – strategy dominated – Britcar MSA British Endurance Championship when a mysterious technical problem forced the Class Two Motionsport Ferrari 458 into a late, and unnecessary, pitstop.
The race in all the four classes of the BEC had been moulded by the five safety car periods during the previous two and a half hours. Teams up and down the pitlane had reacted to the different neutral periods differently.
The Neil Garner Motorsport team of Paul White, Manuel Cintrano and Javier Morcillo has pitted under the very first safety car, called out after just a half dozen laps as the MacG Racing Ultima needed retrieving after another early retirement. The stop, Morcillo told The Checkered Flag at the end of the race was a deliberate move to put the thirsty MT900R within range of the finish with a minimum of stops.
“We knew we needed that fuel and we were pretty sure there was going to be another safety car.” he said. “The chances are we'd pit, take fuel but we'd still catch up and that did happen exactly.”
Despite a four second stop-go penalty for that early stop not meeting the minimum time the Mosler remained on the very end of the lead lap, a second safety car helping to keep them in contention. The second safety car was brought out by the Team Tiger Marcos Mantis of Chris Beighton and Jon Finnemore – already delayed by a stuck throttle and snapped fan belt – stopped on the outside of Hamilton.
Under Britcar rules only a single churn of fuel – 25 litres – can be added during a stop under a safety car and while some opted to take the opportunity to fill up under the safety car other concentrated more on getting the 50 litres available during a green flag pitstop.
Such a tactic was employed by three of the front runners – the Stark Racing and Optimum Motorsport Ginetta G55s and the SB Race Engineering Ferrari started by Andy Schulz, all three of which pitted shortly after the second safety car period, giving the lead to the flat–six.co.uk Rapier SR2 of Mike Millard and Ian Heward who had pitted under the second yellow flag.
With such limitations on fuelling Motionsport found the middle ground – stopping twice under the second safety car gave them the 50 litres of fuel without the time lost while the rest of the pack streamed around the 300 circuit.
Two churns of fuel – and a new driver – Simon Phillips replacing Pete Storey – went in during the second safety car, with the return driver change – and two more batches of Sunoco fuel went in under a fourth safety car after the Class Four Lotus Elise of Michael Caine and Steve Guglielmi fell to broken front left wishbone shortly after their first pitstop of the race just after half distance pulled them out of third place overall.
The validity of Motionsport's strategy was proven when Storey briefly led overall when Topcats Racing team boss Warren Gilbert, sharing driving duties with wife Charlotte in the squad's no.34 Marcos for the weekend, pitted just before half way. However, the stranded Lotus called out the safety car and Motionsport's blue suited pit crew swung into action again for another matching pair of fuel stops and for Storey to get back into the car.
It was only with a final safety car – and the demise of the Schulz and Paul Bailey Ferrari with gearbox problems – that the strategy unwound itself to reveal the tortoise and hare finale.
After a final stop for the Rapier Storey in the Class Two Ferrari emerged into commanding lead thanks to the team's efficient strategy, but behind a trio of Class One cars – Javier Morcillo driving the anchor stint in the Mosler ahead of the Optimum Ginetta and the Rapier – were closing in fast.
Three, four or five seconds a lap were peeled from Storey's lead, Morcillo closing in at a pace that would have brought the two cars together in the closing laps.
However, Storey and Ferrari were called into the pits for a final, costly, stop due to a problem, the same problem limiting his pace in the closing laps as he slipped to third behind the Track Torque Chevron of Nick Jarvis and Tommy Field.
The duo had used the safety cars perfectly, making both their stops during the three hour race under the cover of yellow flags to win Class Three by a full laps from the Bullrun Lotus Evora and take a shock third place overall behind the Class One Mosler and Rapier teams as While, Cintrano and Morcillo scored their second win of the season.
“Had we not have had this weird problem that we've never seen before we would have been spot on,” lamented Motionsport man Phillips after the celebrations. “The tactics that we planned worked absolutely perfectly which is how we were at the top. Had we not of had the problem with the car we wouldn't have had to do another fuel stop. Basically in the fuelling some sort of sensor's gone down we think so we could have run right to the end which mean we would have gone toe to toe with the Mosler on the last lap so we could've, should've, would've.”
“Had we not have had this weird problem that we've never seen before we would have been spot on. It's disappointing but equally we wanted the class win which is why we picked slightly risky, it was actually we'd rather try and win or just come last.”
Morcillo described his final stint; “all the time I was asking them to calculate when I'd catch him. First of all they said we may not do they said we may catch him on the last lap of the race so I pushed like hell in like an hour qualifying. It was tiring I was 100% on it.”
“When I saw the car slowing I asked 'please tell me that is the Ferrari we're chasing' and they confirmed so from then on I saved fuel and kept it easier. I dropped two seconds a lap so to not lose concentration but I eased off, take care of the brakes and be good to the car.”
The third Class One car in the late chasing pack – the pole-sitting Optimum Motorsport Ginetta of George Murrells and Lee Mowle had to pit late on to fix an alternator belt that dropped them seven laps off the lead, though they still collected championship points for third in Class One.
Fourth place – though disappointing for the pair of drivers – was enough for Phillips and Storey to win Class Two ahead of the two Topcats cars, Owen O'Neill and Neil Huggins ahead of the Gilbert pairing, though both cars struggled with a misfire throughout the race.
Intersport Racing's Kevin Clarke and Wayne Gibson won Class Four in their BMW M3, a lap ahead of Ben Gower and Gary Coulson in the Motionsport Elise. Jensen Lunn and Mark Steward completed the class podium after the Strata21 Porsche of David Pittard, Adam Sharpe and Tom Jones suffered a broken driveshaft late on.