Spanish pairing Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano took victory at the opening round of the British Endurance Championship at a soaking wet Donington Park. Driving the Neil Garner Motorsport Mosler MT900R, the duo conquered all before them, winning the race by over a lap. But, as the 3-hour race drew to its conclusion, the result was far from clear-cut.
Steady rain greeted the drivers as they embarked on the first of two green flag laps. Mike Millard’s Rapier SR2 prototype started at the head of the field, with the Neil Garner Mosler alongside with Morcillo at the wheel. As the safety car pulled in, so the rooster tails started to rise and the three-class field embarked on what was set to be a daunting and challenging race.
The Rapier made a poor getaway, dropping to third position. The works Chevron GT3 machine at the hands of Marcus Clutton jumped into second, and Morcillo’s Mosler took the lead. Further back, Anthony Reid was driving the Class 3 Chevron to its full potential: the car hadn’t competed in qualifying and started from the back of the grid.
By the end of the first lap, the Scotsman had put pay to half the field and was in sixth, even attempting to take on the Class 1 Intersport Mosler. The British machine found itself alongside the American monster on several occasions, with the wet conditions preventing the more powerful cars from unleashing their horsepower onto the track.
Many drivers would struggle with the conditions, finding themselves in Donington Park’s various gravel traps. The Class 1 Chevron of Marcus Clutton was the first to fall foul of the April shower, spinning his yellow, works-backed machine into the coppice gravel trap with 35 minutes gone. The car, which had run as high as third, would lose several laps as a result and eventually retired from the race with electrical problems.
Meanwhile, the Intersport Mosler was lurching from crisis to crisis; the car had a loud misfire and a resulting lack of power, leaving it vulnerable to the slower Class 2 and 3 cars. A little way into the second hour, the throttle jammed open on the start/finish straight, sending the Wayne Gibson-driven machine into the gravel trap at Redgate corner. The car would be retrieved under waved yellows, but the team’s race was over.
Flick Haigh had been battling with the slowing Mosler prior to its demise. The Class 3 Fauldsport Ginetta G55 was clearly faster than the wounded MT900R, but the hazardous conditions caused the former Caterham racer to hesitate on several occasions.
“The worst thing about being behind a car like that is the spray,” she explained at the end of her stint. “The last thing you want to do is damage both cars.”
Horsepower Racing’s brand-new Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 had been making solid progress at the hands of Andy Schulz. The car had started third, but was chasing down the leading Mosler throughout the first hour. After the first round of pit stops, the Vantage would take the lead of the race. However, with team boss Paul Bailey at the wheel, the car was a little slower than it had been, but the same was true of the Neil Garner Motorsport Mosler. Manuel Cintrano had taken over from Javier Morcillo, and was lapping at around the same pace as Bailey.
There had been hope towards the end of the first hour that the rain would subside. Indeed, with just light drizzle falling from the Derbyshire skies, a dry line was beginning to form.
“Conditions are really difficult, they’re changing every lap,” Morcillo said after his opening stint. “Sometimes it gets drier and sometimes it gets greasier.”
However, as the second hour begun, the rain began to fall again, and the track was fully-wet once more.
“I’m glad I’m out of the car, I couldn’t see a thing for the first half an hour,” reported Mike Millard after his stint in the pole-sitting Rapier. The LMP prototype had fallen away from its elevated grid slot due to a problem with the throttle pedal, and would later pick up debris in its radiator. It would eventually finish 17 laps down – last of the finishers but third in Class 1.
Half way through the race, Team Parker’s Ian Loggie handed the leading Class 2 Porsche 997 over to Chris Jones. The car’s handling had gradually been deteriorating throughout the stint: “In the last ten or fifteen minutes, the car started to get really physical,” the Scotsman explained.
As the last hour began, the two lead Class 1 cars handed back over to their faster drivers. The race was well-and-truly on. Andy Schulz was catching Javier Morcillo’s Mosler slowly but surely. However, a misjudgement made by his co-driver and team boss Paul Bailey brought the car into the pitlane for a drive-through penalty. Bailey had passed a car under yellow flags, in what he described after the race as a case of “red mist”.
“It’s a bit scary. It’s slippy absolutely everywhere. That’s the first time I’ve driven a GT3 in the rain,” he said.
Despite its now 45-second lead, Morcillo’s Mosler was keeping everybody guessing. The car had completed two stints of under an hour, but in order to finish the race it would have to last at least 70-minutes. It was clear for all to see that Javier was saving fuel wherever he could; lifting off the throttle half way down the start/finish straight lap after lap.
Meanwhile, as the evening turned into night, Andy Schulz was driving the wheels of his Aston Martin. However, his pace would come at a price and he would eventually have to make a pit stop in the final ten minutes for a splash of fuel to see him through to the end of the race. With pitstops in the BEC required to take a minimum of 70 seconds, the Horsepower Racing machine would end up a lap behind the leading Mosler.
And so Javier Morcillo crossed the line to take victory, continuing the Spanish pair’s winning form from 2012. The Schulz/Bailey Aston Martin finished second overall, with the Class 2 Loggie/Jones Porsche finishing third, taking the Class 2 honours. Just behind, in fourth place, Anthony Reid crossed the line in the Class 3 Chevron he had been sharing with Ray Grimes, clinching the Class 3 victory.
Class 2 had been a hard-fought battle with the Team Webb BMW M3 battling with the Fauldsport Ginetta throughout the race for second in class behind the Chevron Cars team. With third in class in their grasp, the Webb BMW stopped in the dying moments of the race with a broken differential.
“I enjoyed it, but I don’t think [the conditions] suited the car,” said overall winner Javier Morcillo after the race. “It was very difficult, we basically ran qualifying laps for three hours and it was really difficult to adapt to see where the grip would be every lap.”
On the fuel-saving situation, Javier seemed fairly calm. “We knew we had to save three litres in the final hour. I was letting the throttle go and in saving fuel mode, but going as fast as I could in corners. I think we saved way more than 3 litres.”
One of the stories of the weekend was Horsepower Racing’s exploits. Their Aston Martin had only been purchased on the Thursday before the race after the team’s usual Ferrari 430 blew its engine in testing. The car took third in qualifying and second in the race, something which delighted Paul Bailey: “I have to say it was a great result, Aston has really supported us and Scuderia Vittoria have done brilliant job for us.”
“We hadn’t driven the car at all, and when we did it was in torrential rain! We have to win against that Mosler at some point.”
The next round of the BEC will be held at Silverstone on the 10th/11th May.
For all the session standings from Saturday’s event, click here.