The undercut – a familiar term in Formula One, though not one used overmuch in endurance racing, but the MJC Furlonger team employed it to some measure in the closing two-hour Britcar race at the Walter Hayes Trophy meeting, with Witt Gamski and Ross Wylie taking a hard-fought win in the Ferrari 458 GTE. Did the undercut significantly affect the result? Maybe, maybe not, but economy definitely did.
In the 50-minute concurrent sprint race, lone-driver Richard Neary’s Mercedes AMG GT3 romped to victory.
The 40-minute qualifying session, at dusk on Saturday, saw some unfamiliar high-rankers as the field sorted itself out in the damp and darkening atmosphere – Dave Benett’s Porsche and Ed Moore’s Ginetta were well up in the top five for a spell – but it was Rob Wheldon, in the Radical RXC Coupe, who asserted authority , initially a country mile ahead of the rest, which was quickly established as Richard Neary’s Mercedes, then any one of the three Team Hard Ginettas, with Tom Knight, Tom Barley and Angus Dudley all taking turns at the top of Class 3. It was about 20 minutes into the session until the order was overturned, with Ross Wylie, in Witt Gamski’s Ferrari 458 GTE, progressively whittling down Wheldon’s provisional pole before grabbing a quarter of a second advantage over the Radical. Calum Lockie was on the move too; David Mason suffered a spin in the early damp conditions, but the FF Corse Ferrari 458 GTE was still two seconds shy of the front row of the grid when the session ended. And it ended with Wheldon re-establishing his pole-position credentials, and Wylie stymied by yellow flags on his final shot at pole. Matty George ripped up the form book by placing the Whitebridge Aston Martin on Class 3 pole, throwing a curved ball to Team Hard, and Class 4 went to the Ed Moore/Marmaduke Hall Ginetta G50, with welcome returnee Barry McMahon placing his rather special Alfa Romeo 156 at the head of Class 5.
With the overall title still at stake, this wasn’t going to be clear-cut for the three main protagonists. The MJC Furlonger Ferrari had not only a two-thirds points scoring opportunity, but the threat of the Radical which had already taken the single point for pole position, and could well take the win, and for those vying just below, Class 3 Team Hard stablemates Lewis/Knight and Barley/Hatfield were evenly matched for the weekend, as race engineer Aaron explained: "our three cars are all within 1/5000 of a second of each other, and the Lewis/Knight car has 30 seconds longer in the pits than Barley/Hatfield – this is going to be a tough one"
It was a long lead-up to the final race of a cold day, and when eventually the Britcar contingent took to the track, and when the red lights went out, it was the pole-sitting Radical Coupe of Stefano Leaney that led the pack away, pulling out a convincing lead. Sadly not making it past the pace lap was the erstwhile Sprint championship leader Roland Hopkins, the VW Golf having spun off due to drive shaft failure, thus denying Matt Boyce his later stint. An early stop for Mike Moss in the BMW 1M was to be the first of several, to investigate fluctuating water temperature.
The splendid Abba/Rollcentre Mercedes stole the show – and the Sprint category win – with Richard Neary’s solo drive
Now, regular readers of these reports will recall that they usually involve Calum Lockie streaking off into the distance in the FF Corse Ferrari 458 GT3, but this time RAW and Rollcentre had rocked up and re-written the script, for Leaney’s Radical had an eight-second lead over Richard Neary’s Mercedes at 10 laps in, with Lockie getting close to the back of the Rollcentre/Abba machine, but unable to make a significant impression. Gamski was doing his usual hold-steady in fourth, with the squabbling Team Hard Ginetta’s behind, initial class leader Tommy Knight losing out first to Angus Dudley, then to Tom Barley by lap 20. Barley had the bit between his teeth now, giving Dudley a hard time, and eventually taking the class lead 45 minutes into the race.
The Sprint runners, with Neary still in the lead, had taken their mandatory stops now, and two of the Tockwith-run cars had fallen foul of the officials, attracting drive-through penalties, so Rob Baker’s Smart, started by Sarah Moore, and Marmaduke Hall’s Ginetta, started by Ed Moore, served their penalties. As if in sympathy, team mate Lucas Nanetti pitted the Ginetta, started by dynasty patriarch Simon Moore, for a second time.
It was just getting dark as the Sprint runners completed their 50-minute race, with Richard Neary claiming the victory two laps ahead of David Mason, who had taken over the FF Corse Ferrari 458 from Calum Lockie. After an earlier upset over their planned race format, it was a good result for Dave Benett and Marcus Fothergill in the Bespoke Racing Porsche 997, finishing third overall and the first Class 3 car home, ahead of Rick Nevinson and Sean Cooper in the Track Focused Porsche Cayman. The talented spannermen of Woodrow Racing showed their additional talents, Ed Platt and Ash Bird taking the Moss Motorsport BMW M3 to the Class 4 victory; full marks to Mike Moss – ok, he didn’t finish the race in his BMW 1M – for bringing two cars to the meeting with a shoestring squad, all of whom drove the cars at some point. It was Moore, Moore, Moore in the next three places – Simon and Lucas Nanetti’s Ginetta G50 beating Ed and Marma Hall’s similar machine after the latter’s penalty, and Sarah assisting Rob Baker to Class 5 honours in the Smart 4/4. Again, a big shout-out to Tockwith Motorsport for supporting the Sprint category. Sad news for Barry McMahon, though, his lovely Alfa Romeo 156 expiring just five minutes before the end of the race.
The Endurance category was still under way, though, and Witt Gamski was predictably the first to take a mandatory pit stop, bringing in the Ferrari at the minimum allowable time-call. Leaney stayed out on track in the Radical, and once Ross Wylie had been installed into the 458 and whiled away the dead time in his 150-second pit stop, he was out on track with a vengeance, to make best use of the undercut. And so he did, immediately posting fastest laps, and eating into the three-lap buffer that the Radical held.
A significant Sprint third for Dave Benett and Marcus Fothergill in the Bespoke Racing Porsche 997
The halfway point marked pit-stop time for the remaining runners, though the Whitebridge Aston Martin would sadly be going no further, Chris Murphy pitting with steering component failure after a solid first stint, posting the first retirement for the car.
Leaney stayed out in the Radical a little longer, maybe a little too longer, as he revealed after bringing the car in for fuel and a driver change to Rob Wheldon after a 63-minute stint.; "I ran out of fuel on that last lap and stopped out on the circuit- had to switch everything off and flick the reserve tank switch". So, with around 55 minutes to go, 75 litres of fuel on board, and Wheldon needing to push now that Wylie had a 40-second lead, it was marginal that the Radical would go the distance without a splash ‘n’ dash. For both leading cars this would be a challenge of push and restraint where necessary.
Wheldon whittled Wylie’s lead down to 37 seconds, then had to make that second fuel stop with around a half-hour of the race left. Wylie was aware, though he now had a two-lap advantage, that the threat was still there, and maintained a metronomic stance on lap times. The question now was, would the Ferrari run to end? Wylie was hardly being conservative, though Wheldon was now free to turn the wick up, and managed to claim back one lap of his two-and- a-half-lap deficit. The Ferrari was now running on vapors, and on what was to be the last lap was audibly coughing, but they did it: MJC Furlonger, Witt Gamski and Ross Wylie won again, and bagged what may be a crucial fastest lap point. The two leading cars had given us an intriguing race, and Radical Bikesports champion Stefano Leaney’s impressive opening stint earned him the Britcar Driver of the Day Award.
Leading Class 3 and with an eye on the overall Championship, Tom Barley and Adam Hatfield piloted the quickest of the Team HARD Ginettas
With Tom Barley handing the class-leading Team Hard Ginetta G55 over to Adam Hatfield halfway through, it was left to Darron Lewis to make up both the deficit for his position and the pitstop time penalty. The old hand clawed back second place from Callum Hawkins-Row and finished over half a lap to the good, the Team Hard trio locking out the Class 3 podium.
Also in Class 3, finishing fourth in class, was the Aston Martin Vantage of Eddie Farrow’s EDF Motorsport, driven by Clio Cup star Ben Seyfried and Australian newcomer Mal Sandford. No histrionics from these guys in their first Britcar encounter, but a solid run by Sandford saw his lap times come down by 10 seconds over the weekend, earning him the Sunoco Driver if the Day award.
We go into the final rounds at Brands Hatch with the title undecided, and it all to play for.
Words: Steve Wood; photos: Chris Valentine