Last Saturday saw the start of the new season for the Dunlop Endurance Championship, which returns in 2016 under new management and looks fitter and stronger than it did in recent years. Dwindling grids largely attributed to poor management and customer relations had left the series on life support, but a management buyout late in 2015 saw a new team take control that focussed on rebuilding the trust lost in recent years.
The result of their efforts was better than anyone could have hoped for. On Saturday afternoon, a 26-car grid lined up at Silverstone for the start of the season-opening race. The run up to the race had gone smoothly, apart from some slight discontent caused by a late rule change that meant the fastest driver in qualifying from each driver pairing had to start the race. This had lead to some obvious sandbagging in qualifying, most noticeably by the Carnell Nielson team resulting in gentleman driver Darren Nelson taking P10 in his new Lamborghini Huracán GT3 but ultimately choosing to start from the pitlane.
The front of the grid lined up in predicable style, with pole position being taken by the Ferrari 458 GT3 of defending champions David Mason and Calum Lockie. Behind them in second place came the Audi R8 LMS of JMH Racing, and in third position was the Ferrari 458 Challenge of Bonamy Grimes and the 2013 ELMS GT champion, Johnny Mowlem. The top five was completed by the returning ever popular Spanish pairing of Javier Morcillo and Manuel Cintrano, in their ageing but ever reliable Mosler MT900R, and Jonny MacGregor, who was driving the two-hour race solo in his Ultima-derived Taranis.
The race started in wet conditions, which immediately caught out the pole-sitting Ferrari. It lost control under braking and took a broadside into the wall at Copse. The next casualties came at Farm curve as Johnny Mowlem, running in fourth place, took a wider line to avoid standing water only to collide with the Renault RS01 of Andrew McKenna, who had been enjoying a feisty drive through the field. In the space of half a lap he had moved up to fifth place from seventh on the grid. Both cars made it back to the pits. The NGMSport team were able to patch up McKenna’s Renault and get it back out on track, eventually finishing in P20 and eight laps down. The FF Corse-run Ferrari was too badly damaged to continue. Mowlem later complained: “This is an endurance race, some people out there are just too racy too soon.”
McKenna wasn’t the only one who got racy. By the end of lap one the McLaren MP4-12C GT3 belonging to the Geddie brothers had surged up to first place after having started the race from eigth, but an electrical problem on lap two forced them to concede the lead to the second NGMSport entry and grand old lady of the field, the Mosler MT900R of Javier Morcillo. In worsening weather conditions Morcillo built an 8-second lead and drove almost to his time limit before pitting to hand over the wheel to Manuel Cintrano, who proceded to drive the final 45 minutes of the race.
As the pit stops shook themselves out, Phil Hansen in the Tockwith Motorsports Audi R8 handed over to team mate Nigel Moore who promptly set about laying down a series of fastest laps which took the Audi up to first place. Behind them was the Lamborghini of Darren Nelson and Nigel Greensall which had chosen to start from the pitlane in order to avoid any on-track issues that could, and indeed did, arise in the opening laps. A fabulous drive through the field from Nelson allowed Greensall to start his stint in third position, just a few seconds behind gentleman driver Cintrano in the Mosler in second.
Greensall kept running a steady pace and ultimately managed to overtake Cintrano. Having achieved that, Greensall’s aim was simply to keep the Mosler behind him: “There was no way I was going to catch the Audi. It was over a minute up the road, so I was keeping an eye on the Mosler behind, staying out there and keeping out of trouble.” As the weather conditions worsened, he didn’t have to worry for too long about losing his position. The track soon became almost un-driveable and with just under 30 minutes of the 2-hour race remaining the red flag came out, bringing the proceedings to a halt.
“In these conditions, it’s never about the car, is it?” said race winner Moore. “In this type of racing, you’ve got to be quick right out of the box, when it matters. Phil [Hansen] had good pace, and there’s more to come from him in this car.”
Morcillo was delighted with the third place for the Mosler, despite the lack of track time for team mate Cintrano. “He was looking good for third,” commented Morcillo. “The guy in fourth was lapping slower than him, so I was on the radio just telling him to take it easy and keep it on the road. It was one of the most difficult drives ever in the Mosler, so I’m really happy about third.”
Completing Class 1 was the Lawson/Clarke BMW Z4, which ran a solid race and stayed out of trouble to come home fourth. Fifth place went to the Class 3 Ginetta G55 of Mathiassen and Fressle . Their rival Class 3 contenders filled the spaces all the way down to P11, where the Class 4 BMW of Alpass and Atkins took its own class win. The Synchro Motorsport Honda Civic Type R took the Class 5 trophy in 14th place, whilst the highest finishing Class 2-contender was the Porsche 911 RSR of Heward and Wilson. They came home in P17 overall.
The second round will be at Snetterton on 8 May.