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A torrid race but big points won at Rockingham Motor Speedway.
It was an exciting race but not always for the right reasons during the 2 hour race at the Rockingham Motor Speedway on the 28th August.
In qualifying Neil Huggins and Raphael Fiorentino had varying opinions as to the preferred set up of the GT2 Marcos Mantis. Neil favouring its handling and Raphael less assured. With a long qualifying session, they were able to do a number of driver changes with Neil putting in the quickest laps. I little goading from Neil as Raphael was being strapped back into the car for his final attempt was enough to fire him up and actually knocked off over a second from their aggregate time to secure 3rd on the grid.
Meanwhile, Owen O’Neill and team owner, Warren Gilbert – standing in for Henry Fletcher – did well to secure 13th (3rd in class ) on the grid behind a competitive field in their class 3 Mantis.
Huggins in the class 2 Mantis made an excellent start gaining a place to take second from the Gamski/Robinson Ferrari on the first lap.
O’Neill in the class 3 sister car was also making progress and was up to 10th by lap 4.
The pace was being set by race leader Aaron Scott in the Ferrari 430, the lap times were within the qualifying margins as they needed to break away and make up enough time to facilitate a two stop strategy. The Topcats Mantis’s on the other hand, if carefully managed, could adopt a one stop strategy. Huggins tactically set himself back from the one stoppers who were dicing hard to get to the front and settled down into 7th position.
A smooth drive was paying off as the TVR Sagaris of Tim Hood was beginning to flag and Huggins was back on his tail.
The time advantage gained by the leading cars was lost as the safety car was deployed to recover a car from the track allowing the field to bunch up again. Only four laps later and the race began again.
The Jones Porsche was dropping back and the Sagaris driven by Hood soon passed. Neil was able to do the same and continued his pursuit of the Sagaris, eventually making a clean sweep on the car to take 5th.
O’Neill, meanwhile was lapping comfortably and starting to make his move on the 9th and 8th placed cars in front of him.
The Hood Sagaris had to make an unscheduled pitstop with mechanical problems.
Huggins now had the quick starting Millard Prosport in his sights. With the Marcos feeling well settled, Neil was able to pass the Prosport and take 4th place on lap 25.
The teams plan was playing out perfectly but it was soon turned on its head as Huggins radioed in on lap 30 and 45 minutes into the race to say that he had a tyre blow out and was limping back to the pits.
The team was ready to change the tyre, refuel the car and get Raphael Fiorentino in to finish the race.
Fiorentino was down to 10th place as he rejoined the race but was soon on a charge and up to 9th by lap 35. Then the rain came….
As it was an isolated rain shower, the drivers remained on slick tyres to sit out the rain which would only last a while and with high temperatures the track would dry quickly.
Up to now O’Neill had made his way up to 8th place and was challenging the two cars ahead of him. His focus to catch the cars ahead eventually caught him out and with a sudden loss of grip the car hit the wall, front on, damaging the front splitter. It wasn’t going to be a routinely easy change to put on a new splitter though as the frame had to be shaped back into place before the new one could be fitted and eventually the car was ready but 10 laps down on the leaders. Warren Gilbert took over the drive and the track was now dry enough to continue on slick tyres.
In the meantime, Fiorentino was not happy with the slick tyres on a wet track and so the team agreed that he could pit for wets but this would be a decision that Raphael would regret as he was now down to 13th place and just 8 laps later he had to pit again to put the slick tyres back on.
Gilbert was mindful that there were still points to be won even though they were now way down the running order and his lap times reflected his intention to secure valuable points for the championship. His lap times came down in half second increments until he was within the 1m.25s which could have had them running with the lead cars.
Whilst this was going on the leading Scott Ferrari had their share of problems. An ill-fitted wheel worked loose as the car was exiting the pitlane after their scheduled stop but it took them a long time before they could move the car and consequently took them out of contention.
Fiorentino, was rueing his tyre decision and was pushing hard to gain back what he had lost, it wasn’t long before he was back up to 8th and still challenging.
It began to rain again only much heavier this time and it wasn’t long before the safety car was out again this time to collect the Jones Porsche which had hit the wall. There was a frenzy of cars pitting for wet tyres and Fiorentino and Gilbert stopped in tandem with Fiorentino taking priority and allowed to rejoin the track ahead of Gilbert.
The rain was monsoonal and it was a while before the safety car could peel back into the pits and allow the race to run its final 10 minutes.
Gilbert was revelling in the conditions and set himself the task of passing six cars before the chequered flag, he managed five!
Raphael was taking advantage in the wet conditions too and made an incredible recovery to take 5th overall and maximum points for the class.
Gilbert crossed the line in 18th and still managed to take the points for 2nd in class.
We hope to see you at the next race, the Britcar Silverstone 24hr, on the 2-3rd October!
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